Five years ago, it seemed that the CD format would irrevocably sink into oblivion – in terms of sound quality, vinyl overtook it, and the streaming capabilities were an order of magnitude superior to “aluminum circles” in terms of ergonomics. However, in 2023, it became clear that the CD just wasn’t ready to give up.
High-quality players can squeeze the maximum out of a CD in terms of the naturalness of the sound, and the huge collections of discs and the rare value of many publications make the cd another fighter in the field of good sound.
In our new ranking, we’re looking back and putting together a list of the top fifty vintage CD players, CD transports and DACs that can still be found at auctions today. The rating, as usual, is compiled in ascending order of the “quality / price” ratio – so that there are both inexpensive and expensive devices in it.
50. Grundig Fine Arts CD-9009
“Made in Germany” – The Grundig Fine Arts CD-9009 sports an uncompromising design (copper-plated steel chassis and precision cabinet, best-in-class CDM1-MKII transport and TDA1541A digital-to-analogue converter) and sounds pretty good too. The volumetric presentation of the material will clearly find its fans; against its background, some shortcomings in microdynamics fade into the background.
49. Carver SD/A-490t
A chic device from a world famous amplifier manufacturer – in fact, a professional device using a single-bit MASH DAC and a tricky tube amplification system for both channels based on 6DJ8 triodes. The fundamental sound of the Carver SD/A-490t will appeal to many audiophiles, and its armor-piercing construction makes it a very good deal today (if you’re lucky enough to find a player in good condition).
48. Pioneer PD-95
In 2022, it’s clear that the Pioneer PD-95 CD player deserves its cult status. The top model of a well-known Japanese corporation offered a unique Stable Platter branded transport, in which the disk was placed with the working side up, and the Legato Linear DAC, finally, completely “brought to mind”. A 20-kilogram sectioned body and super-detailed sound are included.
47. Kyocera DA-910
In 1984, the sound of the Kyocera DA-910 CD player inspired “shock and awe” – however, even 38 years later, the device makes the legs dance on their own. Custom-built by Universum and Nakamichi engineers, the model uses the Japanese company’s favored composite chassis base, as well as dual mono circuitry with a pair of Philips TDA1540D converters. Specifications are in order – a signal-to-noise ratio of 90 dB at 0.007% distortion.
46 Philips CD850
In 1990, the Philips CD850 replaced its predecessor, the CD840, and finally offered precision stage construction to audiophiles. The surgically accurate sound of the device still pleases many fans – thanks to the one-bit proprietary converter PDM (Pulse Density Modulation).
45 Rotel RCD-991AE
Released in 1999, the Rotel RCD-991 AE is woven from contradictions – on the one hand, the cheap Sony transport used in the CD player clearly does not shine with its characteristics. On the other hand, an extraordinary elemental base is used here – Burr-Brown PCM63P DACs, Pacific Microsonics PMD-100 filter with HDCD support and Black Gate capacitors. As a result, Rotel RCD-991 AE (especially in the fourth mode of the filter), even at the time of release, jumped much higher than its price of $1,500 – what can we say about today.
44. Nakamichi CD4
Although the Nakamichi CD4 uses an inexpensive Sony KSS210A transport mechanism, and the power supply was not given due attention, the AD-1864N chip and the minimalist design of the output stages (only one operational amplifier in each channel) make themselves felt. When compared with the “brothers in the desk” it seems as if an invisible veil was removed in front of the stage.
43. Studer D731QC
The professional model that audiophiles have “seen through” today will be very lucky if you find the Studer D731QC on sale for less than $2,000. Perfectly organized circuitry, a reference power circuit – you can sing praises to the player for a long time, but it’s better to hear it once. This, of course, is not a reel-to-reel tape recorder, but the legendary, exceptionally dense and weighty Studer signature sound is presented here in all its glory.
42 Philips CD-880
The last of the Philips CD players, the CD-880, began production in 1989; alas and ah, the company here saved money on CDM1 transport and applied CDM9. But the ultra-modern (at the time of the model’s release, of course) DAC, as always, carefully organized power supply, impenetrable case design and, of course, natural sound made the device a very popular player on the market.
41 Meridian 200/203 DAC
In 1991, Meridian’s two-component assembly came out – a CD transport and a Meridian 200/203 DAC digital-to-analog converter. The sound of the device turned out to be absolutely charming – a huge sound stage showed a genuine holography, so appreciated by audiophiles. Prices of $990 and $1,495, trendy design, luxurious circuitry (despite the use of an 18-bit Bitstream PDM DAC, 256x oversampling and passive filtering guaranteed excellent results, and distortion did not exceed 0.004%) – all this made this tandem very popular in early nineties of the twentieth century.
