Scroll down about 16 messages and read the responses to questions about what makes CD players different.
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Some short answers (in no particular order):
1) "redbook" is the name for a standard everday CD (16 bit/44.1 kHz sampling rate). There are other bit/sampling rates on DVD, DAT (digital audio tape), and SACD. The bit/sampling rate determines how much audio information can be placed on a disc. 2) HDCD is a way of encoding a "superior" audio sound onto a conventional CD (redbook). There are a very limited numbers of HDCD discs out there, and with DVD, DVD-A, and SACD getting a foothold, I don't see HDCD being around in the future. And not all CD players, even some great ones (Accuphase) will decode HDCD. Don't worry, ANY HDCD will play on a standard (redbook) CD player, although not with the "enhanced" HDCD sound. I will let others who have had experience with HDCD advise you as to opinions about the sound quality of HDCD. 3) S/N stands for "signal to noise" ratio. The difference between 110 or a 100 dB S/N is pretty much a non-factor, since your amp/preamp will usually have a worse S/N than a CD player. Unless you plan on spending a "king's ransom" on audio gear, and plan to play it at extreme concert hall levels, the S/N is pretty much a "non-factor" for a CD player. 4)THD ...the same. A non factor when considering CD player. 5) 24/96 is used for playing discs that were released a few years back that had a bit/sampling of 24/96. I don't think that they are making these anymore (but I might be wrong about this) since the introduction of DVD, and DVD-A. A 24/96 music disc will play on any DVD player...however, a DVD-A (audio) disc will only play on a DVD-A player! 5) Transport and decoding are the two most important aspects of a CD player. The transport spins the CD; the more precise the action, the more accuracy in data retrieval. There are always data misreads, data drop-outs, and other reading errors by the pickup laser. The decoder (DAC...digital to analog) must also interpolate the missing data. This is where a quality chip (as well as the number of chips and circuit design) can make a HUGE difference in sound. 6) Also important is build quality, (whether expensive electronic devices, or "el cheapos")...resistors, capacitors, transformers, power suplies, can separate a mediocre sounding player from that of a great one.
In some circles (not this one) you will get a good deal of debate about whether ANYTHING matters much in CD players. Certainly the specs you mention are irrelevant (because virtually every player on the market measures so well that the distinctions are meaningless).
HDCD is a specially encoded CD that supposedly sounds better when played back on an HDCD-compatible deck. Only a small minority of CD releases are HDCD disks (see www.hdcd.com), but there are enough out there that this feature is worth considering. (Not all encoded HDCDs are labeled as such.)
"Redbook" simply means that a CD conforms to industry standards. "Redbook CD" is practically redundant, but it's used sometimes to distinguish CD from SACD.
As for the price differential, that is justified by the market's willingness to pay. In many cases, high prices in this field reflect the lower efficiency of small manufacturing runs. Caveat emptor.
Use the noise and distortion specs to compare units within a single manufacturer's range. Along with original price, it is a way to determine which model may sound better than another. But whether Macintosh's spec is relevant to another maker's spec is anybody's guess. Once you choose a manufacturer to investigate, all you can do, apart from listening, is to find the best one they decided to make and work your way from there.