Harman Kardon CDR 2 Dual Deck CD Recorder 
Home Theater Audio Sources CD Players
Written by Kim Wilson   
Friday, 01 September 2000

Harman Kardon’s CDR 2 is a true dubbing deck, with a play-only and a separate record/play CD tray, allowing direct dubbing from the play deck to the recording deck. Matching the new sleek and modern styling of Harman Kardon’s new line of electronics, the $699 CDR 2 stands out in a crowd with its brushed aluminum disc trays and buttons.

The CDR 2 essentially offers two separate players in a single chassis, with outputs for each deck. Both line level and digital (coax and optical) inputs are provided for the CD-R/CD-RW recording deck. Each tray plays CDs, providing sequential play when both trays are full (known as the single mode). In the dual mode, the decks can play simultaneously for multiroom applications.

Entering this product line on the late side, Harman Kardon has made up for lost ground with a feature popularized by the computer industry. Offering 2x and 4x speed recording when dubbing from a digital source, the CDR 2 has the capability of recording a 74-minute CD in about 20 minutes.

I gave the CDR 2 a real workout during its evaluation. For years, I’ve wanted to archive some of the vinyl I kept around, either because the recordings weren’t available on CD or there was only a song or two on each I even cared about.

I thought that I was going to finally get around to this task when I got the latest version of Toast, the most popular CD-burning software for Macintosh, with provisions for converting analog sources. Yeah, it was doable, but what a pain, hooking up a preamp and turntable to the computer. Then the converted files have to be saved to the hard drive before they are recorded to the blank CD. It took me three days just to get a single compilation CD utilizing this procedure.

In case you had any illusions about archiving older formats to CD, take my word for it: a desktop CD recorder that is designed to specifically interface with an audio system is absolutely the only way to handle this daunting project.

Making a complete dub of a CD doesn’t get much simpler. It’s a one-button operation and the unit will even indicate prior to the recording if there is insufficient space on the blank disc. When recording from an external digital source, the CD Sync button allows the recording section of the CDR 2 to sync with the external source. In both instances, the tracks are automatically added. Alternatively, track numbering can be manually entered during the course of a recording, something I found quite useful when making dubs from vinyl.

Recording an entire CD is simple enough: put the disc you want to record into the play deck, stick a blank disc into the record deck, choose the speed and hit record. Go have a sandwich, make a couple of phone calls and when you get back, you have a duplicate of the original.

There are some limitations to the high-speed dubbing feature. You can record a program list at high speed by "telling" the play disc to play tracks 3, 4, 6 and 9, then have the record deck record at high speed. You may, however, record one track at a time in high-speed mode. Select a track on the source disc, then press the speed button and continue as though doing a full-disc dub. If you want to record a programmed list or an external source (digital or analog), it defaults to 1x speed.

Does the faster speed affect performance the way that it does with analog high-speed dubbing? You bet it does, particularly with regard to resolution. I’ve been evaluating the effects of high-speed dubbing onto CD-Rs for some time and I can hear traces of distortion at higher volume levels on the copy. Moreover, at high speeds, the blank disc is often less tolerant of any digital errors, which usually causes the recording to just stop when the error occurs. For the compilations I like to make for my car trips, I don’t mind the less than superior resolution, since the high-speed dubbing makes the recording process much faster.

If you want a perfect bit-for-bit recording, you must go with 1x speed. Higher bit-rate CD recorders are touted as making better bit for bit recordings but I feel that the 1x speed copies from the CDR 2 are excellent and anyone would be hard-pressed to pick out the original from the duplicate.

Analog Recordings
When recording vinyl LPs, the output of the phonograph to the preamp is obviously analog, though the recording could take place in either the digital or analog domain, depending on whether an analog or digital out from the preamp is feed into the CDR 2. This would, of course, require a preamp that can convert the analog signal to digital. Making volume level adjustments to match signal levels from multiple sources is only possible during analog recordings.

It took more personal involvement recording from the phonograph as the recorder couldn’t sync to the source, and manual track advancement was generally necessary. The CDR 2 specifies auto advancement on analog sources with a three-second gap. However, some gaps are less or there is no gap at all. (Remember those themed albums of the 70’s?) Still, it wasn’t bad duty. I could sit back and just hit the track advance button on the remote as I reminisced over some recordings I hadn’t heard in years. I also came to realize that I had saved some real crap (some are so badly recorded that they’re painful to listen to) and just threw those into the recycle pile.

The allowable space that the recorder recognizes between tracks varies with analog and digital signals. Analog signals have more allowances, as it takes a 10-second silence to stop the recording. In the manual track increment mode, it will not stop until you press the stop control or it runs out of room, whereas a three-second silence from any digital signal will automatically stop the recording process. Therefore, if there is a three-second pause in the music or between tracks, you have a problem.

Before a recorded disc can be played in the CDR 2’s play tray or any other CD player, it must be finalized, which adds all the table of contents data. Material can be added at any time prior to finalization. Once a CD-R is finalized, it is a done deal. CD-RWs, of course, can be erased and recorded over again at will. Unlike tapes, they don’t stretch or degrade (at least as quickly).

When erasing a CD-RW, you have to either wipe the entire disc or as many tracks as you want deleted, starting from the last track recorded. It sure would be nice to have the ability to erase any track, regardless of where it is on the disc. Maybe someday they’ll figure out a way to do that.

Special Regulations
Due to the SCMS (Serial Copy Management System) circuitry that is a requirement on consumer-based CD-Recorders, a duplicate cannot be made of a copy that is digital. The CDR 2 will automatically switch to an analog deck-to-deck dub when it detects that the source is a digital copy. However, if you can make only one copy at a time, and you need multiple copies from a particular CD, there seems no logical reason why you shouldn’t make all copies from the original.

Another important difference between desktop burners and computer-based models is the CD blank media. The cheap disks that you buy in bulk for computer use are not recognized by consumer-based CD-Recorders. These "audio-only" discs are priced slightly higher, allowing for a royalty fee that is paid into a general fund by the disc manufacturer. The good news is the average disk costs about $2 these days, compared to the $9 it cost the last time I reviewed a desktop CD-Recorder.

The $699 price tag on the CDR 2 is at the upper end of this category, but the double tray with sequential play and high-speed dubbing capabilities justifies the added cost. It’s simple to integrate into an existing sound system and as easy to operate as any other recording device.

The wide popularity of computer CD-R burners has seriously overshadowed the consumer’s perception of stand-alone CD-R and CD-RW decks for audio systems. In fact, the notion is so foreign that a close friend kept asking me what kind of software I was using to convert the analog signal from my vinyl. It took three tries for me to explain and I think there still was some confusion.

With the cost of CD-Recorders and "audio-only" media dropping, the cassette deck as an archiving medium is officially dead in my book. (In all fairness, I buried the cassette tape format years ago.) Maybe this product category has to vie for attention with its computer counterpart, but in my experience, there is room for both a desktop unit such as the CDR 2 and a dedicated burner for the computer, even in the same household.
Manufacturer Harman Kardon
Model CDR 2 Dual Deck CD Recorder
Reviewer Kim Wilson

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