CD Player newbie questions

I am in the process of choosing CDP. Please help me to understand what makes CDPs different. I am just thinking that CD-ROM player in my computer is pretty reliable unit. It reads software from CD-ROM disks and never fails. If it reads a word (double byte - 16 bits) with error it makes another spin to read it, and so on until it reads it successfully. Same process goes on in CDPs, but CDPs are a way more expensive. Well, another job of CDP is to convert bits into analog signal (DAC) and make the signal flow uninterruptedly (there buffers for that). Seems like not too much to do, but price diff between CDPs is huge.

1. The transport mechanism does not make much of difference as long as it is quiet and reliable. Correct?

2. DAC is the key, to my understanding. But some units have same DAC chip (like Burr-Brown 24/96) but significantly different in price and sound reproduction. What DAC chip should I look for?

3. Is THD makes difference, e.g. some say 0.005, others 0.05? Should I look at it as criteria?

4. Is Noise to Sound ratio (S/N ratio) makes big diffrence? e.g. Linn Classik - 110, Arcam FMJ CD23T - 100, ADCOM GCD-750 - 106.

5. What is HDCD (High Definition CD), do they have special label, are they much better than regular CD, how many of them out there?

6. I met this word several times and I do not get it - 'redbook'.

Thanks in advance,
Scroll down about 16 messages and read the responses to questions about what makes CD players different.
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 ( 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, 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.
My int amp McIntosh 6500 has S/N Ratio 110db and THD 0.005%. So should I look for CDPs that have characteristics not worse than those?
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.
I guess high end cd players not only have better chip processors, they also have better analogue outputs, and they take some mechanical engineering properties into consideration, which I think is the main reason why digital(s) sound different.