Opinions: ML 390S, Esoteric D70, Opus21, Capitole?

I'm looking to buy either a CD player with volume control or a DAC with volume control, and a couple of digital inputs. To get the most mileage out of my dough I'll buy used and likely "older" units, but then I also hear about how much digital has improved in "recent years". Been doing a fair amount of reading and would like your opinions to help narrow my search a bit more:

1. Esoteric D70. $2500. Would initially feed it from my CD player and later buy the P70. Had rave reviews back in 2004. Digital volume control. Very dependable, I hear.

2. Levinson 390S. $3500. Analog volume control. One less power cord and IC. Read comments of it having issues with reliability, though. Very good reviews in '04.

3. Opus 21. $3500. Very good reviews a few years back. Users seem to love it.

4. Audio Aero Capitole II SE. $3500. Users love it. Again one less PC and IC. Dependable?
5. McIntosh MDA1000. $4500. People at the Mac forum rave about it. Seems it would fit nicely with my Mac amp MC275. I don't know that Mac makes first class front ends, though, so I'm wondering how it might compare to the above.

6. Theta Gen.VIII. $5000. We are getting too expensive for me, but...Fantastic reviews once upon a time.

7. McIntosh MCD500. $5000. Again, maybe too expensive and a lot of good talk about it at the Mac forum, but the guys there might have a skewed perception. Recent launch and almost no talk about it here on Audiogon. Is it better than the players above from around 2002-04?

Sorry for the long post. Rest of system is Rotel CD player and pre amp (both going away ASAP), a MC275, B&W 804s, and Rel Storm III. SACD would be nice to have, but not needed.
I live overseas now. Auditioning is not posible and buying and selling is complicated, so I need to try and make a safe bet.

Thank you for withstanding this long post!
I own one of the cd players you reference, (the Opus 21), and directly compared, in my system, another one, the Audio Aero Capitole II.

I feel that the Capitole II is just slightly better than the Opus 21, especially in the mid-range, as it sounds slightly more like analog to my ears. (The Opus 21 already sounds somewhat analog-ish (assuming that is a word!), which is one of the things that impresses me about it. In case you are wondering, I listen mostly to LPs, and so I much prefer the analog sound to digital.)

However, I would like point out a couple of differences between the two.
One, the Opus two has a regular front opening drawer, whereas the Capitole II has a top loading drawer with a sliding cover, and when inserting the disk, a "puck" must be put on top of the cd. I disliked that aspect of operating the Capitole II, to the point that despite it was slightly sonically better than the Opus 21, I felt it was not worth the hassle to upgrade to it. And two, the cost of the Capitole II you list is the used price, whereas the cost of the Opus 21 is the new price. (Used they typically run just a bit over $2K.) Which means that, IMHO anyway, that the Opus 21 is a better bang for the buck cd player.

Another player you might want to put on you list is the EMM Labs CDSA. It is a wonderful redbook cd player, and it is an incredible SACD player to boot! There was one listed here on Audiogon for a good price of $5,550, but unfortunately it sold.

Good Luck in your search.
EMM Labs CDSA lacks the variable outs though ... you would need EMM DCC2 dac.

I have had both Opus 21 and AA Capitole and would mirror Kurt_Tank comments, although I much prefer the Capitole player. After replacing the output caps with Teflon V-Cap (this is part of the SE mod) it is clearly in another league than Opus.

I would steer away from the 390s due to the reported reliability problems.
Thanks for your answers. I guess that puts the Capitole ahead of the Opus, and maybe disqualifies the 390S as reliability is of value to me. Too bad as I kind of wanted the Levinson to be a good option.

What about the Esoteric D70/P70? I'm surprised there are so few comments here on A'gon about this combo, considering the reviews they received back in 2004.

And what about the Theta and McIntosh?

I owned the Opus and the Capitole. I thought the Capitole had suspect build quality for its price and thought the soundstage was congested in comparison to the Opus. Yeah the mids were better in the Capitole, but everything else was much worse, in my opinion.
I have to disagree with Arbuckle. I have had my Capitole for over two years, sold it to a friend who still has it. No problems whatsoever. I also know several other ppl that use Capitole, and they also have no problems with the player. Capitole is build around Philips CD-Pro2M transport, which is considered as one of the most reliable transports available on the market today.

