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Got started in computer-based playback, what's next?

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I got some great recommendations a couple years ago to get me started in computer-based audio. However, I think I may be ready to take the next step of selling off my CD player and current interface solution (John Kenny-modded HiFace) to get equal or better performance while not having to switch CDs every 3-10 minutes.


Current system looks like this: http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?vdone&1258245716&view


I love the Ayon, but its hallmark of carrying notes longer than natural is an annoyance. Although I don't mind a little embellishment of the size of the soundstage I want honesty in the reproduction. I was about to sell the Ayon and move to an Esoteric X-03SE, but then ran across another "You can get more for less with a computer-based front end" statement and thought I should investigate again. I've had a John Kenny-modded HiFace for about a year and a half now, and while it sounds great and is probably an analog lover's dream it isn't nearly as detailed, transparent, or fast as I'd like. Frankly, the Ayon spinning discs is easily better than the computer/ JK hiface running in to the Ayon's DAC to my ears. Analog lovers might find it a closer call.


So I have a couple options. Sell the Ayon and JK HiFace and buy a DAC with the money (~$3200, or less if using a bridge such as Halide or Wavelength) and run it from a new laptop I need to buy anyway since my current laptop finally died last week; or build the CAPS 2.0 for $1400 and limit my DAC spending to $1800 (or less if I'm buying a bridge). Note I have a separate budget for a laptop, which I need to buy for occasional travel, so it isn't lumped in to the audio budget.


The overall sound I'm looking to achieve is natural, uncolored, tonally balanced, and transparent/detailed without getting "digititis". I like the air and expanded soundstage of tubes but finding tube products that don't roll off the high end to lush up the midrange has been challenging in the past. Although I've never heard an Esoteric in my system I've enjoyed their gear at RMAF and at a couple dealers, so something like the Esoteric sound with the huge, beautiful soundstage of tubes would be ideal.


I've reviewed the CASH list but specific recommendations based on my circumstances are greatly, greatly appreciated!






Front ends:

Digital: Sonore ultraRendu or SOtM 200 ultra Trifecta --> LKS MH-D004

Analog: Clearaudio Performance DC --> Rogue Triton

Back end: SMc Audio VRE-1C --> SMc Audio DNA125 Platinum Plus-->Stealth Dream v10 cables --> Ridge Street Audio Designs Sason speakers, dual Rhythmik F12SE subs



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