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Compact disc player/recorders: a vanishing breed?

This is a very short report on a very useful audio product category that may be disappearing. The component category under consideration is the compact disc recorder. The two examples with I am most familiar are both units that I have owned and used: the Denon CDR-W1500 ($599 list) and the Sony RCDW500C ($299). Unfortunately, these two units appear to be the last of the breed.

I think this product category has shrunk because PCs will do the job without some of the restrictions these units impose. For example, these components only work with CD-R music discs, which are more expensive than regular CD-R data discs. The expense of a CD-R music disk over a CD-R data disk represents a royalty that is returned to the music industry under an agreement called AHRA. From what I understand (based on no in-depth knowledge of the subject) the AHRA gives consumers immunity from legal action for copying with AHRA covered devices as long as the copying is done for noncommercial use. AHRA-covered devices such as the Sony and Denon being reviewed here also have Serial Copy Management System (SCMS) that prevents you from making a digital copy of a disc that is already a digital copy.

What these units will let you do, that no computer to my knowledge will let you do, is record analog sources directly to CD-R. With a computer, you first have to record analog to a hard drive, then use more software to "author" the CD-R. In contrast, these units work just like a cassette deck. Obviously, the sonics are better than any cassette deck--or for that matter, any consumer open-reel recorder I have ever got my hands on.

Perhaps of equal importance to those using CD recorders to make analog air checks of live-on-tape broadcasts or copies of out-of-print LPs is the ability to create tracks. Once finalized you can play the disc on any CD player and get to any track in a fraction of a second. Compare that to a tape deck, which could take minutes to fast forward or rewind to the point on the tape where you wanted to listen. In addition, finding that place has always been an iffy proposition if the tape deck you were using did not have a real-time counter.

The only downside I have found with CD-R is if the disk is defective (very rare). In that case, the unit may start recording just fine but then stop after a period of time, causing the whole recording to be lost.

Just like a tape deck, these units have level indicators (digital bars instead of those nifty VU meters) and the ability to adjust input signal level. Because the dynamic range of the analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) far exceeds tape, you do not have to worry as much about recording at too low a level; however, recording too hot will get you in big trouble if the ADC runs out of bits.

I can hear some of you saying, "Why bother with a CD recorder when so many DVD recorders are available at low prices?" The problem is that DVD recorders do not record to CD-R, only to DVD-R. This significantly reduces the convenience factor, as you cannot play DVD-R in your car or in a portable device. In addition, I know of no DVD recorder that has a level control or a level indicator. The DVD-R does come with the advantage that you can make 6-hour recordings and can use the timer function so you do not have to be present to press the record button. I have used a VCR for this purpose in the past.

I have no space to go into the relatively small operational differences of the Denon and Sony. Given the large price difference, I would recommend the Sony. The Denon was one of the first units on the market, and I recently purchased the Sony as backup to the Denon.

The bottom line to all this is that music collectors and archivists will find these units to be indispensable additions to their equipment racks. The rest of the world cannot figure out why anybody would want one of these things. That is why you should purchase one now

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Title Annotation:product evaluation
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Product/service evaluation
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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