Music is in a world within itself, with a language we all understand.

Stevie Wonder

This week, we’re sharing more Sound Advice from Dr. Scott Garlock!
Part 6 in our series, he continues to share his passion for the listening experience, offering tips & guidance to improve your listening habits.

CD Players and “You’re Nothing But a Streamer”

There are a myriad of options and formats to consider when purchasing a CD player, chiefly, what do you want it to play? Do you need it to play DVD’s, Blu-ray’s, SACD’s? Do you want it to provide the exchange between the digital data and the analog sound that ends up in your speakers/headphones? Or, do you want this machine to function merely as a transport that plays the data into a box that does this exchange (a Digital/Audio Converter, or DAC)?

Generally speaking, in our pre-described price range, machines that try to do it all, don’t do any of the jobs well. A machine might be able to provide glorious 4K via streaming or from a Blu-ray, but it might well lag behind in its ability to render sound commensurate with the video. If you can find a used Oppo 203 or 205 reasonably priced, buy it – this machine does it all and does it all at levels far beyond its price point. Sadly, Oppo decided to concentrate on their phone products instead of audio a few years ago, so new ones cannot be found. There’s also the real possibility that one might find it difficult to get parts at some point. That being said, I regret not pulling the trigger on one of these!

SACD’s (Super Audio CD) came out in 1999 and were created to supplant the use of CD’s. The brightness/edginess and sonic fatigue that people complain about with CD’s was removed in this format. A sampling rate of 64x’s a CD was utilized, with 8x’s the amount of information, and multi-channel playback was possible. These discs could contain an additional 30 minutes of music.*

This format, though glorious in sound, faltered nearly immediately, due to its cost, to the competition of DVD-A (an improved audio version of the DVD, RIP), and the deluge of legal downloadable music that became available in the 2000’s. By 2007, most manufacturers had quit investing heavily in this format. New machines and new material are still being made, but this is definitely more of a used market for both players and discs.

For most of our readers, I’m guessing that the thought of buying more and more boxes to electrify and connect to one another seems daunting or maddening. So, just a few sentences on the use of a DAC vs. using the electronics in your CD player. Per usual, one can either buy a boat or spend on a DAC – that having been said, there are some really nice ones out there for less than $200. The question one needs to ask: is the DAC in your CD player or the DAC in your receiver really in need of improvement? If you spend enough on a used CD player or receiver, you might likely be pleased in this price range to leave well enough alone.

CD players are mechanical, and over time they will have issues. My 17 year-old 5 disc Adcom 700 developed several issues: it stopped doing ‘random play’, it often decided that it didn’t want to recognize the discs in the 4 and 5 slots, and sometimes it felt like playing with a heck of a lot of distortion after being used for an hour. A single disc player is less convenient but does have less moving parts. And the CD readers for these should last well over a decade.

Some Used CD Players:

  • Marantz 600x series – I own a 6006, and am very happy. This series has been rather unanimously lauded as the finest in the “less than $500” price range for a number of years.
  • NAD 538
  • Cambridge (several models)
  • Rotel
  • Oppo 103D
  • Arcam
  • Denon and Pioneer

New: I’d opt for the newest Marantz ($599).

Streaming Stuff:

Increasingly, our listening comes either from shared sounds on social media or via streaming services. And, most of the time, this music is heard through something like a Google/Alexa device or through the tiniest of speakers that are found in our phones, tablets, and computers. It’s truly remarkable the sound that these generate for their size, but it is a far cry from what can be experienced through the gear we’ve been sharing in these posts.

So, stand alone streaming devices (oh no, another box?) have been created to hook into your wifi, and will play sounds from your home automation unit, phone, computer, or tablet. It is also possible that one can find this feature on their receiver – we have a gently used Denon 2200 on our main floor that has this feature. I don’t have experience with these stand-alone devices, so I can’t offer you much here. It appears that these can range from $100 on up. My Marantz 6005 doesn’t offer this, but like many CD players and receivers, it does have a USB input easily accessible (and again, it has a great DAC built in).

A word re: streaming…

As mentioned before, digital downloads and streaming services are currently THE player in audio purchases. The problem with this is that, especially with the streaming services, musicians make next to nothing. Moreover, because of a lack of legalese attached to streaming, musicians have not even been given a choice about whether their material will appear on these services.

The model used to be that a rock group would create an album of new material and then tour to promote the album because the recording was where the money was. Today, there’s no money in recording, and groups tour playing their older hits to make money instead of creating new material. Daniel Ek, the CEO of Spotify (perhaps the worst offender in paying equitably, see below), ranted publicly that musicians “record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough.”

Moreover, just as audiophiles decried the awful sound of the mp3, many of these streaming services are not providing material that remotely passes the “sounds good” smell test.

While there are lots of variations to these equations, essentially for every 1 million plays of a song, artists receive roughly the following payout from these streaming services (lifted from Forbes.com):

  • Amazon Music: $5,000 
  • Apple Music: $5,000-$5,500
  • Google Play: $12,000
  • Pandora: $1,400
  • YouTube: $1,700
  • Spotify: $3,000-6,000

Apple Music and Spotify are the biggest players in this market. 

There are likely NO jazz musicians that receive one million streams for anything they do. A quick glance at Cleveland’s prodigal son Joe Lovano’s YouTube.com channel indicates that his most widely recent video was seen 314K times.

I leave you with a link to a site describing the best streaming services, with an eye towards fidelity.

https://www.whathifi.com/us/best-buys/streaming/best-music-streaming-services

*The CJO is not endorsing any products or sites listed, nor is it receiving any compensation from the businesses listed above.