If you are planning to connect your CD player to a pair of passive speakers, it would not work because a CD player does have the power amps to drive speakers thus no sound will be reproduced. But if we are talking speakers which are self-powered then I would quote a famous line, “Great Scott! That just might work!”.
Based on the setup you are looking for, the typical combination of HiFi components will be a CD player, DAC, a pair of active/self-powered speakers, and the connecting cables/wires. You can ignore getting a DAC since a CD player has its own digital to analog converter but the quality may not be as good. To give you a better picture of what these home audio components are, I have a summarized description of each of them.
What are self-powered speakers?
Self-powered speakers are also known as active speakers or powered speakers, are designed with built-in power amplifiers. Self-powered speakers will require a power source which means you will need to provide them with power outlets. Different active speaker brands/models may have a different set of audio inputs and outputs. We shall use Edifier R1280DBs Active Bluetooth Bookshelf Speakers as a reference. It comes with optical and coaxial inputs and a subwoofer output. Another cool feature that Edifier R1280DBs has will be that you can pair the speaker wirelessly to your mobile devices or laptop via Bluetooth. You can adjust the volume, bass, and treble gains by using the knob controls located at the side of the speaker or by using the provided remote control.
There are a wide variety of self-powered speaker brands and they are mainly used by professionals such as DJs, Musicians, even Famous Artists, and more to make great music. The CDs you own right now are most likely mixed and edited using self-powered speakers (studio monitors). So you can be assured of the sound quality which they can reproduce, but usually, they are more clinical and analytical when compared to passive speakers. This is awesome for music listening if you want to hear every nuance and detail in a song/soundtrack. I will advise you to audition them as you would for a pair of passive speakers before purchasing.
What is a DAC?
A DAC a.k.a. Digital to Analog Converter, will take digital data and convert it into an analog audio signal then sends them to a power amplifier. The power amp will then drive the speakers and they will reproduce sound which we can hear. CD players will have their own built-in DACs, this is why getting an external DAC for your setup will be optional. Unless you want to improve the sound quality, then you might want to get a better quality external DAC.
If what you mean by CD player is using the one on your computer then I will highly recommend you to get an external DAC. The is to bypass the onboard audio card and provide you with better sound quality. Audioengine D1 24-Bit DAC is a popular and affordable choice, it has a USB input that you can use to connect to your PC. On top of the analog output for your powered speakers, there’s a headphone output for you as well. You can ignore this if your PC is using a high-end sound card for audiophiles.
What is a CD Player?
This should need no introduction as simply it is a player that reads and plays compact discs. What audio outputs are available on the CD player and your decision on getting an external DAC will greatly influence which active speakers you will be buying. The CD player audio outputs are like balanced L/R output, analog L/R output, coaxial, optical, USB, etc.
If your taste in music is more bass-heavy such as movie soundtracks, electronic dance music, dubstep, etc. You might want to get an active subwoofer to supplement the bass so that your sound system can go even lower in the bass region. Since this setup is very flexible, you can always connect your computer/laptop to the external DAC, from there you can start streaming movies from Netflix or play video games. Do note that you will need a subwoofer output like the mentioned Edifier R1280DBs active speakers.
Benefits of this home audio setup
The best thing about this kind of setup is that it can be very affordable and yet it can provide you with above-average sound quality. If you get the active speakers and DAC I’ve mentioned in this article plus an entry-level active subwoofer and CD player (optical input is required), it would cost you less than $1,000. This will be a 2.1 sound system that is flexible enough to use for other source components like gaming consoles, laptops, computers, mobile devices (via Bluetooth), and more.
Not to mention it doesn’t take up much space, so it will be great for small rooms. Higher-end powered speakers such as JBL Professional 705P have more adjustment settings such as room EQ and delay controls. You can use them to compensate for the adverse effects of room acoustics thus enabling this pair of speakers to create the most accurate sound reproduction in almost any type of room environment.
I will be honest with you, in terms of value, passive speakers will always lose out at the same price range. Firstly, active speakers have their own in-built power amplifiers. There are also powered speaker pairs that have a total of 4x mono power amplifiers, each speaker has a mono power amp for its HF and LF driver. This is what rich audiophiles are going for when they are powering their passive speakers, it is to yield greater sound quality than sharing a power amp with multiple speakers.
Drawbacks of using Active/Powered Speakers
Since active speakers are mainly made for professional use like mixing, the sound they reproduce is usually neutral, clinical, and analytical. If your CD recording is bad, it will definitely let you hear it where some people do not like this at all. They are usually designed for nearfield listening that is roughly about 1 meter distance between the speakers and listener.
To sum it up
If you want even higher sound quality, you can always go for higher-end active speakers, higher-res DAC, and so forth. The sky is the limit or depending on how deep is your pocket. Before you decide anything, you should work on how much budget you want to allocate to this. Will you be using your current CD player? If yes, does it have the audio output like optical out, which you can use to connect to the DAC? If you are not planning to get an external DAC, then you must check what type of audio outputs does your current/new CD player has. From there, you can shortlist potential powered speakers that are able to connect directly with your CD player.
You should always audition the powered speakers either at the dealer’s shop or at your own home. If possible, use your own CD player and your favorite CDs for the speaker audition.