I own the Marantz and i've previously owned a Pass x250. I'd go with the ARC LS17-Marantz combo. A good preamp will usually sound better than a cd player with a volume control(digital volume?)plus you can try SACD.
Go with your first instinct, and take the following opinions for their entertainment value only, because in this hobby everyone is right when it comes to their own systems, and few are right when it comes to others' systems.