40. Cambridge CD1
Today the Cambridge CD1 seems to be a pure vintage, but in 1986 it looked like a miracle of technological progress, for which it was a pity to pay 1,500 pounds. The power supply here was combined with the transport, and the DAC’s electronics were placed in a separate unit. The chip resolution of 14 bits was skillfully brightened up by 4x oversampling, so that the output turned out to be 15.5 bits – the precision musical canvas of the Cambridge CD1 is still considered by many to be one of the best for the format.
39. Technics SL-P900
An excellent “workhorse” – Technics SL-P900 can now be found on sale for humane money (the circulation of the device was large enough for a 1991 release), and the CD player is just fine. Matsushita decided to develop a High End CD player at an affordable price – and the idea was a success “one hundred percent” Technics SL-P900 sports a composite anti-resonance material base, advanced MASH single-bit DACs with 8x oversampling, a pair of transformers in the power supply and a glass lens in laser head. If you do not put forward requirements for the “brilliance” – the sound of the device is not satisfactory.
38. Marantz CD-52 Mk II SE
Budget audiophile player – this is what the Marantz CD-52 MkII SE looked like in 1993. The relatively low price of the device (200 pounds, now the Marantz CD-52 MkII SE is on sale in good condition for a little less money) allowed many music lovers to join the sparkling sound, the model remains popular to this day. The use of high-quality element base (for example, operational amplifiers NJM2114Ds) made itself felt.
The Teac VRDS (Vibration-Free Rigid Disc-Clamping System) transport mechanism has become one of the major milestones in the CD playback industry – well, the Teac VRDS-20 complete breaker, which appeared in 1992, had gigantic expectations. The DAC, however, was used here at a clearly lower level than the entire assembly. So, the ideal solution is to use the Teac VRDS-20 exactly as a digital transport, complete with an external converter. In this role, he is perfect so far.
36. Arcam Alpha 7 CD
Arcam Alpha 7 CD, released in 1996, has a lot of Best Buy awards – and it is absolutely deserved. The modular design of the CD player made it easy to upgrade to the 8th version, and a very mobile and completely natural sound became the standard for its price category.
35. Revox B225
Professional approach in all its glory – the Revox B225 case is divided into three completely independent zones, in which the Philips CDM-1 transport, a solid power supply and an audio part were located. The performance characteristics are good (distortion is not higher than 0.006%, the signal-to-noise ratio is 96 dB, the channel separation is 90 dB), but there is nothing special about them, but the luxurious bass of the model made it a welcome guest in many modern complexes.
34.Balanced Audio Technology VK-D5 CD
In 1998, Balanced Audio Technology released the VK-D5 CD Player, a reference machine that offers sound without digital veil, big and fundamental. Four Burr-Brown PCM63K DACs, an elaborate case design, a huge toroidal power transformer – we have the ABC of engineering before us.
Futuristic appearance, expressive presentation – it’s hard not to fall in love with the Quad CD66 at first sight. Now the device can be found even in very expensive complexes – according to the owners, few people know how to “prepare a CD” so exquisitely. And while the Quad CD66 won’t offer thunderous bass, its completely natural soundscape is truly mesmerizing.
32. Marantz CD-15
Marantz CD-15 was one of the most important developments of 1992 – “never breaks” (as it was dubbed in the market) Philips CDM4MD transport, copper chassis, output stages based on proprietary HDAM assemblies, transformer balanced outputs, dual TDA-1547 chips – list can be long. The main thing is that this almost 17-kilogram monster sounds light, precise and elegant.
31. Sony CDP-X777ES
The famous “three sevens” – the Sony CDP-X777ES CD player of 1991 has earned the title of the most lively and natural performer, it is very difficult not to be fascinated by his manner of presentation. The chips were chosen by Philips TDA1541A S1, the signal-to-noise ratio reached 116 dB with 0.0015% distortion!
30 Meridian 508.24
The Meridian 508.24, which appeared in 1998, became a further development of the well-known 20-bit Meridian 508 model. The resolution reached a stunning 24 bits for those years – thanks to Crystal CS4390 chips and a proprietary digital filtering system. The transport was chosen by Philips CDM12.4 – in general, the price of $ 3,495 at the time of release seemed to be dumping.
