CD Players: A Buyer's Guide

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CD Players: A Buyer's Guide

Since its introduction in the 1980s, the compact disc, or CD, has been the world's most popular and enduring format of audio storage. Over 200 billion individual discs have been sold worldwide. Commercially available as both pre-packaged music and later blank discs upon which to record, CDs are a high-quality, durable medium that superseded previously popular vinyl records and cassette tapes. CD players are the hardware devices used to play discs through speakers or headphones. They come in a variety of different forms with myriad technical features, so purchasing the right one requires an awareness of such specifications.

About CDs and CD Players

A CD in its most common size is a circular plastic disc of 12 cm in diameter. It can store approximately 80 minutes of music or 700MB of data. Digital data is recorded onto a CD using a process called writing or burning, which creates a series of optical peaks and troughs in a spiral pattern running from the centre to the outer edge. A CD player reads the disc using a laser as a motor rotates it at the appropriate speed and a photodiode then converts the data into audio.

The advent of the consumer CD recorder, writer, or burner has since made creating custom CDs at home an easy and inexpensive process. The inception of the DVD and advancements in computer technology have seen the compact disc become a common form of data storage in many other formats. This allows users to carry around files, documents, and video data and play them on a DVD player or PC CD-ROM drive. As such, CD players that can play more compressed music files such as MP3 have come onto the market place, while DVD players are also able to read audio CDs.

Types of CD Players

Though they all essentially perform the function of audio playback, there are a number of different formats of CD player, differing mostly according to where and how the user wishes to play their CDs. Here is a breakdown of the various types.


Not featuring speakers or an amplifier, separates are combined with other hardware components in order to play audio. As a dedicated CD player though, they often feature more advanced components and specifications and inherently allow owners to interchange or upgrade the other audio devices in the set-up around them.


This is a CD player that is part of an all-in-one music system, either as a boombox with attached speakers or a stereo with detachable speakers. Integrated CD players feature an amplifier and often include other output devices such as radio or cassette tape.


A compact, personal CD player powered by batteries and designed to be carried around and played principally through a pair of headphones.


CD players are a popular means of playing music through a car, van, or motorcycle speaker system. These units are specialised and unsuited for use outside of the vehicle they are fitted into.


It should be noted that although not designed specifically to do so, DVD players are also capable of playing audio CDs. Much like a separate unit, they require an amplified audio output such as a television or home cinema system.

CD Player Features and Functions

Those familiar with any common audio output device will recognise the basic functions of a CD player. However, there are additional features which may be considered dispensable to some consumers but integral to others. Consideration of each will facilitate an informed selection of the appropriate unit.

Play/Stop/Pause/Fast-Forward/ Rewind

The most commonly used functions, allowing the user to begin, end, and pause playback as well as move backwards and forwards through it. Certain CD players offer adjustable fast-forward and rewind speeds.

Skip Track/ Track Select

Moves from one track to the next or back again. Some units also have a series of individual buttons for instant selection of a particular track number.

Graphic Equaliser

Adjusts the frequency output to the speakers in order to tailor it to the style of music or room in which it is being played. Graphic equalisation can vary greatly in quality, while other CD players offer more rudimentary features such as pre-sets for certain styles of music or a setting that boosts the bass response.

Multiple CD tray

A frequently-seen feature of home CD players is the presence of more than one tray, allowing the insertion and playback of multiple discs one after the other without need to eject any of them.

Play Mode

Enables the owner to tailor the track playback; for example, shuffling them to play at random or repeating a particular track or disc over and over. Some units also feature a mode which will play tracks in a programmed order.

Remote Control

Much like a television remote control, it allows the CD player to be operated from a distance. Different units offer remote controls of varying complexity.

Power Adaptor/ Battery Power

Depending upon its intended use, prospective owners may wish their portable CD player to feature a mains plug adaptor for indoor use, while likewise some AC-powered units also feature the option to use battery power.

Additional Options

A CD player can be used in tandem with other audio devices. Whether seeking to combine a number of separate components or purchasing an all-in-one integrated stereo system, studying the other options and learning whether intended purchases is compatible is essential to selecting the correct one.


The intermediary between the player and the speakers, and an integrated feature which cannot be exchanged in all-in-one units. Alternatively, purchasing a CD player and amplifier as separates allows the quality and features to be selected independently.

Speakers/ Headphones

The output devices connected to the amplifier and responsible for the quality and volume of the audio heard by the listener. Again, integrated speakers make these factors unchangeable, while separates can be replaced. With headphones, care should be taken to ensure compatibility with the player in question.


Connection cables are dictated by the particular hardware being used, but audio enthusiasts may wish to alter the length or quality with custom purchases in order to suit their own set-up.

Cassette Tape Player/ Vinyl Record Player/ Radio/ MiniDisc etc.

Purchasing a unit which also features a radio, cassette player, or other storage format frequently allows the user to record from radio to CD and CD to tape etc., and in some cases the other way around. Furthermore, there is playback from each individual source. Consideration of the need for these functions should be made prior to purchase.

Recordable CD-R/ CD-RW

CD-R's are blank discs upon which recorders can burn custom-made selections, while compatible players can also erase data from a CD-RW and re-write on it again. CD writers either come as separates which require a second player from which to read, or else models are available with two CD trays in order to copy from one to the next.

CD-R/ CD-RW/ MP3 Compatibility

It should be noted that not all CD players can read from homemade or re-written discs, so care should be taken if a buyer intends to use them. Also, using CDs with smaller file formats such as MP3 is restricted to particular units.


Owning a CD player is one of the quickest, simplest, and cheapest ways of both enjoying and sharing music and other audio in the home and on the go. Furthermore, owners of CD players can preserve their collection of discs and play them time and again without the risk of the audio deteriorating. They have the chance to experience incredible digital sound from high-end equipment or else purchase a less expensive device.

CDs have huge storage capacity in comparison with many other options, particularly when storing smaller file formats. From the home to the car to walking down the street, a CD player's versatility makes it a tremendous audio asset.

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