Why Buy a CD Player?
There’s something to be said for doing one thing and doing it well. After all, doing many things well—as, for instance, the dCS Rossini DAC/streamer/player does—gets costly. In the case of the Rossini, $28,000 costly. The Bryston BCD-3 does just one thing, plays CDs, which it does exceptionally well. Further, Bryston offers the BCD-3 at an eminently reasonable price. Still, in this day and age, does it make sense to buy a digital source that doesn’t support hi-res, streaming, USB, or Tidal?
I posed that question to Bryston’s James Tanner. He told me that Bryston decided to produce the BCD-3 when there was an uproar among the company’s customers and prospects over the discontinuation of Bryston’s first CD player, the much-loved BCD-1. (There was no BCD-2.) Many of those constituents, he said, “have a large CD library and want a high-quality CD player—maybe their last one—but don’t want to pay esoteric prices.” I don’t know about you, but I sympathize with that remark.
For the many of us who do indeed have extensive CD libraries and are wondering how best to preserve, access, and enjoy all that music, buying an affordable CD player good enough to be one’s “last” is certainly an obvious option. But I wondered how that approach stacks up against the alternatives? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the alternatives aren’t as tantalizing as they first seem.
For example, ripping a CD library to a NAS has the benefit of combining old and new music on a single media device, greatly facilitating access. But for a large music collection, mass ripping is a daunting proposition. You could spend the next year and a half monitoring progress bars.
Another option is to replace all those physical discs with hi-res downloads. This path has the potential to improve your collection’s sound quality and, again, enables media consolidation. Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely you’d find all your library’s titles in a quality downloadable format. Even if you did, you’d be facing a hefty bill. Besides, as my monthly download column regularly illustrates, plenty of downloads sound no better than their CD counterparts. This approach’s sonic gains would be spotty at best.
Another option would be to forego both discs and downloads. Depending on the genres you listen to, much—though still not all—of your music is likely available from a streaming service like Tidal. Therefore, you could simply opt for a monthly subscription. This approach has the lowest cost and least hassle. The problem is that, with the exception of MQA-encoded content, you will have relegated your CD library to sub-CD sonics. Further, taking advantage of the available MQA content means investing in an MQA-compatible playback system.
My conclusion from this thought exercise is that, for many of us, investing in getting the most out of our existing CD library may make more sense than converting or replacing it. And, as already noted, one obvious way to do that is to invest in an out-performing player.
Ah, but why not go with a more “universal” solution? Something that would not only play CDs but would also handle multiple disc formats and maybe even serve as a DAC? The answer gets back to the maxim about doing one thing right. Single-minded components enable single-minded engineering. They liberate designers to optimize every element for one function. This means that a well-designed CD player will audibly outshine a similarly-priced multi-disc player or combination player/DAC.