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CD player buying guide

How to choose the right compact disc player

David Brown is a member of Crutchfield's Home A/V writing team. He studied writing and politics at Ithaca College in upstate New York, where he grew up. He spent 12 years in Washington, D.C., where he earned a Masters degree in journalism and wrote an award-winning humor column. David relocated to Charlottesville, VA, in 2012. He enjoys listening to music, playing the guitar and piano, and hiking with his wife and children.

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If you've spent years building an impressive CD collection, an equally impressive CD player is the best way to enjoy your discs. Sure, you can play CDs on your computer or Blu-ray player. Or you can rip them to digital files and play them on your smartphone or iPod®. But if you’re looking for the easiest way to enjoy all the musical details of your favorite discs, a quality CD player is a smart investment. [Shop our selection of CD players.]

CD player shopping guide

What should you look for when shopping for a CD player?

Though they’re less versatile than Blu-ray or DVD players, the CD player’s focused mission of music playback means they are optimized for good sound. Designers don’t have to find room for video processors or add cost to prevent interference between the video and audio signals.

The best players are distinguished by solid construction, smart design, and high quality internal components. They’re designed for accurate, detailed playback while minimizing interference and distortion in the signal. Pay attention to the following features when shopping for a new player.

Digital-to-analog converter: turning 1s and 0s into music

Because CD is a digital format, every CD player must be able to convert the digital signal to analog for playback on a stereo system. This is the job of the digital-to-analog converter (DAC).

Most inexpensive CD and Blu-ray players use low-quality DACs. However, high-quality CD players depend on better DACs to squeeze all those little details out of your discs for more accurate playback. One way they achieve this is by minimizing jitter – digital timing errors that can occur during conversion. By minimizing this sound-degrading effect, high-quality DACs can produce a cleaner, more vibrant sound. Some brands of high-quality DACs include Wolfson, Burr-Brown, Analog Devices, Cirrus Logic, and ESS Sabre.

Some high-end CD players are also capable of converting digital signals at a higher sampling rate than the CD. This process, called upsampling, can take a digital signal from a standard CD, encoded at 44.1kHz, and convert it to a higher sampling rate such as 192kHz before converting it to an analog signal. This can make your music sound more detailed and lifelike.

While every CD player has a DAC, some players feature two DACs, using separate converters for the left and right channels. This allows for even more accurate playback as the left and right-channel signals can be kept separate prior to conversion all the way through the output stage, creating a wider soundstage with clearer stereo imaging.

Get more mileage from your player's DAC with digital inputs

Some high-end CD players have digital inputs for using the player’s built-in DAC with other source components. For instance, USB (type B) inputs allow you to connect a computer to use the CD player’s DAC. This can produce far better sound quality than your computer’s stock sound card.

CD player with digital inputs for connecting a computer, network streaming player, or other digital source component.

Digital inputs allow connection of computers, network streaming devices, and other sources for superior digital decoding that improves sound quality.

Optical and coaxial digital inputs offer connections for other sources like a network streaming device, such as Apple TV®. By connecting this device to the CD player’s digital inputs, then connecting the CD player’s analog outputs to your receiver, you can use the CD player’s DAC to deliver superior sound quality.

Some players also have front-panel USB ports for playing digital music files from iPods® or USB storage devices. There are also network-capable CD players that can stream music from online music services or a remote computer connected to your wireless home network.

Front-panel USB connection for an iPod or iPad.

Players with a front-panel USB input allow connection of an iPod, iPhone, or iPad.

More design features that affect sound quality

Power supply

Clean power is essential for audiophile-grade sound. The best CD players use large toroidal power transformers to generate the proper power for high-performance playback.

Toroidal power transformer

A large toroidal transformer provides clean power with minimal noise.

Disc Transport

The transport is the disc drive. Look for players with sturdy transports designed to minimize vibration for a purer audio signal.

The sturdy transport of the Marantz SA11S3 Reference Series CD player.

A sturdy, isolated transport prevents vibration from distorting the audio signal.


The chassis is the enclosure that protects the player’s internal components. A rigid, reinforced chassis with large feet to support it helps prevent vibrations that can distort the audio signal. Some chassis feature a double-plated top or bottom panel, aluminum construction, and additional vibration dampers.

Reinforced front and side panels reduce vibration.

This player’s reinforced front panel and double-bottomed chassis reduce vibration for a purer sonic performance.

Balanced and unbalanced connections

While all CD players have RCA stereo outputs, a few high-end players also offer balanced XLR outputs for connection to a compatible amplifier or preamp. These balanced connections transmit extremely low-noise signals, so more of your music’s details shine through.

