CD aHi Fi importer Ralph Grundl describes the market for CD players as “steady.” But then his glass has always been half-full.

CD player sales tanked years ago when people discovered DVD players handle CDs as well. Why buy two players when one does it all? These days if you ask for a CD player at one of the major electrical stores they think you’re talking about a stereo system. Ask for a stand-alone CD player that plugs into an amplifier and they look at you like you’ve just arrived from Planet Zork.

But CD players sound better than most Blu-ray players and way better than DVDs, and when you actually listen to music this matters. So where, exactly, can you buy one?

Serious hi fi shops have them. Brands like Yamaha, Denon, Cambridge Audio, NAD, Rotel and Electrocompaniet make them – Marantz has introduced three new models this year – and competition is healthy. The performance-for-dollars equation has never been better.

But cheap CD players have vanished. They may still make such things but I couldn’t find any, at least not anywhere I could listen prior to buying. Prices start around $400 to $500 and after listening you may just spend a bit more.

cd bThe way to find out if you can hear the difference is to take whatever you’re playing your CDs on now into a hi fi shop, along with a couple of CDs you know well. Listen to your music on one of their players and then listen again on yours, same amplifier, same speakers. If the music is less involving, less exciting, if you’re less inclined to punch the air or even tap your foot, then you’ll know what you’ve been missing all these years. If it all sounds much the same save your money.

Don’t fret about the investment. Even though audio streaming is fast becoming the music source of choice CD is far from dead and the reason is, as Grundl observes: “There are still so many people with so many CDs.”

And the great bulk of streamed music is still of lesser quality than practically any CD. One salesperson I spoke to believes the CD player should constitute one third of a total system budget.

Of course the great attractions of having just one disc player to handle both music and movies is saving space and having fewer cables. If this is an issue at your place there are solutions around.

Blu-ray players do a better job of reproducing music than DVD players and there are some premium Blu-ray players around, like Oppo’s nicely compact BD103 ($699) and rather larger BD105 ($1699), that do a very good job with audio as well as vision.

Or you can get a separate digital to analogue converter (DAC) and feed the audio signal directly into it via an optical cable before it goes through the inferior DAC built into the DVD or Blu-ray player. Most DACs are far more compact than a disc player.

By the way, the Oppos also handle super-audio CDs (SACDs), and so do a number of premium CD players. Lower down the food chain Yamaha’s $379 BDS677 is a Blu-ray that also handles SACDs. SACD is a CD format with greater sound quality and often surround. SACDs are popular in Japan but never caught on elsewhere. There are retailers who stock SACDs in Australia but most enthusiasts buy on-line from Japan.

CD sacd

CD players start around $400 and finish in the stratosphere. Yamaha’s range goes from $499 to $7499 while Marantz players start at $500 and go to $6600. Then the true esoterica kicks in.

NAD’s C516BEE was the cheapest CD player I listened to that I’d own. For $429 it’s a high value package handling home-recorded discs as well as regular CDs, MP3 and WMA files on disc. The sound has none of the harshness of some entry-level players and portables.

If you can afford a bit more the Marantz CD5005 is great buying at $500. It packs a heap of performance, it’s beautifully made and it’s great with headphones. Yamaha’s CDS300 is also great value at $499 and has a ‘made for iPod’ USB input.

Yamaha’s new $649 CDN301 Network CD Player has internet connectivity enabling features like AirPlay, app control, high-resolution music streaming from network sources, internet radio and music streaming services Pandora and Spotify.

Published December 2014

 

If you’re into SACDs Marantz’s SA8005 is $1990 while Yamaha’s CDS1000 comes in at $2,199.

 

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