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Best CD Players: 2021 Holiday Buying Guide

The 2021 Holiday Buying Guide for CD players features some fantastic units from NAD, Naim, Rotel, Marantz, Audiolab and more…

Cambridge Audio CXC Series 2 CD Player

If you don’t think owning a CD player in 2021 still matters — think again. Digital streaming might be 85% of the market but CD sales in H1 2021 put the brakes on and reversed course from almost 8 years of steep declines.

Americans purchased almost 18 million new CDs since January. Vinyl sales rose 109% in the same period and passed new CD sales for the first time in a few decades but it’s interesting to see new and used CDs flying out the door.

One of the reasons why CDs are climbing again in popularity is clearly cost — it’s hard to say no to $3 or $5 used CDs that are still in decent shape. That becomes an even better deal when you look at how expensive new vinyl releases run. Why purchase 1 new vinyl release when you can have 5 CDs?

The other reason is ownership. Physical ownership. Younger listeners did not grow up with CDs and they represent yet another physical format that they can own and not for a lot of money.

The final reason is sound quality. Audiophiles conveniently forget the days when they spent thousands on separate transports and DACs, before the hi-fi press decided that a CD player was good enough. Before moving on to streamers and very expensive DACs again.

CDs can sound great or putrid. The same reality exists with records as well.

For those of us with thousands of CDs, there is no reason to pretend that we don’t need a CD player. I own 3 of them.

Marantz CD6007 ($599)

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. 

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. 

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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. 

Rotel CD11 Tribute CD Player ($599.00)

Ken Ishiwata was a very kind soul. I was fortunate to spend a week with him in 1999 at the Top Audio/Video Show in Milan and I learned a lot from him about design choices and the “business” of high-end audio. He created so many wonderful components for Marantz and his last series of products for Rotel prior to his death were excellent as well. I’ve had a number of them at home to listen to and he was a gifted engineer to the end.

Rotel CD11 Tribute CD Player Silver
Rotel CD11 Tribute CD Player Back

The Rotel CD11 Tribute CD player honors the legendary audio designer’s legacy while providing high-end playback of CDs. The CD11 Tribute uses a customized selection of specially tuned components to supply stellar clarity, dynamics, and detail from your CD collection.

There are some key changes to the power supply, DAC circuitry, and signal path of the original CD11. The CD11 Tribute features nine capacitors that were changed in the power stage alone; along with an additional eight that were changed in the DAC section. Also onboard: Rotel’s proven tray-loading disc mechanism, a Texas Instruments 24-bit/192kHz DAC, and balanced design topology. 

Ishiwata was always very focused on isolating internal components and the chassis from external vibration and Rotel have implemented a number of his design techniques here as well.

The CD11 Tribute delivers excellent clarity and a warm tonal balance that makes it an excellent choice for the price.

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. 

Pro-Ject Audio CD Box DS2 CD Player ($899.00)

One of the most interesting components in the Pro-Ject 2021 line-up is the CD Box DS2 CD player/transport/DAC ($899.00 – $1000.00 depending on finish) which has proven to be quite the performer over the past two months. 

Pro-ject CD Box DS2 CD Player in black front angle
Pro-ject CD Box DS2 CD Player in black rear angle

The CD Box DS2 is not a very large component (8”W x 3”H x 8”D) and will take up less space than even a large hardcover book making it ideal for a media unit or even bookshelf. The walnut end caps are a welcome touch giving these somewhat utilitarian looking components some necessary warmth and depth.

Pro-Ject selected the AK4490 DAC chip for the CD Box DS2 which makes it compatible with high-resolution digital tracks. It also features 4 digital inputs which only adds to its versatility as a standalone DAC.

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The USB input can be used with any computer and offers high resolution file support for PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz and even DSD256. The optical and coaxial inputs can be used up to 24-bit/192kHz. 

The CD Box DS2 was consistently good with most CDs but it will not turn horrible recordings into good ones; even switching between the 5 PCM filters did not act as a panacea.

Great sounding CDs benefitted from the quality of the internal DAC and output stage and on that alone the CD Box DS2 would earn a solid recommendation. 

For more information: pro-jectusa.com/product/cd-box-ds2/

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. 

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 ($3,595)

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. 

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For $3,600, 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.

McIntosh MCD85 SACD/CD Player Front

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 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.

25 Comments

25 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

  5. Matt

    August 6, 2021 at 9:26 pm

    Rotel cd 14. Sounds great

  6. Scott Lylander

    August 11, 2021 at 8:23 pm

    Having a top loading CD player is a must for me; I’ll take the Rega. Long Live Physical Media.

    • Ian White

      August 11, 2021 at 9:19 pm

      The Rega is really good. The Naim would be my second choice.

