Rega Apollo - DAC / Player to beat it

One of these days, my Rega Apollo is either going to die or ill just decide I want something better. But by better, I mean significantly better. Using an analogy, not like looking for more power and going from 50 watts to 65 watts. More like 50 watts to 200 watts. I know, bad analogy. Basically sonic improvement that is obvious.

So, what price level, models, brands would I have to be looking at?
I feel that way about my 6 year old Rega Apollo, a $1000 product (paid $1000). I also feel that way about my 9 year old Musical Fidelity CD PRE 24, a preamp/ cd player that was a $3000 product (paid $1400 when discontinued). Both really sweet CD players. I acquired a couple of back-up CD players in the last year (XTZ CD 100 and Emotiva ERC-2, $600 and $350 respectively), but they are not sonic improvements ... just a couple of well built players that perform above their relatively inexpensive prices.

When the time comes to seriously upgrade the CD player, off the top of my head I would be looking at Ayre, Esoteric, top of the line Rega. I figure I would be looking in the $3-5k range.

I'm using a new (not fully broken in) Oppo 105.
So far, it doesn't sound as good as the Apollo I once owned (at least on CDs).
A recent review (MAY/JUNE TAS) has me juiced about the new Bryston BDA-2 DAC.
It says that pairing the BDA-2 and their digital player (for computer playback) is something really special.
Take it a step further by adding the Bryston CD player as a transport and you may have your new digital front end...
I read your post carefully and am still recommending the new Rega Apollo R as transport and a decent DAC which could be one of many. The transport on the new Rega is simply terribly good. I'm running one with a Decware DAC through all Manley electronics and Penaudio Cenya monitors and it is terrific.
Another vote for Esoteric or Ayre.
Another vote for Ayre.
It may take awhile to find one, but I highly reccomend the BAT VK-D5 SE with superpak upgrade. I have seen them sell used for less than 4k. I can hoestly say with redbook cds I preferred the sound over the EMM XDS1 at 25k. I have compared it to Electrocompaniet, Rega Saturn, Krell older models, and several others. I have always preferred the BAT.
In that price range, I would highly recommend consider looking into the Modwright-modified Oppo 105.