question about "lower" priced CD players/DACs

I have a PS Audio D-Link III DAC fed from an old California Audio Labs Icon MK II CD player and I'm pretty happy with the sound. But seeing the reviews of and the popularity of the Oppo BDP-95 and the Audiolabs CD8200CD players, I find myself wondering (like most of us), "if I upgrade to the 'xyz' player will I get a lot better sound?".

I've seen reviews by American reviewers that claim both these units "punches several times above its class", "best player under $5000 (U.S.)", etc. but I honestly think that's a lot of hype and probably more than a little of the stuff that comes out of the back of horse :) .

So what do you all think? Are these two Cd players (or any CD players in this price range) truly standouts like the hype suggests, or are they all similarly capable and it comes down to preference in presentation rather than huge differences in sound quality?
I tend not to even pay attention to the age or quality of CD player nowdays. I would only aim for todays good DAC with USB and multi-digital source capabilities.
i think it definitely comes down to your personal preference in presentation; whether a different player will sound better to you is inherently subjective. personally, i wasn't overawed with the oppo as a cd player (although it's fantastic for video), and i preferred the older rega apollo and much older rotel i auditioned it against. however, many other people, whose opinions are just as worthy, think it's great; moreover, if i had listened to the oppo in your setup i might have thought differently. bottom line is you just gotta listen. fwiw, your current transport/dac are both very well-reviewed; consider whether you'd get more significant improvement by changing other components.
If you really want a "lot better sound", don't spend money on your digital front-end. Rather, think about upgrading speakers and/or obtaining top-quality source material. Those are improvements you will *definitely* hear...

Are you going to use it as a CD player, CD transport and DAC or are you going to use it solely as a Transport? I've heard the Oppo unit and it was decent. However, I did not hear it using it as a transport only into a DAC. or compared to other Transport DAC combinations. So, my advice is to go to a decent store and ask if they would let you take it home for an in-home audition or if they won't, find a friend with one and borrow your friends unit before purchasing it. I don't know the quality of your existing DAC, but seriously, that would be my first path for upgrade. I have auditioned/compared several CD/DVD players as transports only and there are differences, so keep that in mind, however, the biggest difference will be with the DAC. this is a serious piece of equipment and should be considered carefully. the newer DACs are catering to the computer and computer sound community and they are not really high-end quality. The analog portion should be just as good or better than any high-end pre-amp and the power supply must be excellent. The light weight, DACs out there are big on digital and soft on analog and power supply, which is a serious mistake.

My CD player is close to 20 years old. I'm thinking about buying a new CD player to replace it. hadn't really given a lot of thought yet to using my old CD player as a transport into a new DAC because of the age of the CD player. Minorl, you and Marakanetz both recommend focusing on the DAC part of the equation.

How do I determine which DACs are not what you call "light weight"? I am on a budget, and things like $5000 DACs are not an option for me.
Rlwainwright, my speakers are Magneplanar MG-IIIa's - 3-way planar speakers with a ribbon tweeter. They have been completely rebuilt by Magnepan within the last year. The MG-IIIa is the grandfather of the Magneplanar MG3.7.

Replacing them with the latest, greatest MG3.7 would cost around $6000(!).

I like the Magneplanar sound a lot so plan to stick with them.
Loomisjohnson, you suggested I consider consider I'd get more significant improvement by changing other components.

My preamp and amp are vintage Adcom. The Adcom amp was supposed to be pretty decent at the time (certainly for the price), designed by Nelson Pass. The preamp was not designed by Pass and is said to be decent - not great, not terrible.

Do you think replacing this preamp/amp with something better would result in a bigger sound improvement than replacing the CD player/DAC I'm using? Minorl and Marakanetz seem to lean towards the focusing on the DAC, while you lean more towards focusing on other hardware.

I plan to keep the Magneplanar MG-IIIa speakers. I like the Magneplanar sound, and the newest Maggie, the MG3.7, is going to have a similar, but improved sound, but would cost me around $6k to buy!
I lean towards not making drastic changes in a system unless you 1. get a ridiculously low price (one you can't walk away from) on something you had no intention of purchasing 2). know for sure that that piece of equipment is the problem you are trying to fix. So, you have older Adcom amp and pre-amp and an older CD player. again, I don't know the age or quality of your DAC. But, I wouldn't buy anything without first auditioning it in my system. So, reading what you originally posted and the speakers and amp/pre-amp you have. I would audition a good quality external DAC first. do your research, set a price point for each piece of equipment and go find some to listen to in your system before buying. There are some really great DACs out there and some high quality used DACs also. Same for amps and pre-amps. For example, a Theta DS Pro Gen VA DAC. You would be hard pressed to find a better DAC new now and used you could get one for not a stupid amount of money. The only issue with DACs as with other digital equipment is they always are adding new bells and whistles. Such as HTMI for DVD players and USB inputs for DACs. If you don't need USB input for your DAC at this time, then you really would have a hard time finding a better DAC new or used. The computer audio crowd wants DACs with USB so older DACs that don't have it are on the used list. My standards are quality music and elimination of listener's fatique. If something in my system is making me get up and not listen to music for long, then I will find out what it is and replace it over time. Remember, this is a long term hobby, not short term. Don't do everything quickly or at once. take your time, one piece at a time. Based on what I have read about you, I would do DAC first, Pre-amp second, Amp third and maybe CD player last. But, each time, do your research, set a price point and budget, go borrow or audition in your home that piece of equipment and enjoy the journey.

