You definitely still need a CD player.
Are audiophiles too obsessed with nostalgia when it comes to CDs? The same case could probably be made for vinyl, cassettes, and reel-to-reel but what really matters is not the format — it is the performance and sound quality.
There are good and terrible sounding recordings available on every format; and that certainly is the truth with streaming.
The streaming horde will scoff at such a list in 2023, but there are still millions of music listeners who enjoy listening to CDs and while we don’t expect to see the format enjoy the type of rebirth that has reinvigorated the record industry — it is still a format worth enjoying.
Streaming might represent 85% of the North American market, but CDs are here to stay. Unless Greta “I hate Capitalism” Thunberg launches some campaign against its carbon footprint and my children burn my collection. Our “Best CD players of 2023” list only includes models that we have listened to over the past 12 months. There are other options available that might be superior but we can only comment on those that have passed through our systems.
Over the past 38 years, I have invested over $30,000 USD in CDs and while that might not represent the typical mainstream consumer, it is not uncommon for some audiophiles. It took me over 5 years to rip all 2,000 CDs to a series of external HDDs and create a number of back-ups that I have locked away in case my music server crashes.
Over that 5 year period, I tossed over 1,800 jewel cases and only kept a select group from MoFi, DCC, Sony Mastersound, and JVC XRCD because of their album art and collectibility.
The rest are in very expensive photography albums in protective sleeves and neatly arranged inside a wall unit. You wouldn’t even know that I own CDs — except for the 4 CD players in our home — I added another one since 2022.
I also built a music server that is connected to our router and home network because it offers convenient access to our digital music collection in multiple rooms — but that doesn’t mean that it offers the best sound quality option in the context of each system.
CD sales increased for the first time in 17 years in 2021, up 21% to $584 million; the 2022 sales figures were not quite as strong, but that seems to be a North American issue where streaming is more popular. Music listeners in Europe and Asia still purchase CDs in sizable numbers.
The ability to own music on a physical medium is important. You are probably wondering why that is important to you and we have some recommendations on the best CD players right now that make sense.
Physical media is still very relevant; we discovered that to be very true during the summer of 2022 when Rogers’ mobile and wireless networks collapsed all across Canada forcing almost 33% of Canada’s population offline. No Wi-Fi. No cable. No music or video streaming for over 24 hours and even longer for some customers.
The ability to listen to both CDs and vinyl helped pass the time while in Canada dealing my own health and that of my father.
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 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.
Inflation and supply chain issues were not kind to the CD player category in 2022 but things have improved in 2023. There are at least 30 viable players between $350 and $4,500 worth considering.
Marantz CD6007 ($599)
The Marantz CD6007 is a versatile CD Player, which includes support for hi-res digital music playback via USB. It 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.
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 ($599)
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.
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 2/64 from Schiit Audio or the Mytek Liberty and be prepared to experience your CDs on a different level.
Cambridge Audio CXC Series 2 ($699)
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.
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 ($599)
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.
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 ($899)
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.
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 CD Box DS3 ($899)
One of the most interesting components in the Pro-Ject 2022 line-up is the CD Box DS3 CD player/transport/DAC which has proven to be quite the performer.
The CD Box DS3 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.
Pro-Ject selected the Texas Instruments PCM1796 DAC chip for the CD Box DS3 which makes it compatible with high-resolution digital tracks.
The CD Box DS3 was consistently good with most CDs but it will not turn horrible recordings into good ones.
Great sounding CDs benefitted from the quality of the internal DAC and output stage and one that alone the CD Box DS3 would earn a solid recommendation.
Marantz CD60 ($999)
The CD60 features an industrial design and sturdy build that not only looks good but contributes to stable performance free of unnecessary vibration. The chassis is quite large; perhaps even too large for everything that resides under the cover. Marantz is sticking with a similar chassis for all of the components in this lineup because it is easier to manufacture that way and there is a consistency to the industrial design that most buyers will like.
The Marantz CD60 has a rather warm and organic tonal balance and it is one of those components that makes even the worst recordings sound almost listenable; it does some truly wonderful things with DCC, MoFi, and JVC XRCD recordings that pushed the envelope when it came to digital recordings in the 1990s.
CD playback compatibility includes CD/CD-R/CD-RW discs. CDs with MP3 and WMA files are also playable. HDCD discs are playable, but access to the 4-bit extension is not provided. SACD playback capability is not included (according to the specs provided by Marantz).
How good is the CD60? After living with it for two months, I bought the review sample because it proved to be reliable, easy to use, and most CDs just sound fantastic through it.
You can read my review here.
Cambridge Audio Evo CD ($999)
My full review of the Evo CD will be published at the end of August, and it is going to be slightly controversial for some.
