Week 28, 2015: Building a small system to play CDs and FM


Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 28, 2015

Q. I have been in search of a good quality shelf stereo that has FM radio and can play music CDs. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t need any of the i-whatever or Wi-Fi or Bluetooth features, and am really having a difficult time finding anything in local stores. I refuse to buy something that looks like a boombox, and I already bought one inexpensive system and hate it. The sound is so bad and the design so poor that I want to replace it as soon as possible.

I would like FM radio and CD playback, I do not need anything else. Can you offer any recommendations in the $100 to $150 range?

-Don Amundson, Minneapolis, MN

There is definitely a dearth of quality radios that play CDs. Even when they were more common it was hard to find good sound at the $100 to $150 price point. We can adapt one of my recent recommendations for your purposes, and you will get the best sound going for the price, guaranteed.

Not long ago I recommended a Dayton Audio T-Amp and B652 bookshelf speaker bundle that sells for $69 on Amazon. Combined with the Audio-Technica AT-LP60 turntable for $99 it makes for a surprisingly decent vinyl record playback system for under $170.

If you look on Amazon you will find the NAXA NPC330 personal CD player/FM radio for $24, and a matching AC adapter for $16. Get the Dayton combo for $69, add the NPC330 and the adapter for $40, and connect the player’s headphone output to the Dayton Audio amp using the amp’s included miniplug-to-miniplug cable. Turn the player volume to about 90%, and control the master volume using the amplifier. You now have excellent quality, room-filling CD and FM sound for a little over $100.

It’s not as seamless of a solution as an all-in-one system, and it does not have the panache of a receiver, CD player and speakers, but it will accomplish your goal and sound good too. You can also add components like cassette players and turntables by using RCA-to-miniplug cables and switching them at the amplifier input.

You could also run the portable player into a powered speaker system, either a portable Bluetooth model or a powered pair of speakers. Good powered speaker pairs are expensive so I think you will get the best value from using the Dayton combo.

A surprising benefit is you can actually use this system anywhere, like the boombox you disdain. Both the Dayton Audio T-Amp and the portable CD player/FM radio can run on AA batteries.