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Best CD players for 2021

How to choose the right compact disc player for your home system

In this article: We'll look at the features that make up a good CD player, and then I'll recommend a few that stand out from the crowd, to help you get started shopping:

  1. Best budget CD player — Cambridge Audio AXC35
  2. Best audiophile player — Denon Anniversary Edition DCD-A110
  3. Best transport-only player — McIntosh MCT500
  4. Best value for the money — Rotel CD14
  5. Best CD player shelf system — Denon D-M41
  6. Best CD player/streamer — Marantz SACD 30n

For a couple of decades, I bought music almost exclusively on compact discs. And I’m not about to throw those carefully curated favorites away just because I can stream the songs on my phone now. The discs offer superior sound quality, and a more immersive listening experience.

Many of us still want a high-quality CD player in our cabinet. And there are plenty being made. I’ll explain some of the key parts of a good player, then make some recommendations for specific use cases, so you can make an informed choice when you start shopping.

Key CD player parts

A CD player is a relatively simple machine. Let's examine the key parts of a player so we know what to look for when comparing two models.

Digital-to-analog converter (DAC)

Your speakers can only play an analog signal, so somewhere along the line, the digital information on a compact disc must be converted. Most CD players have a good DAC built in, but audiophiles often prefer to take the pure digital output of the CD player and use a more sophisticated outboard DAC, which we'll talk about more in the next section.

DAC Illo

A digital-to-analog converter (DAC) turns digital information into analog sound your speakers can play.

Transport

A CD transport loads and spins your CD, and uses a laser to read the information on the disc. Some CD players are transport-only — there's no DAC built in. An outboard DAC can read digital information with extreme accuracy, which results in a more spacious sound with better imaging.

Transport

A CD player's transport is the tray you put the CD into and the mechanism that spins it and reads the information on the disc.

Connections

Some players will offer one set of RCA connections that passes the output of the built-in DAC, plus a digital coaxial or optical output if you want to use an external DAC. High-end players will also offer balanced XLR outputs for connecting to audiophile gear.

Back view

This CD player has plenty of digital outputs, plus balanced and unbalanced analog outputs.

Chassis

Vibration is the enemy of great sound, so pay attention to the way a player's chassis build quality is described. There are a number of ways to reinforce a player's casing, and CD player manufacturers love to talk about the engineering that goes into creating a solid foundation for your music.

Power supply

A solid power supply is important for any electronic component. Rugged toroidal transformers are valued in the electronics industry for providing high-current, low-noise power. But there are some excellent high-end variants like McIntosh's "linear power supply with special R-Core power transformer," too.

Toroidal transformer

A look at the powerful, efficient toroidal transformer power supply inside a Cambridge Audio CD player.

Media types

Any player can handle mass-produced standard CDs. If you have home-recorded CDs filled with WAV, FLAC, or similar files, it's worth checking to make sure you're buying a player that's compatible. Same goes for SACDs (Super Audio CDs), which *can* be played on a regular CD player, but require an SACD-compatible player to bring out the additional channels of high-res information they're known for.

A note on CD changers

As of May 2021, global supply-chain disruptions have severely impacted the availability of CD changers, to the point where we have none currently in stock. We're expecting more from our friends at Integra and Onkyo soon, but in the meantime we couldn't just... pretend CD changers don't exist. We’ll update this article after our next shipment arrives. Thanks for your patience!

Our best CD player picks

If there were just one "best" CD player, that's all we'd sell. I think it's more useful and accurate to pick the best player for a specific use case or budget. There are plenty of great players out there, but I'll explain what criteria I used to make each of the following picks so you can see if they make sense for your situation.

Cambridge Audio AXC35 CD player with AXA35 amplifier

Best budget CD player — Cambridge Audio AXC35

There are a number of strong contenders that cost under $400, but my pick is the Cambridge Audio AXC35. I trust Cambridge to make a high-quality product at any price point.

