I have had the Ayre C5-Xe SACD/CD player for 3 years. It was unquestionably the best player I had ever heard for under $10,000 when I bought it (for $6000). I never expected to buy another player.
The Sony SCD-XA5400ES totally blows it away. I have had it for 3 months now, in a top-quality $30,000 audio system (Audio Research and Vandersteen) and it is simply incredible. My system uses all-balanced connections and I haven't even tried the unbalanced outputs, so I can't speak to that.
It is the ONLY player I have ever heard that can reproduce a concert grand piano with the dynamics and tonal structure reproduced so perfectly that the effect of a live concert is presented convincingly. The same goes for a full concert orchestra, a jazz combo recorded live, vocals, etc. Both SACDs and CDs are spectacularly good. Those who find it fashionable to continue bad-mouthing the inadequacy of the "red-book" standard CD should hear the incredible sound of this unit, even on standard CDs. Great recordings from the 1960s sound equally excellent on the best vinyl and this Sony CD player.
I have a very good Music Hall turntable with Benz cartridge and Audio Research PH-5 phono amp, and since I bought the Sony I have hardly listened to my LPs; it is that good!
I very much doubt if anything made by Marantz even comes close, based on my listening so far. Products costing $6000-$8000 from Audio Research, Luxman, and Esoteric are not as good.
THis unit is incredible for its ridiculously low price! It is the product of the decade, in my opinion; a giant-killer. My advice is to go to Sonystyle and order one really fast! At $1500, it is certainly an incredible bargain.