29 Teac P-1/D-1
In 1987, this solution from Teac (an independent transport mechanism and a separate digital-to-analogue converter) became a trendsetter for the High End sector. Judge for yourself – the transport mechanism of the P-1 was machined from 5 and 18 mm aluminum blanks, placed on a solid anti-vibration base and powered by its own 100 VA transformer, the reader was a Sony KSS unit. All internal wiring was done with monocrystalline silver cables, and a 12 cm aluminum clamp was not forgotten. The DAC was based on Burr Brown PCM64P chips with 4x oversampling, MOSFETs were used in the output stages. Awesome system!
28. Yamaha CDX-10000
In 1986, Yamaha released the CDX-10000 Anniversary series player. Hi-Bit digital-to-analogue conversion and 4 x 18-bit filtering, grandiose transformers in the power supply, a triple chassis system (the weight of the device reached 25 kg) and, of course, the hyper-realistic sound of the model immediately made the Yamaha CDX-10000 an icon of style for the High End eighties of the twentieth century. The performance characteristics, again, are on the verge of fantasy – say, the signal-to-noise ratio reached 115 dB at 0.002% distortion.
27. Audio Research CD2
Released in 1998 by Audio Research, CD2 brought the traditional signature of an American company to the CD playback niche – velvety, transparent and exceptionally weighty. An output stage based on bipolar transistors and J-FET, a 20-bit Crystal CS4329 DAC, impeccably organized power supply, distortion no higher than 0.003% – everything is fine here.
26. Sony CDP-R1/DAS-R1
In 1987, Sony released a separate solution – a CD transport and an independent CDP-R1 / DAS-R1 DAC. The latter used Philips TDA-1541 S1 chips, and the stream from the transport, based on the Philips CDM1 mechanism, was filmed using the professional Twin Link interface. The presentation of the model is more like magic – you can listen to a bunch for hours without a hint of fatigue.
25. Luxman DP-07/DA-07
For 1988, it was a shock that the Luxman DP-07/DA-07 transport and DAC weighed 20 and 27 kg – but such was the price for a ten-layer anti-vibration base and ultra-rigid cases made of aluminum plates on a steel frame. Philips CDM3 transport with a Sony KSS-190A head, branded DACs built on the basis of eleven regulators, a pair of toroidal transformers, an output section equipped with cascades in pure class A without digital filtering – for this magnificence at the time of release they asked for crazy 1.2 million. yen, but the game was worth the candle. It still stands today – it is impossible not to fall in love with the sound of the Luxman DP-07/DA-07.
24. Nakamichi DRAGON Limited CD-DAC-PS
More similar to some alien ship modules, the Nakamichi DRAGON Limited CD-DAC-PS transport, power supply and DAC use four Burr-Brown SoundPlus PCM1704U-J chips. The cost-no-object system is a real fetish for many collectors; its sonic characteristics, again, are exceptionally high.
23.Rega Planet CD
The Rega Planet CD player, first released in 1997, offered a completely different take on CD playback, both in presentation (accurate, smooth and almost devoid of any digital flavor) and in design. Probably for the first time for $795 “under the hood” there was a place even for digital filters specially developed by the company together with Burr-Brow – the chips available at that time for sale did not suit the British.
22. Sony CDP-R10
In 1993, the Sony CDP-R10 was critically acclaimed and received a lot of awards – the proprietary Fixed Pickup Mechanism CDM26 with a KSS-332A laser, a DotMatrix display, and chic digital-to-analog converters. Very few devices “came off the slipway” – the circulation was limited to 250 copies, so if you are lucky to find a device on sale, it will be a great success. The player sounds truly standard.
21. Proceed PCD/PDT/MRC 100
An ideal representative of the American school of sound, the 1992 Proceed PCD/PDT/MRC 100 used a Philips CDM1 Mk2 transport engine, two Burr Brown PCM58P 18-bit DACs, an NPC SM5813APT 8x digital filter, and AD845 op-amps from Analog Devices. The performance characteristics are included in all circuit engineering textbooks (frequency response 10 – 20,000 Hz, distortion 0.004%, dynamic range 98 dB and signal-to-noise ratio 105 dB with channel separation 120 dB), but the characteristic is exceptionally large-scale and rich in shades the sound of the model immediately made it a star of the market.
20. Yamaha GT-CD1
The Yamaha GT-CD1 used a JVC top-loading transport complete with a bronze CD clamp. Bitstream chips were supplemented with a 20-bit digital filter, and the output stages were built on FET transistors. As usual, the sound delivery of the 24-kilogram monster was mesmerizing.
