More proof the CD format isn’t dead: the NAD C538 player

If you’re still buying CDs or have a large collection the NAD C538 player is well worth checking out.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read

The NAD C538 CD player

NAD Electronics

Yes, they still make CDs and CD players. It's funny, everywhere I turn I hear vinyl is back, but the CD format is still around, and dare I say it, there's a lot more new music coming out on CD than LP. Maybe that's why audiophiles are still seeking recommendations for CD players, especially affordable ones. This new NAD, the C538 would be the one I'd buy, and mainly for its simplicity and build quality. It sells for $299 in the US and £249 in the UK.

I've always admired NAD's no frills budget players, starting when I was working as an audio salesman in the 1980s. Back then, NAD's sound was a cut above the other affordable players. The C538 looks awfully similar to NAD players from 30 years ago, and that goes for the rear panel's connectivity offerings: just a set of stereo RCA analog output jacks, plus coaxial and optical digital audio outputs allowing connection to an external digital converter or AV receiver. There's also a tidy little plastic remote control.

Compared with most of today's consumer electronics, CD players are dead simple to use. Open the disc drawer, put in a CD, close the drawer, hit the "Play" button on the remote control or on the C538 and the music starts to play! I promise you'll never have to consult the owner's manual or spend hours on the phone with tech support to use the C538. For that alone the C538 deserves some credit, but of course that simplicity is common to nearly all CD players. Can't say the same for Blu-ray or DVD players!


The NAD C538 CD player rear panel.

NAD Electronics

I rarely mention electronics "burn-in" or how their sound changes over the first few days of use, but the C538 sounded a little dull at first. After I left it playing on repeat mode for three days the sound cleared up.  

Beyond that I don't have much to report, the C538 sound isn't significantly better than other budget priced CD players. But thanks to its digital output connectivity I did manage to hear significant gains in clarity when I hooked up a Schiit Bifrost digital converter to the C538. You could also consider the Cambridge Audio CXC if you just need a transport.

The main reason I wrote this review is to give readers still buying CDs (as I do) and ones who have already amassed large CD collections the good news, NAD still offers high quality players that won't break the bank.

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