You are missing a lot- read some of the forum posts about this. I didn't like the sound of digital at all until I started using a computer server.
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I tend to agree. Provided the player has a solid, stable transport mechanism and you're happy with the remote control and functionality then you're set. That's why a lot of people look for older players like the Pioneer Elite models that don't sound great by today's standards from their analog outputs but have the famous "stable platter" transport as well as rock-solid build quality. But I've also used $50 DVD players that sounded as good (through the DAC) as much more expensive, dedicated CD players. Your mileage may vary.
That said, what's your budget? If you're planning to spend $1000 or $1500 total for example I have to wonder why you would want to go through the hassle and complication of two boxes, two power cords and one digital interconnect when $1000-$1500 players like the Rega Apollo and Cambridge Audio Azur 840 provide digital playback that's within shouting distance of "as good as it gets."
Assuming you use an external DAC, the biggest need is for the transport to accurately create a digital stream. Not all transports are created equal. Quality of the physical components, good circuit design, noise free power supply, and the quality of the clock all impact the ability of a transport to generate an accurate, jitter free stream. The more revealing your system, the more it will reveal transport limitations.
This is the essence of why so many people (myself included) are fans of file based transport (Sonos, Slim Devices, Computer based) instead of a disk based one. It is a newer approach, and as such takes some doing to implement well, but dollar to dollar you can get a lot better performance in my opinion.
thanks for the responses guys. my plan is to use a ps audio digital link 3 with the level three mods. from talking to a few people they say that it makes redbook cd sound like sacd. so i was hoping that i could avoid having to buy a "good" cd player. i am currently using a sony dvp-ns900v that was supposed to be modded by tube research labs (trl). but i am having second thoughts about doing that and going instead with the ps audio dac.
It also assumes that the transfer of bits from CD to hard disc was perfect, i.e. bit for bit and error corrected and that the reading of the data from the hard-drive is perfect. These are much better assumptions than assuming that your CDP reads every bit perfectly every time. Back to the original question, the lower the jitter that is sent to the DAC, the less jitter out of the DAC. The more jitter-free the transport, the lower the overall jitter in the signal passed to the pre-amp. Is it audible? Only you will know. Some say yes, some say no.