An audiophile CD player is a bit different from an average one. It’s supposed to be sturdier, have a broader frequency response, and most importantly, it’s supposed to sound incomparably better.
Although music tastes and sonic perceptions are largely subjective categories, we strongly believe that there’s a clear distinction between non-audiophile and audiophile players, and we’d like to show you exactly what it is.
Before we dive into the best audiophile CD players, feel free to take a glance at the table just below. It shows a summary of the products we’re going to thoroughly review, and it will hopefully give you a bit of insight into the things you should keep an eye out for. Without any further ado, let’s dig in.
|Category||Product name||Media Sources||Connectivity type||Audio Quality||Unique Feature||Price|
|Best Budget CD Player||Sony CDP-CE500||CD DA, CD R, CD RW, MP3, USB||USB||High||Compatibility with 3-inch CDs||$$|
|Best Value CD Player||Yamaha CD-S303||CD, CD RW, MP3, WMA, FLAC, USB||USB||High||Pure Direct Digital Path, unparalleled THD||$$$|
|Most Versatile CD Player||Sony X800||CD, MP3, DVD, Blu-Ray||DMI, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, USB input, Ethernet||Exceptional||Dolby Yatmos Compatibility, classic style design||$$$|
|Premium Choice||Cambridge Audio AXC35||CD, CD RW, CD ROM, WMA||Accompanying Audio Cable||Exceptional||WM8524 digital to analog converter, remarkably sturdy||$$$$|
|Editor’s Choice||Marantz PM6006||CD, DVD, MP3, Vinyl, FLAC||IEC 60320 C13 Power Cable||Pristine||Proprietary hyper dynamic amplifier module, Current Feedback Technology||$$$$|
1. Best Budget CD Player: Sony CDP-CE500 5-Disc CD Changer
- Exceptional value for money
- High portability
- Can play mini CDs
- Remote control included in the price
- Multiple digital outputs
As an audiophile, you probably value sound quality above price, compactness, and versatility when you’re shopping for a CD player. A top-performing player is something that you’ll have a hard time finding in the budget section, but there are a few hidden gems waiting to be found – such is the case with Sony’s CDP CE500.
This CD player is powered by AA batteries and measures 16.93 inches by 4.33 inches by 15.75 inches while weighing approximately 11.46 pounds. While scouring the market for audiophile gear, we’ve encountered dozens of similarly sized players, but the vast majority of these products either offered inferior sound quality or the bare minimum in terms of versatility (no remote control, subpar compatibility with media sources, poor connectivity options, and so on.)
This model is quite straightforward, resembling its relatively affordable counterparts in more ways than one. Sony’s CDP CE500 is decently compact and light when it comes to dimensions, and what makes it stand out from other entry-level audiophile CD player models is its compatibility with 3-inch CDs.
Compatibility with Mini CDs
Essentially, standard-sized CDs are 4.75 inches in diameter. They were mass-produced and intended for various storing purposes, allowing people to exchange video games, music files, programs, and all kinds of files that could fit onto them.
Audio enthusiasts are well aware of the fact that this is not the case with music CDs – original CDs designed specifically to store original recordings of music tracks. What is referred to as mini CD single, or shortly Mini CD, is a 3-inch disc that can hold approximately 20 minutes’ worth of audio tracks.
There’s another very important element of mini CDs – they not only offer the best sound, but they offer consistent performance as well. Even when inserted into a system that doesn’t meet the sonic standards, 3-inch CDs sound incomparably better than 4.5-inch ones.
Most newer CD player devices are compatible with a broad array of CD formats, but only a handful accept mini 3-inch CDs. As per the manufacturer’s specs, Sony’s CDP CE500 is compatible with CD RWs, CD Rs, mini CDs, and it can reproduce MP3 files at 32 kbps, allowing you to enjoy digital music with a great sound for the price.
The Cream of the Crop of Budget Audiophile CD Players
Sony’s CDP-CE500 may not be the best audiophile CD player on the entire market, but we can safely label it the best CD player in the upper brackets of the budget price point category.
