Are You Recommending CD Players Anymore?

To Doug Schneider,

As someone who, like you, has been an audiophile since the late ‘70s, I was very glad to come across your review of a NAD CD player I am looking at. It is getting rarer and rarer to find reviews that are clearly written by someone who appreciates music as much, or more than, the technology. You manage to combine expertise and passion for both. And then I noticed your review is from 2009, and you wrote then that it may be your last CD-player review ever.

Well, I must tell you that regardless of what was expected back in 2009, many people still are listening to CDs and need to replace their aging players. I'm a case in point. I do have a significant digital library, but I am not abandoning my CD library because, among other reasons: 1) it is still the case that many rock, jazz, and classical artists are still not releasing hi-res files, rather just barely listenable iTunes 256kbps files; 2) both the audio marketing and competing file formats and compatibility issues discourage consumers from buying digital files -- it feels like the days of the Beta vs. VHS wars, so waiting seems prudent; and 3) Moore's Law of Audio (so to speak) is helping the CD-player market, in enabling manufacturers to offer better DACs and other engineering improvements while keeping prices low, which could lure in a younger generation (or two).

Which leads to my question: In your brilliant and adulatory 2009 review of the NAD C 565BEE, you consider it very close in sound and quality to far higher-priced players and a bargain at $799. Have you or any of your reviewers kept up with the market for $1000-and-under CD players since then, or have you kept your promise to focus solely on more recent digital sources? (I of course tried to answer that myself first, on SoundStage! Hi-Fi, but the site's lack of one standard feature -- a search box -- stymied my efforts. I imagine that is a strategic decision, not an oversight, on your part.) If so, could you please point me to SoundStage! reviews that cite the best CD players under $1000 of 2013 or 2014? Again, it is very cumbersome to try to go month by month, PDF by PDF, to find these. If you'd have to do the same thing and don't have time, I'd be very grateful if you could just suggest a couple of players that now would give the NAD C 565BEE a run for its money.

Thanks again,
United States

I’ll first answer the question about the search function. Basically, because our archive of reviews goes way, way back to the '90s, we haven’t found a search mechanism that works well with our current reviews, which are maintained in a database, and our past reviews, which are in individual HTML files. So, implementing a flawed search function is, I think, a waste of time. But there is a way to quickly find out about all of the reviews published across our network of sites since 2009 -- visit the portal site and click the Buying Guides tab to find review summaries by year for all of our publications. You’ll find CD players under the “Stereo Digital Source Components” section of each year.

In regards to my own experiences with CD players since the NAD C 565BEE, as far as I recall, I have only reviewed one: Cambrige Audio’s Azur 851D, which you’ll find on SoundStage! Xperience. That player (which is also a DAC and digital preamplifier) is a really good one, but, like the NAD, I feel it’s part of a dying breed because fewer and fewer people are buying and listening to CDs anymore. One reason for that is that they’re increasingly difficult to find -- standalone CD stores and even CD sections in larger stores are fast becoming a thing of the past. But even for those who still buy CDs, many are ripping them to computers and playing them back from there, which is what I do. As a result, I don’t even have a CD player anymore -- fellow-reviewer Philip Beaudette has the NAD player that I purchased after the review. About the supposed format wars in computer audio -- it’s not really an issue at all, and hasn't been for years, since the main formats have long since been standardized, otherwise the guys on the pro side would be having fits right now. If you want to be super safe, rip everything to a well-known format such as WAV and you’ll be fine -- the format has been around for years, and will be around for many more. I actually rip mine to FLAC just to save space, but if I ever want to make those files into WAV files, or some other format, I can simply use a conversion program that will convert them perfectly (or vice versa). The biggest thing to worry about after the ripping is done is a hard-drive crash, so back up everything to be safe. Finally, the prudent thing for owners of CD libraries, even if that's what they still play, is to rip them to a computer drive because it might not be long before some of their old CDs won’t play anymore. I just read an article highlighting that many people are finding that their old CDs from the ‘80s and ‘90s have deteriorated so much that their players are no longer able to read them. I believe it because I have a few CDs here like that. Sony might have marketed the CD with the slogan “Perfect Sound Forever” back when, but they were pulling our legs.

In closing, I can say that if you want to buy a CD player, browse through the review summaries and see if something strikes your fancy. If you want my real recommendation, though, it’s to dedicate a good computer for file playback and simply rip your current CD library there -- as well as any new CDs you buy -- and then purchase a really good DAC to play them through. I've said it before and I'll say it again: discs are dead. . . . Doug Schneider