The Budget CD Player Shootout

CD players are in a tough spot currently. On the one hand, many people are using a computer and external DAC for their source, then their is the recent surge in vinyl. I like vinyl and I have a computer based system but I still love to listen to my huge CD collection from time to time. None of the CD Players in this review will set you back more than $450 and some of them offer truly excellent value as most of them fly under the radar.

​Associated Equipment:
​Speakers: Kef 105/3, Dynaudio Contour SE, ELAC B5
​Amplification: DBX BX3, McCormack DNA 1 Deluxe, NAD 7140
​Cables: Cardas

Sony cdp-ce500

Coming in last place is the Sony CDP-CE500. I really wanted to like the Sony as it is cheap and can be bought brand new for about $100.  Unfortunately, the sound quality of this player left a lot to be desired. The overall sound signature was dark with little detail but also harsh and the least analog-like sound of the group. Soundstage and imaging were by far worst in the group, the depth and pin point imaging that some of the other players produced was nowhere to be heard. I cannot recommend this player. I read a review on a “professional” review website and the reviewer raved about how good the CE500 sounds. Made me scratch my head a bit.


​Street price: $100


Sony cdp-c85es

​Now we are getting somewhere! Let us start with the build quality of this vintage cousin of the CDP-CE500. The CDP-C85ES features the ES line build quality that vintage Sony is known for. From the rosewood side-panels to the heavy duty aluminum face to the well built internals the C85ES is far from an eye sore. After spending time comparing the C85ES to the CE500 the difference in sound was easily descernable in many key areas. The Soundstage opened up with the C85ES and instruments became more fleshed out with a more real and defined image. The tonal balance of the C85ES is detailed with a slight coolness. The bass is respectable but not the best, the midrange stays slightly recessed, and the high range is detailed without much harshness. When listening to the C85ES their is definitely a discernable “Digital” sound but it does not distract from the music unless you listen to some of the others in the group. Missing is the organic tone and speed that good vinyl and reel to reel have. Still, if you are used to a newer entry level player like the CDP-CE500 the C85ES is a CLEAR Improvement across the board.


Disc format: CD (5 disc multi play)
Frequency response: 2Hz to 20kHz
Dynamic range: 98dB
Signal to Noise Ratio: 105dB
Channel separation: 105dB
Total harmonic distortion: 0.0025%
Line output: 2V
Digital outputs: optical
Dimensions: 470 x 125 x 385mm
Weight: 8kg

​Street price: $75-$200


Adcom gcd-600​

​The Adcom GCD-600 is equipped with dual TDA1541 DAC chips, one of the best ever. Overall build quality is good but I have heard of a few people having reliability issues with the player. Coming from the C85ES the first thing I noticed was a big improvement in bass accuracy, specifically in depth and ability to discern fast double bass drums such as Lars Ulrich on Metallica’s And Justice For All. When I compared the Adcom to the C85ES on Tool’s Lateralus, the Adcom better reproduced Danny Carey’s drum cymbals and maynard’s voice came through the mix clearer at higher volumes. The Adcom did really well with rock and music that needs impact and power.  Overall, I felt the Adcom was an improvement on all fronts over both Sony’s; however, the sound still did not come through as organic and “real” as the best in this group. The Soundstaging and imaging could have been better as shown by some of the others


Disc format: CD (5 disc multi play)
Digital converter: TDA1541
Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz
Dynamic range: 96dB
Signal to Noise Ratio: 100dB
Channel separation: 100dB
Total harmonic distortion: 0.005%
Line output: 2.5V
Digital outputs: coaxial
Dimensions: 430 x 99 x 388mm
Weight: 6.8kg
Accessories: RC-500CD remote transmitter, two AA batteries, low loss audio cable
Year: 1993
Price: GBP £699 (1993)

​Street Price: $100-$250


Marantz cd 6005

Coming in at $499, the CD 6005 is the most expensive and modern cd player in this review. The DAC used is the Cirrus Logic CS4398 which is one of their best. The Marantz also features a usb slot on the front which can be used with many portable devices and also bypasses their internal DACs. Build quality and internal parts selection are respectable if not the best in the group.  Upon spinning the first track the difference between the Marantz and the previous players were apparent. The CD 6005’s treble performance was superior to the Adcom and Sony’s. Midrange performance was about equal between the three, and finally bass performance was won by the Adcom followed by the Marantz, and the C85ES falling behind a little more. The CD 6005 showed me the most detail in the music of the three and soundstage and imaging were slightly ahead of the Adcom and C85ES. Still, the Marantz did not convey a sound that would allow the speakers to disappear and compared to the best in the group fell short by a clear margin.