19. Naim CD 3.5 CD
The Naim CD 3.5 CD was based on the Philips VAM 1205 transport (a variant of the CDM12). The Philips TDA 1305 chip with a digital filtering system provided 18-bit resolution, and 14 low-noise independent PSUs guaranteed ideal power supply for the model (at the same time, the system could also be upgraded using branded external power supplies). For $2,150 in the nineties of the twentieth century, it was a breakthrough – the frantic energy and rhythm of the model literally drove you crazy.
18 Denon DP-S1
Ultra High End 1991 – striking on the spot with both its futuristic design and the price of 880,000 yen. The transport was a top-loading Victor with Axis ruby bearings and a 32 kB data buffer, and a 20-bit DAC with a 120 dB signal-to-noise ratio. The presentation of the model is characterized by exceptional neutrality and reliability.
17. Arcam FMJ CD23
Yes, yes, in 1999 Arcam revolutionized the industry by offering real High End sound for two thousand dollars. The chic-looking Arcam FMJ CD23 struck on the spot with its sound – to crystal clear, more like a window wide open to the street. The secret was in a perfectly organized power supply, transport from Sony and a proprietary Ring DAC digital-to-analog converter. By the way, it makes sense to pay attention to the second version of the model – it uses better two-layer printed circuit boards.
No, that’s not a typo! The ancient Sony Playstation One can now be seen in luxury high-end systems. Thanks to its ingenious design, the Sony Playstation One has proven to be one of the best CD transports out there – its sound is characterized by filigree resolution and precision.
15 Marantz CD-7
In 1999, the Marantz CD-7 seemed to be the “ultimate player” – Philips TDA1541 multi-bit chips in double differential switching, excellent power circuitry, an absolutely resonance-tolerant case – well, from the position of 2022, we can say that this dreadnought is able to please you with good sound for decades.
14. Philips LHH1001/LHH1002
For 1987, the combination of Philips LHH1000/LHH1001/LHH1002 was the ultimate solution in the field of playing “compacts”, but even now there are many people who want to purchase this incredible solution from one of the CD developers. The LHH1001 transport and LHH1002 external DAC flaunt Philips CDM1 reference mechanics, solid toroidal transformers in the power supply, discrete circuitry and the TDA-1541A S1 chip. The very mobile and detailed sound of the assembly from the very first chords captivates with its emotional presentation.
13. Victor XL-999EX
The pinnacle of the Victor/JVC range – and probably the best CD solution ever made by the famous Japanese corporation. To meet Victor XL-999EX at the auction today is really a great success, the demand for the device is crazy. A top-loading reference transport with a disc clamp, a proprietary K2 DAC that increased conversion accuracy to 20 bits, an anti-vibration housing weighing 15.7 kilograms – and, of course, true surround and timbre-accurate sound make the Victor XL-999EX one of the most standards of the vintage market.
12. Accuphase DP-90/DC-61
The shortest possible signal path in the DAC, chic transport – Accuphase DP-90 / DC-61 personified digital High End solutions of the nineties of the twentieth century. The negligible level of jitter is still impressive today – as well as the supply of sound material, which pumps air in liters. Bravo.
11. Sony CDP-XA7ES
The “seventh” lineup in Sony’s ES series ended with the Sony CDP-XA7ES, which hit the market in 1994. The company’s Fixed Pickup Mechanism transport was used, in which the laser head remained motionless during playback, and the “disk, spindle and motor” assembly itself shifted relative to it. The power supply is clearly “for growth” (a transformer with a double core was used), an extraordinary digital filter, which made it possible to achieve a noise level of up to -160 dB. This fifteen-kilogram CD-player will become a decoration of any collection.
10. Kenwood LD-1
For Kenwood LD-1, it was decided not to use solutions that were popular at that time, such as Pioneer Stable Platter transports – the company’s specialists developed a reading unit from scratch. The CD was, again, face-up and driven by a huge brushless motor, and the system itself sported a die-cast aluminum case, three huge trances, and a discrete FET output stage. 20 kg of “live weight” and filigree sound signature – the final touches in the image.
9. Wadia 830 CD
An integrated solution from Wadia – the 830 CD player was offered in 1999 for “modest” by the standards of the company $3,250. 32x DigiMaster resampling technology. The Wadia 830 CD delivered exceptionally high sound quality, squeezing just about everything out of the CD.
