Friday, April 7, 2017

Buy a CD player in 2017?

Last week, I wrote about reconsidering compact disc, and possibly giving it another whirl (or should I say spin?) in my system. Since that time, I haven't come to any hard and fast decisions. The only thing that seems certain is that if I were to try seriously using CD I'll have to upgrade hardware. And I've been wondering this week exactly what sort of upgrades I might pursue. Which brought a rather shocking thought: I might seriously consider doing nothing more than another CD player.

Some would say I'm crazy to consider a CD player. It's 2017, not 1987! Today's audiophile often goes with system centered somehow or other around a DAC. It may be a standalone DAC, or it may be integrated into something else (like an amplifier). That DAC will work with a wide range of digital sources.

Past that, modern digital systems often do away with the spinning of the CD entirely. Many have totally embraced some sort of file server mentality for dealing with CD. Every CD they owned was ripped, and stuffed only a computer hard drive. From that point, any time the CD is played, it is played off the hard drive.

As of a couple of years ago, the modern DAC model was the direction I thought I'd head in if I ever did anything with digital again. It seems more sensible since it gets far more capability than merely playing CDs. I don't see myself wanting to rip all my CDs—even though I have a small collection—but a computer could be more convenient for playing favorite recordings (particularly in background mode). And...sealing the deal, or so I thought, was how cheap DACs have gotten. It's possible to buy a new DAC for less than some new budget CD players.

Given that one can buy a DAC for less than a CD player would make the DAC a better buy. Or so it might seem. But the question that I'm wondering is how much would a DAC cost that I'd be willng to seriously listen to? I've heard a few inexpensive DACs here than there. I have been impressed in some ways, but nothing I've heard has really grabbed me. None of them compelled me to make them a "must buy." None of them really made me want to run all my favorite CDs through them. And I even ran carefully selected tracks through one DAC I heard.

Meanwhile...a CD player from Arcam (not super high end, but also far from rock bottom budget) did impress me in the late 1990s. And that CD player was fed a CD I'd bought just to have a CD to take to audio dealers. I never heard that CD before that day, and yet there was something that made me want to listen. (Interestingly, that CD has since become a favorite. But it's a problematic CD in that it can be painful to listen to on bad equipment.)

Since price is a major consideration, I've started wondering if I wouldn't be better off with a CD player. Admittedly, a new, budget CD player probably wouldn't be much more involving than a budget DAC. But there are a lot of used CD players floating about, and sometimes quite attractively priced. It might be possible to find a CD player I could actually listen to priced at a level that would buy a DAC that I'd be less inclined to listen to.

With a CD player, of course, one loses functionality of other digital sources. (Unless one gets a CD player with a digital input. But those are higher priced than I'm interested in at the moment.) I likely to really do much beyond CD at this point? CD is what is available really cheap on the used market right now. CD is what my library stocks. High resolution audio interests me—but I have a hard time getting past the price of recordings. I've been too spoiled, I guess, by used LPs. And, speaking of LPs, a lot of the newer releases that interest me have also been released on vinyl. It's more expensive than digital, but a few extra dollars here and there isn't the end of the world.

One worry with a used CD player is reliability. I've had pretty good luck historically, and when I spend real money, I tend to be cautious. So I'm not hugely worried about buying "someone else's problems." I am guessing I wouldn't use the player enough to really make wearing it out a huge worry. (Indeed, if I got heavily into running CDs as background, it might make sense to get a CD changer for that purpose. Goodwill always has a selection of CD changers that are good enough for background.)

At this point, I have no idea if I'll pursue a CD player. At least, it's an option, and it may be a good option for the moment. We'll see.

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