The only one I've heard that you listed is the Ayre and I was very impressed with it. Used you might look at the SimAudio Eclipse and the McCormack UDP-1, both used.
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I have the Ayre CX-7e, just got the upgrade a few months ago. The detail, soundstage and imaging are incredible. I "hear" things in CDs that were not there before! Can't say that I compared it to your other choices but did compare it to an Opus-21. The Opus had a bit more detail but not enough to justify the higher price. And that was the "non-Evolution" CX-7. Not sure if it would better it now, probably not. Good luck with your search. Much of the pleasure is in the hunt!
Dont know anything about your MA6900, but your JM speakers are definately capable when driven by a bit better of a player.
For about $2500 you can get into a Wadia 850, or for the $3500 you can get into a Wadia 860. You can probably get into the one piece Levinson box for that as well. All of those units use more modern drives should you require service.
This is such a personal thing...for example, I did not care for the Resolution Audio Opus 21 at all, but I quite liked the Ayre and the Cary 303/300. The Ikemi didn't do it in my system either but many people love theirs.
A lot depends on the gear, the type of music you listen to and your personal taste. At this level, you just gotta listen to players, preferably in your system, before choosing.
Just so you know, I listen toall kinds of music, but about 70% is classical (large scale orcjestral, chamber, instrumental, vocal, early music and choral) with the balance being rock, jazz, acoustic, soundtracks, R&B, world music and...whatever.
I would look at both new and used players. My hit list would include:
Ayre CX7e (more dynamic with better bass the the non-upgraded version, which is still very good BTW)
Cary 303/300 new or used 306/200
ARC CD3 used
Lector CD7 used (probably impossible to find used 4k new)
Audio Aero Captole MkII used
I always liked the Meridian 508.24 so check out the Meridian by all means.
Another player that intrigues me is the Musical Fidelity A5. It certainly warrants an audition at its price point and is getting raves from owners.
Just finished an in home audition of two days. Most musical player at that price point ($3000) around. Only problem is it ONLY plays CDs, not SACDs etc.A home audition of what player? What other players have you heard? What type of system do you have, and with what type of music did you audition the player?
I tried out a number of players but was not happy with any of them until I brought home the Meridian G08. I didn't try out much else in the 4k range though, mostly stuff in the 2.5-3.5k range (USD). When I heard how clean and how cohesive all the elements in the music sounded (the soundstage was rock hard stable), as well as how easy it was to hear all the musical elements separately, it was a no brainer. I had to throw down the extra money. It matches well with the transparency of my Brystons (SP1.7 in analog bypass mode).
It plays all the ranges, high through low with equal attention, so if your speakers don't carry the whole range, bass, mid and treble well it would be best to bring it home as a loaner and test it on your system first.
My system: Bryston 9B SST, Bryston SP1.7, Meridian G08, Denon DVD-5910, B&W 7 series 5.1 speaker setup (2 x 703, 2 x 705, HTM7, ASW 750).
Hmmm an interesting question. Having owned McIntosh equipment and a current owner of JM Labs speakers (Mini Utopias) I would suspect that your sound is touch lean. I'm a big fan of the Cary line. I had the 303-100 and it was an excellent player in my system. I have heard the older Meridian players but have not heard the Ayre equipment. I'm going the Sony 999ES / Modwright route for my next upgrade.
Probably most of the players listed will do a great job. Your jvc player is holding you back so much that all will be a significant improvement. Do you have the opportunity to listen to any of them? I have heard the mac, ayre and cary and could live with any of them. I would rate the cary first, ayre second and the mac third. Resolution with the cary is the best and the sound never gets too etched. I have the same amp paired with von shweikert vr4 jr. The front end I decided to go with is a $500 dac mated to my dvd player. I am extremely pleased and have yet to find something that sounds better.
Having owned the 6900 for several years and with a few different CDP's (XA777ES, MAC MCD 205) I would say the the 6900 will make nice music with pretty muchany of the CDP's you listed. I do not think it will mate poorly with any of them. Of the ones you mentioned I have only heard the G08 (with the 6900) and thought it fantastic.
out of all the players in the 1000.00 to 5000.00 range, WADIA is by far my favorite, super smooth 4 volt output on the RCA's vs. the standard 2 volt machines, built way beyond what you could imagine for a cd deck to be, and it is the fullest body sounding unit with the most real sound stage, okay the soundstage is not real it actually sounds double the size it should be, my room went from 8 ft to 20 ft ceilings :)... and truth is I turn on my turntable and can't believe it could get better, but then the wadia warms up after about an hour of use and it is astonishing at how truly analog it sounds but with more weight and of course Bass is top dog out of the wadia but anyone will tell you that, but they are very powerfull sounding CD players, very open and very in your face, most dvd players sound a little rolled off and like you are in the 12th row, but the Wadia is very upfront, like you are standing on stage, could be good for some, could be bad for others, its all in your taste but mine is perfect for me, and It replaced a 3000.00 dollar universal, Yep SACD and all but the Wadia stomped it, I left SACD since and have completly invested in Redbook and Vinyl ...
So for me the beatles and like zeppelin on vinyl are best, but for some other music CD's are better. So I guess you can't really say a turntable is better for everything.
P.s. the Wadia plays Killer tunes even when a bad disc is thrown at it, scratched, MP3, CdR's anything I can think of is flawless.
Give a try to Lyngdorf CD-1. It is cheaper than CDPs that you are looking after but should be as good as some of them. I liked very much its dynamics and openess ... Meridian G08 is more relaxed, very neutral - really good player. Naimd CD 5x I would put also on the short list.
Classe cdp-100 is a kind of legend already, but you won't find it new any more.