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The Best CD Players in the Age of Streaming

People still buy and listen to CDs in 2021 and here are the 8 best CD players worth considering right now.

McIntosh MCD85 SACD/CD Player

People still listen to CDs? A CD player may not seem like a logical purchase in 2021 with the advances in streaming technology, and platforms like Qobuz, Tidal, and Spotify HiFi becoming the standard for digital audio playback, but there are still tens of millions of consumers with CDs at home and the format is still popular in different parts of the world. There are more than 20 audiophile manufacturers offering new CD players in 2021 and you don’t have to break the bank for that final player.

But is the CD coming back? 

Never say never in regard to a possible resurgence of the CD, but with streaming approaching 85% of the market, it is very unlikely that the format will suddenly find its legs in the same way that vinyl has recovered. Listening to records is a completely different experience; both sonically and psychologically and there isn’t the same kind of connection to draw consumers back into the fold.

Physical formats, however, need to survive. I don’t want to live in a world without books, Blu-ray discs, records, reel-to-reel analog tapes, paintings, and photographs. 

If everything becomes just a “format” on some cloud server, we are destined to lose a huge part of our connection to history, invention, and cheapen our emotional and intellectual responses to art. 

It’s hard to feel what you can’t touch. The CD never created the same tactile experience for most people, but we sure purchased a lot of them. Some of us still have thousands of them; aside from the digital copies we made on dedicated music servers. 

There’s also the issue of sound quality; which seemingly went out the door with the introduction of the iPod and iTunes store. There is no question that digital streaming has advanced at a very fast rate and that it can produce excellent sound quality – but when was the last time you compared a really well recorded CD to its streaming copy?

Digital music streaming offers a lot of advantages over CD playback; access to millions of tracks instantaneously, the ability to build playlists, more detailed album and artist information, and the ability to take your music library with you. Anywhere that has WiFi or cell coverage.

The obvious disadvantage is that you don’t own your digital music streaming library. You are renting the music from the various streaming services and while that 24-7 access is not very expensive, it can disappear if you don’t maintain your subscription or the service goes out of business.

From a revenue perspective, musicians make bupkas from streaming. CD and vinyl sales have kept the revenue stream going during the pandemic with no live music.

Buy a CD player. Even if it’s your last. 

Marantz CD6007 ($499)

Marantz remains committed to CD playback in the era of digital streaming, and that’s a good thing because even as 2020 heads into the homestretch, and CD sales are at an all-time low — and likely to be surpassed by new vinyl sales in North America, there is still a reason to own a CD player. Sound quality. The CD6007 supports 24-bit/192kHz and DSD 5.6MHz high-resolution digital audio playback and does a great job with 16-bit/44.1kHz CDs as well. The CD6007 is built like a tank and has a warm and punchy presentation that is easy to listen to for hours. 

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Marantz CD6007 CD Player
Marantz CD6007 CD Player Rear View

The front panel includes a USB input (Type A) for USB flash drives and supports FLAC, WAV, AIFF, ALAC, and DSD file playback. It also features Marantz’s HDAM® (Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module) SA2 used in analog circuitry for faster signal transfer and better transient response.

Audiolab 6000CDT ($549)

Audiolab disappeared for a number of years after its parent company went under and vanished from the audio industry, but this well-respected British audio manufacturer is back with a vengeance offering some of the best affordable amplifiers and digital playback systems we’ve heard from anyone in recent memory. The 6000CDT is a solid chunk of metal that operates as a CD transport only – it requires being connected to an external DAC or amplifier with internal DAC section. Load a CD and prepare to be stunned by how much better this unit sounds compared to even some of the best digital streamers connected to the same DAC. 

Audiolab 6000CDT CD Player
Audiolab 6000CDT CD Player Rear View

The 6000CDT has an extremely neutral sounding presentation that allows you to tailor the sound with the DAC of your choice. One caveat – there is no USB output so any DAC will have to accept either S/PDIF coaxial or TOSLINK optical in order to work with the 6000CDT. Combine this CD transport with something like the Bifrost 2 from Schiit Audio or the Mytek Liberty and be prepared to experience your CDs on a different level. 

For more informationwww.audiolab.co.uk/6000cdt/

Cambridge Audio CXC Series 2 ($599)

One of Cambridge Audio’s best-selling products, the CXC series CD transport offers a state-of-the-art, proprietary S3 Servo to regulate the disc speed and ensure error free playback. The CXC requires an external DAC to operate but does offer its own spin on things with a bold, insightful, and slightly colored sounding presentation. Its robust power supply, durability, and solid construction make it a worthwhile addition to your system if your CD collection is no longer covered with dust in the corner.

