I am not a fan of expensive items, but I am a big fan of well-made things that make me feel like I got 'the one'. I have listened to the following digital equipment:
- Metronome Kalista Ref/C2a
- Emm CDSA
- Esoteric X-01SE
- Krell 505
- ARC CD 3, 5, 7, 8
- Meridian 808.i2
- Weiss Medea
- DCS Elgar, Scarlatti, Vivaldi
- STahl-Tek Vekian
- Zanden 4-box
I also have listened to the [relatively] more moderate levels: Oppo 83, 95 and some modd'd versions (excellent). I have heard AMR, Unico, Rega, NAD, Rotel, Yamaha, and the list goes on...
To give you my personal bias...I ran a pretty high end system (SF Strads, Guarneris, CJ equipment...using a $60 Daewoo DVD player that embarrassed an $800 Rega player in front of the dealer who admitted there was no point in my upgrading). I did that for almost 10 years because I knew high end digital was better, but I found better places to spend my money and I had not found anything that triggered my interest that seriously.
In my own personal experience, [some] of the digital in the 'expensive tier' possesses a 'magic' that incorporates the following which I find comes at an extraordinary premium for the money (hence why I refused to upgrade in instalments until I could find something magical second hand):
- detail, detail detail without throwing it at you, carving it out space, forcing it
- quiet, quiet quiet noise floor which allows both detail and micro and macro dynamics
- and effortless that makes you really feel like you are listening to music more...and listening less to music reproduction
- You also get incredible full-range presence...the bass I enjoy along with the density of signal, the depth of the note, the meat of the note, and the purity of tone...are all at a level that makes my Oppo 95 (and excellent player) very hard and mechanical. Very. And its a darn good player! Sure, within 3-5 seconds on the right track in the right moment, you might be fooled...but honestly, its tough to be fooled, and in any rationale amount of time, it is so much harder it is not really worth 'testing yourself' anymore...you just go back to listening to music on the bigger DAC.
That said, [for me]...I tried and tried and tried to convince myself to buy the DCS Elgar (over my $60 Daewood player) 3 times...and could never get myself to do it...despite it being a deep discount. I really wanted to upgrade and do it...but never could pull the trigger. It was not worth it to me, even at 35 cents on the dollar of retail. Along came the Zanden (also second hand)...but at 2x my original budget. Took me 20 minutes as the store was closing to ask for an official audition the next day (in my own mind, the next day's 2-hour audition in the store was just a sanity check on my foregone conlusion I was going to buy it)...and mind you, at the time, I had never even heard of Zanden before. I had to google it. And I was already ready to buy it after 20 minutes.
A longwinded way of saying for me, when its right, its right. And in a number of cases, its costs more...but that's the price of magic. I wont pay for other people's magic...I certainly wont pay if there is no magic...would rather pay $60 bucks and save my money. But when its right, magic is wonderful...