New CDP or new DAC?

One of the weak links in my system is my NAD C542 CDP, which when I bought it was a recommended budget CDP. In the new Stereophile Sam Tellig was extremely taken with the Music Fidelity M1DAC. So the question which occurred to me was whether it would be better to buy a new, better CDP, or to use my existing CDP as a transport and feed the signal to a new DAC instead (i.e. assume that, for example, the M1DAC is significantly better than the NAD's internal DAC). Also, if the recommendation is to go the DAC route, the NAD would let me use either a coax or optical cable to connect to the DAC - any preferences? So, I guess I have two questions: CDP or DAC, and if DAC, which connection path to the DAC? Thanks in advance for your suggestions.
At this stage you are probably better off going the DAC route - it will allow you to use the NAD as a transport, but also allow you to explore computer based music. For linking to the NAD coax is best. Likely a lot cheaper than replacing the whole CDP.
New CDP, sony 595 refurb from sonystyle for $60.
DAC with coax.
I'd recommend a new CDP. My experience has been that the performance of a decent DAC can be very transport-dependent. An average/budget CDP does not have a transport that will get the most out of a high quality DAC.
I would also say DAC through coax for the reasons cited above (flexibility to use both transport and computer-based or music server down the road). The one caveat is that you should seek out DACs that have very strong jitter reduction. I don't believe Sam Tellig commented about the jitter reduction technology in the M1DAC nor did he use with a bunch of different transports to make sure that it mates well with a wide variety of transports. So I would definitely try it out first in your system with your NAD CDP as transport before pulling the trigger.
I say it depends on if you would be planning to use the DAC with a computer server at some point. If you only ever plan to play CDs one at a time then I'd say get a new CD player. There are some incredible deals on used CD players these days since the trend is to go towards a computer based server and DAC. I personally have no use for a CD player ever again but some guys are old fashioned and just want to play their discs and are happy doing it that way. Good for them I say and good for the guys who still like to play vinyl too.
I once owned a c542. Found the redbook playback to be only slightly better than my 19 year old NAD 5000. The HDCD playback was impressive however. I recently purchased a AUNE dac/headphone amp new from flea bay and using it behind the archiac NAD 5000 cd player. Very happy with the DAC and noted a considerable improvement over the internal DAC. The DAC has USB port too which is nice. A great value for $165, shipped.
DACs give you more flexability in that you can connect several sources. If you only see yourself using one digital source, that's not an advantage.

Dollar for dollar, I've found DACs sound better than CDPs. Less stuff in the box means more sound quality per dollar; at least in theory anyway.

I've had the Rega DAC in my system for a little evr a months now. It easily beat out my Rega Apollo, which cost the same amount. The DAC does everything the Apollo does (except make me get up to change CDs) a good bit better.

As far as coax vs toslink, it depends on the transport. Some stuff is noisy electrically, and toslink works better due to no electrical connection to pollute. Toslink can introduce more jitter to the system if not done right/the right cable. Trade offs, just like everything else. Anyone who says coax is always better than toslink hasn't heard enough of a variety of transports and good toslink cables IMO. There's no one right way to do anything, and every rule has exceptions. Your ears should be the judge, not Sam Tellig's or anyone else's.

Not a fan of Musical Fidelity at all, personally. Take anyone's opinion with a grain of salt. I'm sure you've heard gear that wowed a ton of people, yet fell on its face to your ears. I know I have.

The 542 is a very good CDP, or at least it was in its day. Make sure what you get is a good step forward and/or a step forward in every way, not just one or two things are better. That can be said for any new piece IMO.

Also, if you're looking to improve things and are prepared to throw money at it, make sure everything's set up right - placement, acoustics, etc. before doing so. No point in buying something new and not getting your money's worth because the room sounds like crap.

Just some food for thought.

Cheapest and shortest path?
New CDP. Period.
No additional IC to buy… no added worries as to the power cord on the DAC either.

My plan? Do Both…. IF….

IF you aren’t spending heavily on the CDP, especially. Transports do matter but you gotta really step up the donation at the ‘Transport store’ to really see gains there. My former Sony SCD 777 ($3K) and a known as a very good transport if not a great one, was maybe 20% or less better sounding than my $175 Oppo DV 980H, using both a Bel Canto DAC III, and a Lavry D10.

There was about eight years of tech gains across that span inside the Oppo. The Sony was made in 2001. soooooo…. Also, my Sony required a motor and laser replacement after five or six years of ‘go to’ near daily use too.

For DACs. Especially those with a wealth of interfaces, and great jitter reduction significant gains can be had just adding one of them… and a cable or two.

DACs are a nice spot to go for immediate improvements in sound quality…. IF, again, it has great jitter reduction prowess… and if picked out might aid you down the road, should use of a file playback system is desired.

Digital world revolves really fast, So, a new CDP could be the one box solution

But, If DAC, definitely Coax…

If nice CDP & DAC…. BNC, or AES cables.
I vote for new DAC.

