Yamaha CD player

Whenever I post something on Facebook about Blu-ray players or CD players, guaranteed somebody will reply:’ Do people still buy these?’ While obviously nowhere near in the same amounts as say 15 years ago, the answer is still ‘yes’. Despite the convenience of streaming and the romance of vinyl, the truth is: CDs are still an excellent music format. 

At the Rapallo home, Spotify Premium gets a lot of use for all sorts of reasons (the presence of young people not being the least of it). But we’ve also got hundreds of CDs in the cupboard, and we’re not getting rid of them. After all, the humble CD player still offers high-quality audio that trumps a lot of the streaming services out there.

 

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 like the Cambridge Audio CXC transport.

If quality audio is important to you, and your prefer to keep total control of your play-back method, 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. Boasting a 32-bit/192kHz ESS SABRE DAC, Arcam CDS50 CD/SACD and network player is an excellent example of a CD player (and much more) with a DAC that counts. Another excellent choice is the Yamaha CD-S2100 which also has a high-performance ESS SABRE Ultra DAC for enhanced dynamic range and clarity.

 

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’.All Blu-ray players can also play CDs. That said, because CD players are designed purely for audio playback, no video processing means every part is designed for high-quality sound. Blu-ray players, which must be connected to a TV, generally speaking aren’t a good fit for a music-only system.

But if you’re building a system for high-performance audio and video, there are some universal players that excel at both games. The new Pioneer UDP-LX500 (CD’s and SACD’s, no streaming apps) is an excellent example of a Blu-ray player that also handle audio really well.  (Note: the Panasonic DP-UB9000 outshines the Pioneer in video play-back, but doesn’t play SACD, making it not a ‘universal player’) Arcam on the other hand equally offers an excellent universal player in the UDP411 BD player. It plays anything from Blu-rays to CD’s and SACD’s, offering outstanding quality in both the video and audio disciplines.  If budget is no obstacle the PS Audio Directstream Memory Player is one to look into. 

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. 

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. Our top-pick would be the above mentioned ARCAM CDS50, but when budget is a factor, the Yamaha CD-N301 is a serious contender. 

As for connections to look out for, all CD players will have a pair of analog RCA outputs for connection to a receiver or amp. For most people, those will just do fine, but  if a low-noise signal is of importance to you, a balanced XLR output is the thing to look out for. Obviously, this means you will also need an amplifier that is capable of balanced inputs and they don’t come cheap.

Digital outputs can come in handy to connect your CD player (with that high-quality DAC) to other audio gear (like for instance your computer), making optimal use of your investment. Or you could do it the other way around: use an external DAC to spice up your CD player. 

 

So with all that info, it should become clear why there is such a wide range of budgets in CD players. The difference lies in build quality, including more robust power supplies and higher quality components – a high quality DAC is the magical word and they don’t come cheap. Pricier players also have (or should have) gentler disc handling so your prized recording don't become scratched, and better error correction so that should a disc flaw be detected, the disc or track will play back with virtually no perceivable hiccups rather than it being skipped altogether.

This is probably also a good place to have a very brief chat about the convenience of CD changers vs. audiophile sound quality. High-end CD players are always single-disc models, either CD-only or universal and that should tell you everything. 

On a final note, on top of the excellent CD players we singled out before, we would also like to recommend the Cambridge Audio Topaz CD10 (pair it with one of their top-notch streamers, we say J), the bang for buck CD players made by Emotiva and super-duper options available from high-end T+A.  

 

And with that, we send you off for another week of AV fun in whatever form you may prefer. 

 

Sources: Crutchfield, What Hifi, Stuff, Arcam, Yamaha