What is a CD Changer?

The Safe Way to Swap CDs on the Road

A CD changer in a car trunk.
Large CD changers can be mounted in out of the way locations like under a seat or in a trunk. Image courtesy of digitalpubs, via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)

Compact disc changers are devices that overcome a couple of the major issues that are typically encountered when listening to CDs on car audio systems. The biggest hurdle that the compact disc format suffered from initially was its tendency to skip and stutter when shaken, which was a huge stumbling block for early car CD players. Various shock protection measures have rendered that a non-issue, but a couple of glaring problems still remain.

When compared to purely digital media, traditional CDs fall short in terms of total listening time, and there are also safety issues involved in manually changing CDs when driving. Since CD changers allow you to seamlessly switch between multiple discs at the touch of a button, they deal with both of those problems.

Aside from those two main issues, a CD changer can also make up for the shortcomings of a factory head unit that doesn’t have a CD player. That can allow you to seamlessly add a CD player into your car audio system while leaving the factory equipment untouched.

The main types of CD changers are:

  • remote units
  • in-dash changers

Both of these types of CD changers are available as OEM equipment and aftermarket upgrades.

In-Dash CD Changers

Some cars ship with in-dash CD changers from the factory, but this type of head unit is also available from the aftermarket. This type of CD changer contains a built-in magazine that is wholly contained within the head unit, so most of them fit into a double DIN form factor. They are relatively simple to operate in that you typically just feed in one CD after another until the changer is full.

The main benefits of in-dash CD changers are that they don’t involve any additional wiring, and there is no remote unit to mount in the trunk or under a seat. That means they take up less space than remotely mounted CD changers, and aftermarket units can typically be installed with very little hassle.

The main drawback of in-dash CD changers is that they typically can’t fit as many CDs as an external unit. It’s typically also harder to change which CDs you have in the unit, since you need to eject them one at a time and then replace them one at a time. External units are usually easier to deal with, and they sometimes even allow you to use multiple magazines.

Remotely Mounted CD Changers

Some cars also ship with factory-installed remote CD changers, but these units are much more commonly found in the aftermarket. If your vehicle originally had a CD changer as an option, then you can add a factory unit or use an adapter to add an aftermarket unit. Otherwise, you’re stuck with the aftermarket and a handful of different installation options.

Remote CD changers can be mounted in a variety of locations, including the trunk, glove box, and under a seat. These devices typically aren’t dash-mounted due to their relatively large sizes, but there are some exceptions.

Depending on where a remote CD changer is mounted, one drawback of this option is the level of difficulty involved in changing which CDs are installed in it. If the changer is located in the trunk, then you can only swap out discs when the vehicle is parked. However, units that are mounted in the passenger compartment are much easier to deal with.

Remote CD changers typically fit a larger number of CDs than their in-dash counterparts as well, and many of them also support removable magazines. When a changer includes a removable magazine, you can have multiple magazines that are each filled with specific CDs, which allows you to quickly swap out one set for another. Some remote CD changers even allow several magazines to be installed at once.

Important  CD Changer Features

Some of the most important features to look for in a CD changer include:

While these and other features are important in both in-dash and remote-mounted CD changers in terms of usability, connectivity and compatibility are also important features to consider in the case of remote-mounted units. The only way to add a CD changer to a factory head unit is typically to find an OEM unit, while cross-compatibility is a feature you are more likely to find in the aftermarket.