Player with balanced and unbalanced analog outputs.

This player has balanced XLR outputs for connection to a high-end preamp or receiver.

What kinds of discs are compatible with CD players?

Almost all modern CD players will have no trouble playing CD-Rs or CD-RWs that you burn using a computer, including discs that store MP3s as data files.

Super Audio CDs

Popular with some audiophiles, Super Audio CDs are capable of storing high-resolution files that surpass CD sound quality. Many high-end players support SACD playback, and all SACD players also play standard CDs. [Shop our selection of SACD players.]

Some SACDs feature 5.1 surround sound mixes for multi-channel playback. Because CD players are only capable of decoding stereo signals, you’ll need an SACD-compatible Blu-ray or DVD player to play these discs in surround sound.

Multi-disc players

Finally, if you want to enjoy hours of uninterrupted music, there are multi-disc changers that allow you to load more than one disc at a time.

Last updated July 22, 2016
  • Carlos from COLOMBIA

    Posted on 5/22/2015 10:05:07 PM

    What is the model showed in Chassis chapter?

  • Roy from los angeles

    Posted on 5/23/2015 12:15:46 PM

    I am looking for a cd player that I can also use as a dac for the two music servers I have. It would need coax and optical inputs to plug in the music servers.

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/26/2015 10:20:12 AM

    Carlos, the chassis of the model pictured is the Marantz SA8004. This model has been replaced by the Marantz SA8005.

    Roy, check out the Marantz SA8005. Not only is this a killer disc spinner, it's also a great DAC.

  • Lynn from Milwaukee, wI

    Posted on 7/13/2015 5:01:55 PM

    I am looking for a new CD player to hook up with my McIntosh 1700, what would you recommend

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/14/2015 9:34:24 AM

    Cool receiver, Lynn. I would think any quality CD player would be a fine match. Here are three good ones to look at...Cambridge Audio Topaz CD10, Marantz CD5005, and NAD C 546BEE.

  • Nicoleen Hartman from Sevenoaks , Kent, UK

    Posted on 7/26/2015 5:59:27 PM

    Hi there I am looking for advice please. Can you recommend a CD player i can use with my 12 channel sound mixer? I am looking for CD player with headphone sockets or rca connectors? Thankyou

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/27/2015 10:04:53 AM

    Nicoleen, It might do more than you need (record, that is), but the TEAC CD-RW900MkII is excellent for Pro and Studio applications.

  • Leonard Haddox from Longmont co

    Posted on 8/6/2015 10:15:36 PM

    Need a CD player I can use to learn songs on. Would need a back up feature. Something portable perhaps

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/7/2015 9:08:49 AM

    Leonard, we sent your question to our sales team for the best answer. They'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.

  • Fred from worcester

    Posted on 8/9/2015 11:09:48 PM

    Is it an option to buyer a cheaper CD player (say the Sony CDP-CE500) and run it through an independent DAC into a receiver?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/10/2015 9:06:05 AM

    Absolutely, Fred. Just be certain the DAC and player have at least one digital audio input/output in common (usually Toslink optical or RCA coaxial), and you're all set. This is also a great way to upgrade an older CD player, since outboard DACs frequently deliver better sound quality than the ones built into many (most?) players.

  • Duane Knudson from Raleigh, NC

    Posted on 9/9/2015 5:11:29 PM

    I am obviously a casual listener. I simply want to know what I need, for example if I buy a Sony CDP-CE500 multi CD changer/player, to make sound come out of my existing 8 ohm/60 watt Optimus speakers? I should have also specified how cheaply can I do this? Thanks.

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/10/2015 9:21:49 AM

    Piece of cake, Duane. Just pick up the Sony STR-DH130 stereo receiver, and you're good to go. I realize it is capable of delivering more power than your speakers are rated for, but if you can resist the urge to turn it all the way up, you'll be fine. (Actually having more power is an advantage since you'll only ever need to play the receiver at a small fraction of its potential, where distortion is at its lowest and the sound is cleaner.)

  • Don Asch from New York

    Posted on 10/14/2015 3:06:05 PM

    I have a Macintosh MA6300 amp and B&W 804S speakers. What's the right price point for a CD player to match up with these components and what would you recommend?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/15/2015 12:18:12 PM

    Don, The correct answer is always, as much as you can afford. But seriously, a high-resolution playback system such as yours deserves a pretty serious player since it will tend to expose the sonic flaws of lesser machines. I always try to match the relative quality (and price?) level of each component in a system. That way, you're neither over- nor under-spending for each one. You wouldn't put re-tread tires on your Ferrari or $6000 worth of racing wheels on your Pinto, right? Maybe something in the $500+ range would be appropriate. I'm partial to the Marantz CD players, but I own an Oppo BDP-105 Blu-ray player that is awesome in every regard, and provides quite a bit more utility than a CD player.