Format16-Bit Linear PCM Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC
THD: 0.002%
Sampling Frequency: 44.1kHz
Dynamic Range: 100dB
Frequency response: 2 Hz – 20 kHz
​Dimensions W x H x D (Inchs) 17.3″ x 4.1″ x 13.4
Weight (lbs) 14.6 lbs

​Street Price: $350-$449


Cambridge azur 640c

Widely known for their good for the money equipment, Cambridge Audio has been building well received CD Players for quite a while. The 640C was their middle of the range model and goes for about $150-$200 used. The two DACs used are the Wolfson 8740’s, the same as in the DACMagic.  I would rate the build quality a little bit lower than the previous 3 players but still nowhere near as bad as the CE500.  One downfall of the 640C is no headphone out. From the first track the 640C showed a detailed and analytical and sound. The bass performance was not as good as the Adcom and the treble performance and overall detail was not as good as the Marantz but the upfront soundstage, and imaging allowed the 640C to achieve a level of detail that the previous players could not. The grainy sound of the CE500 was gone but replaced with almost a false sense of detail. The midrange was thinner  and  guitars sounded less fleshed out than with the previous players. The Cambridge player had a slight tendency to sound harsh when I turned up the volume on some recordings. Compared to the best in the group the Cambridge was a touch bright overall and did not have the fluidity that makes a player musical. With very laid back speakers the 640C might pair nicely but with the 3 speakers I tried I just couldn’t come to love the Cambridge

2 Wolfson 8740
requency Response:10Hz to 20KHz +/- 1dB
D/A Conversion:24-bit/192kHz x 2-dual
Dynamic Range:> 100dB
Channel Separation:> 90dB
Correlated Jitter:< 260ps
Digital Outputs:Optical and Coaxial
Max. Power Consumption:17 Watts
Dimensions (W x D x H):430 x 310 x 70mm
16.9 x 12.2 x 2.8″
Weight:4.6 kg/10.1 lbs


Yamaha cdx 1030

The Yamaha CDX 1030 features the best build quality in this group by a large margain. Their is plenty of copper, premium capacitors, and top quality parts which equates to a CD player that weighs in at close to 27lbs. The transport is by far the best built of the group. The Yamaha can be had for between $150-$400 used and went for over $1000 new. So how does the Yamaha stack up in sound?
​I think of all the players the one I was most excited about listening to was the CDX 1030 due to its very high level of build quality. Upon first listen I noticed a much fuller sound than with the previous players. The bass drum in A perfect Circle’s “The Noose” went from being center in a two dimensional space with the Adcom to being fully fleshed, center, and deep behind the speakers with the Yamaha. Being a drummer I am often disappointed in players ability to reproduce an accurate bass drum in full and the Yamaha a much better job than the previous players. Listening to Dave Brudeck “Take Five” The Ride cymbal was past the left speaker and sounded closer to the real thing than the previous players. The snare drum in the middle of “Take Five” is recorded very well and with the right equipment sounds like you’re in the room with it, the Yamaha brought me closer to the room than the previous players by a clear margain. Guitars in Dire straight “Money For Nothing” came through very well, all of the harmonics that the previous players missed were their in spades. The Yamaha made me very happy and if not for the next player it would have been the best. Overall, I recommend the CDX 1030 to anyone looking for a neutral sounding CD player on a tight budget. The CDX 1030 has a lot going for it.
Disc format: CD
Digital converter: MN6471M, 1 bit
CD Mechanism: TAOHS-KP2
Frequency response: 2Hz to 20kHz
Dynamic range: 98dB
Signal to Noise Ratio: 110dB
Channel separation: 96dB
Total harmonic distortion: 0.003%
Line output: 2V
Digital outputs: coaxial, optical
Dimensions: 435 x 113.5 x 342mm
Weight: 13 kg
​Street Price: $200-$400


NAKAMichi cdp=2a

I first heard about the Nakamichi CDP-2A from Lukasz Fikus of Lampizator who praised it as one of the best stock CD Players out there so when I got the opportunity to purchase one I did not hesitate. The CDP-2A is a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing as the build quality while well thought out and decent, is nothing to write home about. At the heart of the Nakamichi is a pair of TDA1541 DAC’s, a very old DAC with a cult like following and for good reason. From the first song to the last the Nakamichi achieved something none of the others could match. Soundstage depth and imaging were among the best I have heard. The tonality was very much like good vinyl, no harshness, no grainy treble, just solid detailed music. every cd I played had a rightness that few digital sources I have heard can achieve. Comparing my Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC connected to my PC to the Nakamichi was surprising. The Nakamichi won in all but the upper most treble detail such as the top range of cymbals. I also compared the Nakamichi to a couple other Nakamichi’s I had just repaired, the OMS-2A and OMS-5. The two repaired players did not have the magic of the CDP-2A.  What made the Nakamichi so much better than the rest was that I could close my eyes on good recordings and feel like I was in the room with the musicians. The details like the moving of a vocalists lips, the turning of a page in an orchestra, and the sound of different rooms came through like few sources can achieve. Having listened to some very high end digital source units I found myself feeling lucky that I found something for so little money that can achieve close to the same performance as the best I have owned and listened to. If you can find one, buy it.
​Digital converter: TDA1541A, 16 bit
CD Mechanism: KSS-152A
Frequency response: 5Hz to 20kHz
Dynamic range: 96dB
Signal to Noise Ratio: 100dB
Channel separation: 95dB
Total harmonic distortion: 0.0025%
Line output: 2.5V
Dimensions: 430 x 75 x 322mm
Weight: 5.1kg
​Street Price: $100-$300