CD players haven’t quite enjoyed the same level of revival that turntables have since the vinyl comeback started a few years ago. Despite reports of CD sales seeing an uplift in recent years, we haven’t seen many new CD players – and really good CD players at that – hit the market.
But that’s about to change with the Arcam CD5. Not only has Arcam returned with an enticing range of hi-fi separates (we’ve already given the A5 and A15 amplifiers five-star reviews), but the new components are also priced on the affordable side.
At £699 / $699, the new Arcam CD5 could be hitting a sweet spot in a price range that has long gathered dust, just like many an audiophile’s CD collection. And if its amplifier siblings’ performances are any indication, the CD5 could be exactly what many CD fans have been waiting for.
Build & Design
We like the look and build quality of Arcam’s new hi-fi separates. Similar to the A5 and A15 amplifiers, the CD5 sports a sleek, minimal design and is made to a high standard. The all-black aluminium body with subtle yellow accents looks modern in an understated way, the whole unit feels robust, and we especially like how the ‘cowl’ overhanging the rear panel hides the connections from view from the top (and should keep it less dusty, too). The front display with its simple, one-line of text showing track information is large and easy to read from afar.
The disc loading tray operates smoothly and quickly, with a gentle but reassuring mechanical whirr. We found the CD5 easy and responsive to use, whether pressing the unit’s large buttons for playback or using the small remote that comes with the CD player. It’s a slip of a thing and is decked in matching black and yellow, but it’s nicely made and nice to use compared with other small, plastic-feeling remotes we’ve come across.
Arcam has kept connections to a minimum here: there is a single pair of RCA line level outputs and, on the digital side, one optical and one coaxial output apiece. The CD5 supports playback of CD, CD-R and CD-RW disc formats, but fans of SACD will have to look elsewhere. (In fairness, our long-standing favourite Cyrus CDi at £1500 also doesn’t support SACD.)
You can also play music files (in FLAC, WAV, WMA, MP3 and AAC formats up to 24-bit/192kHz) if they’re stored on a USB flash drive or hard disc storage thanks to the USB-A input on the back panel.
Formats CD, CD-R, CD-RW, WAV, FLAC, WMA, AAC, MP3
Outputs Optical, coaxial, line level
Max hi-res 24-bit/192kHz
Remote included? Yes
Dimensions (hwd) 8.3 x 43.1 x 34.4cm
Finishes x 1 (black)
Internally, Arcam uses digital circuitry based around an ESS ES9018 DAC (the same one used in the excellent A5 and A15 amps), while new components have been used and tested intensively by the engineers to ensure they deliver the best audio performance.
There are some extra features hidden away in the menu, only accessible via the remote. These include basic things like turning the display on or off, changing the track timing information shown, repeat and shuffle options, as well as choosing between three filter options.
As the display is so minimal, the menu system takes a while to get used to. Sub-menus can be difficult to get to or aren’t as logical to access in the first few instances with the straightforward remote. But it’s only a minor quibble and we get used to the functions we need over time.
We plug the CD5 into our reference system of PMC Cor amplifier and Epos ES14N speakers, but also try it with a variety of more affordable kit such as the Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 and 607 S3, KEF LS50 Meta speakers, and the Arcam A5, Arcam A15 and Naim Nait XS 3 amplifiers.
We start with Jamiroquai’s Virtual Insanity and, right from the start, we know we’re on to a winner. The CD5 flows with an assured fluidity and composure that has us hooked on to that smooth and slinky tune from the second it gets going. It sounds agile and nimble, tracking every beat, every leading edge of a note with snappy precision – but never straying too far into the analytical zone. It gets the funk across with bags of personality and charm.
The CD5’s sense of composure has its work cut out with Hans Zimmer’s The Dark Knight soundtrack, but it passes with flying colours. The slow whine of tension that ratchets up, the thunderous wallop of bass – it’s all handled with authority and confidence. There’s drive and attack in spades, with a fantastic ability to handle shifting dynamics and it keeps us on the edge of our seats as the drama unfolds. It delivers a great big spread of sound that fills up a room easily, but never overwhelms, staying on the pleasant side of transparent and neutral.
There’s meaty texture to the deep, brooding basslines in The Dead Weather’s 60 Feet Tall, which land with satisfying punch and crunch. The CD5 offers an evenly balanced performance throughout: the treble bites but never makes us wince, while the muscular low end has a satisfying solidity that keeps us connected to whatever genre of music we’re listening to.
It’s with piano and voices that the Arcam’s charm fully comes to the fore. From Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue and Chilly Gonzales’ Whist to Norah Jones’ Sunrise and Bruce Springsteen’s Growin’ Up, the CD5 shows off just how subtle and emotive it can truly be. Springsteen’s earthy vocals and Jones’s honeyed tones are relayed with ease and a stunning level of detail. The fluid piano notes, the strum of guitars – every element is convincingly and authentically relayed.
Most of all, it’s just fun to listen to. The CD5’s rich and likeable presentation delivers the essence of a song in the most entertaining way, while also ensuring it hits all the right hi-fi notes along the way. We find ourselves dusting off old CDs and enjoying them for the first time in a long while, playing disc after disc.
We try all three filter options and, while the effects are subtle, we find that we prefer flipping between the fast and slow filters. We’d avoid the phase filter altogether: it squashes the dynamics and spaciousness too much and robs the Arcam of its inherent musicality.
The Arcam CD5 does one thing exceedingly well and that’s playing CDs. If you want a greater level of clarity, timing precision and refinement than what this excellent player offers, then you’re looking to spend more than double the money on the superlative Cyrus CDi – a multiple Award-winner that costs around £1500-£1600 these days.
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 that: 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. Play them through the Arcam CD5 and you’ll find yourself playing them over and over again.
- Sound 5
- Features 5
- Build 5
Read our review of the premium Cyrus CDi
Also consider the more budget Marantz CD6007