Wondering how to keep listening to your favorite CDs? You have 3 options: play CDs on a CD player hooked up to an amplifier and through speakers, rip or convert CDs to a digital file and listen through a device or remote speakers, stream your collection on a music streaming service.
Listening to favorite tunes never gets old, and the lowly compact disc has stood the test of time. Who knows, it may soon enjoy a vinyl-like renaissance! It may not be as cool as streaming music but it’s visceral. You can pick up the case, read the cover and wallow in musical memories.
Join the club who don’t want to stuff their old CDs in a box and forget them!
But what if you don’t have a CD player setup?
I recently rediscovered a compilation CD set that I’d completely forgotten about – it sounded amazing in my car but I had no way of playing it at home. Or did I?
These days, without a CD player, I don’t have an easy way of playing CDs or ripping CDs to digitize them. Neither my Macbook or iMac support a disc player.
If I did find a way to digitize my CDs into files, I still need a way to play them. What are my options for listening to favorite CDs?
Here’s three options for playing CD music.
3 Options for Playing CDs
- Listen through speakers connected to a traditional CD player hooked up to a built in or external amplifier
- Rip your CDs to a digital format and listen from devices or speakers
- Subscribe to a music streaming service
Option 1. Listen to CDs on a traditional CD player
If you still have a carefully curated collection of CDs they’ll have to pry them out of your cold dead hands, right?
Remember boomboxes? Popularized in the era of big hair music, the giant boombox became a status symbol in the ‘80s. Long before the iPod was invented, the boombox was a cheap way of broadcasting you were cool enough to carry your own music with you. As long as you didn’t bounce up and down, your CDs sounded awesome.
But if you’re an audiophile and demanded the best sound, deep bass and soul shivering high notes, you chose a CD player to hook up to your in home stereo system. How else could you take advantage of your massive speakers. Or was that just me?
Still got your old stereo setup complete with amp and CD player? Then this article isn’t for you. Consider yourself blessed. In a fit of down-sizing I gave mine away and regret it to this day. What I wouldn’t give for those 3 ft high Altec speakers!
That multi disc set I bought years ago opened my eyes. I was astonished at how thrilling it was to listen to even in my car. In these days of playlists and singles, somehow the album experience has been pushed aside. But if you remember when your favorite group dropped their new album, you know how important it was to listen to it from beginning to end. Hell I even had the skips memorized.
Here’s how to set up a CD player to keep the music bumping.
How to set up and play CDs through a CD player
Using components: CD player + Amp + Speakers
To get superior sound quality from your CDs your best option is a separate CD component that’s powered by an amplifier and heard through a set of speakers. This option is best if you already have one or two of these components, or consider yourself an audiophile.
Picking components from the same manufacturer helps in ease of setup and compatibility. Expect to spend from $100s to 1000s depending on features and make.
Types of CD players
- Universal player – plays DVDs, CDs and Blu-ray discs, sound quality may not be as good. Around $100.
- Single CD player – may have less mechanical issues than a multiple CD changer. Around $300.
- CD changer – holds multiple discs and comes with play modes like repeat/random-shuffle/program. Around $400.
What to Look for in a CD Player
- 16-bit or 24-bit DAC for best sound quality
- remote control with same button on player + remote
- digital outputs
- recording ability
- supported audio formats – to play CD-Rs or CD-RWs you’ve recorded
- connectivity – USB, Bluetooth and wireless
- supports headphones
In the old days you’d plug your CD player into the amp and connect the speakers with wire. Now with wireless and Bluetooth technology, connectivity options have expanded.
The amplifier powers your speakers. Make sure your amplifier and speakers are compatible. If your amp is putting out 100 watts per channel your speakers need to be able to handle up to 100 watts per channel.
- This standard 200W stereo amplifier receiver connects to your CD player via cable About $100.
- Sonos AMP connects turntables, CD players and wired speakers with built in Wifi. Streaming services enabled. This is an expensive alternative but worth looking into if you’re trying to build a system. AMP doesn’t work with wireless speakers. AMP replaces CONNECT. About $650.
I began this search in order to find a way to play my CD set through my existing Sonos Play speakers. Even if I was willing to purchase the Sonos AMP, my older Sonos Play speaker isn’t supported on the AMP receiver setup, although newer Sonos speakers are.
Sonos is primarily a closed system that works similarly to Apple devices, they only play with each other. You would need to purchase a Sonos AMP to to play CDs and hear them through Sonos speakers.
Wired, Bluetooth or Wifi enabled speakers?
Have existing wired speakers? Then not having to worry about losing Wifi signal or hogging a slow connection makes up for the lack of portability.
Bluetooth is a closed system and doesn’t require wifi or internet to work. Two devices such as a receiver and speakers, can talk to each other as long as they’re not more than 30 ft apart.
Wifi enabled speakers like Sonos need to be connected via your home’s wifi network. Some speakers will have both Bluetooth and wifi connectivity.
