by David Rowe
This is the third of three articles, in which collector of classical CDs and trusted reviewer David Rowe of davidsclassicalcds.com discusses the current state of classical music on compact disc.
The generally shrinking market for playback gear must be considered when discussing the future of classical music on compact disc (CD). The state of playback hardware reflects two major factors working against the CD collector – the proliferation of streaming, and the limited availability of high-quality CD players. The combination of the two is worrisome indeed. Still, I’m finding more great CDs in 2023 than I have time to listen to, so I’m encouraged that outstanding classical music is still available on disc – for now. We’ve seen the significant impact that video streaming has had on demand, and therefore supply, of Blu-Ray discs. Time will tell if streaming of classical music will have a similar impact on CDs and SACDs.
I personally experienced a classical music listening crisis recently when the disc-drawer mechanism on my 5-year-old Yamaha CD-S2100 SACD/CD player failed. Thus began the daunting task of searching for a suitable replacement. The Yamaha is still in production, but I won’t buy another one, as I’ve had too many technical issues with mine.
As I researched a replacement for the Yamaha, I discovered that audio companies seem increasingly uninterested in making CD players at all any more. Many of them are instead dedicating their product R&D to producing impressive, big-box “streamers” and separate DACs (digital-to-analog converters). Most of this equipment is quite expensive for the average music lover. I like the SACD (super audio CD) format, and playback equipment for that format is even more rare. Very few companies still produce SACD decks, and most are very expensive. As I agonized over a replacement for my Yamaha, friends would invariably look at me like I’m crazy and advise, “Just go buy a Blu-Ray/DVD player at Best Buy; they play CDs too.” Sigh…
If you’re not concerned with SACD playback, I am pleased to report that dedicated CD players can still be found at fairly reasonable prices from a few quality brands, including Rotel, Marantz, Denon, and Yamaha. These companies make dedicated CD playback decks that offer a wide diversity of sonic profiles. Prices range from $400 – $2200, with $1,000 being the sweet spot.
Rotel is known for their crisp, clean, detailed sound – somewhat at the expense of warmth and richness. Check out their recently updated models – CD11 ($500) and CD14 ($1,000).
Marantz is the opposite of Rotel – warm, full-bodied and robust, but rather lacking in delicacy and air. Marantz has recently debuted new entry-level offerings – CD6007 ($600) and CD60 ($1,000).
Denon falls squarely in between Rotel and Marantz, and tends to be a little bright. Denon has recently introduced two new CD players – DCD-600NE ($400) and DCD-900NE ($550).
Yamaha is probably the most natural-sounding. Their entry-level CD-S303 ($395) is worth a listen, if you’re getting back into listening to classical music on CD.
After conducting my research, I did eventually purchase a new disc player, but the experience was far different from the good old days when brick-and-mortar dealers had equipment on display in their showrooms for audition. Buying online, “sight unseen, sound unheard” is a dicey proposition, especially at today’s astronomical prices.
My research led me to choose the Technics SL-G700mk2 (MSRP $3,500; pictured at the top). With 1,000 SACDs in my collection (and growing monthly), I required SACD capability and the Technics fit the bill nicely. It’s something of a “Swiss Army knife” component – it plays SACDs and CDs, has digital inputs, digital outputs for use with an outboard DAC, and also has streaming functionality built in.
My runner-up was the brand new Marantz SACD 30n ($3,000) SACD player/streamer.
Setting up the Technics was more of a headache than I could ever have imagined. To utilize its streaming capabilities, it must be connected to the internet via the Google Home app on your cell phone. Ugh. After downloading the app, all kinds of problems cropped up. As Google Home took control of my phone, it interrupted my connection with my Verizon wireless service and prevented other apps from working. Not only that, once connected to wifi, you still have to download various music streaming apps that require subscriptions to listen to music.
In defense of Technics, I imagine I would have similar difficulties with any streamer I might have tried. However, the experience has solidified my disdain for streaming. I’m not adept at tech gadgetry. I don’t know what to do when it all goes berserk, and I don’t have the patience to deal with it. I just want to insert a disc and press play. Music. Simple. Done.
I’m happy that I finally found a suitable replacement deck, and the Technics sounds great in my system and suits my needs. But as I navigated through this process I can’t say I liked the direction that all this is headed, particularly for folks who prefer a simple listening experience of classical music on CD. Great sound can still be found, but I hope as CD and SACD settle in as specialty items, that innovation doesn’t cloud the value of simplicity and “perfect sound forever.”
Check out David’s outstanding reviews on DavidsClassicalCDs.com