I strongly disagree. I have owned $800 Rotel cd players, auditioned music hall and cambridge audio for a bit less, owned a rega saturn, owned a cayin (forget the model nbr, 17 ?). the cayin smoked the others i mentioned. I had these as my player at my desk at work. My home cd player is a Naim cd5 with outboard power supply (over $3000 all told) and IT smokes the cayin.
I am now auditioning a grant fidelity tubedac-11 (i have a few hundred hours on it) and although it is not at the level of refinement of the Naim set-up (in that it certainly exhibits more of a digital signature), it is a very good sounding unit and makes my cd's sound far better than any of the mid price cd players i've mentioned. Add in the fact that for hi rez of 24/96 it sounds much better than it's price would suggest, there is no way in heck I would replace it with a cd player under probably $1200 to $1500. And it costs only $350 bucks.
I would not be surprised if purely as a DAC (it also functions as a preamp with 2 analog inputs and multiple digital inputs, has 3 discrete output modes plus a headphone amp built in) it can be surpassed for a hundred to 350 more. so for $700 or less I KNOW that I can own a DAC that blows away those 500 to 1000 cd players, because this one does. I am probaly going to move up before all is said and done as I'd like a DAC that is even better than this (being spoiled by my naim and my analog rig) but if your budget is 500 or so I strongly advise a DAC. If possible auditon some of the players you mentioned and a couple of good mid price dacs, and let your ears decide. .
edit: after another week on the tubedac-11, I am going to try tube rolling as an upgrade path, as the sound of this unit has just gotten better and better even with just it's stock tube
Edited by analog'd - 5/5/12 at 1:52pm