We've been testing and reviewing CD players at What Hi-Fi? ever since 1983 and while streaming undoubtedly has the convenience factor compared to physical media, many of us still prefer owning a physical object like CD discs – something that digital files can't replicate.
They're reliable, they won't get easily destroyed (provided you keep them in protective cases), and they're not reliant on a wi-fi connection or the whims of DRM content and licensing agreements that mean your favourite track might disappear from your streaming service without notice.
We still derive great pleasure in putting on a CD and listening to an album in full, and the best CD players take you on a fantastic musical journey. We've tested hundreds of CD players and CD transports over the past four decades, and still find the best ones offer excellent, no-nonsense usability, sturdy build quality, seamless playback and great sound for the price point.
The list below includes both fully integrated CD players, which have a digital-to-analogue converter built in, and CD transports, which can only read the data on the disc and require an external DAC to work. If you want to give your CD collection a fresh spin and are looking for the best disc player to buy, you'll find multiple suggestions for both here, from budget to high-end recommendations.
Every product on this list has been thoroughly tested by the expert team at What Hi-Fi? in our dedicated listening rooms. Our list contains long-standing favourites and 2023 Award-winners from Marantz and Cyrus, a brand new entry from Arcam, as well as strong, reliable contenders from previous years.
The quick list
Best budget CD player
Best budget CD player
If you’re on a tight budget, the Award-winning Marantz CD6007 remains the best-sounding affordable CD player you can buy.
Best mid-range CD player
Best premium CD player
Best premium CD player
It might look dated but you won’t find a more entertaining, more revealing player without spending a lot more cash.
Best CD streaming system
Best CD streaming system
Sensibly featured, easy to use and surprisingly musical, the SA-C600 is a brilliant just-add-speakers system.
Best budget CD transport
Best budget CD transport
If you own a good DAC we wouldn't hesitate to recommend the CXC.
The best budget CD player
This Marantz model has been around in various guises for a long time, and remains the best budget option at this price.
You'll need to go back a decade and four model cycles to find a CD6000 that looks notably different, so it's the insides where Marantz has made the improvements to their CD players count.
It has a quieter power supply and improved HDAM amplifier modules, helped along by a sprinkling of higher-quality internal components, not least of which is the change of DAC chip to an AKM 4490. That chip allows the CD6007 to process high-resolution files through USB-A on front socket, supporting PCM music up to 24-bit/192kHz and DSD128.
What does all that mean? It makes your music sound great. It's full of rhythm and drive. It's precise, clean and delivers for dynamics at every inch of the spectrum. Stereo imaging is focused and expansive, and there are even a few digital filters to tweak the sound to your tastes.
Owners of the previous CD6006 UK Edition needn't rush to change their player but the Award-winning CD6007 is most definitely the right choice for first time buyers at this end of the market.
Read the full review: Marantz CD6007
The best mid-range CD player
The vinyl revival in recent years has meant that turntables have seen quite a resurgence. CD players haven't enjoyed the same level of comeback, however, the Arcam CD5 has come along as a great mid-range entry and does one thing well – playing CDs with finesse.
If you're looking for a greater level of clarity and refinement than what this excellent player offers, then you’ll have to spend more than double the money on the likes of the top-notch Cyrus CDi – a multiple Award-winner that now costs around £1500-£1600.
There hasn’t been a seriously good, seriously capable, and seriously fun CD player of this level in a very long time. The Arcam CD5 changes things. It's a tremendously talented player that deserves an audition if you’re still holding on to your beloved CDs and want to give them a new lease of life.
Read the full review: Arcam CD5
The best premium CD player
Cyrus hasn’t put a foot wrong with its CD players for as long as we can remember; it would be fair to say that its track record has been phenomenal. So it’s no surprise that the Cyrus CDi is another gleaming example of the company treading the right path. This model has now won the What Hi-Fi? Award for best CD player over £1000 ten years in a row – that alone is a testament to just how talented and reliable this player is.
The long, narrow aluminium chassis isn’t exactly a bolt from the blue, but underneath lies one of the best-sounding CD players we've heard at the money. We like the fuss-free design, easy-to-read display and high-quality remote (earlier SE models came with a rather plasticky affair). The slot-loader is a touch noisy when feeding it a disc, though as silent as you’d hope it would be during playback.
As for the calibre of sound, it's truly impressive for the money, offering buckets of detail and rhythmic precision. Pace and momentum is exercised with articulation and vibrancy. You'd have to spend significantly more to hear anything better.
Read the full review: Cyrus CDi
The best CD streaming system
The Technics SA-C600 is an elegant all-in-one system with extensive streaming and connectivity (even an MM phono stage) that you just have to add speakers to – and it also has a talented CD player.
