About Compact Disc Players, and Best Picks

A look at the history of compact disc players, plus a short guide to the best CD players for the best prices...


A compact disc

The first compact disc player was developed by Sony and Phillips, working in collaboration. The year was 1982. The first player on the market was the Sony CDP 101.

At the time, it was a revolution. It sounded very different to the vinyl records of the time.

Even the best vinyl discs had a degree of background noise. During a period of silence on the disc, you could clearly hear a hiss and a rumble.

The compact disc player had no background noise at all. You could wind up the volume and (with a good quality amplifier and speakers) and still hear nothing.

No hiss, no rumble, no crackling sounds. It was uncanny.

This also meant that your home audio could go louder, because the amplifier wasn't squandering part of it's power in amplifying hiss, crackle and pop!

But not everybody liked the sound that the new-fangled players produced.

Quite a few audiophiles said the music lacked "warmth", and sounded artificial. I think there was an element of truth in this. One way of reducing the complexity (and cost) in the production of CDs and CD players is to filter out the frequencies that human ears can't hear.

Seems logical. BUT these frequencies DO have an effect on the ones we CAN hear.

It's like harmonics. Cutting out the "inaudible" frequencies certainly does affect what we can hear. Modern SuperAudio CDs and good quality players can produce a much wider range of frequencies, and therefore a "warmer" sound.


Now, even the early skeptics among home audio companies such as Naim Audio and Linn Products are producing high-end CD players. Other top names are Krell, Accuphase, Meridian and NAD.

But you don't have to spend a fortune to benefit from the convenience and quality of the CD format. Compact disc players are now available from just over $100 all the way up to $10,000 and beyond.

As always with audio equipment, the entry-level gear seems to have a lot of features, buttons and sockets. The more expensive the product, the fewer features it seems to have.

This is because the manufacturers know that they have to offer you value for money. If they want to build a CD player down to a basic level in order to sell it at a low price, they have to offer some extra features, because the sound quality will not be great.

In contrast, top-end manufacturers know that their product will be judged mainly on how it sounds. They use high-quality components, high quality manufacturing methods and materials, and spend a lot of time testing and refining.

So how much do you have to spend to get a decent quality sound?

Best CD Players

If we assume that you have good-quality CDs, then the best sound at the lowest possible price probably comes from the Emotiva ERC-2.

At just $449 it's something of a bargain if you're serious about home audio. Emotiva have done a great job of improving the legendary ERC-1. The build quality is excellent, the weight and feel of the unit is reassuringly solid, and of course the sound is fantastic.

To step up from the Emotiva you need to look above the $600 mark.

Cambridge Audio have the 650C and the 740C at this price level. This are players that I am familiar with, and I think they offer great sound for the price.

Whether you feel the extra cost is worthwhile over the Emotiva ERC-2 is a personal matter.

Ideally, you should listen to both, side-by-side, with a couple of familiar CDs. Then you can tell if you think the sound difference is worth the money.

Moving up to the $1000 area, compact disc players from Marantz and Creek Audio are worth inspecting.

At this level, expect an extra air of authority to the sound. Most audio critics refer to this as an "additional layer of depth".

But be warned - you really do need good quality recordings to get the benefit of the extra cost. If your recordings are of average quality, they will sound even worse on more expensive gear. The best compact disc players will expose low-quality recordings ruthlessly!

You might be interested in learning about SACD players (super-audio CD).

You'll probably find it useful to leaner about listening room design once you've bought a CD player.

Also: don't get suckered into buying expensive audio cables for your setup! Read about the myth here...

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