How the CD works

With the current trend towards dematerialisation of physical media and the online availability of more and more music streaming services, does it still make sense to buy a traditional CD player to listen to Compact Disc Audio?

Without a shadow of a doubt the answer to this question is: yes!

CD players are still an indispensable component for any audiophile, even if in fact the discs can also be read by DVD players, but at the expense of audio quality.

The CD-Audio has just over thirty years of age and the music that is published on this medium has seen, over time, gradually increase the quality of recording, over the years.

Despite its technical limitations (an older technology that allowed a maximum recording time of 80 minutes with a limited data stream), it is still a storage medium that is likely to last longer than magnetic storages and is not subject to potential and irreparable data loss.

The Audio CD is a polycarbonate plastic disc, with a standard diameter of 12 cm, containing an aluminium surface on which are imprinted the so-called pit or the sequence of bits 0 and 1 that contain the musical message in digital form.

The way the CD player works

A CD player is made up of a reading mechanism, which makes the compact disc rotate at high speed, and a laser optics that, through a lens, reads the sequence of pit on the surface of the disc during its rotation.

The laser beam hits the metal surface of the CD and, going back, it is captured by the optics that in this way interpret the pit, decoding the bytes (zero and one) that make up the digital audio tracks and allowing their musical reproduction.

There are considerable differences between the cheap models (entry-level) and a hi-fi cd player.

These differences concern, in particular, the quality of the reading mechanism.

A high level reading mechanism will significantly reduce reading errors, with consequent containment of the negative phenomenon of jitter (a sort of time lag in musical reproduction).

An efficient transport, moreover, guarantees great reliability for the duration in time of the CD player.

The analog-to-digital converter (Audio DAC) fitted as standard even in the cheapest models is, by now, always of a very high level (if compared to those used until a few years ago, a clear qualitative leap forward).

However, what makes the difference, and that is one of the strengths of the most expensive Hi Fi CD players, is the precision of the data reading and the consequent optimization in the operation of the DAC, with appreciable sonic results in terms of greater airiness, more precise stage reconstruction, positioning of the instrumentalists well outlined on the virtual stage, greater intelligibility of the sound planes.

More expensive CD players are also usually equipped not only with more connections, but also with greater precision in driving any external Audio DACs.

They also have sophisticated containment and cancellation systems for jitter phenomena and can also be equipped with balanced XLR outputs.

How to choose your CD player

The choice of the CD player can be difficult because there are many brands on the market, with the most disparate prices and variable characteristics. Of course you always have to consider your needs and budget.

Most CD players include a set of basic features that are identical. So the ability to play the disc in various modes, including the ability to repeat individual tracks or the entire album, random playback of tracks, fast forward and pause, and so on.

There are other models that also allow you to set the upsampling frequency or disable any digital filters.

Last but not least, the choice of the home CD player can also be based on its design, in consideration of the environment in which we will insert it.

In the current era of Cloud Storage, it is certainly not a heresy, therefore, to buy a Hi Fi CD player, especially since today all manufacturers offer very efficient models of players, both from the point of view of the transport and the reading optics, both from the point of view of the digital transport of the data flow to the converter, both for the choice of the DAC itself, as well as for the care lavished on the analog output stages.

The latter contribute in a preponderant way to the overall musicality of the reproduced signal.

When purchasing a new generation CD player, it is often possible to connect external sources, such as an iPod, iPhone, iPad or any USB mass storage device that contains audio files of music files, compressed or uncompressed.

Even the most technological fans can find it very convenient to have a good CD player, possibly portable, to listen to songs purchased online and recorded (burned) on optical media (such as music purchased from iTunes or HD-Tracks or other services of sale of liquid music online).

A Hi Fi CD player with tube output, for example, is able to give an analog warmth and musicality that is not usual for a digital player, with all the consequent advantages due to the increased pleasantness of listening.

In conclusion, if the audio CD is inevitably destined to die one day, the CD Players, more and more evolved and cheap, still have a very long life ahead of them.

The main brands

Opera Audio Consonance: refined and exclusive design, top audio performance, tube output

Cambridge Audio: simple to use, essential design, good quality.
Denon: among industry veterans, discreet performance, entry level.
Marantz: nice design, good quality.

Note: Some CD players also have a USB connection to connect a pendrive or hard disk. Evaluate the CD player according to your needs, carefully reading the technical specifications of the various models. Each brand differs both in its supported audio formats and in its performance and design.