While hunting for a top-performing audiophile CD player, we’ve tested more than a couple of models that could match its sonic performance. Sony typically updates the sound processors in their players with each new product, and it’s true that CDP CE500 is a bit dated. However, it’s still strong enough to hold its ground when pitted against contemporary CD players with strong sonic performance and versatile connectivity in terms of digital outputs.
Aside from sound quality, it would be fair to say that CDP CE500 is among the best-rounded budget CD player options. This is a portable CD player that barely weighs more than an average house cat while being petite enough to fit on any table or furniture.
We also liked the streamlined repeat function, which is one of the features that budget players seem to have issues with. As a 5-CD changer, you can insert up to five discs with your favorite music, conveniently flip through them with the remote control, skip, fast-forward, pause, or repeat your favorite tunes.
On the downside, you can’t use the repeat function on the player’s base, and the pause function doesn’t last indefinitely; if you’ve paused a track before going to work, the chances are that the player would’ve automatically reset and continued playing the songs.
- A well-rounded CD player, well worth the money
- One of the best CD players in the budget category
- Great sound quality
- Several digital outputs
- Compatible with 3-inch mini CDs
- Remote control
- The repeat function isn’t accessible on the player’s base
- Small, hard-to-read labels on the buttons on the player
2. Best Value: Yamaha CD-S303 Single CD Player
- Top bang for the buck
- Audio quality exceeds price range by a mile
- Portable, lightweight construction
- Zero audio distortion
- High dynamic range
- One CD at a time
Although Yamaha may be more popular for selling top-tier musical instruments, this brand offers a host of top-quality electronics, CD players included. Here we are looking at CD S303, which is a single CD player packed with a range of advanced features and technologies, but we’ve mainly picked it for this list for offering superior value for the money.
The CD player measures 21.73 inches by 15 inches by 6.45 inches, making it a bit bulkier in comparison to CDP CE500, but surprisingly enough, it’s about two pounds lighter, weighing roughly 7.7 pounds.
Yamaha’s CD S303 features a great-sounding integrated amplifier, and you won’t need an external DAC unit given that this CD player comes outfitted with a high-quality one already, having the ability to transform digital audio to a pure, clean analog signal. Your CD collection will sound several times better once you start using the CD S303.
The digital to analog converter of CD S303 offers great accuracy and introduces minimal harmonic distortion, meaning that of your copied super audio CDs will sound almost as if they were original recordings.
In terms of connectivity, it rocks two digital outputs (digital coaxial and digital optical out), but it also offers balanced XLR outputs, as well as USB A port on the front panel. This means that you can easily connect CD S303 to external speakers if you want to amplify its volume output.
As far as sonic performance is in question, you can rest assured that you will be able to enjoy a high quality sound experience with this one. With a frequency response spanning from 2 Hz to 20 kHz, the dynamic range of this CD player recognizes the lowest of the bass frequencies, vibrantly projects mids, and performs decently when it comes to highs.
Overall, we’ve struggled to find a flaw in Yamaha CD S303’s performance; we should point out that this is a single CD player, meaning that you won’t be able to load it with multiple albums, unlike the rest of the models on this list. It’s a single CD player by design, though, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a drawback in itself.
It’s easily one of the best audiophile CD players if you are looking for a full package of versatility, excellent Hi Fi sound, warm sound, and extensive connectivity options.
Minimal Harmonic Distortion
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) introduces new tones and unwanted sounds to audio signals. Old-school CD players, boomboxes, and record players. When we tested different CD players before making this review, we ensured that all models on the list had less than 1% THD.
However, even that one percent can be too much when it comes to audiophile-grade sound quality. Yamaha’s CD S303 is different from the vast majority of its similarly-priced counterparts, as it offers 0.003% total harmonic distortion.
To elaborate, this means that human ears aren’t capable of discerning original recordings from audio reproduced by this device. It would take an advanced machine and a range of cutting-edge technologies to spot a single difference. In short, this player is for audiophiles that want their CDs to sound exactly as they were meant to.
Pure Direct for a FLAC-like Performance
FLAC, or Free Lossless Audio Codec, represents a format of audio coding that is nowadays almost synonymous with its physical format – the FLAC disc. Basically, these aren’t as common as CDs, and not all players support this type of media.
