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Audiophile CD Player in 2019?

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Introduction
Why the heck would you even consider a CD player in 2019? Isn’t the CD industry slowly fading? Let me emphasize that although I’m streaming most of my content with Tidal or Qobuz, I do occasionally still buy CDs.

Being a music lover, I also own a sizable collection of physical discs. I stream those from my NAS. But there’s lots of great music that’s just not available from streaming-services yet and most likely won’t ever be.

The Problem with Music Streaming Services
I had an unpleasant experience once, where I found that my favorite bookmarked music had been taken down due to some weird licensing issues. For instance, Erich Kunzels “Ein Straussfest” released by Telarc suddenly disappeared from Tidals catalog out of the blue.

Whatever the reason may be for taking down content, I’m not comfortable being at the mercy of a provider deciding whether I can keep listening. Especially when I’m legitimately paying monthly service fees. It’s not Tidals fault (they’re a great company and rely on the music industry) but an annoying customer experience nevertheless.

It goes to show that seeking indepence by owning music you truly care about and supporting artists directly is still the smartest thing to do. Adding to that, I also prefer picking certain releases or XRCD versions of the music. Maybe that’s not something an average streaming customer would do but hey – we’re audiophiles, shouldn’t we seek out the best-sounding version there is of any album? Once I bought something, it becomes a fixed part of my collection.

I strongly believe you can have both the convenience of high-quality streaming and the collectibility of physical media. I see no reason why they shouldn’t co-exist.

Physical Media is So Damn Convenient
If you socialize with other music lovers, chances are they won’t be visiting your home with a USB stick but rather bring good old-fashioned CDs (or vinyl).

I’m also plain lazy :) After all, who doesn’t love the convenience of just putting on records and hitting a play button? Those of you solely relying on a music server would have to deal with a number of preparatory steps. Ripping, tagging, cataloging and uploading your music does take time. I know, there are products out there simplifying the process but those aren’t cheap. So lots of good reasons to still own a CD player.

I’ve settled on a two-step process. First I listen to my newest music acquisitions through a traditional CD player and then archive the album on my NAS (unless copy protection or certain laws prevent me from doing so).

CD Player VS CD Transport
The landscape has drastially changed in 2019 and CD players have somehow turned into a rare, endangered species. What’s left are multi-format DVD/Blue Ray players in plasticky enclosures, “audiophile” CD transports costing thousands of Euros alongside a few mid-range CD Players. Gone are the days of overbuilt transports such as the infamous Philips CDM-3 swingarm mechanism or Sonys KSS transports – sigh.

One of the best choices today is the Stream Unlimited CD Pro 8. Stream Unlimited has generally taken pity on us audiophiles and is still in the business of making high-end CD transports for the thrill-seeking high-end audio industry. They’ve become quasi-monopolists for high quality optics in a positive way. Their drives are absolutely superb. Unfortunately, their mechanical drives can only be found in products costing way above 2000 Euros. And I don’t need a DAC, just a decent reliable mechanical drive that outputs SP/DIF into my DAC.

Another alternative I had considered was buying used. But looking at those insane prices on eBay for 25 year old CD players…no thanks.

Project Audio does make some nice-looking slot-in drives that are reasonably priced but I’m kind of wary of products swallowing my precious CDs :) But hey, if you’re after the aforementioned CD Pro drive by Stream Unlimited, check out Projects CD Box RS2 T. It surely looks like a damn nice CD source if you can afford it.

What’s My Pick?
I went for the Onky C-7030 CD player (in black) which is available for about 200 Euros brand-new. It comes with a silent CD drive of acceptable quality, a decent remote and to my surprise an aluminum front. Right now I have it hooked up to my Gustard X-20u via Toslink. I’m totally happy with its performance, it does everything I need. Though for long-term ownership I’d love to own one of those delicious CD Pro 8 drives ;) I know, not a rational decision but I’m personally a fan of mechanically overbuilt products.