You might consider system tweaks such as Symposium roller blocks, upgraded cable, and spikes. I am not sure that the ARC CD1 is the problem. I had one here a few months ago and thought it was very good.
Also, the Vandersteen 2ce speakers respond enormously to set up procedures. You might take a look at how they are interacting with the room. Sometime this is all that is needed to completely "lock in" the sound you are looking for.
I agree with alberporter the ARC cd-1 is an excellent cdp. I would say your vt-60 is a much weaker spot in the chain than the cd-1. My first priority would be going to a vt-100 if you have upgrade money. You were talking in terms of 3K for a cdp and you could get a used vt100 for less than that and it would make a large difference in your system.I am not familiar with the rogue 99 but i can tell you there is definite synergy using an ARC preamp with other ARC equipment. Another pre that works very well with ARC is the audio note M2. I also think you could do much better with your speaker cables. Alon makes a very nice cable called black orpheus. Nordost Blue Heaven works well. My favorite is Nirvana but that is a little pricier.
My priorities in your sytsem in order of implementation would be 1)vt100 2)speaker cables 3)see if you can demo an ARC preamp in your system 4)better ic's used magnum vi or Nirvana 5)Albertporter is right the roller blocks are very good. Not quite as good but cheaper and still effective black diamond mk iv cones 6) if you still want a cd upgrade get a used ARC dac 3.
I would recommend that before you start changing major components, you should try some high quality silver interconnects. They have a tendency to be more revealing at the high end than copper. Some cables I would recommend are the Kimber Select 1030 (expensive), Silver Audio Silver Bullet 4.0, or the Harmonic Technology Pro-Silway Mk II (combination silver/copper). Many people on Audiogon have also recommended Acoustic Zen silver cables, but I have never tried them. Although I use silver interconnects, I have copper speaker cables from Kimber, and the combination works very well.
Audio Research makes great amplifiers, and I'm not so sure that changing your VT-60 to the VT-100 will get you the added detail you are looking for. A speaker change might give you better performance. I have heard the Vandersteens extensively, and while they are very good, I much prefer the PSB Stratus Gold i's, which can be found used for less than $1500 here on Audiogon. My point is that I think you can get the results you are looking for by spending less and without having to blow your remaining budget on a cd player change.
I think the 3 previous posters nailed it. The CD-1 is a very good machine. I have an all Audio Research system, including a CD1 LS25MKII and VT100. I too, was ready to upgrade from the CD1, but decided to try a couple of tweaks first. 2 of the biggest improvements I noticed with the CD1 involved using ARC's litzlink interconnects, and the use of brass cone supports and weights from www.mapleshaderecords.com For around $300 the improvements were astonishing.
Kinsekd is right many things can be done to twek a cd1 not to mention a power cord. But I have to say again the difference between a vt60 and a vt100 is huge. Not just watts but quality. We all have our favorite i/c's and cables and they certainly can make a difference. I think you are really selling your system short with those speaker cables. But back to the point. If you like your speakers and you like the Audio Research sound a vt100 will make a bigger change than anything else in your system assuming that the Rouge is a good preamp and has synergy with the rest of the system.
Spent quite a bit of time trying umpteen different amps, preamps, tubes, cables, etc. trying to get some pizzazz out of Vandersteens. Coudn't do it. Speaker is way to laid back and polite for my taste. If you can try another pair of speakers in your room, I'd do that first. Vandys work best in small rooms. Don
Elgordo is right on, your original description of your system's sound is an exact description of the Vandersteens, with a very small amount of influence from your amp and cdp. While an amp upgrade would make a definite improvement, it still will leave you with the Vandy sound, which is a nice sound on initial listening but ultimately annoying because you can't escape the inherent character of the speakers no matter what you do. They simply aren't neutral and you will drive yourself crazy if you try to fix this through component swapping. $3k will buy some really good speakers on the used market; try Merlin, Meadowlark, or Dunlavy. Good luck!
I didn't want to throw my two bits in on speakers since I don't know the Vandersteen sound real well. Karls has a good list particuarly the meadowlark but I would also add Alon. I am into single ended now so don't have my ARC stuff anymore but the setup used to be VT100, CD 1, and modded LS22 with Alon V's. Sounded very very good. The Alon Lotus works with this type of setup just as well with more controlled bass in smaller rooms. Meadowlarks also produce a very fine sound with ARC. I guess the point comes back to the CD 1. It is extremely doubtful the CD 1 is your problem. You will have to decide if you are going to start with speakers or the amp but either would be more productive than the CD 1.
Before you try any elaborate changes just borrow a really good quality powercord from someone. Of all the digital pieces that I have ever had the joy to experiment with the ARC players seem to be transformed by powercords. All digital is but few are as totally improved as the CD 1 and CD 2. Try a Electraglide referenceglide or P/T Glide, a Synergistic Designer reference is expensive but extraordinary on digital, a Shunyata Taipan would be stunning or any of his cords, an Audio Magic Clarevoyant, a
custom powercord, the list could go on and on. You will be surprised. If you cannot find someone locally to loan you a cord I will if you pay shipping.
