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Why do CDs get such a bad rap? After all, it wasn’t that long ago that we were lining up at stores like Tower Records and FYE (and even Target) to be the first ones to get their hands on a new album or limited-edition DigiPak from a favorite artist or group. But as digital music began to creep into the market in the early 2000s, CDs began losing their luster, with jewel cases and physical discs replaced by iPods and MP3s, and eventually, the rise of streaming.
According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), CD album sales in the United States have dropped by 94 percent since peaking in 2000. That year saw almost 950 million albums sold, led by new multi-platinum sets from artists like NSYNC and Britney Spears, and the continued success of albums from The Backstreet Boys, Ricky Martin, Shania Twain and Santana, among others. In 2018, “only” 52 million albums were sold, and only one — The Greatest Showman soundtrack — sold more than a million units.
But even with the success of streaming platforms like Apple Music, Spotify and Amazon Music the compact disc format continues to live on, with all major albums still getting a CD release. There’s the tactile quality of the disc (and the accompanying booklet), of course, but CDs also deliver more reliability and consistency when it comes to your music. The crystal clear sound can’t be beat, and unlike streaming, you never have to worry about a bad connection or buffering.
To get the most out of your CD collection, you’ll want to upgrade your listening device. Portable CD players and boomboxes were fine for college, but to truly optimize your audio experience you’ll need an actual, full-size CD player.
These sets we’ve found deliver on all levels, whether you’re an audio enthusiast, a DJ or just looking to update your home audio set-up. They’re great for mixing and recording too, with a ton of features you’d typically only find in a professional studio. And despite what you may think, these units aren’t that big either, slotting cleanly onto a bookshelf, side table or on a mount (Note: these units come with just the CD player so you’ll want to pick up a decent set of speakers to go along with it).
Pick up one of these CD players and recorders to put together your next mixtape, create a party playlist, transfer audio from one format to another or just to listen to your favorite album the way the artist intended.
It’s time to dust off your CD collection and give those discs a spin. After all, if vinyl can make a comeback, the little aluminum-coated plastic disc is worth investing in again too.
1. Tascam CD-RW900MKII Professional Rackmount CD Player
The CD-RW900MKII player from Tascam boasts a ton of professional features, whether you’re mixing tracks or just listening to a recording at home.
For amateur audio enthusiasts, the CD player spins out clear, clean sound that’s as close to the original CD recording as possible. Listeners say the unit was able to reproduce all the fine details from the tracks they were playing, with well-balanced highs and lows.
DJs and sound engineers like Tascam’s proprietary “TEAC tray-loading transport,” which allows for gapless recording when writing track markers, something you can’t get using generic PC drives.
Manual settings include pitch control, auto cuing, fade-in/fade-out playback, and left and right analog inputs that both have their own analog gain buttons, so you can control how your tracks sound and load up to play.
PROS: Tascam boasts more than three decades of experience in audio engineering, developing products for both professionals and casual music fans alike, and fans say they’ve used this unit (and other Tascam products) for years without any problems.
CONS: Some say the unit felt light and they wish it was sturdier.
2. Tascam CD-200BT Rackmount Professional CD Player
A true multi-tasking CD player and recorder, the Tascam CD-200BT lets you pair up to eight audio devices at once for fast and easy switching.
Typical units let you only pair one device at a time, but the CD-200BT features a button that lets your pair the player with multiple transmitting devices (provided they all support Bluetooth functionality). What that means: start playing a track from a CD, then switch over to a digital file from your phone or tablet with ease.
Plug-in setups work too with a stereo line RCA, coaxial and optical audio outputs, and a headphone jack.
A 10-second shockproof memory prevents skipping, and the internal clock has been improved for a smoother sound and decreased jitter.
PROS: The CD drive supports playback of CD-DA and WAV/MP3/MP2 files; users say some “burned” or scratched CDs that skipped on other drives worked fine on the Tascam.
CONS: Users say the screen is small and can be hard to read.
3. Numark MP103USB CD Player
If you’re looking for an all-in-one unit, you can’t do much better than this CD player from Numark.
A great option for DJs and live performers, this unit lets you play music off your CDs or plug in a USB key to load thousands of tracks into the system.
For dance recitals or performances, select “single play mode” and cue up your track to run when you push play; after the song finishes, the system automatically stops, avoiding that dreaded rush to hit “pause” before the next track starts playing. Rehearsing? Set a marker to cue the track at an exact point, so you no longer have to fast-forward and rewind to find that section you want to repeat.
DJs also love the Numark for its balanced XLR and RCA outputs that connect easily to DJ equipment, while a compact mixing display lets you adjust pitch control and tempo for precise mixing. There are even options for scratching and looping a track.
What we like: the player’s ability to play both CDs and digital files. The MP103USB’s USB input lets you load up your digital music library onto a USB flash or hard drive and perform with it at a gig. One button lets you seamlessly transition between a physical disc and an MP3.
PROS: Rack-mountable to go with any DJ setup, with a ton of customizable audio and mixing features you won’t find in other units.
CONS: At ten pounds, it’s one of the heavier options on our list.