Cambridge Audio Cx Series 2 CXC CD Player with remote control
Cambridge Audio Cx Series 2 CXC CD Player Rear View

The CXC features S/PDIF coaxial or TOSLINK optical digital outputs so make sure your DAC works with both – the coaxial output sounds more robust and detailed so we recommend sticking with that. 

For more information: www.cambridgeaudio.com/usa/…

NAD C 568 ($799)

NAD has been manufacturing CD players from the very beginning of the “Perfect Sound Forever” revolution (which didn’t exactly deliver on that promise for almost a decade) and it certainly shares a house sound across this range of components. NAD CD players have always had a decidedly analog-like presentation that emphasized tonal color and presence vs overemphasized detail and crystal clear transparency; that may sound like a bad thing but it is what makes their CD players so listenable with the wide range of CDs that were recorded for the past 35+ years. 

NAD C 568 CD Player
NAD C 568 CD Player Rear View

The C 568 features a new and quieter CD transport, and 24-bit Wolfson DAC for high-resolution digital playback. It also includes an USB input for flash drives and two digital outputs for use with an external DAC or amplifier with an internal DAC section. There is nothing flashy about the C 568, but it delivers excellent sound quality with red book CDs; it does not support SACD playback. 

Rega Audio Apollo ($1,095)

Rega was one of the last to the party with their Planet CD player in 1997, and for more than 23 years the brand has eschewed conventional thinking by only offering top-loading CD players that offer long-term durability. The Apollo offers both analog and digital outputs and its Wolfson’s WM8742 24/96 DAC allows this shoebox-sized CD player to offer great insight into the music, with excellent clarity, detail, and a slightly forward sounding presentation which is the Rega trademark in regard to its best-selling turntables. 

Rega Audio Apollo CD Player
Rega Audio Apollo CD Player Rear View

Rega has more expensive models in its CD player arsenal but we’re extremely drawn to the Apollo for what it does; draw you into the performance and remind you that there are a lot of really good sounding CDs worth listening to. 

For more information: www.rega.co.uk/apollo.html

Naim CD5si ($1,995)

Naim have gone full throttle into the streaming category with 6 award-winning network amplifiers, wireless loudspeakers, and dedicated streamers, but the CD5si remains. This unique front-drawer loading CD player retains all of the characteristics of the brand’s other products; pace, dynamics, timing, and a colorful presentation that is long on drama but short on imaging or soundstage depth. 

Naim Audio CD5si CD Player
Naim Audio CD5si CD Player Rear View

The CD5si features discrete digital and analogue power supplies for superior isolation of sound critical electronics, and stiff aluminum casework that isolates the mechanism and other components from vibration. The digital to analogue converter chip has been upgraded to a Burr Brown PCM1793 – a device very closely related to the one used in the NDX high-end streaming player. The CD5si also benefits from a more stable DAC clock, higher voltage power supply rails, a revised analogue filter design and a brand new CD transport and laser optics.

What we like about the CD5si is the “old school” Naim vibe that it possesses; it looks like classic Naim gear, sounds like the best equipment that made Naim famous, and will likely last forever. If this is the last CD player Naim offers – it’s well worth owning. 

Luxman D-03X ($3,295)

CDs still sell very well in Japan and it’s clear from the D-03X, that Luxman does not plan on abandoning the format anytime soon. Some high-end brands still offer a single CD player in their line-up, but the Japanese manufacturer has no less than 7 CD players available in 2020 and none of them offer anything but first-rate CD playback. Stick that in your streamer. 

Luxman D-03X CD Player
Luxman D-03X CD Player Rear View

The D-03X incorporates MQA technology, which enables you to play back MQA-CDs as well as MQA audio files up to 24-bit transferred via USB, optical and coaxial inputs. The USB input also supports PCM data up to 384kHz/32-bit and DSD data up to 11.2MHz while the optical and coaxial inputs accept PCM signals up to 192 kHz/24-bit. 

Yes – the D-03X is also a high-resolution DAC making it the hub of 21st century digital system. Connect a streamer to one of the digital inputs and you’ve simplified your system with one cable and upped the sound quality by quite a few yards. 

For $3,300, you have every right to expect a superior level of playback and the Japanese CD player never fails to deliver; the balanced outputs sound decidedly fuller and less neutral than the single-ended outputs. Bass has more weight through the balanced outputs and there is a noticeable increase in soundstage depth. 

