How to get the best sound from your CD players

Many of us still have CD players and some may be considering buying a new one, We're pretty sure you will find something that suits your needs at the What Hi Fi Show, but before that, here's a guide to getting the most from your player and, consequently, your music collection.

A few things first…It's important to look after your discs. While they're not as sensitive to surface scratches as vinyl, a CD will give you better sound if it's in good condition. If your disc is a little marked, at best you'll experience a slightly worse sound, at worst it will cause your player to skip or refuse to play the music at all. So always handle with care, and put the disc back in its case. Extra money will usually buy you a better build and improved sound quality. If you're buying a new player, consider one with digital inputs, which will open up use with other digital sources.

Support

Make sure you install your player on a proper support to minimise the amount of vibration it has to cope with. Optimally, this would be in the form of an equipment rack. Ideal platforms will be rigid, level and low-resonance. Footfall or even the sound from your speakers – especially at loud volumes – can affect the player's performance.

Connections

Usually it's best to disregard the analogue connection cables that come with the player, as even a budget player will sound better with some good interconnects. Arrange for a demo and budget from around £30 for a better pair. Most units have standard phono sockets for their analogue output, but some also have the option of balanced XLRs. These can give better sound quality – but not always. It all depends on how well the balanced circuitry has been designed in both the source and amplifier.

The other facility you should consider using is an optical or coaxial digital output: this allows the player to be connected to an outboard DAC which can help improve sound. Operation A CD player needs a button to open and close the tray, a couple to start and stop playback, and track-skip up/ down controls. Remote controls come as standard. The handset will let you access a range of functions – including many that aren't available via the fascia buttons. If you use an amplifier from the same brand, chances are the remote will 'drive' both amp and player.

System building

Just about any CD player will work with almost any amplifier – at least in electrical terms. Most players' analogue outputs deliver around 2V and that's what the amp's line inputs expect. You may have some issues with vintage amplifiers built before the CD age, but a simple modification will usually sort them out. One final note – a system can only sound as good as its weakest link allows. If the rest of the set-up is unbalanced or poorly set-up, any changes you make at the source end simply won't be revealed fully.