Help me justify a $300 CD player in 2014
February 20, 2014 7:14 AM   Subscribe

On the occasion of moving the living room around, I'm upgrading my old, clunky stereo components with new, smaller stuff that fits better in the new cabinet. My old 5-disc CD carousel doesn't come close to fitting, so I need a replacement. We own lots of CDs but listen to them only occasionally, so a changer isn't necessary or even preferable. I was always taken with NAD components when I'd go to the stereo store with my dad as a kid, and now I'm wondering if it there's a way to justify this for $300 when a Sony DVD player that surely plays CDs just fine can be had for well under $50. Other than snob appeal, would I appreciate any aural benefit from a dedicated audio-specific CD player in my decidedly midrange set-up? (For context, speakers are Pioneer SP-BS22-LRs and the receiver is an Onkyo TX8020.)
posted by ndg to Shopping (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Are you an audiophile, even a minor audiophile? Here's an audiophile's taken on the player, which claims to provide improved performance over the prior NAD C 515BEE.

How do you listen to music? Do you know where the sweet spot is in your setup? Or do you just like hearing your music with ease? Would you be annoyed by a minor delay your CD player actually playing music?
posted by filthy light thief at 7:31 AM on February 20, 2014

I'd say no, personally. Just rip them CDs when you want to listen to them and stream them to an Airport Express with Airplay (or the doodad of your choice). CDs are an outdated technology that, unlike vinyl, doesn't have any particular charms of its own. I say this as a reformed audio enthusiast who has owned mid-range and higher end CD players in the past, and now am just down to aging mid range receiver and a cheap Bluray player, and a Mac.

When the receiver goes, I'm just replacing it with a stereo tube amplifier, and ditching all the surround business.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:46 AM on February 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


If you're looking for a replacement CD player for a stereo system that you only occasionally use, head down to Goodwill and get a nice-ish one for $5-$15. There's no way to justify spending $300 just to plug up some holes in the back of a receiver.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:00 AM on February 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

do you listen to CDs? will it make you happy? yes. $300 is not much for 25 minutes of happiness per week. do you listen to 1 cd a year? do you mostly listen to baseball on AM radio? no, it's silly don't bother.

it's mostly a coin flip right? $300 is very affordable luxury, especially for something you have tied all the way back to a childhood happy moment. i'd say buy it, listen to something your dad like 1 out of 20 times you power it on and then have a smile about the good old days. in the meantime it does in fact sound better...
posted by chasles at 8:03 AM on February 20, 2014

I've owned two good CD players over the years, a NAD C541 and a Rega Planet 2000. They both sounded way, way, better than any DVD player. The source component definitely makes a difference in the overall sound produced by your system. I think that this NAD player you link to here would sound noticeably better than a DVD player.

Another route to consider is what the Admiral suggests. Ripping to pc/mac and then streaming is what most 'audiophiles' are doing today. All else equal I think this type of solution gives much better sound quality than a standalone CD player. If you're interested in exploring this route, is a great resource. My Rega CD player cost about $1k but it's collected dust since I replaced it with a $300 DAC and started streaming from my mac.
posted by MjrMjr at 8:04 AM on February 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

CD players are an old technology. Spending $300 on a technology that is almost obsolete is crazy. That would be like buying a $300 VCR player when you can get one for like $20. I would just rip the CDs and put them on my computer and/or iPod. I used to have (and technically still have) a huge collection of CDs. I've downloaded or ripped many of them. Any that I haven't ripped or downloaded, I've never listened to in the past several years. I think there's a very low chance you actually use that CD player. The fact that you even asked this question shows you know it's a waste of money.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:09 AM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some DVD players have interfaces that are annoying to deal with if they aren't hooked up to TVs, so watch out for that.

As far as audio quality, a high quality D/A can make a large difference, even with relatively modest speakers. The nice thing with digital is that you can add an external D/A convertor (or upgrade to a receiver with a high quality D/A) to a DVD player if it has S/PDIF output (or using the HDMI out, though those tend to be a little more expensive).
posted by Candleman at 8:09 AM on February 20, 2014

It's fairly unlikely that there will be any appreciable difference. You have $260 worth of speakers; no sense in spending more than that on a fancy source that has vanishingly small benefits. You could go used, though. Surely the people like MjrMjr who have bought DACs would be willing to part with their old NADs for not hat much money. You could even get some equipment just for its looks and neat engineering, like some people keep old-timey contraptions just as decoration and nostalgy-fodder.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:13 AM on February 20, 2014

Could you go used?

I bought a great stereo for $90 off of kijiji, I'm so happy with it. It would have cost $350 new but the exact model I wanted was no longer in production (1-2 years old) and the used one I got works no problem. I don't listen to it much but when I do put on music the sound is so good.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:28 AM on February 20, 2014

For $300 you could buy a heck of an audio A/D encoder to bypass your computer's sound card and output digital audio of far higher quality than any CD player. Good options start at around $100-150, like the Schiit Audio [yep, that's their name!] Modi, and get serious right at around $300.