The AXC35 can play your CDs, CD-Rs and CD-RWs. And the built-in high-performance Wolfson digital to analog converter is a real difference-maker at this price point. The 2-year warranty gives me a little added peace of mind, too.

denon anniversary addition receiver

Best audiophile player — Denon Anniversary Edition DCD-A110

I’m limiting this category to players with SACD (Super Audio CD) capability. The SACD format offers more audio channels (e.g. surround sound), a higher bit rate, and longer playing time than conventional CDs. There are some truly excellent players in this category, but I chose Denon's Anniversary Edition DCD-A110.

The player is built around an impressive 32-bit/384 kHz DAC that features four separate Burr Brown chips working together to reveal an immersive soundstage. Denon's patented drive mechanism makes sure each disc loads quickly and spins precisely. The player has a solid, vibration-resistant chassis that reduces noise.

Pure Direct mode switches off the display and digital output to ensure clean audio playback, and the Ultra AL32 Processing algorithm smooths out digital audio signals for a more accurate and detailed listening experience.

Plus, the anniversary edition underwent a rigorous re-tuning process intended to enhance musical fidelity. And the whole thing is backed by an impressive 5-year warranty.

McIntosh

Best transport-only player — McIntosh MCT500

Most CD players have very good built-in DACs, but some listeners prefer the precise control they can achieve with an outboard component hi-fi DAC. In this case, a transport-only CD player’s job is just to spin the disc accurately and silently.

The McIntosh MCT500 features a high-precision disc mechanism with sturdy die-cast aluminum disc tray. Audio data on the disc is read at twice the normal speed for better error correction and tracking. It can read just about any type of disc you have, including SACDs, hybrid SACDs, audio CDs, CD-Rs & CD-RWs, plus MP3 and WMA CDs. And it offers balanced, unbalanced, and proprietary McIntosh connections.

Cambridge Audio AXC35 CD player with AXA35 amplifier

Best value for the money — Rotel CD14

For me, a value pick is not necessarily the cheapest option — that's the budget pick above — it's the one that best balances impressive performance with a reasonable price point. And for me, that's the Rotel CD14. Rotel won't compromise great sound quality by choosing cheap parts, but they also won't inflate the cost with unnecessary flourishes. That's an ideal value-conscious design philosophy.

There's a rugged, efficient power supply inside that delivers ripple-free voltage and current to the player's digital and analog circuits. And a high-performance, CD-specific Wolfson 24-bit/192kHz DAC lets your discs be heard as the artists and sound engineers intended. As a bonus, I really like the sleek and simple front panel.

Cambridge Audio AXC35 CD player with AXA35 amplifier

Best CD player shelf system — Denon D-M41

You may have limited space, or you may simply like the convenience of having your entire system ready to go straight out of the box. The Denon D-M41 can play CDs, CD-Rs, and CD-RWs, plus MP3 and WMA CDs. It has an AM/FM tuner, and Bluetooth built-in so you can stream from your favorite music service. It can even serve as your alarm clock.

A pair of nice Denon bookshelf speakers come with it, and there's a subwoofer output on the back if you want to add more bass. You can connect a compatible TV to the optical input on the back panel and improve movie and TV time, too. It's basically an all-in-one sound system for a bedroom, dorm room, or home gym.

Cambridge Audio AXC35 CD player with AXA35 amplifier

Best CD player/streamer — Marantz SACD 30n

I love the way the Marantz SACD 30n looks, and it's loaded with features. It features Marantz' proprietary transport mechanism and Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Modules that offer exquisite detail and dynamic range while reducing noise. Its premium DAC makes digital files sound their best, whether they're being played from a disc, or being streamed from a top-notch music streaming platform.

You can make a wired connection to your home network via the Ethernet port on the back, or use the built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for general streaming. But there's more. Apple AirPlay 2 is built-in, and the player is Roon compatible. The player is also HEOS compatible, which allows it to stream from a host of popular cloud-based music services, and lets you build a whole-home wireless speaker system with compatible components.

