Why Does CD Sound So Good?

Over the years, I’ve tried countless variations of system components in order to find the best sound. CD players, CD transports, DACs, streaming DACs, iPods, iPads, phones, computers, amps, tube preamps, you name it. System types include home audio, car audio and headphone audio. There has been a consistent recurring trend: After I’ve played around for a long time and mixed and matched components, I always find a CD player to deliver the best sound.

Sure my laptop computer and DAC sounds really good in my 2-channel rig, but my much lower priced CD player sounds more musical and more listenable, which is really what matters to me. 

In the car, I’ve got radio, XM Radio, streaming through my phone, playing files off my phone, etc. and yet the CD sounds best.

In my headphone rig, I’ve tried fancy DACs and headphone amps, tube buffers and preamps, better power cables and power supplies, etc. and yet a portable CD player has gone the furthest in making my headphones sound the best.

The CD consistently outperforms any streaming player I’ve tried. Don’t get me wrong, there are non-CD based solutions that sound fabulous, but I find myself always going back to the CD in the end. I find a properly setup CD-based system to have non-fatiguing highs and tight, accurate bass; the former being an absolute requirement for me. I don’t care how good the system measures or how expensive the gear is if the sound is fatiguing in any way. That’s a hard line I draw in the sand and one I refuse to negotiate on. It can’t be fatiguing and it has to be musical.

Where I’m lost for an explanation is the “why” behind all of this. In theory, a CD player shouldn’t be so good. We’re spinning a (usually wobbling) disc at many RPMs and trying to track it with a laser and then error correcting what we can’t read. A solid state hard drive or even a normal hard drive should have a walk in the park acquiring the data and should sound better because of it. My phone should sound excellent having solid state memory, being battery powered and having very short signal paths between the memory, DAC and output stage, and yet a cheap $25 portable CD player blows it out of the water.

So why does CD sound so good?
It is so much easier to scroll a large collection when it is on a server and you have ability to search composer, performer, composition, musical genre (choral music, chamber, 20th century, whatever classification you set up).
It’s about the sound, not the ease, if that were the case none of us would still have vinyl, and that was far from easy.
It’s about get off your a**e and changing record or cd after 30-40 mins, handling the physical medium reading a book or booklet, and then there’s the sound, which too me is better.
I look at enough cell phones, laptops, computer, TV screens all day, I don’t need it as well burning my retina’s out when needing to listen to music as well.

Cheers George


I have two excellent digital sources, a Cary 303/300 CDP and a PS Audio DirectStream DAC mated with Wyred4Sound Server MS2. Both sources provide superb sound. I wouldn't agree with those who claim that a CDP is better than a server/DAC combo, though. That would be an absurd claim.
Depends on the quality of the DAC in the spinner.
I’ve got a MSB discrete dac if I play the same album via CD transport or friends streamers (making sure the streamer hasn't up the ante a db or two which some do with downloads).
The Transport wins out for sound, it’s just got more body to it, whichever same digital link is used spidf, rca or BNC and Toslink into the MSB dac.

Cheers George