Who needs streaming and randomised playlists? For some, nothing can beat putting on a CD and listening to a great album in full, and the best CD players allow you to enjoy that musical journey to the max.
While streaming undoubtedly has the convenience factor compared to physical media, many of us still prefer owning a physical object – something that digital files can't replicate. And that's why we still regularly review CD players and CD transports, and have done so ever since 1983.
CDs are also enjoying a resurgence for the first time in over 15 years. According to data from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), CD shipments in US rose by 47 per cent in 2021 compared to the previous year (from 31.6 million to 46.6 million). It's still shy of the billion discs sold in 2000, and vinyl (and streaming of course) outstrip CD sales by far, but it's nice to know that those of us who never replaced our disc collection aren't alone.
CD players haven't quite increased in demand in the way turntables have, but there are manufacturers who still produce dedicated disc spinners (at both budget and high-end prices) for CD fans and audiophiles alike. Many new all-in-one systems and network receivers/streaming amplifiers are starting to feature CD players alongside streaming starts, too.
So if you want to give your CD collection a fresh spin and are looking for the best disc player to buy, you're in luck. Every CD player on this list has been thoroughly tested by the team of experts at What Hi-Fi? in our dedicated listening rooms, so you can trust our buying advice.
How to choose the best CD player for you
Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.
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 hub, 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.
Or 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.
The CD players below are a comprehensive list of those we consider the very best. The nearer the top it is, the more we like it, based on its performance per pound quality. But be in no doubt that all the models below are fine choices.
Integrated CD players
This is the best affordable CD player and probably the best model for most people.
It's been a winning option for many years, in various versions, and while it's business as usual on the outside (with typically excellent build quality, we're happy to report), it's on the inside where Marantz has made big improvements.
For starters, the CD6007 has a quieter power supply and improved HDAM amplifier modules. These are helped 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 the front socket, supporting PCM music up to 24-bit/192kHz and DSD128.
What does all that mean? Great sound. It's full of rhythm and drive. It's precise, clean and delivers dynamics at every inch of the spectrum. Stereo imaging is focused yet expansive, and there are even a few digital filters to tweak the sound to your tastes.
Owners of the CD6006 needn't rush to change their player, but the CD6007 is most definitely the right choice for first-time buyers at this end of the market.
Read the full Marantz CD6007 review
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 an excellent 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 top-notch Cyrus CDi – a multiple Award-winner.
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 Technics SA-C600 is an elegant all-in-one system with built-in amplifier, 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 CD 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. Details 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 the audio basket. But if versatility is required and you want to stream your music services over wi-fi as well as spin records - and why not - then this Technics is worth your attention.
Read the full review: Technics SA-C600 review
The AXC35 CD player is actually the pricier of two compact disc spinners in Cambridge Audio's affordable AX range. The inclusion of coax is the main difference but there's no optical out and no USB (for the connection of Apple products or USB memory devices).
Nonetheless, the sound is good. It offers plenty of scale, lots of subtlety and a good degree of dynamic fluidity too. The minimal design is slim and stylish, and you get a functional remote and a basic dot matrix display.
In summary, this fuss-free CD player serves up enough detail and clarity to justify its entry into our rundown of the Best CD Players. However, it's up against the truly brilliant Marantz CD6006, which sounds better across the board and has the added bonus of a USB input. Still, if you prefer the AXC35 CD's slim and stylish form factor, this unit is a very worthy proposition.
Read the full Cambridge Audio AXC35 review
At $349, this is one of the most affordable and appealing CD players here. NAD seems to have followed the same style notes for decades, and the C 538 bears many similarities to its forebears. The transport mechanism works well with minimum fuss and not much noise.
Once properly warmed up, the C 538 is a good, solid performer. It doesn’t set new standards for budget CD players, but it does deliver enough in the way of detail and clarity to keep most people happy. Stereo imaging is convincing too, and the player’s soundstage remains solid throughout with instruments located with a good amount of stability.
Round the back, there’s the standard stereo RCA analogue outputs augmented by coax and optical digital connections – the latter being essential if you want to use this player as a transport.
A likeable all-round performer that isn't a class-leader, but for those who are keen on the NAD sound, the C 538 is definitely worth considering at this price.
Read the full NAD C 538 review
If price isn't an issue and pure sound quality is your focus, then the Marantz SA-10 could be the CD player for you. This impressive-looking box can handle pretty much anything you care to throw in its direction. That includes SACDs and FLAC, DSD128, ALAC, AIFF and MP3 files fed into the player via USB.
Playback is aided by Marantz's custom-built SACD-M3 transport and a brand new signal path and digital-to-analogue section called Marantz Music Mastering. The result is breathtaking sound quality with amazing attention to detail. We’re struck by the way the Marantz renders the instrumental texture and the subtlety with which it tracks small-scale dynamic changes.
The remote control feels more luxurious than most supplied with high-end players, and we're impressed by this CD player's casework – it’s immensely rigid and well damped. If it's within budget, the Marantz SA-10 is a brilliant choice and one of the finest disc players you'll probably ever come across.
Read the full Marantz SA-10 review
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. Yes, you'll need your own DAC, but it's worth getting this attractive CD transport, which simply reads the data using its single-speed transport and S3 Servo, for under $650.
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 Audio's impressive CX range, including a streamer and integrated stereo amplifier.
If you already own an external DAC, we would not hesitate to recommend the Cambridge CXC over a standalone CD player. You’ll have to spend a good deal more than this to match the sound quality it offers.
Read the full Cambridge Audio CXC review
How we test CD players
At What Hi-Fi? we review hundreds of products every year at our state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, and some of those, inevitably, are CD players. We have complete control over our testing environment, and we test as a team of audio experts with a combined wealth of over a century of experience.
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 also evaluate all the different features a player might support, and how easy it is to use.
It's important to us that we judge all products, including CD players, on a strict pound-per-performance basis, making sure to emphasize value and tell our readers how good something is for the money. Accordingly, we compare all products we review against similarly-priced class leaders to help us settle on the most accurate rating.
All review verdicts are agreed upon by the in-house review 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. As a rule, there's no input from sales teams or PR companies ever in our reviews, with What Hi-Fi? enjoying a sterling reputation of delivering honest, unbiased feedback for decades.
You can read more about how we test and review products on What Hi-Fi? here.
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