Well first of all, many thanks to all who attended, and made the journey on a Monday eve. It was great to meet you all - Adam, Earl and Papa, my overriding impression of the evening was of great company, interesting conversation, a great curry, a cohesive set of opinions with regard to the cdps, and some great music ( it's ok I've put Diana Krall back in its box now!).
I must say that I had great trepidation with regard to holding this, as a newbie I've not attended a bake off before, my system probably doesn't tick any of the established boxes that are held by many of the senior members here and was wary that the meet could have been diverted from its original agenda. This proved not to be the case on all counts, and can strongly recommend those considering to have a meet to dive in, give it a bash and discover that you can only learn from the proceeds...
Thanks to Earl and Papa for bringing their pride and joys, and for allowing them to be used to establish the relevant performance indicators that my personal experience was lacking. ( I hadn't dared to listen to v.expensive kit when I was upgrading as it would have been financially disastrous).
Anyway back to the kit, further to Papa's post I think we were broadly in agreement with his viewpoint and here's my take of the proceedings;
Marantz CD75se, this was my original cdp from the late 80's ,and was probably equivalent in performance at that time to what sub £1k players are now. It showed it's age in this company with a somewhat uninspiring mid range, but a sweet treble and extended (but not that tight) bass - would still work well in a starter system though (and did at recent dealer dems!).
Cambridge 840C - Initially couldn't tell the difference between this and the Roksan on a duplicate cd a-b switch test, but hear it separately with a couple of tracks to its own and a clearer picture emerges. Has a very smooth mid - treble with bags of detail, a machine you could listen to for hours without any fatigue whatsoever, but for me, the bass was a little indecisive and lacked punch. (Ed - I'll do a more in depth review later)
Roksan, mysteriously this is a Kandy with a caspian output/dac board (no wonder I thought it sounded good on demo!). The biggest difference between this and the Cambridge is the drive and dynamic range it offers, the bass is much tighter and punchier and that seems to endow the machine with a more engaging manner and involvement. However there's no more detail on offer than the 840c so it's 'horses for courses'.
Earl's Stello was an interesting beast, again first time I've seen/heard any thing from this stable, and unusually it turned up with it's own life support system;) (mains conditioner with thicker cables than my domestic supply!) which apparently gives it the right sort of electrons. However the Stello was definitely a good step up, its presentation was clean and crisp while maintaining an air of musicality that had previously not been revealed by the previous contestants. I found that it performed well across all the areas that one would look for, with good drive punch and clarity, nothing was overdone and a well balanced and highly capable performer for the money.
Papa's Esoteric X-03se, was a different kettle of fish completely, fiercely detailed and controlled, extracting the last bit of music from the disc and portraying it straight at you warts and all. I suspect that my system was struggling to keep up with theinformation and textures that were presented to it, and was therefore not doing it the justice that it deserved. However the sound-stage was immense and the musicality and control unsurpassed - definitely one for my lottery wish list!
Once again thanks all for the insight and experience - we must do it again soon...
ps you know you want to borrow those IMF's, don't you Adam....;)