Best CD players for 2022
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...
- Best budget CD player — Cambridge Audio AXC35
- Best audiophile player — Mark Levinson No.5101
- Best transport-only player — McIntosh MCT500
- Best value for the money — Rotel CD14 MkII
- Best CD player shelf system — Denon D-M41
- Best CD player/streamer — Marantz SACD 30n
- Best looking CD player — LEAK CDT
There's also some relevant information on CD recorders and multi-disc CD changers near the end of the article.
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.
A digital-to-analog converter (DAC) turns digital information into analog sound your speakers can play.
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.
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.
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.
This CD player has plenty of digital outputs, plus balanced and unbalanced analog outputs.
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.
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.
A look at the powerful, efficient toroidal transformer power supply inside a Cambridge Audio CD player.
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.
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.
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.
Even more budget-friendly alternative
We've carried the Onkyo C-7030 for a long time, and for good reason: customers love it! It has a nice 24-bit/192 kHz DAC, a large power transformer, and solid noise-reduction circuitry inside. All at a price that's tough to beat.
What our customers say about the Cambridge Audio AXC35
Best audiophile player — Mark Levinson No.5101
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 the snazzy Mark Levinson No.5101.
The player is built around a premium Precision Link II DAC, and the unit features a beefy toroidal transformer that provides stable power with low noise. Mark Levinson's proprietary PurePath analog output stage offers a direct-coupled, fully balanced, dual-monaural signal path — entirely in class A — for exceptional purity and performance. The player has a solid, vibration-resistant chassis that quashes any additional noise.
An attractive aluminum handheld remote is included, but if you prefer to use your mobile device as a controller, the downloadable Mark Levinson 5Kontrol app does the job. The optional MusicLife app helps organize the digital files on your network for playback via a number of compatible components. And the whole thing is backed by an impressive 5-year warranty.
The Arcam CDS50 is a very nice entry-level SACD player that fits nicely into a more budget-conscious sound system. It's built around a superb 32-bit/192kHz ESS Sabre DAC, and features built-in Wi-Fi for convenient music streaming.
What our customers say about the Mark Levinson No.5101
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.
The Audiolab 6000CDT is designed to work with the company's 6000A — an integrated amplifier that already has a premium DAC built-in. The player features a read-ahead digital buffer that reduces disc-reading failures, and a sophisticated master clock that reduces jitter that can mar playback.
What our customers say about the McIntosh MCT500
Best value for the money — Rotel CD14 MkII
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 MkII. 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 premium Texas Instruments 32-bit/384kHz digital to analog converter lets your discs be heard as the artists and sound engineers intended. As a bonus, I really like the sleek and simple front panel.
The NAD C 538 isn't super-flashy on the outside, but it's got it where it counts. Its high-performance Wolfson 32-bit/192kHz digital-to-analog converter helps make your music sound smooth and accurate, at a price that won't break the bank.
What our customers say about the Rotel CD14 MkII
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.
I'm hedging on the 'budget-friendly' language here, because while the Denon CEOL RCD-N10 does technically cost less than its cousin the D-M41, it doesn't come with speakers. But there's a good reason for that: it has an amp built in, so you can choose wired speakers, but it's HEOS-enabled, so you can use it with compatible wireless speakers, too.
What our customers say about the Denon D-M41
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.
If you don't need the SACD compatibility of the 30n, the Marantz ND8006 has nearly identical streaming capabilities, and will make your standard CDs sound great.
What our customers say about the Marantz SACD 30n
Best-looking CD player — LEAK CDT
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I'll defend this choice on the merits as I see them, with full understanding and acceptance that your mileage may vary.
First of all, I love the CDT's beautiful silver face plate, ensconced in an elegant walnut outer chassis. LEAK audio was originally founded in 1934, and this design harkens back to the company's vintage roots. I appreciate that veneer of classic style over an extremely solid, well-made component. When I had a chance to use this piece, I also enjoyed the tactile feel and simplicity of function provided by the buttons on the front.
It comes in plain silver, too, but for my part, gimme that warm walnut accent every time.
One important caveat, however: the CDT is a transport-only player. It was designed to pair sonically and visually with the LEAK Stereo 130 integrated amplifier, but you can use it with any component with a built-in DAC.
As much as I love wood accents, I'm also a sucker for a brushed aluminum faceplate, which the handsome Denon DCD-900NE delivers. It's also a heck of a player, with a high-performance 32-bit/192kHz digital-to-analog converter and Denon's Advanced AL32 Processing Plus digital upsampling and filtering technology on board.
What our customers say about the LEAK CDT
CD changers — players that can hold multiple discs — were hard to come by for a while, but we have a couple of reliable fan favorites in stock these days. The best-selling Onkyo DX-C390 is a 6-disc carousel changer that also plays MP3s. Its cousin the Integra CDC-3.4 performs much the same at a similar price point, but offers a more robust 3-year warranty.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that musicians and hobbyists can still record their own CDs for demos and home listening. The CD-RW900MKII and CD-RW900SX from Tascam are designed for professional use, and versatile enough to handle multiple types of CD-Rs. And they're conveniently rack-mountable.
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.
Popular questions customers ask
Hi-fi sound. Compact Discs have 16-bit/44kHz digital resolution, which gives you better sound clarity than vinyl or MP3 files. CD players aren’t susceptible to network dropouts like streaming audio. All they need is power and a good cable connection to your receiver or amplifier.
New CD sales have grown in the past few years, reversing a nearly two-decade downward trend. Used CDs are plentiful and affordable—for now. The “album” format can be a nice change from playlists and music service suggestions. CD packaging—and the art and information it contains—might help you make a better connection with the album and artist than you can with most streaming services.
The best CD players have substantial build, quiet circuits, and smoothly functioning moving parts to minimize noise from spinning and reading discs. High-end players also tend to have balanced XLR outputs. In players with built-in DACs, you’ll generally find better DACS in better players. And if you like to listen with headphones, you should choose a CD player with a built-in headphone amp and output.
Some CD players can only play audio CDs, while others support SACDs (Super Audio CDs), CD-Rs, CD-RWs, and DVD-Rs (including MP3 and WMA files). Some CD players have wireless network streaming built in, giving you the best of both worlds. Some even have optical, coaxial, and USB digital inputs that let you connect network streamers, USB drives, and more.
Most CD players have a built-in DAC (digital-to-analog converter), but not all built-in DACs are the same quality. You can choose a CD player with a high-quality built-in DAC or upgrade to an external DAC. CD players without built-in DACs are called “transports.” CD transports connect to an outboard DAC or any audio component with a built-in DAC.