Having to repair well over a hundred CD players, all but a very few came down to the tray/laser assembly. Considering what I hear the street price for those who engage in that kind of repair today, I don't want to invest a large part of the cost of the machine in the power supply and output section knowing the part that reads the disc has as high a failure rate as it does.

Beyond that, a good friend who buys really expensive stuff picked up a PS Audio Perfect Wave DAC. He tried various transports, and found the cheap Oppo he had in a third system gave up nothing to the more expensive units tried, and every combination he tried bested his almost new $20K CD player. No surprise in his selling CD player pretty quickly after that.

At least with the PS Audio, because the DAC reconfigures the digital signal, the transport can be factored out of the equation. Great news in my opinion, as perhaps the weakest link in the audio chain is being taken away from us. Until recently, that has the exception and not the rule, but it's clear that the industry is going toward that.
First why are you even looking at equipment reviews. Waste of time. IMO and in my experience a DAC always out performed a CDP. There are so many used DACs to try. Find yourself one of the Museatex Bitstreams. You can buy them and sell them with no loss.

Happy Listening.
There are a lot of opinions on the best approach for this scenario. There are those that believe that a transport is a transport and it is just the DAC that is important.

There are those that believe a great DAC with a mediocre transport results in the "weakest link" philosophy - ie. the great DAC's performance cannot be realized with a "mediocre" transport. FYI - I am in this camp.

There are good recommendations and comments above, so mine shouldn't be taken any differently than any other.

My recommendation would be to add to your list of options the idea of a better CDP with digital inputs. There are a lot of good players out now that fit this bill. This approach gives one the flexibility to add a computer based system. I also think it is easier to justify spending a little bit more via this approach - ideally ending up with a better and more flexible piece.

Good luck.
I too suggest a DAC and suggest the USB route via an Apple MacMini. Right now, I have three MacMini/DAC combinations on three systems and have sold my CDPs.

Careful selection of the DAC (I have the dbaudiolabs Tranquility and Tranquility SE, both of which are immensely pleasing in my systems, and the UltraFi iRoc, a little hidden jewel of the past); the USB cabling (suggest a listen to Ridge Street Audio, Locus Audio, or dbaudiolabs' Essential), interconnects and power cords; peripheral HD (I suggest Oyen; and playback software (iTunes is very good, but Pure Audio is much better) will yield results only very expensive CDPs can produce.

I know this sounds like a lot, but once it's set up, it's far more convenient and musically capable than a CDP. Look for items on Audiogon, talk to fellow DAC-ers, ask yourself what you want, and seek it out... I would never go back to a CDP.

:) listening,

Ed, I hear you and can understand your personal passion for computer based. However, not all of us are ready and willing to give up CDs, especially if one has a SACD player, large collection etc. . . I use a computer based server as well (via a Squeezebox/logitech Duet to my CDP/DAC) and love this convenience. I have had a lot of DACs/CDPs with d-inputs (EMM Labs, DCS stack, Esoteric, Wadia, Levinson, etc. . . ). While I think the sound is wonderful, i am not 100% sure it is better or possibly quite as good - but that may be an illogical bias!

Computer based is wonderfully convenient and when done right sounds wonderful.
I'd go the DAC route and will offer as a suggestion a Blue Circle 509 - roughly $1200

Thanks for your thoughts. If you like recorded music, particularly TT audio without its disciplines, I'd give a MacMini sourced DAC a serious listen.

When/before you do, listen to what DACers have to say.

High quality DAC is quite surprising in an incredible variety of levels.

I've never heard a CDP play as well as a well-selected Mini-sourced DAC system. But the only way you will know is by exercising some social skills, some critical thinking, and some personal selection, experimentation, and experience.

:) listening,

I'm using the mac mini and wavelength brick USB DAC. Good news- the hardware is stone cold reliable and gives my turntable a good contest, quality wise and WHEN the software and networks are ok, beat the heck out of the TT for convenience. My experience with computers at work, with photography and with audio is that the value, versatility and convenience the format provides is paid for by the time and irritation I spend fixing glitches. I don't use my old CD/SACD player- it just doesn't measure up to the mini+DAC, but that doesn't mean I'm not sorely tempted to get an updated CDP.
Go with a DAC paired with your NAD CDP. The first CDP that I had in my big rig was a Naim CDX. I then moved on to a Doge 6 tube CDP. Both players, however, were smoked by the combination of an Oppo DV-980h ($179) paired with a vintage California Audio Labs Sigma tube DAC. I paid $250 for the Sigma. I sold my CDP and bought a small secondary system for my dining room with the savings. The old Sigmas are great, you will notice that when they come up for sale here on A'gon they are sold within moments of listing, they are that good. Plus I run my Direct TV into my Sigma via an optical cable, and can switch back and forth via a small button on the Sigma.