Audiophiles, however, cherish their FLACs and place them upon the same pedestal of sonic quality as their original vinyl records. Although Yamaha’s CD S303 doesn’t support FLAC, it comes supplied with a feature that can proverbially transform your CDs into FLAC media; this feature is called Pure Direct.
Essentially, this is a button that was designed to shut down all interfering signals, augmenting the power and accuracy of the player’s analog tracking capabilities.
There is a small catch to using this feature, though; you can’t use digital files, transfer digital media files, or basically listen to digital audio while it’s on because all digital output sources are shut down. This also includes the display and remote control functionalities.
- Multiple digital outputs
- High end audio quality
- Lightweight CD player with durable construction
- Almost no harmonic distortion at all
- Dynamic range of recognizable frequencies
- Bulky design
- Can only accept one CD at a time
3. Most Versatile CD Player: Sony X800 UHD 2D/3D Disc DVD Player
- Dolby Atmos support included
- Wide array of connectivity methods includes Wi-Fi and USB
- 4k dynamic range
- Light and easy to carry
- Slightly above-average price tag
Many people dismiss aesthetics in favor of high quality audio when shopping for CD players, which is understandable – it’s meant to play CDs and let you enjoy your time with your favorite music. However, one glance at Sony’s X800 UHD should suffice to dispute that statement. It’s one of the most gorgeous, if not the best players when it comes to style and outward appearance, on the current market.
The second Sony in this review is not just better-looking, but it’s a better-performing model as well. Equipped with 4K dynamic range and HDR support, some would argue that X800 is better-suited for cinephiles and movie lovers than audiophiles.
Given that it’s not vastly more expensive than CD S303 (although it is almost twice the price in comparison to CDP CE500), there aren’t many reasons why you shouldn’t get top-shelf video while you’re reaping the benefits of superb quality Hi Fi audio as well.
Although it’s not the smallest of CD players out there, Sony X800 CD player is among the more petite ones, with dimensions measuring 18.8 inches by 14.2 inches by 3.8 inches while weighing 9.7 pounds. It’s small enough to be considered compact and light enough to be dubbed portable.
Sony wanted to give you a choice by equipping X800 with an array of different connectivity slots and ports. While we were scouring the market for the best CD players, we discovered that ’good’ connectivity was something mainly boutique models were privy to. Sony’s X800 is, again, leagues ahead of its competition, featuring LAN, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Coaxial, and a USB input.
Aside from the fact that it supports a broad range of media files, the versatility of the X800 is seen in that it can be used for pretty much anything. Whether you want to stream music, watch movies in 4K, or play along to Hi Fi audio CDs, this player will be able to help you.
Given that it supports Bluetooth connectivity, you can easily stream content from your smartphone for as long as you’re in range. You can also connect USB memory devices to it should you need to.
As far as sound quality is of concern, Sony X800 is among the better-sounding CD players, certainly in its price range.
It’s a portable CD player that supports Hi Fi digital audio, making it an excellent choice for audiophiles (and cinephiles) that are constantly on the move. Whether you’re frequently camping, traveling, or moving, it’ll fit well with your luggage.
Dolby Atmos Technology
Dolby Laboratories’ proprietary Atmos technology isn’t a unique feature of the Sony X800 per se, but it is one of the features that separates it from the rest of the models in this review.
Essentially, this tech allows devices that are outfitted with it to seamlessly distribute an extended range of audio tracks. More importantly, Atmos technology is an extension of what we know as ’surround sound’.
A Dolby Atmos system, such as Sony X800 here, utilizes real-time audio object rendering, emitting sounds where they would naturally occur in clips or movies. At the same time, Dolby Atmos accurately renders the panning in each track.
- One of best sounding CD players on the market
- Dolby Atmos technology
- Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB, Ethernet, and HDMI connectivity options
- Lightweight, small, and highly portable
- Great for cinephiles due to 4K dynamic range
- Limited streaming capabilities
- Slightly more expensive than average
4. Editor’s Choice: Cambridge Audio AXC35 Single-Disc CD Player
- Very durable
- Exceptional sonic quality with near-zero harmonic distortion
- Dedicated power supply included in the price
- CDs only
Our editor’s choice is the best audiophile CD player by several counts. First and most importantly, it’s one of the best sounding CD players on the current market, featuring the acclaimed Wolfson WM8524 digital to analog converter. Secondly, it’s built like a brick house and capable of withstanding decades of use.