  • Paul Althaus from Verona, VA

    Posted on 11/6/2015 11:17:24 PM

    A number of critics of the Cambridge Audio Topaz CD10 player have complained of the 5ms pause the player inserts between tracks. Would these gaps be audible for one who listens to classical music where the tracks often should be played seamlessly?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/10/2015 9:23:16 AM

    Paul, According to Cambridge Audio's website, "The ONE and Topaz CD5 (and CD10) do not support gapless CD playback. There will be a momentary pause in-between tracks when playing CDs, as is normal when changing from track to track. This does not affect playback of normal albums, but please note that 'gapless' albums will have a small pause between tracks."

    This leads me to believe that this pause, or gap, is indeed audible, and to suggest a different player to anyone who listens to a large percentage of classical music, prog rock, or other "abnormal" albums. ;-)

    Thanks for pointing this out to me. I will add a note to Crutchfield's CD10 webpage to let people know that this player does not support gapless playback.

  • peter from Weston

    Posted on 11/30/2015 3:04:39 PM

    I just spoke to Maverick about buying a new integrated amplifier, he recommended one with DAC. if I buy the one recommended, does that render the CD players built in DAC useless, what does the playback default to?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 11/30/2015 5:11:14 PM

    Hi Peter, Having a DAC built into your integrated amp doesn't necessarily or automatically render the DAC inside the CD player useless, it simply gives you another option for connecting it (and other components with digital audio outputs, as well).

    If you use your CD player's optical or coaxial digital audio output to connect to the amp, then you will be bypassing your CD player's DAC and using the one in the amplifier instead. If you choose to use your CD player's RCA analog audio outputs, then you will be utilizing the player's DAC instead of the amp's.

    How does one choose? In may cases, one of the DACs will be superior and sound noticeably better (frequently, the newer one). For example: I use the analog outputs of my Oppo BDP-105 Blue-ray player because its DACs sound quite a bit better than the ones my ancient Onkyo HT receiver. I tried it both ways just to see, and there's absolutely no doubt.

  • Wing Thye Loh from Singapore

    Posted on 12/26/2015 12:46:09 AM

    I have a ONKYO TX-SR606 receiver and a pair of Klipsch 8ohms 100 watts speakers. Currently I play music using a low end Blue ray player. I intend to get a CD player. Would you recommend one that is able to match the AV receiver and speakers. Thanks

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 12/27/2015 6:16:36 PM

    Wing, Virtually any CD player would be a match for your system. Of course, an Onkyo player would be compatible with your receiver's remote. Their C-7030 would make a good choice.

  • Henry from Atwater

    Posted on 1/2/2016 10:18:02 AM

    I see from one of your responses above that you have the Oppo 105. I'm considering the Oppo 103 or possibly the Cambridge Azur 752BD given the recent price drop. None of the manuals mention the ability to program tracks for playback; do you know if any of these have that capability? I primarily listen to CD's but have HDCD's and a growing collection of SACD's, and DVD and Bluray audio discs, so playback of these is a must. Thank you.

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/4/2016 9:17:31 AM

    Henry, I don't believe either of these machines allow track programming. They are, otherwise, extremely fine players and worthy of consideration.

  • Bill from Chicago

    Posted on 1/18/2016 7:29:15 PM

    Hi Dave, What's the most affordable 24 bit DAC 192khz option that supports .wav cd-r's? Best, Bill

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/19/2016 10:54:56 AM

    Hi, Bill. I can't help but feel that I'm missing a piece or two of the puzzle from your question as you state it here. Assuming you have a standard CD transport (with optical or coaxial digital output) and audio CD-Rs recorded with .wav files (which I believe weigh in at the CD standard of 16-bit/44.1 kHz), any modern DAC with corresponding optical or coax digital inputs will decode your discs. I like both the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100 and Peachtree Audio DAC iTx. Both can also decode hi-res music files. If your transport has optical digital output, the outstanding Audioengine D1 is the most affordable DAC that I have with optical in.

    My apologies if I have totally misinterpreted your question. If that is the case, please give us a call and speak with one of our advisors to help them find what you need.

  • Erin

    Posted on 2/13/2016 7:44:13 AM

    Hi I'm trying to find a multidisc cd player that can just be hooked up to speakers and doesn't require anything else to work. Is there one? thanks.