      Ian White

  7. Steven O'Farrell

    August 13, 2021 at 2:59 am

    The “drawer” design has been a problem with several players I’ve had over the years. The Rega and the Naim eliminate that concern from the equation, which appeals to me. In my experience, Rotel has a good reliability reputation, but that Rega Apollo intrigues me, I must say. Nice article with a diverse selection of possibilities.

    • Ian White

      August 13, 2021 at 10:13 am

      Steven,

      I still have the original Rega Planet in a box somewhere. I prefer the Rega design in terms of reliability but the Naim CD players have always been my cup of tea sonically.

      Ian White

  8. Larry

    August 15, 2021 at 6:45 pm

    I really, really wish that Oppo was still making CD/DVD players. Oppo switched to making cell phones and it was a real loss for audiophiles.

    Larry Southerland

    • Ian White

      August 15, 2021 at 7:37 pm

      Larry,

      Don’t we all. My BDP-95 is still working but it won’t last forever.

      The prices on the last generation of players are crazy. $2,500 and up for a Blu-ray player.

      They’ve made a killing on the smartphone side so they probably see it a a huge win.

      Modwright has an incredible sounding modification for the last two Oppo players but that takes them up to $4K or more.

      Ian White

  9. Richard L Johnson

    August 27, 2021 at 8:07 pm

    I bought the Marantz CD6007 to match my PM700N (which I bought as a temporary replacement while my APT Holman preamp was being rebuilt).

    I was not just pleasantly surprised, I was truly shocked at just how good the CD6007 sounds – CDs that previously were ‘nails on the chalkboard’ were dramatically improved – smoother, more detailed, more coherent, less ‘digititis’.

    For reference my analog rig is a VPI Prime with a JMW Memorial 10″ arm and a Hana SH moving coil, and I listemn to either Kef LS50s or Magnepan .7s with a Sunfire SDS8 subwoofer crossed over at 80Hz.

    • Ian White

      August 27, 2021 at 8:43 pm

      Right?

      CD players have taken a backseat for far too long over the past 10 years.

      I’m listening to CDs all the time now.

      Ian White

  10. Lash

    November 9, 2021 at 5:32 pm

    I only wish someone was still making players that decode HDCD, as well as SACD.

    • Ian White

      November 9, 2021 at 5:49 pm

      Lash,

      I want to say Copland but I might be wrong on that one. I did own a Copland CD player that decoded HDCD and I still have all of those CDs with that encoding.

      Finding one that does both HDCD and SACD is definitely rare. You might find a used high-end unit that does both but I doubt it will be inexpensive.

      Ian

    • Brad Clemens

      January 14, 2022 at 11:41 pm

      Marantz makes SA-10 SACD player which plays CDs, Hi Rz dvds , others as well as can burn them for you. Came out beginning of 2017 and still can hardly find a used one cheap. Considered one of best to own as it streams and has its own unconventional dac which they claim is not a dac. Stereophile never mentions in any detail in articles and almost mute about the player. I think it’s because, Marantz didn’t buy into the MQA hype. Will process any file you can think of otherwise. Read about it as there are many excellent reviews besides marketing hype.

  11. Jim

    November 10, 2021 at 6:39 pm

    I sold my CAL Audio Cd/DVD player and Denon Cd player/recorder both of which played HDCD. I still have the Eastern Electric Mini Max tube CD player which also plays HDCD. Ashgrove by Dave Alvin is a great HDCD from start to finish, “Out of Control” really rocks if you are ready to head out on the town 🙂 I saw him perform this whole CD in Washington DC in front of just 300 people(max capacity) in 2004.

    • Ian White

      November 10, 2021 at 6:50 pm

      The CAL CD players were really good. I missed my chance at one recently.

      Dave Alvin is great music.

      Ian White

  12. John

    December 5, 2021 at 2:28 pm

    I would like to suggest adding the Bryston BCD-3 to your list to audition. Thanks for these. CDs remain equal to vinyl in my home. No streamers as I’ve been committed to physical media for years. Convenience has never been a priority. My stack of 45s will attest to that. Convenience in audio playback is a conceptual necessity we’ve made up with no real value, especially in a field where you often literally need an expert just to help you set up and calibrate your system. I am fit enough to get off the couch and I’m OK with that. The Bryston is a wonderful player (w/ a balky remote).

  13. Gregger

    January 12, 2022 at 8:57 pm

    Are you aware of a newer CD player that will accept multiple CD’S?? The ‘one at a time’ thing gets old!
    thank you.

    • Ian White

      January 12, 2022 at 9:26 pm

      Gregger,

      I’m assuming you mean a CD changer. Integra and Yamaha still make 6-CD changers. The Integra model (basically a Onkyo) is quite good. Yamaha also makes really decent CD players still.

      Best,
      Ian White

  14. David

    June 21, 2022 at 11:48 am

    I would really like to purchase the Audiolab 6000cdt but keep hearing chatter about CD’s getting damaged due to the slot loading system. Do you have any opinions about slot loaders? Am I better off buying a player with a tray?

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