What Hi-Fi? Awards 2023: Arcam revives the CD player category, while Cyrus makes history

 CD player: Arcam CD5.
CD player: Arcam CD5.

We didn't expect a new entrant, let alone a brand new winner in the CD players category at this year's What Hi-Fi? Awards. It's been a fairly stagnant product category in recent years, that hasn't seen the same kind of trendy love given to turntables (a once nearly-extinct category as CD's star rose in the '90s) and further fallen out of favour in the last decade thanks to the rise of streaming.

But Arcam, just like it did in the stereo amplifiers category, has crashed the two-horse race between Marantz and Cyrus that's been the norm since the 2016 Awards. What's more, all three 2023 winners deliver a clear-cut step up in performance as you go up the price range.

The new Arcam CD5 won us over almost immediately: we like the smart, minimalist design, the simple but responsive controls and smooth disc tray mechanism that made listening to CDs quicker than pairing a device to Bluetooth, and the £699 / $699 pricing meant it slotted oh-so-neatly in between the budget Marantz and premium Cyrus players.

But we didn't give Arcam the "Best CD player £500-£1000" Award just for filling a price gap in the market, we did so because the CD5 is "seriously good, seriously capable and seriously fun". It's a tremendously capable CD player that packs in ample muscle and punch, has a fluid, dynamic and composed presentation, and is also well-balanced and wonderfully expressive with voices. We said in our review: "The CD5’s rich and likeable presentation delivers the essence of a song in the most entertaining way, while also ensuring it hits all the right hi-fi notes along the way."

Cyrus CDi with CDs
Cyrus CDi with CDs

Arcam isn't the only headline-grabbing story here. The Cyrus CDi has the distinction of winning a What Hi-Fi? Award in the very same category (best CD player over £1000) for ten years in a row now. It got its first Award and Product of the Year wins in 2014, and hasn't looked back since.

We'd be impressed enough if the product itself was enjoying a decade-long lifespan, but the Cyrus CDi's stronghold in the premium CD player category is a testament to just how talented it is, even with competition from within (we still prefer it over the newer Cyrus CDi-XR) and other high-end disc-spinners. It's worth noting that while we originally reviewed the CDi at £995 over a decade ago, that price has risen to £1195 in recent years to £1595 now – not an inconsiderable sum, but such is the state of the rising costs of hi-fi these days. You'll have to fork out another grand or so for the TEAC VRDS-701 (£2499), which is the next genuine step up in performance from the Cyrus.

There simply hasn't been any CD player at this price to challenge its supreme musicality, its unerring precision and its terrific sense of control that makes every album played through it just sound... right. Even after all these years, we still use the half-width Cyrus CDi as part of our reference system in the What Hi-Fi? listening rooms – it's just that good.

Our assessment in the original review still stands today: "the rhythmic talent here is what really raises our eyebrows. Pace and momentum are exercised with articulation and vibrancy. We found ourselves entertained by the Cyrus’ dynamic agility and neutral balance in a way that’s rare at this price. Though fast and fluid, the sound is much weightier than any of the company’s previous models."

Marantz CD6007
Marantz CD6007

At the other end of the scale, you have the budget king in Marantz. There have been more products released at the high-end price point for CD players than at the budget end (as demand is fewer and far between), and Marantz, to its credit, has managed to keep the price of its CD player well below the £399 / $499 mark.

Various incarnations of this Marantz CD player have won in the last decade (notably, the CD6006 UK Edition took the Product of the Year crown from Cyrus CDi in 2017), and this current CD6007 model has won the "best CD player under £500" trophy since 2020. This model introduced various sonic updates from the previous generation (a new DAC chip, improved and quieter power supply, new components), as well as hi-res audio support up to 24-bit/192kHz PCM and DSD128. Build quality remains excellent, with the CD6007's polished design feeling and looking far more luxurious than you'd expect at this budget price. It's a similar story with the sound quality, with the CD6007 delivering crisp, insightful detail, a focused, open soundstage and bigger scale and punchier dynamics – it's a mature presentation that we feel is far beyond its affordable price tag (currently hovering at £339 in the UK - a steal!).

The CD player category now having three winners reflects a better spread of choice for customers that still have and cherish their CD collection, with Marantz, Arcam and Cyrus all offering excellent performance at each price point. Will Marantz hold on to its Product of the Year trophy for yet another year or will the newcomer Arcam upset the balance? Find out all the 2023 Product of the Year winners (and the special category winners) on whathifi.com on 15th November evening (GMT).


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