McIntosh MCD85 ($4,500)

McIntosh sells a lot of CD players. How do we know that? We recently visited the World of McIntosh townhouse in New York’s SoHo, and they had them playing in every single room. This wasn’t some clearance sale in the time of COVID-19, but in response to market demand. People who buy McIntosh/Sonus Faber audio systems own a lot of CDs — they also stream a lot of their music. Enter the MCD85 SACD/CD player with multiple digital inputs for external digital streamers.

The MCD85 with its open chassis design is not only a serious piece of music hardware, but it also shows that you are serious about your love of music. With the great success of McIntosh’s similarly retro styled MC275 and MC1502 Vacuum Tube Amplifiers, MA252 and MA352 Integrated Amplifiers, and the warm reception of their recently introduced MC830 Solid State Amplifier and C8 Vacuum Tube Preamplifier that also have retro touches, it’s clear that many people want their home stereo system not to blend in, but instead to be distinctive looking.

McIntosh MCD85 SACD/CD Player Front
McIntosh MCD85 SACD/CD Player Back

The McIntosh MCD85 SACD/CD player can play store bought SACDs and CDs as well as music from homemade CD or DVD Data Discs. Numerous file formats can be played from these discs including AAC, AIFF, ALAC, DSD (up to DSD128), FLAC, MP3, WAV, and WMA. The USB Audio input supports up to DSD256 and DXD 384kHz, and can be used to stream digital music from a computer or other digital storage device. There’s also two coax and two optical digital inputs that support PCM signals up to 192kHz.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. James Chater

    February 11, 2021 at 4:44 pm

    Have the Cambridge CXC coupled with an Arcam irDAC going through Chord C-Line interconnect to a NAD C316BEE amp and finally, Dali Spektor 2 speakers. To me this set up it sounds fantastically accurate.
    Re the vinyl/CD ‘debate’. I am old enough to have owned a substantial collection when CD was introduced in mid 80s. In retrospect I got rid of my collection too hastily as decent turntables are now very affordable. But, at the time many retailers stopped stocking vinyl overnight as some record companies stopped releasing new material on vinyl. Yes, I get the argument that vinyl is somehow more ‘musical’ as actual physical vibrations are happening…But do I miss loud surface noise, replacing needles etc.? As for the ‘psychological’ aspect? For me now to re-purchase titles on vinyl is just a bit too sickly nostalgic. Thankfully, re-mastered sometimes re-mixed recordings on CD sound great.

    • Ian White

      February 11, 2021 at 5:06 pm

      James,

      There is definitely a nostalgia angle for everyone. I’m 50 and have been buying records since 1982. I inherited a lot of them from parents and grandparents which was a nice way to start. I do agree that there is a lot more involved when it comes to vinyl/CD and you really do have to set-up your table properly to hear what all of the fuss is about. I own both really high-end digital and analog systems and they both give me joy. I like listening to records because it feels more “human” if that makes any sense. I own 2,000 CDs and have 3,000+ albums saved on Tidal/Qobuz…but you don’t own any of the streaming music. It can all go away. Thank you for reading BTW. Greatly appreciated.

  2. craig allison

    February 24, 2021 at 3:13 am

    As the newest crop of players sports not only the latest, greatest dacs , but also
    multi- format utility , I’d like to let one cat out of the bag : The best dac ever made for cd was the Philips Gold Crown TD- 1541 AS1 ( can’t remember all the nomenclature.) What is to be gleaned here is that chip was designed to
    only decode 16/44. No multi- format , no ‘ chip of the month club. ‘
    An experienced digital audio engineer who has done OEM work for many
    high end outfits assured me that my perceptions are correct. We retro-ed one into
    my Tandberg 3015 A thirty years ago in place of the original stock 1541. To this
    day, anyone who hears my player comments on the sheer beauty of the sound.

  3. Nick

    May 11, 2021 at 1:33 am

    How can you possibly have omitted the Technics SL-G700??

    • Ian White

      May 11, 2021 at 1:57 am

      Because unless we’ve actually listened to it, it doesn’t make the list. I have another 20 CD players on my list that might be better than all of these from Metronome, Naim, Mark Levinson, ATC, Esoteric — but I’m not going to randomly just add things to the list just because they exist.

      When I have a chance to try the Technics and others on my list — this article will be updated.

      Thank you for reading.

      Ian White

  4. MadMex

    June 11, 2021 at 1:13 pm

    YAMAHA is a long distance runner for the CD player. Pay respects.

    • Ian White

      June 11, 2021 at 1:20 pm

      100% for longevity but have not heard a Yamaha CD player in many years so I can’t comment on its sound quality.

      Ian White

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