I would say yes.
The problem with CD is that its spec is the mathematical minimum you need to reproduce hi-fi sound. This leaves no room for error for the CD player. But in reality CD players aren't perfect, and high frequency suffers. Some people complain about the digital weirdness (typically described as bright, lean, thin, lack-of-air, overly detailed or not organic) of CD sound, and I think it is basically a high frequency problem. Unfortunately, I listen to a lot classical music, and the beauty of vioins and pianos is mainly in hi-frequency. Of course, digital weirdness can be overcome by increasing sampling rate, as in SACD and DVD-A. In reality, most of the music I own or want is still on CD, and getting a hi-end source to minimize digital weirdness is still worth it.
Luckily, with advances in semiconductor technology, DAC performances have been imrpoving. Even inexpensive DVD players can employ good DAC chips which will still sound quite good in very standard circuits. My previous source is Sony DVP-NS900V SACD/DVD player ($800). Several audio magazines describes its CD playback as very good but a bit lean and bass-light compared to the finest CD players. Comparing SACD vs CD on the Sony, although subtle differences can be detected in bass and resolution, the more noticeable and relevant improvement is smoothing out the highs. Improved treble reproduction in SACD is more pleasant and realistic to me. I would say the improvements of SACD over CD are small but relevant to my listening preference.
Then I felt the urge to upgrade to better playback, and ended up with Benchmark DAC1. Compared to Sony, DAC1 has slightly stronger bass and better resolution, and less digital wierdness. Again these differences are so small that they only manifest themselves in careful comparison. But when I do casual listening, the reduction of digital wierdness from DAC1 does make music more enjoyable, while other aspects don't really matter much. If DAC1 does not have decent headphone amp and preamp functions, I probably would not think it is worthwhile to spend $1k for such small differences, based on my total system budget. In that case, money could have been better spent for Wooaudio-3 and HD650+cable upgrade or something like that.
Comparing DAC1 on CD and Sony on SACD, DAC1 excels in bass, resolution and imaging, but SACD's smoothness in treble and fuller sound still makes it a winner. I feel the most significant improvement that hi-end sources bring is fixing digital weirdness associated with CDs. If you aren't bothered by digital wierdness in the first place, I think the sonic benefits of hi-end source upgrade is minor compared to cans and amps. With better DAC chips reaching the market, I expect the differences between the finest sources and affordable stuff to keep shrinking. Admittedly, I don't have the best sources, but using DAC1 and SACD player I no longer feel annoyed by digital wierdness and am able to enjoy music more. Pretty large price to pay to fix a not-so-big problem, and just does not seem to be a great investment. Although it is worth it for me, but I can easily imagine for other people it may not be.
Johnnysize, thank you for sharing your experience with source upgrades. Candid opinions like yours make head-fi more worthwhile to visit.
BTW, the alleged sucess of T-amp with K1000 for me is not an indication that amp does not matter. It is an indication that this T-amp is an audio gem and a real phenomenon. When I evaluated T-amp in a speaker setup, I am actually amazed by how much this amp can improve the sound (see review
). On the contrary, T-amp demonstrates that amp can make a difference, but in this case you have to embrace the fact that cheaper can be better, and a lot cheaper canstill be better, which rarely happens in audio but there is no law against it.