I've been buying CD players since 1984: These are the best bargains you can get in 2024, from £21 to £1,000

With millions of used discs out there from just a few pence, and plenty of new releases, the compact disc is undergoing something of a revival, but who makes the best CD players for realistic money? Read on...

It feels like we are heading back to the future. At least as far as the compact disc is concerned.

Rewind 40 years and you might have been seeking advice on buying your first CD player. The shiny little music format was a just a couple of years old, most folks would have been adding one of these new fangled machines to a hi-fi system that was predominantly vinyl focused, the choice of CD players was pretty limited at the time and you'd have needed to spend at least £300 or so to bag one. A princely sum in the mid-80s (or around £900 in today's money according to one online inflation calculator).

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The CD went on to rule the hi-fi roost for at least a couple of decades before the advent of downloading then streaming. The past few years have seen a vinyl revival so we now have a situation where those keen on keeping things physical but looking to save money as the cost of records spirals may be looking to once again add a CD player to their set-up.

British hi-fi brand Audiolab makes the 9000CDT CD transport, pictured, at £999 and the more affordable 6000CDT at £399.British hi-fi brand Audiolab makes the 9000CDT CD transport, pictured, at £999 and the more affordable 6000CDT at £399.
British hi-fi brand Audiolab makes the 9000CDT CD transport, pictured, at £999 and the more affordable 6000CDT at £399.

That choice is certainly nowhere near what it was during the heyday of the compact disc, around the mid 90s. Many audio brands have disappeared entirely or have pulled back from producing CD players in favour of streaming products or, ironically, turntables. This doesn't mean there is nothing to choose from out there. In fact, the past year or so has seen several new models hit the market - some at the more affordable end of the price spectrum. Indeed, you don't have to spend as much as £900, or even £300, to get up and running.

I acquired my first CD player in 1984 when I worked in the audio retail sector. It certainly cost over £300, was made by Technics and has long departed to the great hi-fi graveyard. Since then I’ve owned, sampled, compared and frequently drooled over many other machines and still reckon that, all told, the compact disc is the best consumer digital format of all time. Insert. Press play. Job done.

I'll assume that you have a working amplifier and some speakers already so what this guide should help with is selecting a suitable CD player in 2024. Naturally how much you plan to devote to this task will depend on the quality of your system, how much emphasis you are likely to place on CDs - vinyl and/or streaming may remain your preferred option - and your budget.

Under £100

It's entirely possible to use a DVD player for compact disc playback into a hi-fi system, with the right connections, such as on this Asda unit at just £21.It's entirely possible to use a DVD player for compact disc playback into a hi-fi system, with the right connections, such as on this Asda unit at just £21.
It's entirely possible to use a DVD player for compact disc playback into a hi-fi system, with the right connections, such as on this Asda unit at just £21.

There are a couple of options at this entry level. Going down the second-hand route may seem an obvious one. The biggest risk here is with the laser and not knowing how much life it has left in it. They all have a finite life and that longevity varies enormously. While some players of 30 years or even greater vintage are still going strong many much younger models will have gone pop by now. Replacement lasers are not always available which makes having a warranty rather pointless. A well looked after player of a few years vintage might make a decent buy but do not pay over the odds, and insist on playing a disc or two before parting with your cash. Try a bit of track skipping, searching and tray ejecting too.

New options under £100? Very limited. The few portable players available are not really suited to home audio use and would require an adaptor cable. One possibility is to buy a basic DVD or Bluray player. Very few, if any, have the necessary RCA phono audio outputs (the little red and white coloured sockets on the rear panel) these days. Amazingly, one that does just happens to be about the cheapest new DVD player you can buy. It's made for Asda and it currently costs just £21 (it has previously been on offer for as little as £18). It even has a coax digital output if you have an amplifier with a corresponding digital input. On the flip side, it ain't as good sounding as a dedicated CD player and I have encountered issues with its attempts at gapless playback. The tiny pauses between tracks may be a deal breaker for those keen on classical music and concept albums such as Pink Floyd’s seminal Dark Side of the Moon.