I also found its soundstaging abilities to be far superior than that of the Opus. I have had close to $100.000 invested in my system at the time (Lamm M1.2 Reference monos, Avalon Eidolon Vision speakers etc) so I would say I have a platform to compare both players.
Elberoth, disagree till your heart's content. I am glad there are people like you for me to have sold my Capitole to.

I said the build quality was weak for its price point. Nothing like the Esoteric gear whatsoever, but similarly priced. I never referenced reliability, just said its build quality was very poor for its price. Such as a sliding top door that was not perfectly square (no, unit was not damaged or anything like that). Just poor workmanship.

Seriously though, I thought the Capitole was soft, dull and lifeless. My system was not $100k but was ample enough to do a A/B comparison, which I did, with others. To each is own.
Thanks guys again. I guess your back and forth just portraits how personal these things are. I don't expect anybody else to make the decission for me, but I'm just looking for input from more knowledgeable people - just like you are doing.

It seems no one is willing to post re the D70, Theta, or McIntosh units. Would you please provide your impressions of [any of] these, even if you haven't heard them? I'm new to the hobby and I don't know what the common wisdom was 5 or 7 years ago when these were current units. Otherwise I'm left just with reviews...which is even less ideal.

Arbuckle - I'm sorry, I misunderstood your comment. Thought you were talking about reliability, not build quality as such.

Having said that, I still think that it has nothing to be ashamed of. Sure, it doesn't have such a nice case as Esoteric (nothing has, maybe with the exception of Accuphase, another japaneese company) but than is is no better or worse than dosens of US made and EU made components in the same price range. I just sold my $9000 Audio Research CD-7, which is a very respectable player, and its cosmetics wasn't any better.

And it is surely much better build than Opus, with its noisy, DVD transport !
And it is surely much better build than Opus, with its noisy, DVD transport!

The Opus actally uses a CD-ROM drive, as opposed to a DVD drive. While the transport seems a bit lightweight in its stock form, it functions very well and is very quick in accessing tracks. Also, its cheap to repair if needed, which may not be true of the Capitole based on a current thread regarding the repair of a Prima transport. I have an Opus modded by GNSC, which includes extensive damping of the transport that makes it whisper quiet.

Lewinskih01, Resolution Audio offers a 30 day in home trial of the Opus. Perhaps you can get your hands on a Capitole (or one of your other options) and conduct a comparison.
AA Prima is not build around Philips CD-Pro2M, like the Capitole. Opus 21 uses DSL-710A DVD-ROM drive (not CD-ROM) which is no longer beeing made and has a proven history of reliability problems.

Thanks for the sugggestion, however I'm now living overseas so the 30-day trial is not an option. That's why I'm asking for at least impressions...in the absense of people with first hand experience with the D70, Theta, or Mac units.

Do you know any of these?

I'm in the same boat as you are on searching digital w/ volume control. Sorry cant comment on those players, but I have two other players that I can ad (to make you even more confuse). one player that fits your description is logitech transporter. I listened it extensively and for it not as good as my linn ikemi (with a preamp) but I think it is more of a system matching issue. using the transporter straight to my plinius provided satisfying sound, especially given the price.

I just bought Bel Canto DAC3, which has volume control. Once I've listened, I'll try to provide comments.

These two are reviewed extensively, so you might be interested in learning more about them
I would like to add that the Phillips CD Pro2 transport used in the Capitole is in current production and available through Phillips parts centers and jukebox parts / repair centers, for example Pinvam.com and Enco Systems. The european distributor is Daisy Laser.

The CD Pro2 transport was originally designed for professional use: radio stations playing Cds 24/7 and heavy-usage jukeboxes.
Krell, Electrocompaniet, Metronome, Audio Aero, ARC and several other manufacturers adopted it as a high-end transport, because its output (laser eye pattern) is very clean.
It is a complete unit with servo circuits, SPIF and I2S outputs, so if it ever fails, a DIY-inclined user can replace a CD Pro2 in less than 30 minutes, there are just 4 screws to remove and 4 cables to plug. It does not require adjustments (ever). All the adjustmens are done digitally, on the fly.
My transport has about 5 years of heavy use and as far as I can remember it never failed to play a disc, including mildly scratched CDs, CDR, CDRW and hybrid SACDs.