I actually bought a Granite Audio #657 Tube output CD Player the end of last year just after it came out. I originally passed on the opportunity to buy one of the first #650's, and I'm glad I did as the tube output stage is much much better. The #657 is intensively the #650 with an additional tube output stage. You can still listen to it via the SS electronics and bypass the tube section all together if you wanted to (it has two sets of RCA outputs.) The tube stage is basically an "add-on" to the original unit. (I'm told the #650 unit can be upgraded to #657 for a fee.)
I opened it up a while back, and it's very clean inside. It's looks are comparable, if not better than the BAT or Sonic Frontier gear from the inside. I'm surprised they don't show pictures of it on their website. The transport is mounted very securely inside the chassis. In addition, there are 2 toriodal transformers mounted in the rear of the unit - 1 for the tube output section and 1 for the rest of the electronics. The tube output stage consists of 2 - 6DJ8 dual triode tubes and 6X4 rectifier tube. In addition, all the resistors, capacitors, connectors, and internal wiring look to be of very high quality.
As for sound, it's an incredible player. It's ever so slightly on the warm/musical side without adding any "coloration" to the music. When I listen to it, the one feeling that comes to mind is pure "music". It has plenty of punch and rythm - nothing laid back about the sound at all.
In my opinion, it's comparable to the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 3D CD Player. They are both built like a tank. I feel the MF unit has a tiny bit more resolution/detail than the #657 but it tends to be a bit more analytical sounding when compared to the #657. I also feel the #657 in my opinion has better bass control. I think each has their own strengths which makes them both great players. I would be happy with either one of these players, but I did end up choosing the #657.
Even though the #657 does not have 24 bit - 96 KHz output, it does have 16 to 20 Bit (@ 96 KHz) upsampling which I feel only adds to the quality of the music. I won't preach on the virtues of upsampling as there are many articles already written on the subject, but I can tell you is that it works.
It's definitely overlooked as a serious CD player as there just haven't been enough real reviews on it (other than the one on the Granite Audio web site.) In addition, the few reviews there are just don't have enough merrit amongst the audio community.
Since the #657 has a very high-quality analog volume control and an enough gain, you can hook this directly into your amplifier without the need for a preamp. I'm told you won't loose any resolution if you decide to run it this way either unlike some of the lower quality volume controls found on some CD players. However, the usefulness of the rear mounted knob may be of some consideration for certain people who think of running it this way (I found it a little difficult to get at the knob in my rack due to the spacing between the shelves.)
As for sounding better than SACD - well "perhaps" the Sound SCD-777ES unit in some areas as one past reviewer mentioned (I think there are numerous tradeoffs on each player which considerably level the playing field, but I'm not going to try to rate them as I just don't have enough time with the 777 to provide an accurate comparison), but I would be really hard pressed to consider it better than some of the highend SACD units like the Accuphase, etc. However, you need to give careful consideration to the enormous price difference between the players for the performance difference.
I think what really shines the most about the Granite Audio products is the performance/price point. For $2900, it's a absolute bargain. This also includes just about all of their cable line-up as well.
What's also nice is the In-home Demonstration Program Granite Audio offers. They basically allow you to try out the product for 30 days to audition it. If you don't like it you can send it back less shipping costs, and any credit card processing fees. It's a pretty nice/fair deal.
Some additional things I would consider when purchasing. Well, for starters that the #657 doesn't have balanced outputs. For me this was not a problem, but it could be for some.
Also the unit doesn't have front panel mounted buttons, which I personally don't like, but after talking with Granite Audio I seem to be part of the minority not the majority. I'm told most people like the look of the plain "granite" face plate without the additional clutter of the buttons.
After recently having a bit of upgrades to my unit at while it factory recently, I actually now consider near perfect for what I wanted out of a CD player. I can easily recommend this unit on sound quality alone. It's a lot of player for the money.
I think what really makes this player great is the techincal support/service you receive after you already bought the unit. If you ever had any questions or problems, Granite Audio is right there to back you up. Don Hoglund has been personally only a phone call or email away for me - he always takes the time out of his busy schedule to answer all of my questions no matter what. Truly top notch support.
Definitely a CD player to consider in the sub $5k price range. You can find out more details on their web site www.graniteaudio.com.
Finally, usualy disclaimers - I have no affiliation with Granite Audio or any audio dealer for that matter. I am just a consumer/audiophile like the rest of you. Happy listening!