8 Meridian Reference 800
Meridian Reference 800 developers called the Audiophile Digital Computer, well, for 1999 the player really offered a lot of innovations – as well as discouraged with its price ($15,245). Upsampling of all signals up to 24 bit / 96 kHz parameters using a powerful DSP, flash memory that allows firmware updates, proprietary digital interfaces – in 2022 this will hardly surprise anyone, and then the presented technologies turned out to be a breakthrough. Sound to match – the Meridian Reference 800 has a very good resolution and weighty bass.
A classic of the genre, a large and heavy (10 kg) player from 1997, using the Teac CMK-4 transport mechanism, a Pacific Microsonics filter and HDCD decoder, and a pair of Burr-Brown PCM1702K 20-bit DACs with 8x oversampling. The performance characteristics are excellent – say, the signal-to-noise ratio exceeded 103 dB, which for $ 3,500 in the nineties of the twentieth century seemed like a gift. The device does not lose its charm over the years – life-size images, excellent micro- and macro dynamics make the Krell KAV-300cd a very desirable acquisition.
6. Wadia 27ix / Wadia 270
Wadia proudly called their DACs “decoding computers” – perhaps the combination of preamplifier and converter should not be called so pathetically, but the fact that DigiMaster’s own algorithm with 64x resampling (16x software and 4x hardware) worked exceptionally efficiently is beyond doubt. The company did not give any performance characteristics of its devices, referring to their sufficient level – however, independent measurements (say from Stereophile) confirmed an exceptionally high class of devices. The Wadia 27ix / Wadia 270 combo was extremely expensive ($7,950 and $8,950), but its mercurial sound still haunts the minds of many good sound aficionados.
5. Mark Levinson No.39
The large-scale, juicy and well-echeloned sound of Mark Levinson No.39 is able to surprise even sophisticated music lovers in 2022, let alone the year of the player’s release – 1997. , transformers more suitable for the amplifier, brilliant performance characteristics (frequency response 10 – 30,000 Hz, distortion 0.003%, channel separation 110 dB, signal-to-noise ratio 105 dB) – everything is fine here.
4. Krell KPS-20i
Extraordinary CD player model. The Krell KPS-20i was released in 1995 and set the industry standard for many decades to come (the dynamics of the model still seem unsurpassed). The design was based on the Philips CDM9 Pro professional transport, which was enclosed in a two-kilogram bronze casing for additional shielding. The disk was made heavier by a clamp in the form of a five-pointed star, functioning not only due to the mass, but also due to magnets. The Motorola DSP-56002 chip was responsible for decoding, which then sent a signal to a DAC of four Burr-Brown PCM63 chips. 25 kg of weight is the final touch in the image of a giant.
3. Mark Levinson No.37/No.36S
Many call the CD transport and Mark Levinson No.37/No.36S digital-to-analogue converter the pinnacle of evolution in the field of CD playback. Well, the adherents of the company may well be right – the sound of the tandem lacks stars from the sky both in terms of dynamics and resolution, and in terms of naturalness and coherence of presentation. Listening to Mark Levinson No.37/No.36S you literally forget that this is a format with a lot of restrictions – the music flows like a free river, as if from vinyl. The price declared for 1999 was $3,995 and $6,495, and the performance characteristics were reference (frequency response from 10 to 20,000 Hz, distortion 0.001%, channel separation 110 dB and dynamic range 105 dB).
2. Sony SCD-1
Sony’s first and best SACD player, armor-piercing vehicle built to last. At the dawn of the formation of the format, the device was offered for $ 5,000, now, no, no, the Sony SCD-1 will flicker on sale at any auction. The game is worth the candle – the sale of such a monster (25 kg of weight) for “mere pennies for High End” in 1999 was only dumping, the real price of the device by the standards of the industry was five times more expensive. The sound of the Sony SCD-1, incredibly powerful and coherent, pulls everything possible even from CDs. The performance characteristics for compacts are also reference – the dynamic range is more than 100 dB, the distortion is less than 0.0017%.
1. Linn Sondek CD12
In 1999, the British company Linn made a breakthrough worse than the release of its iconic LP12 turntable in the seventies of the twentieth century. Obscenely expensive ($20,000), exceptionally well-made player really revealed all the possibilities of the CD format. The exceptionally dynamic and completely devoid of digital sound of the model became the talk of the town – 20-bit Burr-Brown PCM 1702U-K chips and digital filtering with 8x oversampling on the Pacific Microsonics PMD-100 worked real miracles. Check out the performance characteristics of Linn Sondek CD12 – frequency response from 5 to 20,000 Hz, distortion 0.0017%, signal-to-noise ratio 108 dB, channel separation – 120 dB.