When it comes to supporting different media files, you can play virtually any kind of compact disc through Cambridge Audio AXC35. It accepts CD Rs, CD RWs, CD ROMs, as well as WMA and MP3 files from other sources.
In terms of compactness, its dimensions measure 12.01 inches by 16.93 inches by 2.95 inches, and its weight is approximately 9.5 pounds. Although there were a few lighter and smaller models on the list, it can still pass for a portable CD player.
Connectivity-wise, it sports a headphone jack coaxial S/P DIF digital output, and an analog line output, making it somewhat inferior to Sony and Yamaha models in this field of performance.
As it was specifically designed for the reproduction of MP3 and WAV files from CDs, Cambridge Audio AXC35 excels at what it does; it’s equipped with a two-pole Butterworth high-quality filter that, when combined with the built-in DAC, provides outstanding sonic performance.
Unlike thousands of CD players that are built of flimsy plastic materials, Cambridge Audio AXC35 features a chassis made of outstandingly strong metal. It requires very little maintenance and is virtually impervious to bumps and dents.
In our research, we’ve established that the majority of CD players in this price range are somewhat durable. Even the ones that are manufactured using hard plastic materials lose a portion of their durability over time. That’s not the case with Cambridge Audio AXC35; its metal housing is rock solid and will endure years of use.
On top of its amazing sturdiness, the metal chassis serves a different purpose. It keeps the vibrations coming out of the CD player contained, preventing distortion and lowering the THD rating. According to the manufacturer’s specifications, its estimated total harmonic distortion level is below 0.01%, which is largely thanks to the way its chassis is built.
Wolfson WM8524 DAC
When it comes to digital to analog converters, there are virtually thousands of different models, all serving the same purpose – translating digital information to analog sonic signals. The quality of a DAC determines the clarity of sound, the span of a song’s soundstage, and the depth of the ’sonic scape’.
Cambridge Audio AXC35 is equipped with one of the most heavily acclaimed stereo DAC models. The WM8524, manufactured by Wolfson Microelectronics, is a 24-bit 192 kHz stereo digital to analog converter, featuring ground-referenced outputs and supporting sampling rates up to 192 kHz.
We would like to briefly educate you on the importance of high sampling rates to accentuate the importance of this benefit. Basically, the higher they are, the higher the number of measured sonic clips (soundwaves) is. This further means that high sampling rates are bringing audio closer to real-life recreation while low sampling rates are often accompanied by lags.
That being said, audiophiles generally don’t mind paying top dollar for a CD player that comes equipped with a good DAC. Although Cambridge Audio AXC35 is a bit more expensive than your average player, it’s far from being too expensive.
- Equipped with Wolfson Microelectronics WM8524 DAC chip
- Metal chassis built to withstand decades of use
- Total harmonic distortion below 0.01%
- The bundle features a dedicated power supply unit, two AAA batteries, and a remote controller
- Features a headphone jack
- Limited to CDs exclusively
- Single-disc CD player means that you’ll need to manually insert and eject one CD at a time
5. Premium Choice: Marantz PM6006 Integrated Amplifier
- The best sound quality you can get
- No harmonic distortion
- Super durable
- Proprietary HDAMs included in the mix
- Can take on the most demanding speakers
- Higher price tag
If you’re a professional, or if you know a professional in the music industry, then you’re most likely to know all about Marantz. It’s been rightfully dubbed one of the finest manufacturers of audiophile gear, and it’s been able to retain that position for years now.
Our premium choice comes from the boutique section of the best-sounding CD players in Marantz’s catalog. The PM6006 offers the best possible sound quality that will change the way you listen to your CD collection, which we can guarantee. It’s definitely one of the strongest CD players you can buy this year, as topping its performance would require some of the biggest names in the industry to come even close.
As we are down to the final pick on this list, feel free to drastically raise your expectations. Marantz PM6006 excels in each field of performance imaginable; from unparalleled sonic performance, over ultimate connectivity and superb dynamic range, over rock-bottom harmonic distortion, to its elegant, yet robust casing; this CD player delivers on the promise of quality without fail.