Up to £300

This sort of budget will get you a pretty decent dedicated, standalone player. The choice is not what it used to be a couple of decades back but there are a couple of standouts. Denon's DCD-600NE is well built, very well featured and a budget player from a well-established brand. You should be able to pick one up for under £300 (at the time of writing in June 2024 Richer Sounds had them in black or silver for £259). A decent alternative is the NAD C538. It's not as widely available, it's a bit simpler and only comes in black. But it does have an outstanding digital chip and great, natural sound for £299. Stockists should include Sevenoaks and Edinburgh's James Morrow.

Denon's DCD-1700NE unit can play CDs as well as super audio CDs (SACDs).Denon's DCD-1700NE unit can play CDs as well as super audio CDs (SACDs).
Denon's DCD-1700NE unit can play CDs as well as super audio CDs (SACDs).

Up to £600

If your system is half decent (amplifier and speakers in the region of £500-plus each) then upping the budget a bit should bring dividends. A bit more detail resolution, greater depth and musical insight. The build quality should also step up a notch. My top picks would be the Marantz CD6007, a multiple award winner in the specialist hi-fi press that is very well equipped and constructed for under £400. It's another machine available in silver or black. Yamaha - another venerable and dependable name - has two models in this price bracket. Its CD-S303 makes a great buy, again for just under £400. I owned an earlier version of this player for several years and it performed superbly. Yamaha's latest CD-C603 looks intriguing. It's a very rare thing these days - a brand new five-disc CD changer. You can even change four of the discs while the fifth plays. Hours of CD listening like it's 1995. The cost? £529. Demand seems to be outstripping supply at the moment so the best of luck tracking one down.

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Another option around this price level is Audiolab's stonkingly good 6000CDT. Not strictly a CD player but a CD transport this one, so you will need an amp with a digital input, or a separate outboard digital-to-analogue converter (DAC). Fed into a decent one this £399 player can rival integrated, full-fat CD players at several multiples price wise. I owned a 6000CDT for a while before the inevitable upgrade but it left me stunned by the sound/pound ratio it offered. There is also a slightly newer/fancier 7000CDT available at £549. Again it's a CD transport rather than an integrated player.

Up to £1,000

Well into serious money territory for most folks now. Though it is possible to go way, way higher than a grand, I'm capping my guide here as the law of diminishing returns kicks in quite abruptly and, in all honesty, with vinyl and streaming being the prime music sources for the majority, few will look to shell out four figures or more on something seen as more of a useful hi-fi system add-on.

My top four choices between £600 and £1,000 include Arcam's very new CD5. This stylish player from the well known British hi-fi brand is already garnering favourable press. I've yet to hear it but given the reputation of their previous players, and Arcam's other components, you probably won't go wrong. JBL's equally stylish CD350 I do have first-hand experience of. Its retro casework - brushed silver front and wooden side cheeks - houses some decent circuitry and it's very well screwed together. Better still, despite an official price of £799 you can pick it up for under that £600 mark. Edinburgh's Loud & Clear is among the stockists, currently selling it on special offer at £550.

A step up from the aforementioned Audiolab 6000 and 7000 models is the British brand's 9000CDT CD transport. If you have the right kit and intend to do a lot of CD listening it's easy to justify the £999 that it costs. Finally, back to Denon for a top choice in this price category. Their DCD-1700NE is a big, Japanese-built brute of a player in the old-school CD player tradition. Ticks all the boxes including super audio CD playback (what a pity this early hi-res audio format never really took off - maybe it was just ahead of its time). The DCD-1700 normally retails for £1,199 and stockists are few and far between but Peter Tyson is offering it at £999, which is why it makes it into the guide.

I've had experience of the vast majority of the players mentioned in this guide through ownership, purchases that friends have made or in-store and audio show auditioning. Always try to listen and have a fiddle before you take the leap yourself. All CD players certainly do not sound the same. Happy CD listening.

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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