Or alternately, $300 buys some very nice bookshelf-sized speakers these days. I am fond of Polk Audio offerings for quality/value ratio and their TSX series would be right around $300. You would notice a far larger improvement in your system's sound quality overall by doing that (the Onkyo is a fine receiver, it deserves better speakers) even if you just play ripped audio out of a laptop or iPod. The difference between the NAD and a lesser CD player is real, but would not be that noticeable without better amplification and speakers than you have, for most people. (I speak as a die-hard NAD fan -- I have an early 90's NAD preamp sitting on my desk in front of me right now, in fact.)
posted by spitbull at 8:32 AM on February 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Although I take it back about your speakers. I just saw "Pioneer" and didn't take in the model. SP-BS22s are good budget bookshelf speakers. But PSB or Polk offerings at the $300 level will be noticeably better. Didn't mean to diss your rig, you did good!
posted by spitbull at 8:42 AM on February 20, 2014

Pretty cool to see all this discussion spawn from the original question. Here's some more thoughts in no particular order.... is a really great marketplace for used gear. You could look there if you want to consider going the used route for any type of purchase. With digital technology changing so quickly, and with more people ditching cd players entirely in favor of the pc -> DAC ->receiver/amp -> speakers type setup, prices on used cd players tend to be really good.

A couple other folks are talking about DACs, too. I do think that at any price level streaming to an outboard DAC is a better solution than using a dedicated cd player. I happen to own two DACs, one is the Musical Fidelity V-DAC($300 when I bought it 4 years ago), the other is the Schiit Modi($100 right now). The V-DAC is in my main right and the Modi is in my headphone setup. I do think that V-DAC sounds slightly better(or maybe just different in a way that I happen to prefer?) but either one would sound great in any setup and better than a cd player costing many times more. Even the $100 Schiit would, I think, honestly sound great paired with megabuck $10k speakers. It's impossible to overstate how good some of the really cheap DACs out there are now-the bang for your buck is off the charts compared to what you could buy 6-7 yrs ago.

OP I think you'd be happy with the NAD and I do think your associated gear is good enough to reveal the difference that a good cdp would make, but if it's feasible I'd go the DAC route.
posted by MjrMjr at 9:54 AM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I bought an extremely nice ADC CD player for $5 used. I've seen many other high end CD players at thrift stores and on craigslist for like $20 or less(i used to own a sony that a lot of people online worship. bought and sold it for about that much despite it going for >$100 on ebay).

Buy a used one, but don't buy one from an audio-specific site or you'll overpay. Look on craigslist, local thrift stores, etc.

Another option of course is to rip the CDs to FLAC, and then get a quality external DAC for your computer.

It is, however, worth noting that after about a year of having that cd player in my tv stand/media console thing i put it in a box and threw it in storage. It was getting used less than once a month because just playing back the ripped CDs was so much more convenient. Did it sound nicer than the line out on my imac? Definitely. Was it actually worth the space it took up? ehhh....
posted by emptythought at 1:38 PM on February 20, 2014

I have an audiophile (budget audiophile, but still) cd player (though mine's about twenty years old and I got it at a thrift store).

I also have a PC with a USB DAC and a bunch of FLAC rips.

Guess which one I listen to more.
posted by box at 2:54 PM on February 20, 2014

I would go with an actual CD player & am nth-ing used. I bought a new NAD integrated amplifier and instead of the matching CD played waited and watched my local goodwill store, while using a DVD player. After a little while I paid $15 for a perfectly fine Sony single CD player. Sound is noticeably -- though not wildly -- better than the DVD player, and there are all the buttons and screen info on the front panel one would want for playing CDs and which don't tend to be on DVD players.

(I value, too, not having to control every aspect of life through a computer device.)
posted by bertran at 3:11 PM on February 20, 2014

I recently upgraded my own home listening system to what I always imagined (as a young man) was the perfect mid-range, lean/mean stereo setup. Got two Polk monitors, an Onkyo receiver (same one you have), Rega turntable, and, yeah, a new single-disc CD player, also Onkyo. My last one was a low-end Sony five disc changer, had it for a decade. It had problems but it was a workhorse. I listen to a lot of music, primarily electronic.

I can't compare the performance of the new CD player, because the speakers and everything else are new. But what I can tell you is that all of the equipment sounds beautiful, looks beautiful, and I've listened to more music in the last several weeks at home than in the whole time I've lived in this apartment. The Onkyo player is great because it matches the receiver you have and the units link to each other so you can share remotes between devices.

In the grand scheme of things, you'll have the CD player for years — the investment is sound to me. Enjoy it!
posted by MyFrozenYear at 7:08 PM on February 20, 2014

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