Let’s start with the basics. Its dimensions measure 17.3 inches by 14.4 inches by 4.14 inches while weighing 17.3 pounds. It’s decently heavier than most CD players in this review, but given that its hard-shell case is virtually indestructible, we’d say that’s enough of a compensation for the added weight.
This model is outfitted with a unique Toroidal transformer, which provides a sonic boom in terms of volume while keeping the distortion and vibrations contained. Furthermore, it rocks an HC power supply with Shottky’s barrier diodes, which provides an extended dynamic range.
We’ve seen several models that offer a host of different connectivity options, but PM6006 could hardly compare. It sports one coaxial digital slot, two optical digital ins, as well as two phono inputs, two tuner inputs, two network inputs, and four recorder inputs. Moreover, the entirety of digital outputs is guarded with a metal shell, which ensures that digital slots have no impact on your analog signal.
Its main flaw is its price tag. It costs top dollar, but we genuinely believe it’s worth every single cent. Marantz PM6006 is the ultimate CD player on this list and a warm recommendation to all audiophiles that can afford it.
Current Feedback Technology
Not all CD players are compatible with all speaker models. Some speakers require a ton of electrical power, so many audiophiles are struggling to find the right match. Obviously, you could circumvent this problem with an amplifier, but that’s another couple of hundred dollars out of your pocket for an issue you could’ve avoided by picking the right CD player.
The PM6006 features Current Feedback Technology, which is a tech proprietary to Marantz that provides rapid sound reproduction and enhanced bandwidth range. At the same time, this technology provides PM6006’s amplifier unit with incredible energy storage, meaning that it could easily be connected with even the ’hungriest’ speaker systems out there.
Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Modules (HDAM)
Marantz’s proprietary hyper dynamic amplifier modules are basically super-charged OP-amps, providing the PM6006 with a deeper noise gate, lower THD, and more dynamic and precise sound.
What separates PM6006 from all other CD players, including other Marantz models, is precisely this; the latest state-of-the-art HDAM units that deliver unparalleled performance while tackling some of the most common issues of IC channels – feedback, unwanted noise, and harmonic distortion.
- Unparalleled sound quality
- Rock-bottom total harmonic distortion value
- Built to last
- Equipped with proprietary HDAMs
- Compatible with even the most power-demanding speaker configurations
- Comes at a hefty price tag
- Loses a bit of its performance with scratched compact discs
Buying Guide: How to Pick the Best Audiophile CD Player
Most audiophiles are well-versed when it comes to CD player terminology. From the most common elements, such as frequency range or supported audio formats, to connectivity options and such, many people know at least the basics about them.
However, there are many who simply enjoy quality sound and, for whatever reason, either never had an opportunity or didn’t want to learn more about what they should be looking for when buying a CD player.
This section is dedicated to both providing helpful information regarding that and divulging the criteria we’ve used when we tested different models. Without any ado, let’s dive straight into the buying guide:
Price and Budget
The price is not always reflective of the quality, let alone the value you’d be able to get from any product, and the same applies to CD players. A low-cost model could easily outperform a player with a steeper price tag, but the opposite is more often than not the case.
When buying a CD player, it would be smart to determine your budget. It’s pretty easy to fall down the rabbit hole of comparing dozens of different models, seeing that for a couple of extra dollars you could get this and that feature, most of which are probably not best-suited to cater to your music listening needs.
Do you really need to pay an extra $100 for a high-end CD player that offers a better video quality if you’re not that keen on watching movies? Do you feel confident that a boutique player with all possible connectivity options is worth the money if you intend to use the basic power cable anyway?
These are just some of the things you should keep in mind when deciding which model is best for you. We’ve handpicked the most competent representatives for each price point category with those things in mind.
Although it goes without saying, sound quality is ’the’ most important factor when it comes to devices that reproduce music. There is a thin line that separates ’good’ from the ’best’ sounding CD players, and that’s something that an audiophile will immediately recognize.
We have searched the market for CD players that sound their finest straight out of the box. That means that we weren’t particularly interested in models that had the ’potential’ of sounding good with a few upgrades – each model on the list above will sound great as soon as you plug it in.