We like the tactility of the swivelling transparent CD cover on the top; it’s made of toughened acrylic and feels good to use. The SA-C600 proves an admirably consistent performer across the board, producing musically compelling results with CDs as well as high-res files across our network.
It’s an expressive and punchy performer that builds its performance around a solid framework of surefooted rhythmic drive and expressive dynamics. Detail levels are good, but it is the confident way this unit organises that information into a cohesive and musical whole that really impresses.
If all you're after is a CD player, then you might want to choose something more dedicated in this list that puts all its eggs in that audio basket. But if versatility is required and you want to stream your music services over wi-fi as well as spin discs - and why not - then this Technics is worth your attention.
Those who already own an amplifier and have more to spend should consider the Technics SL-G7000M2 as well.
Read the full review: Technics SA-C600 review
The best budget CD transport
The Cambridge Audio CXC transport is an affordable way to listen to your CDs with precision quality that takes full advantage of an external digital-to-analogue converter. Yup, you'll need your own DAC, but that's why you get this attractive CD transport, which simply reads the data using its single-speed transport and S3 Servo, for under £500.
Using this separate bit of kit to do one specific job makes for better sound quality. There’s a real musicality here that can get lost on lesser players, with organic, fluid interplay between instruments. Although the CXC is restricted to doing one thing – it only reads CDs, not SACDs or MP3 CDs – it does that one thing very well.
It's a nicely made bit of kit too, with a machined metal chassis that feels solid and a design than matches the rest of Cambridge's impressive CX range.
If you already own an external DAC we wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Cambridge CXC over a standalone CD player. You’d have to spend a good deal more than £300 to match the sound quality it offers.
Read the full review: Cambridge Audio CXC
The best premium CD transport
The Cyrus CD t is one of the best CD transports you can get, regardless of price. It's a CD transport, rather than a CD player, meaning it will simply read the data on the disc. You'll need a standalone DAC to handle all the digital-to-analogue conversion.
Cyrus's Servo Evolution disc-reading software, plucked from its £1750 CD xt Signature, combined with enhanced internal circuitry, creates a performance that's difficult to criticise. Sound is nuanced and subtly dynamic while offering deep bass with varied textures and precision throughout.
The die-cast aluminium chassis design is solid and the backlit remote offers a great way to enjoy everything from a comfy chair. Connectivity is best described as 'minimal', with two digital outputs – optical and coaxial – and the standard MC-BUS control connections.
Provided you own, or are willing to invest in, a good DAC, the CD t is an exceptionally talented transport for the money. Clarity and insight are unrivalled at this price.
Read the full review: Cyrus CD t
How to choose the best CD player for you
What should you consider before purchasing a CD player? It's worth taking into account factors like DAC functionality, ease of use, controls and of course audio performance when making your choice.
More premium players will have better DAC chips and internal components, fewer errors and also support different optical disc formats (SACD alongside standard CD, CD-R, CD-RW, for instance). Some CD players even pack in wireless and streaming tech to turn your CD player into an all-in-one media system, and include a USB port so you can play 24-bit high-resolution files. It's up to you whether you want the extra features (which can be more expensive) or stick with a solid disc-spinner that will do the job well.
The other thing to consider is if you need an integrated CD player (one with a DAC built-in) or a CD transport (no DAC inside). Transports such as the Cambridge Audio CXC will need to use either a standalone DAC or the one in your stereo amplifier to handle the digital-to-analogue conversion before the sound reaches your speakers. The upshot of a CD transport? It puts all its concentration and skills on reading the CD disc. The downside is you'll need to make sure you buy or already have an appropriately skilled DAC to connect it to.
Alternatively you can simply pick the player that's most closely aligned with your budget, system and preferred functionality. Do you prefer slot-loading or a disc tray? Does it have a display that can be read easily at a distance? Do you need Bluetooth, or do you have a large collection of SACDs that needs some love? Remember to set your budget according to the demands of the rest of your system.
How we test CD players
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that passes through our door – including CD players.
What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, so we listen to every CD player we review against the current leader in its field to gauge how it compares to the best-in-class competition. We keep What Hi-Fi? Award winners in our stockrooms so we can always pit new products against ones we know and love, and we do our best to review as many new models in as many markets as possible to ensure our contextual knowledge is the best it can be.
We are always impartial in our testing and ensure we hear every CD player at its optimum – connected to the appropriate kit and placed on a sturdy and level surface. We'll use them in their best use case with different partnering amplifiers and speakers, as well as play plenty of discs in different genres of music through them. Naturally, we give them plenty of listening time (and time to run in) too.
All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team as a whole rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we're being as thorough as possible. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.
You can read more about how we test and review products on What Hi-Fi? here.
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