CD player buying guide


David Brown

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.

  • 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.)

  • Kathryn from Tucson

    Posted on 10/6/2015 10:48:28 AM

    I am hearing-impaired (it's genetic and progressive). I have lost the ability to hear very high frequencies, which means that when I listen to music CDs--especially those I had compiled years ago--I can only hear bass and intermittent mid-range. I gave up my old boombox because it had fixed speakers. I now need a portable unit with detachable speakers that I can position to compensate for the fact that I hear better in one ear than the other. I'm not interested in "devices," or BlueTooth or anything high tech. Could you recommend a compact system, high quality, with old-school buttons (no remote necessary) where I can fine-tune the bass and treble? All I listen to are CDs. Thank you.