The CD changer has a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem when it comes to quality. Experts generally agree that CD changers don't deliver the same audio performance as a single-disc player. This makes true audiophiles reluctant to buy them, because they'd rather invest in a higher-quality single-disc player. This, in turn, gives manufacturers little incentive to develop luxury CD changers for the discriminating listener – and so the category is one that appeals most to those seeking convenience rather than the absolute best sound quality.
So if you choose a multi-disc changer, you shouldn't expect the same sound quality you'll get with a good single-disc player like the NAD C-516BEE, or the Oppo BDP-105D (Est. $1,300) universal player. However, there are some CD changers that can deliver competent, if not extraordinary, sound performance, along with the convenience of loading up several discs at once. So if you're having a party or a marathon listening session -- or just don't feel like getting up and changing the disc every time -- you can just queue up a selection of tunes, press play, and walk away.
Among CD changers, most reviewers give an edge to the Onkyo DX-C390 (Est. $150). While most CD changers hold only five discs at a time, the Onkyo can accommodate six for even more uninterrupted music listening. In addition to commercial CDs, it can play CD-R and CD-RW discs, as well as MP3 CDs. Reviewers at Amazon.com note that, unlike many CD players, the Onkyo can display artist and title information for MP3 tracks and browse tracks organized into folders on a disc. Other features include analog and digital outputs, a shuffle mode, and a remote control.
We found hundreds of reviews for this CD player at sites across the Internet, though the biggest accumulations are nearly 550 reports at Amazon.com, where the player earns a rating of 4.1 stars, and more than 280 reports at BestBuy.com, where owners award the player a 4.6 star score. Owners say the player's sound is smooth and clear across the entire musical range, without a lot of distracting mechanical noise. Its operation is smooth, too, shifting easily from one disc to the next. Users generally find it easy to operate, and they like its hefty construction.
On the downside, users note that the Onkyo's extra-large capacity makes for an extra-large machine – about 17 inches square and weighing over 15 pounds. Many users note that it's very slow to change between discs, leaving a gap of 15 to 20 seconds in the music filled only by the whir of machinery. However, the majority of complaints about this CD changer have to do with reliability. Several owners say the machine is very sensitive, skipping when a disc is even slightly damaged and sometimes refusing to recognize discs even if they're in perfect condition. We also saw complaints about machines that broke down within a few months after purchase. Although the CD player comes with a one-year warranty, most users who had problems say it's hard to get repairs or even a response from Onkyo's customer service.
While the Onkyo CD player can handle most types of discs, it can't play digital music files directly from an iPod or flash drive. For that, you need a player with a USB connection, such as the Yamaha CD-C600 (Est. $330). This five-disc CD changer can play all the same disc formats as the Onkyo, along with MP3 and WMA files via USB. However, unlike the Onkyo, there are no analog outputs.
Most owners are pleased with the Yamaha's audio quality. Users at Amazon.com and Crutchfield.com describe the sound as warm, detailed, and accurate. They also find its front-panel controls intuitive and easy to use. However, some say the remote with its tiny buttons is hard to read.
Owners also disagree about the ease of loading and unloading the CD tray. Unlike most CD changers, the platter on this one doesn't rotate when the player is open; you have to load all five discs in from the front. Some users find this more convenient, but others say it's hard to load the two rear discs, which are partly concealed under the frame, without scratching them. Many owners say it's more convenient to switch out discs while the player is running; you can replace up to four discs this way without interrupting the fifth.
Another thing users find it awkward to do on the Yamaha CD changer is select a specific disc and track to listen to. You can't punch in the number of the specific disc you want on the remote control; instead you have to toggle forward or backward from the one that's queued up, skipping over the ones you don't want. Then, you have to wait until your chosen disc starts up before you can choose the track you want.
Like the Onkyo player, the Yamaha has some durability complaints. Several owners say their's started acting up within two years after purchase, sometimes even on its very first use. On the plus side, the two-year warranty on this Yamaha CD changer is better than the Onkyo's.