The last CD player?

Audiophiles with large CD collections are all potential customers for CD players built to last a long, long time.

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
3 min read

The CD8 vacuum tube CD player Audio Research

Most of the tech products you buy are disposable.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average cell phone life span is 18 months. One hundred and twenty five million phones are discarded every year, resulting in more than 65,000 tons of waste. A lot of folks get a new computer every few years.

Bought a new home theater receiver last year? Great, but its HDMI 1.3 connection is about to be superceded by HDMI 1.4. That won't reduce the receiver's usability, at least in the near term, but it's unlikely you'll want to keep it around for the long run.

Audio Research's CD8 Reference player was designed to last a long, long time. It's also one of the least "digital"-sounding CD players I've ever used. That sort of statement is usually followed by something like, "CDs now sound a lot more like LPs." That's not the case here, but the CD8 is considerably more musical than other state-of-the-art CD players. You can read my complete review on the Home Entertainment Web Site.

Audio Research's CD8 Reference player uses vacuum tubes to amplify the converted-to-analog signals. That's hardly a new idea, as designers started sticking tubes in CD players in the 1980s. But most of those players used just a pair of tubes, typically as a "buffer" output stage. The CD8's tubes are configured much as they are in Audio Research's very best stereo preamplifier, the Reference Pre ($12,000). Measuring an imposing 19 inches long by 5.25 inches high by 15.3 inches wide, the CD8 is the size of a pretty serious power amplifier.

The CD8 doesn't have a disc-loading drawer; the drive mechanism is located under a sliding door on the top panel. Disc loading involves placing a small magnetic clamp on the disc. I like the "hands-on" approach, maybe because it's more like playing an LP.

Build quality not only feels robust, Audio Research actually designed the CD8 to last a long time. The company offers service for almost every product it has built over its nearly 40-year history. The CD player under consideration here was designed to have a working life of 20 years, so if you'd like to be able to access your CD collection with a top-notch machine in the 2030s, check out the CD8. If you got 20 years of use out of this $10,000 CD player, the cost per year would come down to $500 a year.

The CD8, like every Audio Research product, is made in the U.S, is fully bench-tested, and is listened to with a reference system before it's shipped out. Audio Research wants every piece it makes to fit within a small sonic window and listening is the only way to guarantee that. At Audio Research, the ears have the final say.

Yes, I know some of you must be thinking the CDs' days are numbered. Thing is, we don't have any idea when the last CD will be made. Then again, all of this talk about the end has a déjá-vu-all-over-again-feel to it. They said the LP was on its last legs in the late 1980s, and LP sales have been going up every year for the past several years.

So, is it too late to buy a high-end CD player? Perhaps, but that depends on a number of factors. How many CDs do you own? I have close to 4,000, and I doubt I would ever dump them onto a music server. Do you like having CDs around? I do, so chances are I'll be playing a good number of those discs for the rest of my life.