CD has become the audio format of choice, and today's CD players offer crisp, clear sound as well as a wide range of programmability, anti-skip technologies, and other advanced features. Find out what to look for in a CD player, whether it's a basic portable model or a high-end HDCD-compatible 200-CD changer.
Compact-disc technology has come a long way. Touted in its early-'80s infancy as offering "perfect sound forever," the format drew fire from casual listeners and audiophiles alike for its "cold" or "lifeless" sound. By the mid-'90s, however, improvements in digital mastering (such as perceptual coding) and CD playback technologies (better digital-to-analog converters, or DACs, higher over-sampling, reduced "jitter") had raised the standards for CD quality so that CDs could reproduce most of the information found on high-resolution analog and digital masters. The late '90s witnessed a surge in the popularity of HDCD (High-Definition Compatible Digital), a mastering format that encodes 20 bits of information on standard 16-bit discs. HDCD discs sound great on any CD player and even better--at once more natural and more dynamic--when decoded using an HDCD-equipped CD or DVD player.
Sound quality aside, the convenience of CD over other formats is undeniable. CDs are much more portable than the 12-inch LP record and offer far easier track-search capability than the cassette tape. Modern technological improvements include features such as CD-Text, which tells CD-Text-enabled CD players the artist and track information for a given disc, and anti-skip technology for portable players that let you take your music jogging and driving without unwanted interruptions in the music. This guide will help you decipher the characteristics of different kinds of CD players and aid you in choosing the right one for your needs.
Portable CD players are also a great way to bring your songs wherever you go. When it comes to making a decision on which one is best you need take several things into consideration. First, what kind of batteries does it take? While standard batteries can be purchased cheaply, rechargeable are best to have reused over and over. Next would be to see what kind of outputs are on the unit. Youre going to have a headphone jack, but having a separate line-level output as well. This allows you to easily plug into any component (i.e. a car) system for listening in different environments.
CD vs. DVD Players
There's one more consideration before buying a CD player. Two new disc-based audio formats are about to be introduced: SACD (Super Audio Compact Disc) and DVD-Audio. SACD will offer high-resolution two-channel playback; DVD-Audio, while also capable of high-resolution two-channel playback, will focus mainly on high-resolution surround-sound. Each of these formats will require new hardware and new software, none of which will fall into the realm of "affordable" any time soon--but keep an eye on these formats as they emerge.
Single-disc home players
Multi-disc player features
For smaller collections, a 25-disc or 200-disc CD changer and player might permit you to store your entire collection inside the CD player, simplifying your storage needs. If you buy a changer large enough for your whole music collection, you'll be able to set it for continuous random play for a personalized-radio-station effect. Here are some features to look for in multi-disc players:
Keyboard data entry
These "extras" usually add up to longer-lasting and better-sounding CD players, and for these you'll be looking at players in the $200-600 region (and up). It's true that $600 is more than you'll pay for many DVD players, but if you're serious about sound quality, you'll generally find that your CDs sound better on a higher-end dedicated CD player.
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