What's really happening in my receiver?

In the process of evaluating the need/want for an SACD player I ended up listening to three different CD players, one was a standard multi-disk player and the other two were SACD players. The SACD players were/are hooked up analog while the standard player is hooked up with both analog and digital cables.

What I've found is that all three players have a similar sound stage using the analog cables, but the standard one hooked up with the digital cable has a very different soundstage. Obviously, whatever is happening in the receiver in digital vs. analog processing is the major difference.

I have an Integra 50.1 that has been running in Direct Mode for all listening. It seems strange that the D/A converter can be totally responsible for the change considering how similar three other players sound, so what else is going on?

I thought the direct mode was supposed to do as little as possible, but seems to be making a significant change.
Which sounds best? Do any of you SACD players have HDMI 1.2 or above outputs?
Why do you find it strange that a D/A converter can make so much of a difference? After all, CD players (largely due to differences in their internal DACs) can sound significantly different. Yours happen to have similar sonic characteristics.

I can't speak for your Integra unit, but it is possible that the Direct Mode bypasses any digital room correction processing that might occur when you use the digital input. Some processors will actually digitally sample the analog inputs, too, so for these even the analog inputs spend some time in the digital domain.

I would just use whichever combination sounds best to you.

I don't know that one sounds better than the other, probably more different than anything else.

None of the CD/SACD players have HDMI ouputs, I have not tried it with my blu-ray player that is HDMI so not I have an assignment to do. The only digital connection is toslink.

I guess I would have expected the sound of my two Integra D/A converters (i.e. CD player and Receiver) to sound more similar because they are, I believe, both burr-brown and the same model years than the CD player does compared to two others that are of a different brand and vintage.
Home work results are in. The HDMI from the blu-ray player sounds nearly identical to the toslink from the CD player, as I expected it would.
You won't get hi res Bluray audio over toslink though.
Agree, HDMI is the only connection from the blu-ray player and the toslink is from the CD player. I believe that the toslink can only support two channels of uncompressed audio.