Record your own CDs

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that musicians and hobbyists can still record their own CDs for demos or home listening. The Tascam CD-RW900MKII is designed for professional use, but it’s reasonably priced and versatile enough to handle multiple types of CD-Rs. You can even fade tracks in and out if you’re making a mix.

We can help you choose

Have questions about how to choose the right CD player? Our expert Advisors know home stereo gear inside and out. Contact us for quick answers to all your shopping questions. Don't forget: free lifetime tech support is included with your Crutchfield purchase.

Last updated 5/25/2021
  • Chris from Houston

    Posted on 10/17/2021

    Hi Eric, Bought a Denon 800NE (to NAD C372/PM1's), vs Marantz 6007 ... Asahi chip back? Now NAD 316 problems reading CD's, some not others read before, may be ok if out and back, digital to an Arcam A20. Tray/read problems with 3 NAD players: 54X, 315, 316 ... 5XX into shop twice for chatter, NAD "nothing wrong" (dealer heard) then tray stopped .got Denon. Cambridge CXC, requires DAC, flexibility issue. What CD player +/-$600 has robust tray & laser mechanical system? Thought Rotel 11 but reviews say 1572 tray flimsy. Denon tray OK, anything better? May wait until 316 quits, feeds Arcam, B&W 705 S2's. Chris Denon a better choice than Marantz from review with Ken I. - highlighted "warm sound". No longer understand the underlying math, want accuracy, not "warmer" - listening classical.

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 10/18/2021

    Chris - I see three players in stock at your preferred price point: Cambridge Audio AXC35, Rotel CD11 Tribute, and Denon 800NE. I like all three of them, so if I have to pick a winner, I think the Rotel addresses your concerns the best. I used it at home for a while, and I think it does the most at that price point. Hope this helps!
  • MJ from Columbus

    Posted on 9/17/2021

    Dear Eric, I'm a one-time audiophile (as in, awesome used Audio Research pre-amp) who "temporarily" downgraded to a (very good) JVC boom-box ages ago. That broke. I'm primarily a CD listener. I'd like a quality CD system - not in the $3500 best of show category, but as good as possible. Not sure if I want separate transport (how significant is that, sonically?) Then, probably just an amp (no radio) and maybe updated speakers (I think a local company had me sold on some small Paradigms) What do you suggest for the CD player or components and amp - maybe a couple price points for the total. First one - $1500. Second - $3000. (Or should I give up on high-ish-end audio for these meager price points?) Thanks so much.

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 9/20/2021

    MJ - I definitely know of some good components you can get at those price points. The Cambridge Audio Azur 851C is a slam-dunk for the $1,500 price point (in my opinion) and the $3,000 price point is pretty loaded. I have personal experience with the Marantz SACD 30n, which offers loads of streaming capability on top of a high-quality DAC. If you look at that page, you'll see some of my direct observations of how that one works. Long story short, we can definitely find you a beautiful-sounding disc player at either of those price points.
  • Naveena Bereny

    Posted on 9/11/2021

    I have a NAD C660 - dual deck purchased to record CDs from 10 years ago. Don't use that recording feature anymore, but the CDs are skipping a lot (has been repaired a few times) and now the CD tray won't open. It is currently hooked up to an amplified/receiver (I think?). What would be a good replacement with high quality sound that will be easy to hook up and go?

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 9/13/2021

    Naveena - Right now, the challenge is to find a player that's in stock, as global shortages have made CD players sort of rare. Fortunately, one of our customer favorites, the Cambridge Audio AXC35, is available. I highly recommend that one!
  • Chris Charles from San Francisco

    Posted on 8/31/2021

    Have an Onkyo 6-disc player for many years, because one of my favorite things is "shuffle" or "random" mode. Any recommendations for when it finally quits.