The factors that determine the audio quality of any CD player are the amplifiers, pre-amplifiers, DAC chips, frequency response range, and an array of different technologies that manufacturers use to complement the performance of their products.
CD players can be inexpensive, in which case their durability shouldn’t be an issue. If a low-cost player breaks, you can simply buy a few new ones without making a huge dent in your wallet.
However, audiophile CD players are a bit more expensive, to the point that we could consider them something worth investing into. The issue of ’would it break’ isn’t as relevant as ’will it offer consistent performance’ if it suffers accidental damage.
As we’ve already mentioned above, many CD players are made of flimsy plastic materials. There’s a solid logic behind it, as most models are mass-produced, and plastic is obviously among the cheapest of materials.
Strong plastic, such as acrylic or polycarbonate, is a bit better than softer plastics, such as most variations of polypropylene and polyethylene. You don’t have to worry about these, as we’ve avoided CD players made of fragile materials. The ones we’ve picked are made of robust metal, and only a few feature a couple of parts made of hard plastic.
The frequency range is different for each CD player. This range is the span of frequencies that a player can accurately recognize. In other words, if a signal is outside of the supported range, you won’t hear the corresponding sound or noise. Additionally, if it’s on the very border of the supported frequency range, the sounds and noises will appear jittery.
The two extremes are often taken into consideration before the ’mid range’, meaning the bass frequencies as the lowest, and the treble as the highest ones. We’ve picked the models with broad frequency ranges that could vividly reproduce the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs without compromising the middle section.
In case we still haven’t covered everything and you have a few questions regarding the best CD players this year, feel free to consult this section before making your buying decision:
What CD player has the best sound?
Objectively speaking, Marantz’s PM6006 is the best-sounding CD player available on the current market. It may be the most expensive model on the list, but it’s equipped with the best DAC chip, its dynamic range is superior, and its amplifiers allow for high-quality sound at all volumes.
Cambridge Audio AXC35 is a close runner-up, offering tremendous audio quality and consistent delivery at a slightly more approachable price tag.
Do high-end CD players make a difference?
Yes, they certainly do. High-end CD players are equipped with superior digital to analog converters, better hardware, and an array of technologies that make them sound not only better, but also unique. Additionally, they’re sturdier and offer consistent performance, which isn’t something that could be said about most low-end, and quite a few mid-tier CD players.
Are CDs still the best audio quality?
Compact discs are and have been the golden standard in audio quality forever. Some never came to terms with this, fabricating the myth that vinyl is superior. Although vinyl may be more retro and aesthetically more pleasing, compact discs are far superior in terms of supported dynamic range, which essentially translates to better sound altogether.
The fatal flaw of CDs is their flimsiness, though. Not only do they break easily, but a few scratch marks could ruin them beyond repair. In terms of properly maintained CDs and other media formats, compact discs offer the best audio quality.
What is an audiophile CD?
Audiophile compact discs are different from ’standard’ CDs; they are mastered from the original sources and uploaded to golden discs of superior quality. The surface of an audiophile disc is better suited for tracking and reading, which means that CD players will more accurately reproduce the data.
Among thousands of CD players made by both reputable and underdog companies, narrowing the list down to the top five was all but easy. There are numerous players that could compete with Sony, Yamaha, Cambridge Audio, and Marantz, but these brands came on top with superior audio quality, durability, versatility, and value for the buck.
Marantz’s PM6006 is our top pick. It’s the sturdiest, best-sounding CD player with the broadest frequency range, but it comes at a steep price tag. Cambridge Audio’s model isn’t far behind, featuring a top-shelf DAC chip, but it’s not as well-rounded as PM6006.
You won’t make a mistake by going with Sony or Yamaha either, but they’re mainly on the list to cater to the needs of audiophiles on a cash-strapped budget. If you’re still unsure which model to pick, feel free to consult our buying guide for reference. For more content, read about the best audiophile DAP in 2022.
Dave Pearson is a Canadian musician, sound editor, and audiophile. He is also the founder and owner of the website SoundProofGeek. On SoundProofGeek, Pearson offers advice and resources on audio equipment, including how to assess and improve audio quality, how to troubleshoot and repair audio equipment, and how to improve the music listening experience.
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