By Don Lindich
Week 44, 2018
Q. What CD player would you recommend for use in a high quality component stereo system that originally cost around $2,000?
-R.B., St. Paul, MN
A. I have received several variations of this question lately. With the ongoing vinyl record renaissance many people are building stereo systems with a turntable as the centerpiece, systems dedicated to the pure enjoyment of music. Once their system is finished, they see their old CDs and think they will put them into use, too, so it is time to shop for a player.
I’ve been researching the topic for several months now and my highest recommendation goes to the Emotiva CD100 CD player, $299. The Emotiva feels like it was carved from a single block of steel, the kind of quality you would expect from a very high-end product, but not one selling for under $300. I had high expectations for the sound given the beautiful fit and finish and smooth operation, but I was still not prepared for what I heard, which was far and away the best CD sound I have ever heard in my system. During my evaluations I compared the CD100 to a very highly regarded Denon player from the mid-2000s and the Emotiva was a clear and dramatic winner. The Emotiva CD100 also has digital outputs if you have an external digital-to-analog converter. I would not bother with an external converter though as the CD100 is so good on its own.
A few people also asked about buying a vintage CD player since modern gear tends to be cheaply made. The concerns I have with vintage players are sound quality, reliability, and compatibility with burned CDs and MP3s. CD player sound quality tends to get better with every generation, so an older player might not competitive with newer offerings. The CD drives themselves wear out with time and use, and most 1980s-vintage players won’t play burned CD-R discs or MP3s. Better to spend a bit more and get the Emotiva CD100 and enjoy it for decades to come.
A vintage player can still be a good buy as long as you get it at the right price. Whenever I would visit my mom in South Carolina I would stop in thrift stores near her and often find excellent old audio gear selling for a pittance. One of my best thrift store finds was a 1980s-vintage Nakamichi OMS-1 CD player, in good cosmetic and working condition, for only $10. There was no remote but I was able to locate a new one on eBay for $15 delivered. The OMS-1 is a prime example of audio gear I dreamed of owning when I was in college, but could never afford at the time. Now it will make a nice addition to a retro system built with other gear from that era.
Speaking of visits to Mom, I have spent an awful lot of time in her town recently. She passed away unexpectedly and somewhat suddenly of a rare lung disease in September, 73 years young. In the past few weeks I’ve received numerous fan letters asking if I was OK since my website has not been updated since September. My mom’s passing is the reason why I have not been updating the site and why I am behind on answering reader email, as besides the grief I have had other responsibilities that take precedence. If you have written to me in the past two months I promise I will get back to you, sorry for the delay!