"Warm" CD player...on a budget.

I can't take it anymore. My CDs sound way too harsh with my Pioneer DV-343 DVD player serving as a transport and my Denon 5800 serving as the DAC. I need something that sounds warm and smooth, but I don't think I can afford to spend more than $500. I've been eyeing the Cambridge Audio D300SE and D500SE models, but won't really have an opportunity to listen to them prior to purchase due to the lack of a local dealer. I've also heard that an Ah! Toejb player can really sing, but I'm nervous about getting anything that has tubes that might or might not need to be replaced in the future.

Who wants to point me in the path of CD righteousness, keeping the budget in mind?
DON'T FEAR THE TUBES! They create some beautiful music! The tubes are not that hard to replace, and are pretty easy to find. The nice thing about the Ah! is that you CAN change the sound of the unit by just changing the tubes! I changet the tubes in my CAL Alpha DAC and what a difference.

Good Luck
Hi Cjcerny. Although I've never heard it myself, based on reputation and reviews I would suggest looking into the original Rega Planet which you can find used within your budget. Good luck!
try a cal sigma II dac. it is in your budget and has a nice sound. you can also upgrade the tubes. cal icon would not be bad either.

good luck
You should consider a used Bel Canto DAC1, or the other upsampling dacs like it, to couple with your Pioneer DVD player as the transport. I use this combo with great pleasure. Good luck, Charlie.
I bought a Sony C333ES SACD player for just over $500. Since they have been discontinued you should be able to find one for the same price or less. In the past two years I have owned a Sony DVD Player/MSB Link DAC II comb($550), Roksan Caspian CD Player ($1600), Aiwa Changer/MSB Link DAC III w/upsampling ($650), and the Sony C333ES SACD player ($1200). In my system the SACD player has been the most natural sounding. Even my wife commented that vocals sounded warmer. Together with a new tubed preamp my front-end has never sounded more musical. As always YMMV and try before you buy (or at least buy wisely and resell for s small loss).
I too vote for a tubed dac, such as the Cal Sigma. From what I remember reading at one time, the older Sigmas sound a bit warmer compared to the more current II's. Right now, I'm using a Sony 7700 dvd with a Cal Sigma II 24/96 with Mullard 4004 nos 12ax7 and wouldn't listen to music and video without it.I bought my Sigma for around $450. and don't regret it one bit. My system was too revealing and I wanted to smooth out the digital grudge so,I bought the tubed Cal and have been happy ever since. Remember you can always "tube roll" and tailor the sound to your tastes. Good luck and keep us posted.
Rega Planet or better yet for $250 send your DVD player to Stan Warren for modification. Search for lots of threads on Stan and this mod to the Pioneer.
Want my upgraded (new analogue stage) Rotel 855 and Neuance Alpha iso-shelf? Great combo. $350 shipped. You won't be disappointed.
Good luck. Ern
A friend has the Ah Tjoeb and it sounds very nice for the buck - smooth and clean. As for changing the tubes, it's not a big deal, and as others mentioned, you may actually want to to get the sound you want (different brands of tubes sound COMPLETELY different). If not tubes. try looking at used Meridians (I have a 506-20) they have a really nice, balanced sound.
Bradz was correct. The non 24/96 Cal DAC's sound notably warmer and smoother than the newer versions. Both can sound quite good but which one works best would be up to personal tastes and how the rest of the system is set up. Sean
California Audio DX-2: warm, passionate with rich midrange and very smooth treble. Can be found used for about $300 - 35O. Definately worth the money.
Any used Meridian CD player (206, 208) would likely fit your needs. Or perhaps one of Meridian's older DAC's (203, 263, 563) can be purchased inexpensively and mate well with most digital outputs due to their low jitter reciever circuitry. Good Luck.
Agree with the Meridian player recommendation. They are very smooth and steps ahead of all the Japanese players.
The best thing in tubes that you can replace them within the time and get even better ones than before.

Besides tubes have much wormer temperature of operation :-)
I bought a Cambridge Audio CD 500 for an old friend last Christmas. Also gave him an Anthem Pre1/Amp set-up with NOS tubes. We hooked that to a pair of Solililoquy 5.0 speakers. I hadn't heard the system until just now as he lives on the opposite coast. I was very surprised on how great that sounded. Very dynamic and lots of bass from those little Soliloquy's. Vocals were superb. The Cambridge Audio is a great player, but to get warmer sound you may need a tubed preamp at least.
If thats the idea, look no further than the most cost effective NAD classic series C541. Its a warm player, 24bit, has good componentry inside and has adequate features, simple, no fuss unit and quite well made. The pricing is also excellent.
How about an external DAC, like the MSB Link III? Would that fit the bill?
Having owned two MSB Link DACs in the past two years I would not characterize their sound as warm. Though, I will admit that it is in part due to the rest of my equipment. However, others have also commented that the Link DACs can be a little on the cold analytic side.
You might want to consider a Toshiba SD9200 CD/HDCD/DVD/DVD-A player for use as a cd player. It's received several nice reviews for it's cd audio capabilities and even made it into the Stereophile Recommended Components List as a Class A cd player for whatever that's worth. If you don't mind "refurbished", you can buy it online at
http://discountsjungle.com/h2toshibah22.html for $549.00. I bought one two weeks ago and so far I have no regrets. For two years I've used a Pioneer Elite PD F19, 300 disk capacity, carousel unit for the storage convenience into the Monarchy DIP and then the Monarchy 18B dac direct into a McCormack DNA225 to PSB Silver i's via DH Labs interconnects and biwired speaker cable. I wanted to hear HDCD and hopefully experience a better overall sound so I decided to try the 9200. Two weeks is not long enough for me to form a complete opinion, but...so far IMHO, HDCD recordings sound better in every case played through the Toshiba. 'Normal" cds are a tossup. It seems to depend on the recording. Muddy, murky or compressed cds are opened up and sound better on the Monarchy combo. Open lively recordings sound good on both systems, but with distinct different qualities. The Toshiba adds a warm smooth sound, which is what you said you were looking for, the Monarchy combo is a little sharper, maybe more dynamic, more slam, more rock 'n roll. I heard Mark O'Connor in person last week and picked up his American Seasons cd at the concert. That cd sounds better on the Toshiba. I believe for $549 the Toshiba might be what you're looking for and I haven't even used it yet for DVD audio. Good Luck!