The Evo CD will only work with the Evo 75 and Evo 150 Network Amplifiers and having listened to it for the past few weeks with the Evo 150 — it’s a fantastic disc spinner but I really think Cambridge made a mistake with that aspect of it.
Tailored to partner the existing Evo range in design as well as sound performance, the Evo CD is crafted from the same premium materials as the rest of its product family.
A full metal loading mechanism guarantees stability and durability. With a sleek black aluminium top panel, available with brushed wooden or matte black side panels, made from sustainable Richlite material, the Evo CD is a subtle design piece while being a classy addition to the living spaces of music fans across the globe.
The chunky Evo CD takes less than 5 minutes to set-up and there is no question that it offers the same strong industrial design of the Evo 150 and Evo 75; all of that is a good thing for those who need a CD player that can be stacked underneath the network amplifiers and care about matching components.
How does it compare to the Cambridge CXC Series 2 CD player?
It’s been over a year since I had the opportunity to listen to the CXC Series 2, but the Evo CD player doesn’t stray too far from the farm — same excellent pace, clarity, and detail of other Cambridge sources, and it most certainly has a warmer tonal balance compared to something like the Cyrus Audio CDi-XR, Rotel, or Naim CD players.
It’s a pity that it can’t be used outside of the Evo range.
Rega Audio Apollo ($1,325)
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 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.
Where to buy: Find Rega Dealers
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.
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.
Where to buy: Find Naim Dealers
Rotel DT-6000 DAC/CD player ($2,299)
The $2,299 USD Rotel DT-6000 DAC/CD player includes a PC-USB input supporting MQA and DSD audio playback and renders PCM 32-bit/384kHz music files through the coaxial and optical inputs supporting music streamers and media players with the included tray loading CD mechanism providing playback flexibility.
There is a rather long design development story in regard to the DT-6000 that convinced us that Rotel’s development team went back and forth for over a year trying every possible DAC chip before settling on a heavily modified version of the DAC referenced below.
Their initial enthusiasm for the ESS Sabre was met with a level of disappointment when it didn’t deliver the overall sonic performance they were looking for in such an expensive CD player/DAC.
Rotel went back to the drawing board until they felt ESS got it correct.
The focal point of the DT-6000 is the 8-channel ESS Sabre ES9028PRO Digital to Analog converter configured to dedicate 4 Mono DACs each to the left and right channels. Redundant signal processing of the digital data streams extracts nuances of audio with exacting clarity and detail with an exceptionally low noise floor.
The DAC feeds custom engineered fully balanced differential output filters with sonic components critically tuned for life-like reproduction of the audio.
The DT-6000 is powered by an in-house manufactured shielded toroidal transformer with high efficiency slit foil smoothing capacitors reducing stray emissions and delivering independent, isolated, low noise power to all critical circuits, further reducing noise and distortion.
Rotel invited us to a number of private listening sessions in NYC so that we could compare the DT-6000 to the less expensive models in the range which also includes the CD11 Tribute and CD14 MKII which retails for $1,000 USD.
Is it worth the extra $1,300 over its less expensive sibling?
It’s a more forward sounding CD player with better clarity and detail but whether that justifies such a huge uptick in price is up to you.
Where to buy: $2,299 at Crutchfield
Cyrus Audio CDi-XR ($2,999)
Improving on the multiple award-winning design of their classic CDi was no easy feat for Cyrus. Both new XR series CD players, the CDt-XR and the CDi-XR, feature a new power supply design and bespoke transformers designed specifically for the new CD players, making their class-leading SE CD engine even quieter than before.
Both the CDt-XR and CDi-XR use twin microprocessors. One chip handles all the user interface and housekeeping, while the second is dedicated to running the SE engine. This prevents crucial timing information from being interrupted by the processor being asked to do other things.
The physical loader is also new, giving better performance than the previous model. There is a re-clocking circuit to reduce jitter too. In terms of board layout, flow and return principles have been applied to the DAC section and the signal path throughout the entire player.
Would I buy the Cyrus Audio CDi-XR for $3,000?
I recognize that sounds like a fatalistic question but it’s a fair one.
It does almost everything well and is built like a tank. It worked without issue with 3 different DACs, 4 integrated amplifiers, and it only stumbled once with a badly scratched CD.
The tonal balance is definitely on the leaner side, but it also races along like a Morgan 3-wheeler on a British country road with utmost confidence. It can be an exhilarating and eye-opening experience in the context of the right system.
Read our review of the CDi-XR here.
Where to buy: $2,999 at Sky by Gramophone
Luxman D-03X ($4,195)
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.
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 $4,200, 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 and 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.
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.
Where to buy: Find McIntosh Dealers
Related reading: View our latest Best Right Now guides.