Ron,A very interesting update, Phil! Thank you!
You mentioned the cost of the digital source components. What would you say is the cost of your analog source components you are using to compare to the sound of the digital?
There's not a straightforward answer because we'd be comparing new digital @ 2021 retail with analog that is the result of spending spread over more than 40 years. On my primary hifi, my digital front end, not including streaming subscriptions, presently includes an 8TB RAID drive + one 12.9" iPad Pro + Auralic Aries G2.1 wifi streamer + Bricasti M21 Platinum DAC. Control software is Auralic Lightning DS, which is included with the Aries. I have a Roon software installation (permanent license) but haven't been using it because Lightning DS sounds better and is more stable. But if I did I'd have to add about $3000 for the Roon license + the PC dedicated to running Roon Core. So that's about $27,000 - $30,000 in toto for the equivalent of an analog chain consisting of phono cartridge + tonearm + turntable + phono pre to get an output suitable for input to the same linestage the digital front end feeds.
My primary analog front end is difficult to value in comparable terms because the turntable is 45 years old. The Luxman PD-444 cost $800 sans tonearm in 1976. On an inflation basis, that's equivalent to about $4000 today. But this turntable cannot be made for $4000 today. It sounds better than the $4000 Technics SL1210G, although that does come with a tonearm. And small high-end hifi companies could not make that Technics for a $4000 retail either. The Luxman is a direct-drive turntable so its performance, with the feet upgrades I've made is, in modern SQ terms, in the realm of Brinkmann Bardo to Grand Prix Parabolica. Let's say to replace the Luxman today with something equivalent requires at the moment ~$15K. Let's use that as a modern turntable value. The Luxman accommodates two tonearms and I have two on it, but I'll only include one for this purpose: Thomas Schick 12", $2000. Phono cartridge is either Ortofon SPU Meister Silver or SPU Synergy G. $100 difference between them so I'll just go with $2000 there. Phono preamp is a Nagra BPS. You can't buy this new today, but it was $2300. I could find something suitable today in the $2000 - $3000 range. The Nagra has built-in SUTs. Its output equates to the output of the digital gearchain. So, current performance value on my analog side is ~$21,300. To-date, it has cost more to get a digital front end that delivers musical satisfaction similar to analog and it still does. With hi-res streaming sidelining the cost of a high end disc player on the digital side, and DAC engineering steadily improving the musicality of at least a few vendors' DACs, that cost differential is narrowing. I duplicate both front ends on my secondary system, with the exceptions that tonearm(s) are vintage Japanese, the Bricasti DAC there is the M1LE Gold (sigma-delta only), and the streamer is an Auralic Aries G1.
Now, I spent much less than outlined above, on the analog front end, because I bought the turntable more than 40 years ago, the tonearm more than a decade ago, the Nagra from a dealer liquidating and upgraded the Luxman's feet circa 2008. Only my three SPUs each cost the same as now, more than a decade ago.
Of course, even if one accepts $15,000 as the basis for an equivalent turntable, such a front end can be assembled for much more. It's no trouble finding $6000 - $10,000 tonearms suitable for such a turntable, and same could leverage a $5,000 - $15,000 phono cartridge. And it would be no problem to find a phono preamp 5X the price of the Nagra or more, though some would be inferior, some no better, and a few preferable over it. And then there are the variables in source material. If like me you love the sound of an SPU, will you spend $15,000 for a phono cartridge? Probably not, but then again there's Koetsu up there. It would be easy to throw $10,000 at a phono pre. Easy to make that current-value analog front end ~$42,000+ instead of $21,300 by going to the moon on the cartridge & phono pre. Toss in a four figures MC SUT if you want to spend still more. All this, without venturing into the $75,000 to infinity turntables realm. The Bricasti M21 will still live in such a system as a digital peer, keeping in mind that it does PCM in sigma-delta and R2R, plus decodes DSD 1-bit in analog or DoP. That's new. It wasn't long ago that a $100K stack of digital could be easily beaten on musicality & engagement by analog rigs assembled for 1/10th that.