Reports of the stand-alone recorder’s demise are greatly exaggerated.
Text: Simon Tillbrook
Among the racks of equipment around me in the studio right now are an Alesis Master Disk ML9600 and an HHB CDR850. In these days of bouncing mixes and internal DAW master recording, many see this type of stand-alone external master recorder as all-but redundant. But I turn to the flexibility and sound of these real-time master machines most of the time, and many of my colleagues feel the same way. So which is it? Yesterday’s technology or a valid link in the recording chain? It’s a debate that shows no sign of going away – the arrival of the CDR882 DualBurn CD recorder certainly sparked ‘words’ among my peers. Let’s see if we can get to the bottom of this.
The HHB CDR882 is a dual CD player/recorder capable of utilising the majority of recordable CD media with a burn speed of up to 52x. It’s housed in a very rugged 2U rack-mountable case, weighs in at a formidable 6.7kg, and is quite a deep unit at 310mm. As soon as I took delivery of the CDR882 I upgraded the firmware (version 2.0), which packs 23 updates, including refinements to existing function and general bug fixes.
The two drives are independently controllable, but there’s only one set of transport controls assignable to either drive. The unit has a number of operational modes, and is fitted with 24-bit noise shaping converters. It comes with a very comprehensively featured infrared remote control (a D9F nine-pin parallel remote connector also comes supplied), along with a well-written manual to take you through it all.
The rear of the HHB CDR882 contains all the analogue and digital connections you’d expect from such a device. AES/EBU XLR input and output sit alongside S/PDIF RCA and TOSlink inputs and outputs. CD text, DAT ID, and PQ encoding are all fully recognised through these digital connections. The array of digital input connections can accept sample rates from 32k to 96k, which are then internally dithered to 44.1k CD ‘quality’. There’s also a wordclock BNC connector which can accept external 44.1k clock sources. Both here, as well as duplicated on the front panel of the unit, is a PS/2 socket to plug in a keyboard for entering CD Text data. Balanced XLR analogue inputs referenced at +4dBu (digital level –18dBFS) can accept input levels up to +24dBu before clipping. Unbalanced RCA analogue connectors have input sensitivity set to –10dBu (digital level –18dBFS) with a maximum input level of +10dBu. Balanced XLR analogue outputs, at the same reference as the inputs, can output a maximum level of +22dBu for 0dBFS. Unbalanced RCA analogue outputs, again at the reference of the unbalanced inputs, can deliver a maximum output level of +8dBu for 0dBFS.
A number of HHB CDR882 units can be chained together for multi-machine operation by connecting them with the nine-pin link input and/or output connectors.
The two drives of the HHB CDR882 are separated on the front panel by a 128×64 pixel LCD display, that sits above the shared transport control buttons and clearly displays modes, text, and general status information for each of the drives. The display area is also where you’ll find the 11-segment stereo meter that runs from –40 to 0dBFS. On either side of the display are LEDs to indicate activity and allocation of the transport controls. The majority of the functions on the front panel will already be familiar to all and sundry, so I might as well cover those that require a bit more explanation.
Next to the HHB logo, which also doubles as a power button, is the duplicate PS/2 keyboard connector and a fully-variable analogue input level control. A multi-function rotary control follows, which acts as a track selector when in play mode, and can be pushed to mark a location point. The control can also be used to navigate the HHB CDR882 when the Menu button is activated – use the rotary control to locate, then push to enter. Pushing the Text button allows for CD Text to be entered through the connected keyboard.
A pair of buttons has dual functionality depending on whether the HHB CDR882 is in record or play mode: Auto/Manual track ID write and numbering when recording, or Auto Cue and Auto Pause when in playback – a very useful broadcast function.
The Disc Copy button lets you make high-speed copies between drives on a single HHB CDR882. The Program button has two modes: in Play mode, it lets you play tracks from disc in a non-sequential order, and when in Copy mode, you can record only selected tracks in any order. As well as a drive selection button for transport control, there’s also a Phones Select button that allows you to monitor either drive independently or mixed together, with the level balance adjustable within the operating system.
The Fader button provides a smooth linear fade in/out over a specified time for both recording and playback. When a fade out is completed, the unit pauses.
MODES & GENERAL USE
In Single CD mode the two drives act independently, so, for example, one drive can record from an input, while the other can play from a disc, etc. With DualBurn mode you can record on both drives simultaneously. This would be in the context of recording two copies of the same source, as only one of the input options can be active at any one time. So you can have two first-generation discs.
When in DiscSpan mode you can either play back or record a program that will not fit on a single disc. This is extremely useful in all manner of applications such as live shows, conference and speech recordings, to name a few.
This is useful enough, but when you also consider it’s possible to chain up to four of these recorders together, the full potential of the last two modes of operation becomes even more compelling. So we then have the ability to duplicate discs, and with DiscSpan mode, increase the recording time substantially over several machines.
The HHB CDR882 feels very solid in operation. This is a machine that feels like it could withstand life on the road with no problem at all. The sound is what both others and myself have come to expect from HHB standalone recorders; (one of the many reasons I still use them extensively); full, robust, punchy and dynamic, with clear detail throughout the frequency range.
The CDR882 is noticeably faster than previous models from HHB, with discs ready to go in seconds. Navigating is as simple as can be expected given the comprehensive feature set. Duplicating discs at high speed gave precise results time after time, reinforcing HHB’s reputation for reliability – something I’ve always associated with HHB CD recorders.
The DiscSpan mode is the trump card of the HHB CDR882 in my book, with its seamless transition between discs, or programmable fades between discs (dependant on application), and over several machines. On the single HHB CDR882 I had, this feature worked perfectly, recording a lecture over an extended time frame. I wasn’t able to test this functionality with multiple units unfortunately, but I have no reason to doubt that it would work just as well.
DUAL IN THE CROWN?
The HHB CDR882 is everything I’ve come to expect from HHB stand-alone recorders: robust design with sonically detailed dynamic sound, and innovative function. So who will use it? The DiscSpan mode will find many friends in broadcast, live sound, theatre, and duplication facilities, and I reckon the HHB CDR882 will continue to breathe life into this proven format in studios as well.