Hardware Hacking: CD Player Repair 101

In a little detour from my usual posts, I present you a small tutorial on fixing a broken CD player. Actually, the post only goes into cleaning the player’s lens, which is the number one most common reason why a CD player will mallfunction. It’s a very basic repair, so don’t expect any complicated electro howto. It is however not something most people will easily do, because in most cases you’ll have to void your warranty. So only try this if your only other option is going to a repair guy.

I dabble a bit in hardware do-it-yourself from time to time, especially if it involves old-ish quality equipment that I really don’t want to replace. Many devices are created to only last a few years, which is really too bad. They usually fail in pretty straightforward ways (broken joystick on phones, lenses or driver belts on many CD/DVD players) but are very expensive to get repaired. Probably because the companies prefer that you just buy a new one. We can’t let them get away with that, now can we.

I’ll be showing you the innards of the Pioneer XC-L7, which is a mini system from about 15 years ago. It’s also one of the most beautiful and affordable systems released by Pioneer. The image above really doesn’t do it justics, but I couldn’t find any of the promo shots. The disadvantage of a mini system is that there’ll be a lot less room to work with, so there are probably more components to remove before you get to the lens.

This repair is for CD players that are mechanically still functioning (the tray works, CD spins), but have serious skipping issues with most of the CD’s you try. If some are still working, that’s actually a good sign for this kind of repair. There’s really not much equipment you’ll need:

  • A set of screwdrivers. For most systems a Philips screwdriver will suffice, but for smaller systems (especially portable ones) you might need more specialized tools.
  • If possible, a small plastic screwdriver to pry open cases and connectors. I used a flat metal screwdriver, but I would have felt safer with something plastic.
  • Things to clean lenses: I uses a combination of eyeglasses cleaning tissue and cotton swaps. Don’t use any cleaning fluids not designed for lenses or glasses, you’ll only make things worse by damaging the lens or the coatings on the lens.
  • A lot of patience. Really, a lot.
  • A test CD, one that doesn’t play correct in the CD player, but that is not damaged (try it on your PC or another player)

Opening the case

Things to look for:

  • Disconnect everything, especially the power cord!
  • Take your time, and try to index all the screws you remove. They all look alike, but there are differences that you might only notice when reassembling.
  • Look for arrows, they usually point to the screws you need to loosen to open stuff.
  • Make sure you don’t break plastic covers that click into place.
  • This really should be the easiest step. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, you probably aren’t going to like what’s next.

Removing obstructions

This is where it gets interesting. To reach the lens of the CD drive, there was a large (probably the main) circuit board blocking my path.

  • Again I used the arrows to find the screws that needed to be removed. This time, they also had letters next to them so that I couldn’t miss any.
  • However, I did miss 2 at first. The board had 2 connectors on the back of the device that were also fastened with a screw.
  • Once you think all screws are removed, carefully look around and try to figure out all the wires and connectors going into the board.
  • Now’s not the time to hurry, because you certainly don’t want to break any connections, this will be almost impossible to repair (unless you have a soldering iron and replacements handy)
  • Take your time and disconnect everything, remember (or write down) where everything goes.

At this point I got my first glimpse at the lens

I could have cleaned the lens right there, but the white plastic thingie was easy to remove, so I went ahead and got a clear path to the lens.

It’s the translucent, blue-ish round thing in the center of the picture. Try to not touch it with your fingers as you might put extra grease on it, use whatever lens cleaning product you have and finally use the cotton swap to dry it. Be very gentle. The lens will move a bit, don’t worry about it, that’s perfectly normal.


Now is the time to test it. You’ll have to partially reconstruct the player. Reconnect all wires and connectors. It’s probably also a good idea to put copper screws (red-ish brown) back in their place. They might conduct electricity and could be essential for the workings of the player.

I put in my test CD and it worked flawlessly. I tried a few more CDs and must say I was rather impressed that such a simple operation could solve all issues I’d had with the player.

