Philips CDR880 CD-R/RW CD recorder Page 2

Pretty well, overall, but it was a puzzling machine in some ways. If bits is bits, and all we do when we record from a digital source to the copy is transfer the ones and zeros, then there should be no difference between the copy and the original—or between copies made on different machines. That much seems obvious.

But there's a pair of overalls in the chowder: I could consistently hear minor differences between the original and the copies made on the CDR880, and I could hear differences between copies made on the '880 and copies made on Stereophile's sample of the Meridian CDR. Big differences? Not really. They were relatively small, but they were certainly there.

To begin with, I made multiple copies of Buddy Miller's Poison Love (Hightone HCD 8084). I made one copy straight to consumer audio-grade CD-R and another on CD-RW. I then made a copy using the Meridian onto a data-grade CD-R and, to discount differences between media, another onto a Philips consumer-grade CD-R. (If you want to use the costlier consumer-grade discs on pro machines, there's nothing stopping you.) Finally, I figured out a way to record a data-grade disc on the '880 (see Sidebar, "Sneaky People"). I labeled them all using a fine-point Sanford Sharpee, because it was getting confusing.

Let's get the easy one out of the way first: I heard very little difference between the CD-R and the CD-RW recorded on the '880. Perhaps the CD-RW sounded a smidge smoother—I certainly thought so some of the time. But the differences bordered on the insignificant.

Another easy one to dismiss: The differences between the consumer-grade CD-R and the data-grade CD-Rs made on each player were also next to nonexistent. Let's leave media out of this—the differences seemed to stem from the players.

Comparing consumer-grade discs made on the two different recorders revealed consistent differences between them. The Philips disc, again, had great bass: tuneful, punchy, and well articulated. Buddy Miller's voice sounded natural and had good body. But the upper frequencies were a shade spitchy in comparison to both the original and the Meridian copy. The Meridian disc did not have bass as forceful or as taut as either the Philips disc or the original, but the acoustic guitar sounded rounder than on the disc recorded on the CDR880—and the splash cymbals sounded brassier and had a longer decay. And there was one other difference that was less definable: The Meridian disc seemed to hold together better musically. If I listened to the disc made on the '880 for long periods of time, I grew restless, less interested in the music. I know that sounds maddeningly "unscientific"—there's no measurement for "holding my musical interest"—but there you have it. It's a symptom that might indicate something that is quantifiable, such as jitter. I'll be interested to see JA's measurements.

I wondered if the differences had anything to do with the compatibility of each disc with the machine that made it, so I performed the same tests with a third machine: an Arcam Alpha 9. No significant variation.

In case I seem to make too much of these relatively minor differences, I should note that they are exactly that: minor. I just find it frustrating that they're there at all—I keep picking at them, the way I can't leave a sore tooth alone. It would be better to just forget about it, but I keep worrying and worrying it.

Ana who?
I also recorded some LPs to test the CDR880's performance when converting analog to digital. I presume that most buyers will be interested primarily in recording from CDs, but a lot of people, myself definitely included, have material on LP that has never been reissued on CD. It would be nice to record your own for travel, commuting, or taking to the office.

Here's where the recording-level control comes in—it isn't needed for direct transfer of digital data. The control, an Alps pot, is for both channels; individual tweaking of each channel is not offered. The analog signal is converted to digital 16-bit resolution by a Stereo BitStream SAA 7366 A/D converter. It is then sample-rate-converted by a Philips TDA1373.

One minor annoyance in analog recording was the teensy little recording meter. It's hard to read and, therefore, it's easy to clip. With digital, you get no period of grace: overload is instantaneous.

Recording analog was almost as straightforward as recording digital, except that if you want to differentiate tracks from one another, you have to sit at the recorder and press Record every time you want a new track marking. Theoretically, if you select Auto track allocation, the '880 will mark a new track whenever it senses three seconds of silence. However, I discovered that you can look long and hard for an LP that has three seconds of silence after every song. If it's important to you, do it manually.

I wasn't terribly impressed with the '880's analog recording capabilities. You can put your LPs on CD, but that won't make you Bernie Grundman or Steve Hoffman. The sound is adequate, but reminiscent of the kind of digital sound that Michael Fremer rails against: everything gets flattened out—including dynamics. Even so, I'll probably use this feature quite a bit when I put together "theme" compilations encompassing many different artists and songs—it's gonna be a long time before I've duplicated my entire record collection on CD. ("You should live so long," my wife snorts.) One more thing: There's a genuine cognitive disconnect when you hear surface noise, or pops, while listening to a CD.

Moved to delight by the melody
Taken as a whole, is the Philips CDR880 CD-Recordable/Re-Writable deck better than a cassette deck? Well, it certainly doesn't have the speed-stability problems that such machines are prone to. And, while there are analog superdecks, such as the Arcam Delta 100 and the Revox B-215, they are the exception rather than the rule. So yeah, the Philips '880 is better than a cassette deck—hell, it makes CDs, for Pete's sake. I have a great cassette deck, but I'm not even sure which part of the garage it's buried in. No, when I want to shift data around, I want it in a form I can use at work, in my car, at 32,000 feet, around the house—I want my CD!

I've been hard on the Philips CDR880, but its faults are quite minor. The '880 is affordable, and it couldn't be simpler to use. And it has one feature nobody can quibble about: it's a hell of a lot of fun to make your own CDs. As I write this, there are only ten CDR880s in the country; but as soon as Philips fills the dealer pipeline, I'm going to order one. Remember, if the red light over my door is on, don't disturb me—I'll be recording.

Philips Electronics
64 Perimeter Center East
Atlanta, GA 30346-6401
(770) 821-2400
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