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CD Player Buying Guide

By: Amy Livingston on September 07, 2017

What the best CD player has

  • Good sound quality. Good sound doesn't have to come with a high price tag. The top-rated single disc CD and universal players we list in this report carry price tags of around $500 and $1,300, respectively, and some audiophile-grade players are priced well into the thousands of dollars, but we also found some $150 and cheaper models that deliver sound quality that will please all but the most demanding audiophiles.
  • Ability to read common disc formats. Even a basic CD player should be able to handle CDs, CD-R/RWs, and MP3 CDs. More advanced CD players can read other formats, such as SACD, and universal players can read pretty much any type of disc, including UHD (4K) and 3D Blu-ray. Some players can also accept input from a music player or flash drive via a USB port.
  • Random and repeat play modes. Sophisticated models can even repeat a section within a track.
  • Easy-to-use controls. Even the best-sounding CD player will leave owners disappointed if it is a pain to use. One feature users appreciate is a remote control, which makes it easy to kick back and enjoy your favorite tunes. Every CD player covered in this report includes one.
  • A warranty. Higher-end models tend to have longer warranties. The models covered in this report all have warranties of one to three years.

Know before you go

Why is there such a wide range in CD player prices? Even an inexpensive CD player will do an impressive job of collecting the digital data recorded on a disc, so what separates the CD players with multi-hundred- and even multi-thousand-dollar price tags from those that cost $150 or less? The answer lies in their build quality, including more robust power supplies and higher quality components -- primarily more sophisticated digital-to-analog converters (DACs). Pricier players also have (or should have) gentler disc handling so your prized recording don't become scratched, and better error correction so that should a disc flaw be detected, the disc or track will play back with virtually no perceivable hiccups rather than it being skipped altogether.

How do you plan to hook up your CD player? Most CD players do not have built-in amplifiers, so they will need to be connected to an external stereo amplifier or receiver. Make sure the player you select has outputs that are compatible with your existing gear. Older amps and receivers, in particular, might not have digital inputs, and some might not have an available digital input of the right type (optical or coaxial). Many, but not all, CD and universal players have analog outputs as well. Which connection to use will depend on the quality of the DAC in each piece of gear. If the DAC in your CD player is superior (or if your receiver/amp lacks a digital input altogether), use the analog connections. If your receiver has the better DAC, go digital. If you are not sure, experiment, and use the hook-up that sounds best to your ears.

What format are your discs? Most people own CDs they've bought, maybe some CD-R/RWs they've recorded, and some MP3 CDs they've burned. Every player in this report will read those, but if you've got audiophile CD formats such as SACD or DVD-A, check to make sure the player can read them.

Do you want a multi-disc CD changer? Though many owners love the convenience of CD changers, reviewers warn that you won't get audiophile sound quality from them. High-end CD players are always single-disc models, either CD-only or universal.

Do you want to play music and movies? Universal players can play all types of discs: CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray and more. The best ones, like the Oppo UDP-205 (Est. $1,300) deliver magnificent sound sure to satisfy even hard-core audiophiles (with similarly awesome video prowess). If you need a good video player as well as a good CD player, a universal player could be a consideration.

Do you want to play MP3 files? If your collection contains digital music files as well as physical discs, it's useful to have a machine that can play them both. The pricey Oppo UDP-205 has this feature, but so do some cheaper players, such as the TEAC CD-P650-B (Est. $150) and the multi-disc Yamaha CD-C600 (Est. $330).

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