Using one component: CD Player with built in Amp and Speakers
If you don’t want to fuss with multiple components and aren’t super picky about audio quality, then consider these modern versions of the boombox. Pros are portability and connectivity.
- BOSE Wave Soundtouch Music System (won’t stream CDs to wireless speakers). About $600.
- COMO AUDIO: Musica – retro style with modern connectivity supports wifi, Bluetooth and one touch streaming. About $650.
2. Rip Your CDs to a digital format
The second option to play your CDs is “ripping” them to converting the data to a digital file.
What’s meant by ripping a CD? Ripping your CDs is digital extraction or copying the music encoded on the CD. This transforms it into a digital file which then can be “streamed”. Digital audio files can be stored on your computer or an external hard drive.
Ripping your existing CD collection is comparable to scanning files, storing the scan on your computer and then throwing out the original.
Digital (ripped) music files can be streamed from your phone, stored in Apple Music, iTunes or Windows Media Player.
If your computer has a built in CD player, you can rip or copy your CDs directly into iTunes. Even if your computer doesn’t have a disc player, you still have options.
Although it takes a CD player to rip CDs most newer laptops and desktops don’t come with an CD/optical drive. So sneaky manufacturers like Apple will sell you an external drive that plugs into your computer via USB.
Apple External drive about $80. Make sure you meet the system requirements for this one.
If another computer in the house does have a CD/DVD drive, you can use it’s optical drive by setting up sharing between the two computers.
Mac: Go to System Preferences > Sharing > check DVD or CD sharing. This allows you to access that computers drive to open, play or burn CDs.
What is the best audio format for ripping CDs?
Lossless files are recommended to give the best sound quality because it compresses audio without losing any data. Avoid lossy formats like MP3 which don’t give exceptional quality.
Any of these formats will give you a good quality ripped music file.
- FLAC – Free lossless audio codec
- ALAC – Apple lossless audio codec
- WMA – Windows media audio lossless
How to Rip a CD into a digital file. SOURCE
How to Stream/Play Ripped Files
Once you’ve ripped your CDs and they’re stored on your computer or drive, how do you stream them?
Streaming music is defined as playing digital music files from an app or software service like iTunes, Apple Music or Windows Media Player.
On a PC, your ripped music files will be stored in Windows Media Player.
Once you upload your ripped tracks to iTunes or Apple Music you can stream and listen directly through the speaker on your computer, tablet or phone.
Connecting the streaming service (iTunes) to an external speaker system is another option. Choose between wired (physically connected with speaker wire) or wireless (using your wifi network or Bluetooth) speakers.
Wireless streaming is playing music from your computer, tablet or phone to wireless speakers using your home’s wifi or over Bluetooth.
To stream your ripped CDs from iTunes (Mac or PC), Apple Music or Windows Media Player choose a wireless speaker like Sonos or Bose.
Types of Wireless Speakers
SONOS: I purchased two Play speakers several years ago and have been very impressed with the sound quality. Downside is the Sonos app is a little finicky and Sonos doesn’t play well with other systems.
If you’ve uploaded your CD files into iTunes or Apple Music you can play them using the Sonos app and choosing Apple Music as the source. You need a paid subscription to Apple Music.
iTunes is free to stream from but you’ll need a newer model Sonos speaker to stream music using Airplay 2. Older Sonos speakers like the Play (which is now called One) are not compatible with Airplay 2. SOURCE
BOSE: Bose has a long reputation for producing excellent speakers. Their wireless speakers get great reviews. Pair up several BOSE wireless speakers and control the sound using the Bose Connect app for iOS and Android. About $200.
ECHO: To play your ripped CDs with Alexa on your Echo, make sure to enable Bluetooth on your PC. Go to the Amazon Alexa page and sign into your account.
In Settings click the name of your Echo device. Select Bluetooth > pair a new device.
When your computer name appears, select it and then click Allow when you receive the notification from Windows 10. You should be able to play music from iTunes or Windows Media player through your Echo.
3. Subscribe to a Music Streaming Service
The last option for listening to your favorite CDs is subscribing to an streaming service like Spotify or Apple Music. Depending on your preferred genre you might be able to find all of your favorite CDs available to stream on these services without the hassle of ripping them yourself.
However if you have a more esoteric CD collection you might find the selection doesn’t include the kind of CDs you’re craving.
Music Streaming Services
- Apple and Spotify boast their catalogs list over 50 million songs
- Create curated playlists of your favorite tunes
- Easily search to discover new songs and artists
- Monthly cost to play your own music
- Unique or hard to find titles may not be available
- Streaming services may not compensate artists fairly
I still haven’t decided how I’m going to play my revered disc set.
I hate the thought of ripping the CDs, storing them in iTunes or Apple Music then paying to subscribe to listen to them!
Buying an old school stereo setup with CD player will be more costly, but in the long run it may be the best solution to pay tribute to the sounds I can’t live without.