Planning for a possible face-off of DACs/CDPs

I am planning on upgrading from my Rotel RCD-02 CDP this fall (finances permitting). My price target is ~$1K. The 2-channel sub-system of my combo HT/audio rig consists of the Rotel, a C-J PV11 preamp, Odyssey Stratos amplifier (with cap upgrade), Vandersteen 1C speakers with V2q subwoofer. Cabling is mostly BlueJeans (Belden) and entry-level Kimber. I believe the RCD-02 is the current weak link in this system, which can sound pretty good with audiophile CDs, but is harsh and "digital" sounding with most CDs. I am looking to maintain the Rotel's wide soundstage, increase depth, improve detail, add smoothness and reduce grain and grit. I would also like to reduce congestion when listening to rock and full orchestras. I have a few HDCDs, and I'd like to retain this ability, but it is not a deal breaker.

All candidates must be near the price target of $1K or less and be available for in-home trial. I will keep the best of the batch. If a DAC is in question, I will use the RCD-02 as the transport with a SignalCable coax digital cable.

Current candidates are:

Eastern Electric Minimax CDP
Vincent CD-S1.1 CDP
Lite Audio DAC 62 *OR* DAC 68, both modded by Pacific Valve
I'd appreciate guidance as to which of the above DACs would be better suited to my goals.

If anyone has any suggested additions, please post. Remember, it must be available for an in-home addition, so please include a retailer source with the model suggestion. Thanks in advance. I will post my impressions here sometime later this year.

Note: I have tried the Jolida JD-100A, in stock form, and did not hear a noticeable difference between it and the Rotel in my system.
You want in home audition? Are you planning on paying freight back and forth for non-local dealers? If not, where are you located.

Add the Rega Apollo to your list to audition. I am sure you can find a retailer that will offer a in home audition.

You could see if the Rotel 1072 does it for you. Only $700 retail.
Monarchy Audio M24 DAC, $980, 30 day in-home trial.
I am a broken record, but try the Benchmark DAC-1, not a trace of digititis will be found...can be had used for around $700 and you can get a Stereovox HDXV digital cable for $75 used which bests many $300+ digital coaxes.
i would be careful with the minimax player. it has a coolish tonal balance. read my review on

as for cd players around $1000, consider the cec 3300 or 3300r and the quad cdp 2 (used).
I would second Sbrtoy's recommendation of the Benchmark DAC-1 and Stereovox cable. That's my setup and I couldn't be happier. I'm using a Denon 2910 as a transport but tried a couple of other players as transports and couldn't hear any significant difference. I would imagine the Rotel would work fine.
I agree with Sbrtoy and Sfar regarding the Benchmark DAC1, but skip the cable. Benchmark says that any decent cable will work fine. Stick with your Blue Jeans Cable - I know of no reason to spend more.

My other comment is in regards to actually doing a comparison of components. I have read that even a 0.5dB level difference will sound different and will not be perceived as a level difference. So if you really want to compare apple to apples, you have to have the levels matched very close. Use a voltmeter to verify the voltage level at the speakers. An SPL meter will not be accurate enough.
Thanks for the quick replies!

Eldorado: I don't mind the shipping charges if it will help me avoid buyer's remorse. I would like to include the Apollo and I'll look for a dealer who will allow an in-home demo. I doubt the 1072 will be all that much different in character from the RCD-02. They are both pretty revealing players that are not kind to poorly mastered CDs. I am looking for a more liquid, less analytical sound - more analog-like.

Clio09: I will look into the Monarchy Audio deal.

Sbrtoy & Sfar: I've heard the Benchmark at shows and was impressed. Arranging an in-home trial might be a challenge here. Maybe one of the pro-sound dealers like Guitar Center sells it.

Mrtennis: That's why I want the in-home trial - you're the first I've heard to describe this player as cool-sounding. I will read your review, thanks.

Keep 'em coming!
Also, as you listed a bunch of tube cdp's and DAC's , keep in mind this does not necessarily mean they will fix your brightness issues...products like the Benchmark fix the source of the problem, digital distortion and poor conversion instead of trying to band-aid it by putting tubes in the circuit. There are some incredible sounding tube DAC's and players, and some that could make me run screaming from the room, so don't assume they are a magic bullet.

I have always liked to try out gear for longer than a home audition would allow...that is the beauty of the Gon' if you don't like it you can often get most or all of your money back selling it, especially on popular pieces like the Benchmark, though I think lots of people decide to keep them. The Stereovox cable does offer a very noticeable difference versus a Signal Cable coax I have in my rig feeding a Benchmark, so for $75 it is a good addition IMHO.
Bob_reynolds: Except for reducing some hum issues, I have yet to clearly hear cable differences in my rig. I am not denying that cables can sound different (so please hold off on the flames), but IMO, my system does not resolve enough to allow cable sonic signatures to become apparent. There are retailers who sell the Benchmark with a generous return policy, so that's now a serious contender, even though it is bit beyond the original budget (since I can't sell my current CDP - I need it as transport).

Sbrtoy: Good point about tube sound. I am somewhat glass-infatuated right now, since I so thoroughly enjoy my C-J PV11 preamp (an a'gon purchase, BTW). But you make some excellent points about the Benchmark. Besides, what other Stereophile Class A Product of the Year can you get for under a grand? I'll certainly try it out.

I agree that 30 days isn't a very long time, especially for gear known to benefit from being run in. However, I've rarely heard of gear that sounds worse when run in, so if I can hear the benefits when new, it should only get better. If I can't, then I doubt the differences will be so huge once run in. What was your experience with the Benchmark as it broke in?

NOTE: The good news is I just picked up a second Vandy sub to match my first (I love what this sub does, and doesn't do). This blows my toy budget for the fall, so I am postponing this face-off until the Spring of '07. Sorry about that, but funds for this hobby are limited. I will post updates.

Thanks again to all.
Lavry Black and any cable. Do a search. The reclocking is so effective the cable to the unit doesn't really matter.