If you don't listen to any other sources but CD (i.e. FM, LP's, cassette tapes, etc.) THEN YOU DEFINITELY DON'T NEED A PREAMP. Look for a used Resolution Audio CD-50 player, which will drive the amp directly (the output transistors are HUGE BIPOLARS). It's better than any Wadia. Also much better than the Theta Miles. HOWEVER, if you do listen to other sources, PUT THE BEL CANTO DAC-1 AT THE TOP OR YOUR MUST AUDITION LIST, www.belcantodesign.com. They let you audition them for only the cost of shipping, I believe. The Theta Data Basic 2 was one of the best transports, but they've told me that the new "Pearl" is it's equal, for less. I DON'T KNOW ABOUT THAT. I'd just use a DVD player as transport for a while, if I were you. As for preamp, I don't know what you'd like. The competition is baffling in the $1500 range. You'd probably want to settle on a few tubed units, and an equal number of solid state, AND TRY TO AUDITION ALL OF THEM IN YOUR SYSTEM. I'd perhaps try the ARC LS-15 or Sonic Frontiers Line 1 or 2 for tubes. And I'd try a Threshold T-2 or Krell KAV-250p for solid state. OR YOU COULD PERUSE STEREOPHILE'S RECOMMENDED COMPONENTS...most of us do this at one time or another, and we also subscribe to way too damned many of these rags...or maybe that's just me. Personally, I've not been able to get all the way thru one issue ever since I got "internetitis"...and it's becoming gangrinous to the wallet, heh heh heh.
You don't need to buy a used preamp... there is new line stage pre-amp from Morrisson that is outstanding and below your budget (Peter Aczel - the Audio Critic bought one after reviewing it since it was the bestr preamp he ever measured and heard). It is called ELAD and is reviewed at audioreview.com. Using a cd direct causes a problem since it does not have the drive at the low input impedance of your amplifiers. This will roll of your frequency extension. In terms of a transport for digital... there is a lot of confusion out there. If you are using a coax cable you will here a large variance between units. A fibre optic (toslink) connection sounds the same across most transports. The reason is again impedance. If you use coax it is impled that your transport cable and dac are all 75 ohms impedance. If any one of them is not, you swill skew your frequency response. This is the source of most "differences" heard in transports. Using the fibre optic connection eliminates most of the differences, extends high frequency repsonse and gives a smoother sound (particularly the highs!). You can use a dvd player as a transport using the toslink digital out. Spend the money you save on a good fibre optic cable. If you can get a quartz one, they sound better than the plastic ones. Hagen
YOU'RE DEAD WRONG ABOUT CD PLAYERS WHICH ARE DESIGNED TO DRIVE AN AMP DIRECTLY, so go educate yourself about them, and stop showing your ignorance. YOU'RE ALSO WRONG ON SEVERAL POINTS ABOUT OPTICAL CABLE. For one thing, the glass ones and the plastic ones ARE TWO DIFFERENT CONNECTIONS: Toslink is plastic, and AT&T is glass. For another thing, it is widely known that Toslink connections induce large amounts of jitter, where coaxial SP/DIF connections have lower induced jitter. That said, the Bel Canto DAC I recommended above seems to work well with a toslink connection and a DVD player, since it has advanced jitter reduction circuitry. "MATC", TRY IT, and ignore guys with stupid member names 100 characters long...
Hi Matc. Forget about the DAC and buy a used Sony XA7ES CD player-- about $1200. and a Sonic Frontiers Line 1 pre-amp, about $1200. to $1400. The XA7 makes an excellent "stand alone" CD player or an excellent transport. The SF Line 1 adds smoothness and helps take the etched, electronic character out of ordinary CDs. I use this set up either with or without a Muse Model Two DAC, and the differences in music character/quality between the to systems are neglible. I've noticed that the Muse can be had for about $700. used, and it is an excellent DAC if you choose to use one. The Muse only has BNC inputs, but high quality BNC to coaxial RCA adaptors are available from Muse.
