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3 Important Things When Choosing a CD Player

The title says CD Player and not "New" CD Player. Well, there is much to be desired from the used market. I recently purchased the Magnavox CDB-473; the player is well over 30 years old and can not only compete with brand-new CD Players but can outperform them. There are many players like this one that is still relevant today. Here are the three most important things to consider when choosing your disc spinner.

CD Player or CD Transport

Choosing between a CD Player or CD Transport will be one of the most significant decisions when selecting your new disc spinner. You have two options: a CD Player with an analog output stage and its own Digital to Analog converter. Sometimes, this is risky because many carefully engineered CD players marketed today fail to properly involve and entertain listeners due to their inadequate analog stages. Selecting a CD Transport takes that out of the equation, and it just has a digital output that goes to your DAC or Integrated Amplifier. My advice would be to find a CD Player with a great analog output stage and use the digital out by experimenting with different types of DACs. Most CD Players will have some digital output, whether it's a digital coaxial output or an optical output. This allows you to switch from one another depending on the situation. If you have an external streamer, you will likely have an external DAC with which you're already comfortable. I like having the option.


Let's be honest with ourselves. Our budgets will heavily influence our purchasing decisions. If you know how much you want or can spend on a CD Player, you can drastically narrow down your options depending on your budget for this purchase. CD Players range from $300 to over six figures, so there is something special for every budget. Now, because you're a millionaire, should you invest in top-tier six-figure toys? Probably not. At that point is when the laws of diminishing returns could make a case against a purchase that grandiose. There are a lot of excellent companies that are transparent, provide value to their customers and deliver a solid product that you will be happy with for many years to come. However, certain companies out in the ether of the audio world will overprice their products to give the illusion of luxury and prestige without delivering a solid sonic performance. You must know how to sniff these out; usually, you will know because you'll get that gut feeling. However, if the company you are looking into is making claims that seem too good to be true, they probably are, and you should do more research about them in forums and online or avoid them altogether.

If you are in the $1000 and under club, you could find an excellent player, New or Used, and not have any issues with sound quality. Some of my favorite players are well under $1000. Cambridge Audio and Rotel have some great offerings in that price range. If you want to get a bit more serious, Primare and Lyngdorf, to name a couple, have CD Players and Transports that sound fantastic in the $1,200 to $3000 range. If I were in the financial state to spend serious money on a CD Player, I would consider offerings by Gryphon Audio and Hegel that I have been eyeing for quite some time.

Remember, though, that the psychology of pricing could persuade you to make a remorseful purchase decision since pricing drives the perception of cost and value. Don't fall into the snake pit; always trust your ears and if you are unsure, ask our audio community.

Technology and Sound Quality

Technology and sound quality go hand in hand. Performance depends on the quality of the components inside a CD Player or CD Transport. A well-designed player from a notable engineering team can merge the principles between science and art, creating a sonic masterpiece. A great engineer can create a unique product that sounds fantastic using a weaker technological base than perhaps some of its more expensive counterparts. Much expertise is required to design a system in which all the elements come together in a way that achieves the desired level of performance you're looking for in a great Player or Transport. In this case, it's all about how they implement the components they are working with and how they execute the final output stage before going to your preamp or amplifier. This may be why many people buy CD Players and only use the digital output as a CD Transport. When these players have inadequate analog stages, your external DAC can sound significantly better than what the player offers.

You must uphold that the transport mechanism is also of prime importance. In my opinion, a CD transport mechanism is a phenomenon of intricate moving parts that must be positioned precisely and continuously within fractions of a micron, with sophisticated servo-control circuitry and complex digital processing systems. So, choosing a player engineered adequately from start to finish is paramount when selecting your future disc spinner. I recently did a video review of the Rotel CD11 Tribute, which the late Ken Ishiwata redesigned. To my utter amazement, its analog output sounded much better than using it as a transport with my external DAC. If I had used a higher-end DAC, the results could have been different; however, the DAC I used, the Denafrips Ares II, is a well-respected and all-around great DAC. This proves that when the engineer puts time into thoroughly testing the product before launch, you could get a surprisingly great sonic experience from their hard work.

Eliminating the external DAC is my favorite way to listen to a CD player. I want as little as possible within my signal chain to avoid any unnecessary coloration of the sound and excessive noise from having an extra component in the mix of things. Another reason is that I enjoy hearing the differences between the CD Players I come across. It's fun to listen to the engineer's interpretation of how they wanted the original recordings to be consumed.

How do you know the player you buy is one of these well-engineered unicorns? Especially if you're staying under a specific budget, let's say that $1000 mark.

There are a couple of things you could do.

First, you could research the unit online, do your due diligence and hope for the best taking the word of others, or you will have to listen to it in person, either at a HiFi Shop or buy it directly. If it's not up to snuff, return it. If the CD Player is well built, and you have matched it with a great set of components, the sound quality should be dynamic, detailed, and more than often a better performer than streaming.

As I mentioned, you don't have to go new; you can go used and save a lot of money. However, when you choose the used route, you could run into some issues, such as not having a warranty and rolling the dice on the life span of the player. However, I have that Magnavox CDB-473, which sounds incredible and is in excellent working order. It's a coin toss that could very well go your way. Don't count out estate sales and thrift stores because you could find diamonds in the rough during your search. After all, it's about the thrill of the hunt when searching for used HiFi gear.

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