How to get the best sound from your CD play­ers

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Many of us still have CD play­ers and some may be con­sid­er­ing buy­ing a new one, so here’s a guide to get­ting the most from your player and, con­se­quently, your mu­sic col­lec­tion…

A few things first… It’s im­por­tant to look af­ter your discs. While they’re not as sen­si­tive to sur­face scratches as vinyl, a CD will give you bet­ter sound if it’s in good con­di­tion.

If your disc is a lit­tle marked, at best you’ll ex­pe­ri­ence a slightly worse sound, at worst it will cause your player to skip or refuse to play the mu­sic at all. So al­ways han­dle with care, and put the disc back in its case.

Ex­tra money will usu­ally buy you a bet­ter build and im­proved sound qual­ity. If you’re buy­ing a new player, con­sider one with dig­i­tal in­puts, which will open up use with other dig­i­tal sources. Sup­port Make sure you in­stall your player on a proper sup­port to min­imise the amount of vi­bra­tion it has to cope with. Op­ti­mally, this would be in the form of an equip­ment rack. Ideal plat­forms will be rigid, level and low-res­o­nance. Foot­fall or even the sound from your speak­ers – es­pe­cially at loud vol­umes – can af­fect the player’s per­for­mance. Con­nec­tions Usu­ally it’s best to dis­re­gard the ana­logue con­nec­tion ca­bles that come with the player, as even a bud­get player will sound bet­ter with some good in­ter­con­nects. Ar­range for a demo and bud­get from around £30 for a bet­ter pair.

Most units have stan­dard phono sock­ets for their ana­logue out­put, but some also have the op­tion of bal­anced XLRS. These can give bet­ter sound qual­ity – but not al­ways. It all de­pends on how well the bal­anced cir­cuitry has been de­signed in both the source and am­pli­fier.

The other fa­cil­ity you should con­sider us­ing is an op­ti­cal or coax­ial dig­i­tal out­put: this al­lows the player to be con­nected to an out­board DAC which can help im­prove sound.

Op­er­a­tion A CD player needs a but­ton to open and close the tray, a cou­ple to start and stop play­back, and track-skip up/ down con­trols. Re­mote con­trols come as stan­dard. The hand­set will let you ac­cess a range of func­tions – in­clud­ing many that aren’t avail­able via the fas­cia but­tons. If you use an am­pli­fier from the same brand, chances are the re­mote will ‘drive’ both amp and player. Sys­tem build­ing Just about any CD player will work with al­most any am­pli­fier – at least in elec­tri­cal terms.

Most play­ers’ ana­logue out­puts de­liver around 2V and that’s what the amp’s line in­puts ex­pect. You may have some is­sues with vin­tage amplifiers built be­fore the CD age, but a sim­ple mod­i­fi­ca­tion will usu­ally sort them out.

One fi­nal note – a sys­tem can only sound as good as its weak­est link al­lows. If the rest of the set-up is un­bal­anced or poorly set-up, any changes you make at the source end sim­ply won’t be re­vealed fully.

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