I would like to chime in here since I used to have an Adcom combo (pre-amp + amp). I agree with the folks who suggest focusing on things other than your digital components first. While I agree that the Adcom stuff is competent, I think it can easily be bettered. Start with the preamp first. I think you will immediately hear the difference. I replaced my Adcom 555II preamp with an Audio Research SP16 and immediately heard the difference. The Adcom amps actually hold their own pretty well. I still have my 545II amp, and it has great weight and punch. The only thing I can fault it for is being a little grating up top, but that is speaker dependant. Your digital front end may not consist of the hottest items out there right now, but it seems decent.
timo, i actually think you'd get the most audible difference by changing speakers, although again whether "different" equates to "better" is purely a matter of your personal preference. since you like your current maggies, and your player/dac are solid, i would look to change your preamp first and (if you're still not content) your amp second. if you specify a budget, you'll get a lot of reecommendations
This is always the issue, when a friend comes to you asking about upgrading their system. What do you tell them? Personally, I listen to the friend or associate and ask about the music they like to listen to and how they listen. Background music or actually sit and listen. If they really appreciate and listen to music, the next thing I want to know is price point. So, that evenutually is a totally different subject. How much can I afford for the quality of music reproduction I demand? This is a long term analysis that isn't solved overnight and takes much education, auditionining of equipment and time to decide on the level of music reproduction that the person really wants. Then, and only then, (in my opinion) can a reasonable price point be determined. In this case, the Timoteo was discussing different CD players and asked for our opinion on that. Well to go back to that subject, I would then suggest that Timoteo go and listen and actually take home the two CD players he mentioned and demo them in his system to determine if that really is the problem before purchasing. If either player makes such a drastic difference that justifies purchasing, then go for it. However, please be aware, that once you start on the road of upgrade, it really never ends. There will always be something (typically just outside your price point range) that will make your jaw drop causing you to purchase it. Now when you get to the level of stupidly expensive and really ultimate high-end equipment, jaw drop differences really don't exist anymore. There would be more subtle differences. Here's an example of jaw drop difference. An Audio Research PH3 phono stage versus an Audio Research REF 2 phono stage. I can actually say my jaw dropped. The next question would be, can I afford the REF 2? So, CD players first was the question. So, go demo them. The Oppo unit mentioned is quite good. I don't know about the Audiolab unit, but, my point earlier was after or during the demo session of the two CD players, please take home a really decent DAC also to see if the DAC may have been more of the problem instead of the CD player.

As far as I is still 16/44 and has been since its conception... there have been no quantum have a dedicated player by a very well respected audio brand...I wouldnt sweat it...
I have the D-LinkIII. I've enjoyed it for years, but I'm beginning to tire of it's aggressive, in-your-face sound, although it can be wonderfully detailed. This became really noticeable after I added another Digital Player (Denon DCD A-100) in the same system. The D Link tends to sound similar regardless of what transport I use, so I don't think that changing the CD player will get you much.
I have 2 suggestions that haven't yet been offered. The first is to get a good CD player with digital inputs--basically a DAC that spins discs. There are some great finds in the $500 range.
The second is more off the wall but would suit your budget well. Get an old Pioneer CD/SACD/DVD-A player, circa 2005, going for about $150, that has an "i link" and a matching receiver for about $300. These were FireWire connections, and you won't believe how good they sound together, either in 2 or multi channel.
Richardfinegold, I am stunned to hear that the DLIII is "aggressive and in your face" on your system!!!

With my Magneplanars, the DLIII seems quite mellow. I remember when I bought my Maggie's I listen to some nice Thiel speakers too. They impressed me at first, being lively, bright, and forward. After awhile though, they started to grate some and I kept having to turn down the volume. After listening to the Maggies for awhile I grew to really like their less aggressive sound. I remember liking the Vandersteens during my listening then too.
I assume that the Maggie's are a big reason for why I find the DLIII so nice in my system. My Adcom eqiuipment does not have a reputation for being laid back.

I always thought that what I'm hearing with my DLIII is how everyone heard. I had no idea it could sound aggressive and forward! It seems pretty relaxed in my system.

I don't understand your comment about getting a CD player with digital inputs. I understand why I would want digital outputs - so I could change DACs over the years, but what would digital inputs to the CD player allow me to do? For streaming music through the player's DAC perhaps?