CD revival: Why my £21 Asda player might be the greatest hi-fi bargain in 40 years

This little supermarket machine – while it remains available – might be the perfect cut-price way into the delights of physical media ownership in 2024.

The vinyl revival is grinding to a belt-driven halt as costs spiral. All hail the CD revival. That was pretty much what I proclaimed back in a “passions” piece for this paper, and now I have stumbled upon the bargain of the century for those looking to savour, or indeed rediscover, the delights of the little silver disc.

I worked in the hi-fi industry for 15 years, selling all sorts of fancy kit, before writing about it occasionally over the past 20-odd years as a business journalist. The quest for audio perfection or sonic nirvana, call it what you want, is something I’ve never been able to shake off. Like many bitten by the audiophile bug, I’ve spent way too much disposable income on source components, amplification, speakers and cables to extract that little bit more from each of the 1,500 or so albums – largely CDs – that make up my treasured collection.

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It can be a slippery slope to financial ruin and at some stage you have to accept there is a law of diminishing returns. By all means spend £1,000 on a fancy interconnect that will provide some additional musical insight. But can it really be ten times better than the £100 cord it replaced?

This little box may be billed as an upscaling DVD player but it just might also be the biggest CD playing bargain available.This little box may be billed as an upscaling DVD player but it just might also be the biggest CD playing bargain available.
This little box may be billed as an upscaling DVD player but it just might also be the biggest CD playing bargain available.

I doubt that debate will ever be resolved but circling back to that teaser intro, it pleases me to say that my latest audio purchase involved parting with just over £20. For a whole CD player. A brand new CD player, with a warranty and an instruction manual.

Strictly speaking, and according to its own blurb, this bargain machine is, in fact, an “Asda Tech Compact HDMI DVD Player”. Like all DVD players, however, it will also play audio CDs. Unlike nearly every other budget DVD player - and there are still quite a few available on the market for under £40 or so - this supermarket steal boasts some essential audio-focused features you simply will not find anywhere else.

Besides its protective metal (not plastic) casing and well endowed remote control (batteries most definitely included), this wee gem sports a front display providing vital track information, two conventional RCA audio outputs (allowing connection to just about any amplifier or old-school hi-fi system out there) and a digital audio output - yup, this thing is also a fully-fledged CD transport, if you have a digital amp or separate converter. To get these essential features elsewhere, a dedicated CD player from one of the big names in the hi-fi world is going to cost you at least ten times more than this thing plucked from a supermarket shelf.

I did so myself largely out of intrigue and in the name of research. Its audio performance is quite clearly not up there with the CD player and CD transport that front my current system, and at several multiples less than those two machines price wise, I wasn’t expecting the Asda alternative to blow me away in the sonic stakes. Nor does it appear to offer truly gapless playback (something some premium players fail to do as well). But, really, it ain’t that bad. Surprisingly tuneful, in fact. Plenty of guts, plenty of detail, and a cinch to set up and use.

This colourful array of connectors allows the player to be hooked up to just about any TV, hi-fi system or sound bar out there and sets it apart from much more expensive competitors.This colourful array of connectors allows the player to be hooked up to just about any TV, hi-fi system or sound bar out there and sets it apart from much more expensive competitors.
This colourful array of connectors allows the player to be hooked up to just about any TV, hi-fi system or sound bar out there and sets it apart from much more expensive competitors.

For anybody looking to go down the CD route for their physical musical fix - and why wouldn’t you, given the abundance of new and used discs out there for a fraction of the cost of vinyl - this little player could be the perfect addition to any modest or ageing set-up, or a sound bar. It had been on sale at the reduced price of £18 against its regular and still bargain £21 sticker price, or about the same cost as a couple of new-release CDs. You might still obtain it in some stores with that discount but even at £21 where can you go wrong? And if it does go a bit wonky, you can simply buy another one.

Scott Reid is a business journalist at The Scotsman and previously worked in the hi-fi industry from 1982 to 1997

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