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Philips CDR880 CD Recorder Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 July 1998
ImageMagnetic audiotape's days are numbered as CD recording enters a new phase of affordability. While CD Recorders are far from new, the Philips CDR880's $649.00 price tag is impressive. Early adopters are going to love the Philips CDR880, though blank media costs aren't as low as they'll need to be for magnetic tape to vanish into oblivion just yet.

The CDR880 not only records CD-Recordable (CD-R) media it also records CD-Rewritable (CD-RW) media. Rewritable discs, however, only playback on the CDR880 or other CD-Rewritable machines while CD-R's are completely backward compatible with all other CD Players.

If you can handle the hook up of a tape recorder you'll have no problem installing the CDR880. Both analog and digital (coax and optical) I/O's are provided. You can run a direct line from another CD player (analog or digital) to the CDR880, particularly if all of your material is coming from the one source. If you're using multiple sources including vinyl LP's you may use the tape outputs (or any line level outputs) from your preamp/receiver.

Operation is equally simple. Before recording, you need to let the recorder know if it's going to receive an analog or digital signal. Operation is essentially the same either way, except the record volume control only works on analog signals. If you're making a compilation CD for that next road trip you might want to use the analog inputs so you can control the varying outputs from different CD's. However, for optimum performance stay in the digital domain as long as possible by using the digital inputs. You'll get a cleaner, more resolute recording due to the CDR880's 1-bit D/A and A/D conversion. It also accepts 32kHz and 48kHz sampling rates from DAT (digital analog tape) and converts it to the standard CD sampling rate of 44.1kHz.
A special CDSYNC feature can be employed when using the digital inputs. Enabling this feature starts the recording process automatically once the digital bitstream is detected. All track numbers are automatically inserted.

If you are recording portions of CD's or individual songs from different CD's, you can set up the CDR880 to insert the track numbers automatically or manually. Either setting ensures an inserted track number at the beginning of a recording, however, only the manual mode allows you to insert track numbers during the recording process. For instance, if you are recording Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick that has only two track numbers on the commercially released CD, you can insert your own tracks numbers during the re-recording for greater convenience and accessibility to your favorite sections.

Once a disc is recorded, it needs to be finalized before it can be played back on another CD Player. This process only takes a couple of minutes. Once this is done no additional material can be recorded onto the disc. Prior to finalization, material can be recorded at any time and it's not necessary to record an entire CD in one sitting.

Individual tracks or an entire disc can be erased on CD-RW's. However, once the CD-RW is finalized, the entire disc has to be erased before it can be rewritten. CD-R's can't be erased at all, either before or after finalization. You'll have to live with any mistakes you make. The CDR880 incorporates a Serial Copy Management System (SCMS) that prevents re-recording a recorded CD-R or CD-RW as a precaution against piracy.

The Downside
The biggest downside to this new breed of CD-Recorder is the type of media you have to use. You know those packs of blank CDR's you can find at computer stores averaging out to less than two bucks a disc? Well, they won't work on the CDR880.

The SCMS has been modified so that only a certain type of blank disc can be used. If it doesn't say "For Consumer Only" underneath the CD Recordable logo on the packaging it is considered professional grade and won't work on the CDR880. Finding this media, as I personally discovered, is very difficult and when you do find it, discs often retails for around $10 apiece although Philips will tell you they are priced between $5 and $7. Either way, consumer grade CD-RW's will retail for a whopping $25 to $30. Thankfully, they can be re-written up to 99 times, so you can get your money's worth.

Why the two separate grades of blank discs? The consumer grade media includes prepaid royalties in the event you're dubbing the latest Janet Jackson CD for a buddy. According to a Philips spokesperson, the royalties are minimal but the cost of the media will be relatively high in the short term due to limited demand. As these lower priced recorders penetrate the market, demand for the consumer grade media will increase and prices should ultimately be two to three percent greater than professional grade discs.

Personally, I have been waiting for CD-Recordable to become an inexpensive option for some time. Sure enough, the low cost of the CDR880 is incredibly attractive. However, the cost of the new "consumer grade" media is proportionately astronomical. Until these blank CD's can be purchased in bulk at a reasonable price, the CDR880's mass appeal will remain limited.

As for the unit itself, the CDR880 is very easy to operate and you'll be burning your own CD's in no time. Unlike CD-ROM recorders for computers, the CDR880 only records in real time, without the benefit of 2, 4, 6 or 8 times speed. Despite the high-speed capabilities of computer-oriented CD-ROM recorders, desktop models like the Philips CDR880 are significantly easier to operate, mainly because they resemble the familiar functionality of an audio or video tape recorder.

As much as I enjoyed using the CDR880 and as excited as I am about the prospect of home recording on optical disc, I have to constrain my enthusiasm because this is just the beginning. Costs will continue to drop and CD-RW discs will eventually be backward compatible with current CD Players. If you just can't wait any longer for a CD-Recorder, and the cost of the blank media doesn't scare you off, the CDR880 is good choice and I'm sure you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

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