Arcam! Arcam! Arcam! Just upgrade the 7 to the 9 for half your budget and you're there. Plus you get to stay in good with your local dealer.
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I was reading the Stereophile review on the Mark Lev. #383 just to see their view of the amp. because I have that amp. So I read the tech report on the Accuphase 75v and the Arcam FMJ-CD23 in the same issue. The Arcam bettered the 75v in some areas and was close in all the other areas. So close that the reviewer bought the review player. This started me to think,because I was in the up-grade mode. So I called the Levinson dealer in my area to get his thoughts on the Arcam. All he had to say was that in the showroom they have the FMJ playing through the #383. So I made an appointment and the hour drive to listen to the combo. I was floored. How can they give so much quality both build and sound for so little when compaired to the so called big boys. I to was thinking used, but the dealer let me take the floor model home to try in my system. It was on the showroom floor for only 2 weeks and he gave a good deal as a demo unit. It's still in my system and sounds better than ever. Short break-in period. My advice is to go with the new Arcam, not only because it sounds great with the ring-dac and all, but because it comes with a waranty, most used gear does not. Plus Arcam sent me info on their complete up-grade program,bonus!! Just send in the warranty cards and they keep you informed on the future. Good policy. Peace and good listening. Salty Dog.
My last CD upgrade a few years back was very brief audition-wise so experience is limited, but I did audition the Aplha 9 with only mediocre results. Perhaps it was just a setup issue, but when I swapped the EAD Ultradisc 2000 against the Arcam, then I got excited. The EAD spanked the Arcam so badly that it was absolutely no-contest; soundwise & even appearance wise the Arcam lost out bigtime. I was so happy with the EAD that I kept it & am still using it today. I've seen them used for $1000 to $1400; pay what you have to pay if you can even find one - it's still a great machine esp. at used price. Bonus you also get Pacific Microsonics HDCD decoder which makes even redbook sound better, and when playing HDCD's is just amazing.
I had an Arcam Alpha 9 and really liked it. I listen to mostly classical and jazz, with a little rock as well. The 9 was a great player, in another league compared the to the 7. I've found the Arcam line in general to be terrific buys for the $$s and would check out the DiVa 92, Alpha 9 and FMJ CD23, all using that famous ring DAC. The Alpha 7SE is great entry-level player, but these other Arcams will stomp it.
When I upgraded my 9 I listened to several CDPs, including Wadia 831 & 861, the Resolution Audio CD55, the Linn Ikemi and Meridian 508.24. I really liked the Meridian, and I'd heard one quite a bit in a friend's system, but I couldn't find one used at a good price at the time.
I ended up buying the Cary CD303, and I think it's a very fine, musical player. You should be able to find one for well under $2000 used (they list for $2995 and are frequently discounted). The 303 is wonderful on acoustic music and jazz, has a beautiful, tonally rich mid-range, good rhythm and pace, detail and excellent bass (unlike previous Cary CDPs) - just very musically involving. Highly recommended.
Good luck with your search.
I owned a 8SE for a while and enjoyed it quite a bit. I looked into the cost of upgrading to the 9 Ring dac and found that you can find used 9's for a little more than the cost of the upgrade so maybe upgrading is not the final answer to your problem. If you want to remain loyal to your local dealer then get a price on the Diva 92 which is better built than the Alpha series anyways and work out which better suits you - trading in the 7 against the 92 or selling the 7 here and plopping down cash on the barrel head. Theres always the dark side of sacd - maybe with some luck you could find a 777ES for about $1700...