If you think the sound of your system is too laid back you may prefer the CD2.Though I would be cautious of some of this (I agree with much of what is said here but not all) advice to change components and people pooping on the Vandersteens. I have some of the same components in my system and it is set up very carefuly and sounds better than a friends system with 450 watt mono tube amps and $13000 electrostats.(his room needs serious tweeking, a lot of guys around here are of the throw money at it ilk, that don't always solve things!) Any way the VT 60 is a classic ARC amp and I love mine. But if you want more of the sound of the VT100,VT50 ARC is doing an update for your amp that will give you a more current ARC sound. The mod is the "constant current source regulation" said to "give better dynamic expression, bass extension,transparency, and overall naturalness... overall gain is increased by 2.5db." The mod is $250 and you get 3 new 6922's in the deal with the clear damper rings.
Try a Custom Power Cord Co.(available from Music Direct)on your CD1. Buy which ever one you have the budget for,I use the "High Value" which is real cheap compared with some out there. This cord is killer for the $$$ I highly recommend it! As for these folks that don't like Vandersteens let them listen to what they own and keep what you have. Don't sell them! I will make a radical suggestion to make your system fly. Buy a Vandersteen sub! Or better yet 2! It will come alive without a doubt and if you want someone elses opinion on this read the "Audio Prefectionist Journal" article in issuue#2 go to www.audioperfectionist.com I agree with what this guy says and I am also a former audio professional so I have some background and 30+ years of experience. Some of these guys, (no offence but you know who you are) never turn on their stuff they just chat here and hand out band aids and stroke their egos. E mail me and I may be able to help you. I have the 2Ce's with the sub, an ARC CD1, ARC SP9 ,ARC VT60,Set up,set up, set up, tweek tweek, tweek! Don't waste your cash intill you know what you already have.
As one of the "Vandy-bashers" I have to reply to maxgain. I am not saying they are bad speakers, in fact they have a great many attributes, including good sound quality for the price, and many people are very happy with them. But there is no doubt in my mind and in many others' that they are "voiced" to sound a certain way: Mellow, warm, and cozy. Similar to the "classic" tube sound, and many people enjoy those particular colorations, as they are vastly preferable to harsh and cold if you have to choose. But if you are someone who values neutrality and is disturbed by any consistent coloration, even a warm and cozy one, you can never find happiness with a system that isn't neutral. And since the original poster sounds like he is hearing the same things I do when I listen to Vandys, I was only trying to help him remove the most obviously colored part of his system. That's the beauty of this hobby, everyone is entitle to enjoy the sound they like, and to modify their system until they get it!
Well taken Karls, it's just that I was able to buy my CD1 for a yard sale price from a guy that said it was so bright as to be unlistenable. HeHeHe. He was an EE guy that told me that cables don't matter after I quized him on this point. He than proceded to buy a much more expensive player. Low and behold I got an e-mail from him asking me what cables I would recommend, as the new unit was also unlistenable for the same reason. He wasted a bunch of cash because of this rash and unfounded assumption that it must be the cd player. So one guy thinks it's way too bright and another guy thinks it might be too dark, well? Cables have more colerations than most "good" electronics. It would seem a good place to start. I aslo am a believer that some folks like an(to me unnatural) upward tilt in their speakers/systems. Many speaker designers like to put in a little zip here and there to make their products stand out in the show room(I was in the Hi End Audio business for about 10 years). I chose Vandersteens from all of the things I had sold, and they were all(I can't say that since I worked at a dealer where the guys there liked to hook the Mark Levinson stuff to K horns,yech!) great speakers,Quad,Magnepan,Thiel,B&W,Martin Logan,... too many to list, because they were consitsantly the product that sounded the most live live music to "me" when hooked up to very high quality(tube,like maybe a VT60)gear. This is also why I ended my love affair with planar type speakers. You have to make them perform in a real word situation(i.e.your home). Vandersteens are consistantly more realistic sounding in more rooms than others in my experience, and I have set up many, many speakers in many, many rooms, my contention is that it is because they ARE more neutral than anything else out there at twice the price of a given model. Not to be contrary but you are right that many people enjoy brighter stuff than I do(and the thousands of other happy Vandersteen owners out there). I just don't think real music sounds like that. You might find the web article I recomended in my first posting interesting as well,although you don't have to agree with it. Remember that there are no advertisers to influence what he says(same goes for the IAR, International Audio Review) . www.audioperfectionist.com these are guys I agree with on a consistant basis when it comes to the sound of audio gear. I am saving my pennies for a nice mellow, warm, fuzzy pair of Vandersteen 5's.