This listing here is not an attempt to empty the field of CD players made in the last 30 years but rather an attempt to highlight some of the more interesting models that we have seen through the years.
With the exception of recent systems and high end models it's questionable weather it's worth chasing old CD players at all. The problem is that early players (pre 90 or so) sound pretty dismal as a rule, while their build quality is often superior to the 90's models and one would think that they would make great donor systems for one of those superclock/new DAC CD upgrade kit's that are out there the issue with them is that with the exception of a few Philips (and Philips sourced) units the error correction on the early players is very bad by moderns standards. By the early 90's the sound quality of CD players had started to improve considerably but at the same time the players and more specifically the transports used in them had become a commodity product and the build quality of the players had fallen considerably, resulting in higher failure rates in the long term.
Acoustic Research (Teledyne) When AR introduced the "Black Line" in the mid 80's it had one CD player in the lineup in the form of the CD-04, it featured the Philips 14bit 4x oversampling converters rather than a 16 bit one since the engineers at the company thought they sounded better than the 16 bit ones available at the time (and they were probably right, but this was an unusual design choice). The unit also had a separate converter for each channel but at the time many of the designs out there (in particular the 14bit models) multiplexed the converter leading to a tiny phase error, otherwise the CD-04 was pretty much run of the mill and was at it's best used in conjunction with other AR Black line components since it had a remote control link. Introduced the CD-06 in late 1988, it was made at their UK plant and featured the then new 4x 16bit oversampling hardware from Philips, interestingly the unit had a remote control of output level so it could be used to drive a power amp directly, fit and finish was also considerably better than with previous CD players from the company.
ARCAM You should note that the CD players from this company are semi modular so that you can often upgrade older models with processing boards from the newer ones and the company does in fact support that option. The recently discontinued Alpha 8 along with it's 8SE version makes an interesting second hand buy if it can be had at the right price, HDCD compatible and the usual refined sound that you have come to expect from the company, most examples that we have seen on the market have been a tad overpriced though, if the asking price is higher than 200£ or so you should start to consider the new CD73 model, it's a better player for less dosh than the 8 commanded when it was still being sold, current owners of an 8 or an 8SE should note that you can still get the conversion kit to upgrade the model to Alpha 9 specification, this includes a 24 bit upsampling converter, the price of the upgrade was something like £350 or so last time we checked. The Alpha 7 was when new around 1/2 the price of the 8 and was introduced in the latter half of the 90's, the Alpha 7SE version was introduced in 1999 and featured a host of improvements versus the standard model including a new 24 bit Burr-Brown converter, improved power supply and a optical digital output (I believe that the differences between the 8 and the 8SE are similar), the Diva CD72 model was an updated version of the 7 that got very good press in the UK and in fact was chosen as the best sub 500£ player by Hi-Fi News in their 2001 awards issue. Features include a 24bit Burr-Brown DAC and a chassis filled with Sontech sound deadening materials and the essential difference beetween it and the current 73 model line in the DAC it's otherwise the same. The mid/high end Diva CD92 was also upgraded to model 93 in 2003 it has a dCS Ringmaster DAC while the current model has a Wolfson one, and it sports a high res master clock, is HDCD compatible. Their top of the line model in 2001/2002 was the FHJ CD23, it has the same basic features as the CD92 but more audiophile components and more processing power.
Audio 2000's Made the oddball AVC7500, it's a 3 CD carousel changer with features intended for PA/entertainment (read Karaoke) usage such as microphone inputs and digital effects, the unit also has a TV connector for displaying interactive menus and/or for playing Karaoke VCD's, the unit was discontinued in late 2002 and replaced by a DVD model.
Audio Research Made the CD1 player in the early/mid 90's, got fairly good reports at the time but is starting to sound dated, includes balanced analogue and digital outputs. Original list price was 2995 USD but worth taking a look at as current second hand prices have dropped well below USD 1000, most models have a black faceplate, but a few have the same silver faceplate that the current lineup has. The follow up model to the CD1 was the CD2, it is similarly equipped to the CD1 but had an improved 20bit DAC and as with the previous model most units seen on the second hand market have the black faceplate, you can find a review of it here.
Bang & Olufsen The company has stopped selling separate CD players recently, this has inflated the market for older models somewhat (there is a big fanbase that refuses to have anything but B & O in their set-up) so it's questionable weather it's worth it to chase these units down with specialised dealers or online auction houses (local small ads perhaps). The CDX was a early 90's model from the company.
Cairn-Ezo Make the FOG is apparently a slightly older version of their current Fog2 , my understanding is that the player is upgradable, talk to your local distributors. Prior to that they had the Olan that was introduced in 1998 and is a massive player (i.e. big and heavy) .
California Audio Labs Was one of the few CD specialist out there, made a wide range of high end players including the DX-2 and the Icon MkII, and in addition to that the Delta CD transport and multi disc players such as the CL-5 and the CL-10 carousel type player. Their most unusual product was the CL-15 a high end player with digital preamplifier functions, unusually it sports a RS232 (Serial) port that allows you to change internal functions of the player such as the dither etc.
CEC Owners of the original TL 51 Z will be glad to know that they can upgrade their models to the current Mk 2 specification with the addition of the new very sexy upsampling board that features a converter with a 24bit 356KHz capability.
Copland Replaced the CDA289 high end player with a newer model in late 2002.
Creek Audio Unceremoniously dumped their CD 43 MkII player in 2002, it's well liked, if a bit unexciting mid range player that has a somewhat characteristic "Creek" sound, great second hand buy at the right price however.