If this doesn’t help for you, here are 2 more resources that might be useful. A short guide on changing the laser power on Kuro5hin and a very in depth FAQ. But again, most of the skipping-related problems are caused by a dirty lens. So try this first.

Thus came the reassembly. Which, as you might guess, is a lot easier.

  • Don’t tighten screws too much. Especially in plastic you might damage something.
  • Put everything back in its place. My player had a plastic shield between the mainboard and the cover. I’m pretty sure that one is essential to avoid short circuiting anything.

That’s really all there is to it. This will take you anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours, but it might save you an expensive repair or an even more expensive new player. So what do you have to loose?

  • It is however not something most people will easily do.

  • Jwildeman

    Awesome article! I’m very comfortable with the inside of my computer, so thought I’d take a stab at my CD stereo system. I’ve had it for probably 15 years; it has great sound – but began skipping several years ago. At first it was only occasionally, but about a year ago it became so bad I really couldn’t play a CD at all in it. I’m anxious to give this a try this weekend. If I don’t try it, I’m either looking at an expensive repair bill or new system…which I really don’t want to do.

  • Good luck with the repair.
    If you take your time and make sure you remember (and/or write down) where everything goes, you won’t have a problem.
    I’m still enjoying great playback on my trusty player. I hope you can do the same soon.

  • Bigbadbrucey

    Great article and really helped me fix my player – though had to disconnect the phone jack at the bottom front of the player to hinge back the circuit board which was a scary moment as thought I’d broken it! All good now though – many thanks đŸ™‚

  • citic101

    HI My pioneer xc L77 tray does not open !!, do i need to buy a new tray or can it be fixed ? , plus the hampsters eat into the speaker cone so that need to be replaced …. also if i buy quality speaker cables can i just push the wires into the back as i think quality cheap cables will make a difference to the sound of this machine ( its my GF music system and i dont want to throw it away if it can be fixed as the radio works or did when the speakers were up and running ) Thanks [email protected]

  • Hi Citic101. With regard to the speaker cables: yes, you should be fine with any speaker cable. I wouldn’t spend too much money on “premium” cables, though, but that’s up to you.

    If you try to open the tray, do you hear a noise? If yes, it’s very likely a problem with the belt that’s driving the mechanism. This is the most common thing I see in old equipment. I haven’t fixed this on my player, so I don’t know how difficult it is.

    Since it’s a micro system and it is cramped on the inside, I don’t think it will be any easy repair. But is should be manageable, just keep track of everything you open up and make a lot of pictures while doing so. You should be able to find a replacement belt on eBay

    You can search around on YouTube to get an idea of what’s involved with this repair.

    If you don’t hear any noise when pressing the eject button, it’s much more difficult to diagnose. It could be the controls not working (carefully open the case and see if anything is loose), or it could be much worse and may not be worth repairing (open the case, and manually try to push the mechanism to see if it still moves to start with).

  • citic101

    hi peter , thanks for taking the time to write in such detail , just to open this up looks like it will take a while , the tray moves when i use my fingers , ill plug it in and check on the ” noise” …. ill tell you how i get on … regards … john

  • yay

    Thanks for this man! I have a combo fm/cassete/CD Aiwa portable player from the olden days and the CD player part was completely broken. After reading online about trying rubbing alcohol to clean the lens, that brought it back to life a bit and managed to read the table of contents and skip around to different songs. Problem was that songs were skipping a LOT.

    You gave me the idea of using the lens cleaning kit that came with my glasses on it. Just a few quick rubs on its (luckily exposed) laser and it’s working almost perfectly! No one else on the internet recommended using it and therefore reminding me of it.

    Thanks again!

  • Elise Pearce

    Thank you so much, seems to have done the trick for me! Had used a CD lens cleaner to no avail. Just used the fabric I use to clean my glasses… et voila! Also blew some air using a canister (the kind you use for PCs) just to be on the safe side.