Source Rotel RCD 971 Player Upgrade or DAC

I am reaching out to find out the merits of spending more money on a new CD player or investing in the Bel Canto Dac 1. I have been in the process of upgrading my system for the last year and one of my earliest purchases was my source. When I purchased my source I did not anticipate the other upgrades I would make. I now believe that my source may be the weak link in the system.

I am interested in improving the sound of my system now and will deal with SACD and DVD-Audio at a later date. The things that I am trying to find out are:

1. What an upgrade from the Rotel RCD 971 to the Rotel RCD 991 or Rega Planet 2000 be significant? I have read a few places that the 971 can be somewhat dry and unmusical. At times I do get that feeling.
2. What are the relative merits of getting a higher end CD player versus getting a DAC?
3. If I got a higher end player, is it common to still have to purchase a DAC to get sound improvements.
4. Other impressions of the Rotel RCD 971.

My system contains:

Rotel RCD 971 CD Player
Rega Planar 3 coming shortly
Rotel 970 Phone preamplifier
Adcom 750 Preamplifier
Odyssey Audio Stratos Monoblocks
Magnepan 1.6qr speakers
Acoustic Zen Matrix interconnects
Acoustic Zen Satori speaker cables by wired
Harmonic Technology Pro AC 11 power cords on Odyssey Monoblocks
Kimber PowerKod on the Adcom preamp
It probably partially depends on how you buy and sell equipment - if you bought the 971 used and can sell if for not too much of a hit and buy a 991 used for not a lot more. I wouldn't think the performance improvement would be all that big, but if you do it wisely and don't mind the steps involved, moving up a bit at a time can make sense.

Personally, I'd sit tight with the 971, a fine player in its own right, and let the next generation of digital hit the used market and/or come significantly down in price. If you could get up to about $1500-2000 used, the difference would probably be much more pronounced - maybe an Arcam FMJ23 or Wadia 830. -Kirk

The Rotel 971 is a great player for the money and I don't really consider the 991 to be sonically superior, just heavier on the features. I sold my 971 because of a hardness and glare to the sound. I found the next step in better sounding players, like the Linn Genki or Arcam FMJ23, to just sound more natural and less like a digital reproduction.
I owned a 971 for a couple of years and enjoyed it, a solid player. I then used it as a transport with a Bel Canto Dac 1 then upgraded to 1.1. The outboard dac is able to extract much more detial and portray a much more robust soundatage with more natural highs. The Dac 1 can be had for around $700 the .1 upgrade being well worth the $150. I have since moved on to a sony scd 333es modified by modwright after being so impressed by sacd at the stereophile show. On redbook cd's the stockk 333es is on par or a little softer than the 971 the mods bring it to a point where it easily beats the performance of the dac 1.1. I like the 971 if you are no interested in sacd than I think you will enjoy the 971 with a dac 1.1 or perpetual 3a with modwright mods... I would pass on the 991 or other players only moderately better has they will leave wanting to upgrade again shortly.
Try the EVS Millennium DAC II risk free, and if you don't like it you're only out about $15-$20 shipping. I was in a similar situation in not wanting to do the new formats until they have more software available and, more importantly, incorporate a digital out. My system absolutely came to life upon adding the Millennium DAC--the soundstage expanded in all directions, dynamics improved dramatically, tonal colors are significantly more fleshed out, and there is a total and utter transparency and clarity that you really have to hear to believe(I was previously using a modified MSB Link DAC, which was good but not in the same league as the EVS DAC). The parts used are the best available, and you would have to pay thousands more to get another DAC or player with this level of quality parts and execution. Finally, and not insignificantly, this DAC will be upgradeable to handle the new formats(albeit in 2-channel only) once the digital connection becomes available. At $1050 this thing is a ridiculous steal, and it will take your system to a much higher level. Try one and I bet you won't return it--I don't know of anyone who has. See reviews on and, and/or go to the EVS website at By the way, I don't have any involvement with EVS other than my extreme enthusiasm for this DAC and what it has done for my system and enjoyment of music. Best of luck.

go with the bel canto dac. works great with my rotel. the combo sounds better than newer stand alone players which would have cost double the $650 i paid for a used dac.
Hmmm...must disagree. Whereas my experience with the 'Canto
and a DVD was VERY disappointing, I can't say using the Rotel as a transport was much better than the Rotel alone.
The'Canto does remove some of the grain from the Rotel, but superimposes a white, smeary-hot treble fog instead. Sort of like hot steam instead of twinkly, gritty "stars" if you will. A Neuance iso shelf helped the Rotel immensely.
My experience with the ARCAM is that it was FAR less rhythmic than the Rotel. What a shock! Nice full midrange, and therefore not as "dry" as the Rotel, but it couldn't keep time for beans, whereas the Rotel has good PRAT.
I finally found a winner in an Electrocompaniet EMC-1 MkII.
GREAT PRAT, bass extension and punch, an ultra-natural midrange, and detailed yet ultra-smooth treble. Quite remarkable.
Try a Neuance (or maybe rollerblocks? inner tube too muddy...) under your 971 before you dump it. I'd try the EVS
as an option, but not the 'Canto or PT.
A used EMC-1 MKI is on A'gon auction now for around $2200.
I can get you the MkII DAC 24/192 kit for $600. You can sell your 971 for probably $400, so for under $2500 you'd have a wonderful 44 lb CDP. Hmm....
But do try the Neuance...amazing how the improvement in coherence and tightening of the presentation erased digital fatigue. Still a bit edgy, but what an improvement for $125!
Good luck. Ern
I replaced my 971 with a sony 9000es. The Sony is a better cd player in every way. Also an SACD player! You can get a 9000es for $1050 new.