I really don't think I want to get between Carl and Hagen, will try to keep my response relatively short. I strongly believe from all I hear, the BEST VALUE in a DAC at the present time to be the MUSE MODEL TWO with the AES/EBU and the 4th Order Reconstruction Filter option, or BETTER YET, the MODEL TWO PLUS on which these options are standard and also includes the MUSE I2S Interface as well. Both would afford you a future upgrade path to the TWO NINETY SIX (96kHz/24Bit) processor Muse offers. As a mate for the TWO PLUS, you may want to try and pick up a MUSE MODEL FIVE Transport. It also comes with the I2S connection and you would then have what I believe to be a vastly superior front end on which you can build the rest of your system. As for the Pre-Amp, I would strongly consider the MUSE MODEL THREE as well. Listing new under $2,000 it has enjoyed great acclaim as well, being compared by many as an equal with pieces several times it's price. There is also a stand alone power supply and display for the MODEL THREE available which I believe can be added at any time. In the used market I believe you should be able to go with all three pieces and most likely stay within your price range. I feel when putting together the front end of a system, perhaps staying with one highly acclaimed manufacturer, as Muse certainly is, makes a lot of sense. I find it hard to beleive that a marrying of these critical pieces of electronics in particular, would not have been of prime consideration in the mind and goals of a design engineer.
The BEL CANTO UPsamples (with a slow roll off filter that doesn't kill the top octave like Wadia's) and has much jitter reduction ciruitry (as well as the highest quality caps and resistors), therefore it plays CD's better than a 24/96 DAC that DOESN'T UPSAMPLE. IT'S ALSO MUCH MORE AFFORDABLE THAN THE MUSE UNITS. HOWEVER...I DEFINITELY don't doubt the superiority of the I2S connection, BUT FOR THAT MONEY MY CD 50 WOULD BLOW YOUR MUSE RIG AWAY playing CD's (NOT DAD's of course). Because: While Muse makes great product with high inherent value, YOU STILL NEED A PREAMP FOR THEM. GARFISH: Sony XA7 with a Sonic Frontiers Line 1? NOT AS GOOD A VALUE, OR AS HIGH IN PERFORMANCE, as my CD50!! With it, string tone EXCEEDS MY BENZ GLIDER in warmth, roundness, solidity; all from FEEBLE old CD...and that's just stringed instruments...which is partly why I upgraded to a LO4 cartridge...Not that the Glider didn't have some leg up over my CD50, but I tell ya, IT'S ALMOST FRIGHTENING HOW GOOD THE CD50 IS...it's just killer! IT'S A CRIME THAT EVERYBODY DOESN'T HAVE ONE!! OK, that was over the top, but you get the idea.
these people above really haven't helped you out. the units they are suggesting aren't even in your price range. sure the units they are suggesting are excellent units, but comparable can be had for much less. a good dac that is hard to find however is the counterpoint da10a. they can be upgraded to the 24/96 dvd standard and are upgradeable to 192khz when that standard is introduced. they can be had for about $600. the bel canto mentioned above is also another great choice and is available still. as for a transport, a good tube player that can be had for what you are asking is the cal tempest mkIII, it has a separate power supply and is dang close to analog. preamps are always hard to shop for, you're best bet is trial and error, try it and if you like it stick with it if not dump it. the sonic frontiers sfl-1 and sfl-2 is good but i suggest the morrison elad if you are using 2 sources or less. it has the best measurements ever taken in any critique. all in all, its going to be a matter of what sounds good to you.
The CD50 is indeed in your price range, so Fenix is less than accurate there. It'll blow away anything that doesn't upsample, guranteed.
It is all a matter of taste. I use a PS Audio UltraLink II and love it about $500.00 used, a Cal Delta transport, about $400.00 used, and a Melos Maestro tube preamp. There is a used one on this site for $1100.00. Other preamps beside the very good Morrisson http://www.surpher.com/MORRISON/ are some tube units. Zen preamp is very good http://www.decware.com/preamp.htm and also Wright preamp WLA12A http://www.wright-sound.com/ These three companies make excellant products and they do not cost over $1000.00.
I don't know about "best", but I've been using a McCormack TLC-1 Deluxe line stage preamp for about 4 months and have been very happy with it; it's quiet and transparent (what more do you want from a preamp?). I also just added an Aragon D2A2 outboard D/A converter to my system and couldn't be more pleased. Aragon is well known for their amps, but their D/A converter is a well-hidden secret. The D2A2 is very smooth and liquid, it opened up the midrange on my system, smoothed out the high end, and brought the low end into better balance with the rest of the musical picture. It's brought great listening pleasure and I think it's worth a look. It's $999 list new, I picked one up used for $525.