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 9/1/2021

    Chris - I get it, that's my favorite way to listen to music, too. I want it to be unpredictable. The electronics industry is experiencing some global supply shortages these days, so we get stuff in as soon as we can, but right now we're completely out of 6-disc changers. I'd recommend going to the page for the Onkyo DX-C390 and right below the price is a box that says "email me when in stock". That way you can be the first to know when we get our next shipment. Thanks for asking!
  • Tim Hrimnak from Riverbank

    Posted on 8/4/2021

    How does the Marantz 6007 rate ?

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 8/5/2021

    Tim - That's an excellent player. They have this technology they call HDAM — it stands for Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module — and I've felt like they make an audible difference when I've listened to Marantz players, including this one. Hope that helps!
  • Chris from Houston

    Posted on 7/7/2021

    Eric, question ... Have NAD516 feeding an Arcam SA20 in LR. When it quits, a replacement needs a coax out. 5+ year old NAD546 transport failed feeding an NAD C372 in study w/RCA input only. For study CD need player with good analog output, why I leaned to Marantz CD6007 or Denon DCD 800NE (requested notice on Marantz). Reviews are either are better than the Cambridge 35 (Denon 600NE optical out only so couldn't use in LR - cable box is getting optical input). Is the Marantz or Denon worth the extra dollars in analog output sound? The study has B&W PM1's, LR 705's, both excellent performers for types of music I listen to ... hence need a good CD player (have 2 NAD DAC 2's with music from computer but not always convenient nor best for whole albums. Thank you.

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 7/8/2021

    Chris - When I compare these two models, the Denon appears to have the edge in pure performance, but the Marantz has a headphone jack and a better warranty. Given your criteria, that makes me think you'd prefer the Denon. Customer reviews for both are outstanding, so it comes down to the tiny details. Thanks for the thought-provoking question!
  • Gralen from laurel

    Posted on 6/11/2021

    I have a 20 year old Yamaha CD changer. It is about to die. It plays fine but getting it to open and closing requires a push. I saw a Sony CD changer at a best buy . Do you think that it is good enough to replace the Yamaha. By the way. That turntable you sold me 17 years ago is still ticking. Thinking about a upgrade

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 6/15/2021

    Gralen - given that we can't get any CD changers in right now, I feel like we're in a "beggars can't be choosers" situation. That said, Sony is a highly reputable company, so if you feel comfortable with it as at least a temporary replacement, why not?
  • Charles from Milwaukee

    Posted on 5/26/2021

    I am wondering what CD player you would recommend to play jazz and classical CDs on a NAIM Muso 2? Are there any suggestions or stand out pairings you'd suggest? Thanks!

    Commenter image

    Eric Angevine from Crutchfield

    on 5/27/2021

    Charles - This isn't an answer to what you asked me, but I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention that the Naim Uniti Star has a CD player built in. But it sounds like you want to stick with the Muso 2 and add a component. You'll need one with optical output, and on that list, my eye goes immediately to the Cambridge Audio Azur 851C, because Cambridge are wizards with digital audio, and because many of the others will be duplicating the networking features you already have in the Muso. The Azur is a superb player with a long track record. That's my pick!
  • John Wolfe from Roanoke, Virginia

    Posted on 5/6/2021

    I own an Onkyo C-7030 single disc player I bought online new around 7 years ago. That CD player is the best one I've ever owned, by far. "Audiophile" build quality and possibly in sound quality for a single CD player that costs under 200 bucks. I've owned a few 6-Disc changers in the past 20 some years but they all failed in mechanism issues so I decided to get a dedicated single disc player 7 years ago. Glad I did..

  • John Wolfe from Roanoke, Virginia

    Posted on 5/6/2021

    I own an Onkyo C-7030 single disc player I bought online new around 7 years ago. That CD player is the best one I've ever owned, by far. "Audiophile" build quality and possibly in sound quality for a single CD player that costs under 200 bucks. I've owned a few 6-Disc changers in the past 20 some years but they all failed in mechanism issues so I decided to get a dedicated single disc player 7 years ago. Glad I did..