I haven't heard the CD-31 but here is a very thorough review by Stereophile.
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I too came very close to purchasing the cd31. Very nice unit. But I did go for a more expensive player. I did get the meridian G08 (twice the price). A little more musical in my opinion. The Primare was my second choices. The Esoteric SA-10 was my 3rd choice. I would let your 'ears' deciede what sounds best and not look at specs. Take your time.
Have you considered used? Meridian would be right in your price range along with the Esoteric.
Have you considered the Bryston BCD-1? IMHO it's the leader in the price range you specified.
I listened to the CD31 and thought it very good. Very listenable over the long term. Similar feelings about the Naim CD5x. But--admittedly in another system--I prefered the Cambridge 840c to both of those (more air), and then the Bryston to the Cambridge. Bryston=more robust, and a (cliche alert!) veil being lifted.
More than the differences between chips, I'm coming to the conclusion that the (certainly a) crucial element for CD players is how the analog output stages are handled, after all the decoding, and in this the Bryston is second to none.
Thanks. I looked into the Bryston BCD-1 on the Bryston website. Very nice. Also read a few positive reviews.
Coincidentally, I recently had a conversation with a tech as to the importance of the analog output. He feels it is a key factor. I'm a tyro so I'm not sure why.
I must say that I'm enjoying the hunt.