If you’re reading this, you know the truth: CDs are still an excellent music format.
In his previous blog, Ben talked about how much he likes streaming high-res files, but finds ripping CDs the smarter solution when it comes to finding middle ground between audio quality and budget. We completely understand what he is talking about: At the Rapallo home, Spotify Premium gets a lot of use for all sorts of reasons. But we’ve also got hundreds of CDs in the cupboard, and we’re not getting rid of them.
One of the great things about playing audio these days is that you have options. Nobody needs to choose; whether it is digital streaming audio, vinyl or CDs you are enjoying, they all have a place.
If your thinking is anywhere along the lines of us folks at Rapallo, a CD player of some sort is still to be found amongst your audio equipment. But how do you go about spinning those discs? It’s time to dedicate a blog on the topic.
Generally speaking, a CD player in the broadest meaning of the word has two parts: a mechanism that spins and reads the disc (a CD transport) and a DAC (digital-to-analog-converter) to convert the digital signal on the disc to an audio signal. There is always the option of keeping the DAC and the CD Transport separate.
If quality audio is important to you, this may be the way to go, as it gives you flexibility in your choice of DAC. You probably need no reminder that a quality DAC is big factor in the quality of the sound your player will provide. Even if you buy an all-in-one CD Transport/DAC, you may want to find out which DAC is used. Some examples of high quality DACs that might be built-in to your CD player are Burr-Brown, SABRE, and Cirrus Logic.
As for CD-Transport, the thing to look out for is the build quality and whether the transport provides a solid spin. Vibration is the enemy (clearly to a lesser extent than your turntable, but still…) so you want solid feet for your unit to avoid resonance. Unimportant as it may appear, a decent AV rack also has a role to play in this context, as well as ventilation.
But with all that said, these days, you are no longer restricted to what we previously called a ‘CD-player’. Universal players like the OPPO UDP-203 and 205 are excellent multi-taskers and will happily satisfy movie lovers and audiophiles alike offering SACD playback, Balanced Outputs, Headphone input, Top of the line ESS Sabre DAC.
Other options include brands like Yamaha.
The Yamaha BD-S681 Network Blu-Ray player for instance has a special CD mode, which reduces disk revolution by 30%, thereby reducing unwanted disc vibration. For what this player can do, it’s an absolute bargain!
With both the Oppo and the Yamaha Blu-Ray player being network connected, you can equally access movies and hi-resolution audio from your home’s NAS. ‘Universal players’, as we said…
Introduced in 1999 in a joint effort by Sony and Philips, the SACD (super-audio CD) was meant to be the step-up from the ‘ordinary CD’, offering surround sound and longer playing time. It never really took off as a mainstream option and remained a reserved option for audiophiles. However, if you are the proud owner of a SACD collection, you may want to ensure that you have a player that can decode the high-resolution audio layer. The above described Oppo Universal player will do exactly that.
We kind of touched upon it earlier, but Network capable CD players are a great consideration if you also want to have the ability to connect to your home network NAS, and link in your online streaming subscriptions (Tidal, Spotify, Pandora). These kind of CD players can be your all in one hub for audio in your setup.
Onkyo C-N7050 is an excellent choice, with the Yamaha CD-NT670 as a more affordable option. Both models are Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay capable. The Onkyo could have the edge being DSD capable, however the Yamaha has the amazing MusicCast app to control the unit with ease.
But you may not need to or want to go as far as purchasing a new CD player! A few tweaks to your old model might do it. What Hifi lines up some recommendations to get the best out of your CD player:
- Most CD players come with a cheap, “getting started” RCA cable. Getting better cables will give you immediate sonic benefits, due to better shielding and noise reductions, even for cheap CD-players. Look for solid, gold plated connectors.
- Some CD players might have balanced XLR outputs meaning each channel is grounded, and separately cased. This potentially (but not always) gives you better sound quality. You will need an amplifier that is capable of balanced inputs however and they don’t come cheap.
- Alternatively, your CD player might have digital outputs (in the form of Optical or Coax). You can spice up the sound by using the digital output (of the CD player) into a separate quality DAC. What Hifi suggest the Chord Mojo as a great option, and we would agree with that. Different DACs chips can bring different ‘flavors’, more sound stage and better imaging. Always keep in mind that different DAC sounds come down to personal preference.
- We haven’t tested this, but What Hifi suggests to turn off the CD player’s display to improve sound, as it can create electrical noise.
- And then of course there are the suggestions we made earlier about ensuring a stable unit in order to avoid distortion.
As a final note on SACD if you are lucky enough to lay your hands on one we have this to say: Peter Gabriel transferred his entire collection to SACD at once. We looked for it all over the Munich High End show while we were there. Despite the fact that there was no shortage of boots selling SACD, we were unable to make a score. Ah well, the search goes on.
Jazz recommendations would be Miles Davis “Kind of Blue” One of the most famous jazz albums of all time.
And final mention goes to Pink Floyd, “Dark Side Of The Moon” (SACD). On any format this legendary album sounds great, but without a doubt, this is one of the most popular SACDs around.
And with that, we send you off for another week of AV fun in whatever form you may prefer.
Here at Rapallo, Bart is guaranteed to put on the “On The Beach” CD by Chris Rea whenever you pop in for a demo.
Ben’s favorite is “Rage Against The Machine” (1992) by Rage Against The Machine, the band’s debut album. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, there is a consensus over the internet that this album is one of the best produced Rock albums ever created.
Deano, Rapallo’s vinyl addict, loves his warm vinyl sound and repels the Compact Disc for being clinical and cold, he does have a soft spot for one of the first albums designed for the CD and fully digital recorded though. it is Dire Straits’ revolutionary “Brothers in Arms”
Sources: Crutchfield, What Hifi, Stuff, Oppo, Yamaha