How To... make the most of your CD player

There are a number of factors to consider when buying a CD player, so we've put together this handy guide to help you on your way.

To start with, it pays to buy the best player you can afford. After all, if maximum information isn't being retrieved from the disc, it's impossible to put the lost data back in further down the replay chain. Extra money will buy you better build, improved isolation from vibration, which makes it easier for the optics to read the disc, and better quality components.

GIVE YOUR CD PLAYER SOME SOLID SUPPORT

The first thing to do when you get your new CD player home is to make sure you install it on a proper rack to minimise the amount of vibration it has to cope with. While very expensive players often use quite complex strategies to reduce the amount of vibration reaching the disc - which can make life hard for the optical system reading data from it - it pays to put any player on a good solid rack, or at least use an isolation platform underneath it.

True, CD players don't show up vibration effects as obviously as, say, analogue turntables, but footfalls and even the sound from your speakers - especially at loud volumes! - can make the player's error-correction work hard, which can affect the sound. A decent rack for your entire system will help no end, and the bigger and heavier the CD player you have, the more solid the support it needs.

IT'S ALL IN THE CONNECTIONS

Just about every CD player will come with a pair of analogue connection cables in the box. But unless you buy a very expensive machine with top-grade cables provided, it's worth considering these hook-ups as no more than a 'get started' measure: even a budget player will sound better with some good interconnects, so budget around £30-£50 for a better pair.

Most players have standard phono sockets, but some have the option of balanced connections to a suitable amplifier, which can give better sound quality. The other, very handy, facility you should consider is an optical or electrical digital output: this allows the player to be connected to a digital recorder or an offboard digit-to-analogue converter.

HOW EASY IS IT TO OPERATE?

At its simplest, a CD player needs just a button to open and close the drawer, a couple to start and stop playback, and track skip up/down controls. A headphone socket with its own volume control may be handy for late-night listening.

Most, though not all, CD players will come with a remote control as standard. The handset will let you access a range of functions - often including some not available on the front-panel buttons - and allow you to pause the music, skip tracks and so on. And if you use an amplifier from the same brand, chances are the remote will 'drive' both amp and player.

DON'T PAY FOR WHAT YOU DON'T NEED

Do you need programming, pitch shift and a choice of shuffle play modes? If you usually play discs all the way through, then the answer is probably no.

SWITCH OFF THE DISPLAY

As well as letting you see which track's playing, some players now show artist and title info when playing SACDs or CDs with CD-Text. Strange as it may seem, most players sound best when their displays are turned off, as the panel itself can create some electrical noise.

BUILDING THE REST OF THE HI-FI SYSTEM

Just about any CD player will work with almost any amplifier - at least in electrical terms. Most players's analogue outputs deliver around 2V, give or take a few microvolts, and that's just what the amp's line inputs expect to see. Only if you're using vintage amps built before the CD age will you have any problems, but a simple modification can sort that out.

DO I NEED SUPER AUDIO CD?

While impressive, the SACD catalogue is by no means as extensive as the range of conventional CDs available, but if you're a classical music fan with a high-quality system you may well want to consider a combined SACD/CD player, as there are some excellent classical SACDs available. Some of the latest SACD machines are also superb CD players, so they can make a worthwhile upgrade...

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