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 2/15/2016 8:02:02 AM

    Erin, I sent your question to our sales team for the best answer. They'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.

  • Jo-ann menchetti from Chupadero, New Mexic

    Posted on 3/3/2016 12:28:48 PM

    yes, my husband is a avid music man, but we are both techno-peasants and still enjoy the tactile pleasure of the CD. What would you recommend for a CD player, mother ship (tuner I guess), and wireless speakers? We will be in the high desert of Northern New Mexico, where there is service, but spotty at times, would we also need what I think is called some sort of a booster?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 3/3/2016 4:59:24 PM

    Hi Jo-ann. These are very interesting questions that will definitely require some additional information to answer properly. I've forwarded your inquiry to our advisors for further assistance. They'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can reach them via phone or chat.

  • Mike Sackmary from Austin, TX

    Posted on 3/24/2016 11:51:09 AM

    Hi Dave, Excellent article. I am a complete novice at choosing stereo/video components. I just know that I bought my speakers because they sound excellent. I need help selecting the right component for playing CDs. My receiver is an Integra DTR5.4 (made by Onkyo I think) and Definitive Technology BP2002 speakers. My Samsung blu-ray player gives excellent video quality to my tv, but sound is just ok. Let's not mention trying to play actual CDs on this particular player. What I want to get is something that produces excellent sound off CDs. If it can also play music off my ipod and make it sound great, that's a definite plus. If I understood your article it seems that I should get a separate CD player with DAC and toroidal transformer? (Not sure what I'm talking about here). I am not at all opposed to scrapping my curren blu-ray player either. Is it better to get a separate CD player and blu-ray player or is there one that does everything well? Sorry for the length of this question. Please help.

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 3/24/2016 5:24:34 PM

    Hi Mike, With so many options, I can understand your confusion. As a rule, I have found that the fewer functions a component is asked to perform, the better it performs them. A specialist, in other words. That said, there is one component that seems to pretty much crush every category, and that's the Oppo BDP-105D. No it's not cheap, but it is a game changer. It won't support an iPod directly, but it's easy to put a bunch of music files on a thumb drive, and plug it into the front USB port. If the price of the Oppo makes you blanch, there are some nice CD players from Yamaha and Marantz that have USB input for iPod, and sound amazingly good. You may want to give our advisors a shout for some recommendations. Best of luck.

  • John Fitzpatrick from Norwalk, CT

    Posted on 5/4/2016 9:49:41 AM

    I've long assumed the benefits of a universal player for SACD and BluRay as well as CD. My Oppo player (BDP-83), like other universal players, has a "pure audio" switch to remove video processing from the circuit. Should that not solve the interference problem you mention? In any event this player has given me an immense upgrade in audio quality as well as the benefit of multichannel SACD sound. Its flaw is the lack of a track-programming capability. More recent universal players have this feature. I'm struck by the huge price gap between standard universal players from reputable brands like Yamaha and Denon (c. $400) and hugely more expensive units with the same capabilities. Is there really a *significant* audible difference?

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/5/2016 12:16:07 PM

    John, you are correct. The ability to switch off video circuitry can help improve audio quality. To answer your second question, I would say that the difference in price/performance between entry-,mid-, and upper-level universal players is somewhat more subjective. If you're not an audiophile/videophile, then it's probably not worth spending big bucks. Simply buy the features you need and you're done. On the other hand, I find that the picture and sound quality from high-end players (like my Oppo BDP-105, for instance) easily trounce the mid-level competition. For me, the difference is significant and well worth it.

  • Hans from Brussels

    Posted on 5/12/2016 10:15:01 AM

    Hi, Dave, I want to buy the Yamaha CD NT 670D, which is a CD-player with streaming and internet radio capabilities, and combine it with my active loudspeakers. However, the Yamaha has no volume control, as it is apparently foreseen to be linked to the Yamaha amplifier. is there any electronical devise that I could put between the Yamaha and my boxes and which would serve as a volume control (ideally with a remote)? Thanks for your reply! Hans

  • Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/16/2016 9:42:18 AM

    Hi Hans, I have to assume your active speakers don't have their own volume control (although even if they did, which should work, that still doesn't give you remote control capability). Other that running the signal from the CD player through a remote control preamp, I'm afraid I don't have an answer for you.

  • Mariko Cruse from Gainesville FL

    Posted on 10/11/2016 1:18:46 PM

    I would like to know how to choose a proper speaker for a given CD player. Although Dave Bar's comments on today's CD players are very helpful, but I am not sure how to select a speaker after I get a good CD player. I am a classical music lover, and using a Bose medium size speaker with Panasonic DVD player at the moment.

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