Philips CDR880 CD-R/RW CD recorder

Back when the CD was a pup, I used to hear people say, "I refuse to buy a CD player until they can record." Ha ha, I thought, smart-ass audiophile that I was, they're gonna wait for a long time—that's never gonna happen. I was half right—it has been a long time coming. But I was also, as my football coach used to insist, half-fast. "Never" has arrived.

Of course, CD-R "burners" are de rigueur these days in the PC power user community, and there have been other standalone CD recorders—Stereophile reviewed the Meridian CDR (way back in Vol.15 No.11 and Vol.16 No.11) and, more recently, the Pioneer PDR-99 (Vol.19 Nos.1 and 4). The high prices of these machines kept them out of the hands of average-Joe audiophiles, however. By contrast, the Philips CDR880, priced at $695, is aimed solidly at the consumer market. Is this, as one Philips official claimed, the final step in the evolution of the CD?

We stand at the edge of a new frontier
The Philips CDR880 is a consumer CD recorder. That means it will recognize and record only on "consumer audio"–grade CD blanks. These are somewhat more expensive than the computer-grade CD blanks available at most stationery stores, since their price includes a royalty designed to reimburse musicians, composers, lyricists, et al for the lost revenues that recording CDs is supposed to cost them. How much more expensive? Well, Philips quotes consumer audio-grade discs at between $5 and $7 each, whereas Office Depot sells 10-packs of computer discs for $19.99, and I've seen them in computer catalogs for as little as $0.99 each, after rebate. As a consumer machine, the '880 also includes the Serial Copy Management System (SCMS)—a system that "allows" users to make first-generation copies from original copyright-protected CDs, but prevents them from making copies of copies.

The CDR880 also includes CD-rewritable (CD-RW) capability, which requires special discs with an alloy recording layer that can be recorded and erased (see Sidebar, "Two Types of Discs"). CD-RW blanks cost a lot more—between $25 and $30 each—but, according to Philips, they can be recorded and rerecorded thousands of times.

The '880 is the second-generation consumer CD recorder that Philips has released. Their first attempt, the CDR870, performed an unnecessary sample-rate conversion when recording 44.1kHz-sampled digital signals (footnote 1), which created high enough jitter levels that Martin Colloms found the difference between recorded discs and the originals puzzlingly audible when he reviewed the unit in Hi-Fi News & Record Review in January 1998—a subjective finding that Paul Miller's measurements, also in that issue, supported. The '880 corrects that flaw through its Direct Line Recording (DLR) feature, which recognizes the 44.1kHz sampling rate of a CD source and bypasses the sampling-rate converter. For analog sources, or digital sources recorded at different sampling rates, the sampling-rate converter is used.

New occasions teach new duties
Compared to the Meridian CDR and the Pioneer PDR-99, the CDR880 is a lightweight, weighing in at well under 10 lbs. At first glance it looks like just another mass-market CD player—only the recording-level knob to the right of the display hints at any unusual capabilities. But a closer examination reveals that a lot of thought has gone into making the recorder easy to use. The controls are kept to a minimum; other than the necessary Play, Pause, Stop, Scan Forward, Reverse, and drawer Open/Close buttons, the '880 sports a mere seven buttons dedicated to the recording process: Auto/Manual track allocation, Display, Input select, Record, Finalize, Erase, and CDSYNC. Some of these are not obvious, but they're simple to use.

Auto/Manual track allocation allows you to set the machine to create a new track every time it senses a three-second pause; or, if you're recording from an analog source, to manually mark the beginning of each track by pressing the Record button. Input select allows you to choose between optical or coax digital inputs, or analog. Record is self-explanatory, except that pressing it puts the machine into Record standby—you must then press Play to start recording. Finalize performs the "cleanup" function once you've recorded all the data onto your disc—it writes the ToC (Table of Contents) so that other CD players can recognize and play the disc. CDSYNC is a convenient function that allows the consumer to copy whole CDs, DATs, or DCCs down to including track markers.

The '880 has gold-plated RCA jacks for coaxial S/PDIF input and output, as well as inputs and outputs for analog signals. TosLink input and output are also available. The mains connection is not the larger three-pin IEC type, but rather the smaller two-wire plug-in sort sometimes found on home appliances such as electric mixers.

The CDR880 utilizes a new Philips laser pickup/drive mechanism, the CDM36, which employs a heavy die-cast chassis, complete with suspension. It also has a high-density magnetic clamping mechanism and a low-noise, high-torque motor. Philips' TDA1305 D/A chip converts digital data to analog signal. S/PDIF input and output chores are handled by a TDA1315 chipset. If necessary, the signal is sample-rate-converted by a TDA1373 chip.

Teach us delight in simple things
Recording couldn't be simpler. Pop in a consumer-audio CD-R or CD-RW disc and close the drawer—then wait. The player reads the disc to determine whether it is a conventional CD, CD-R, or CD-RW, and, when it recognizes a blank of either type, performs an Optimal Power Calibration (OPC). During the OPC, the '880 calculates the required laser-energy level by performing a trial recording. This is made necessary by the number of different materials that can be used for the recording layer of a CD-R disc—each, of course, requires a different recording laser-beam power. After the OPC, the machine is ready: Choose your input, press Record, then press Play, and you're in business. Before you can play the CD-R on another machine, however, you must finalize it. This, too, is simple—just press Finalize followed by Record within two seconds, and the '880 will write a ToC. The process takes about two minutes.

Be warned, however, that not every CD player will recognize finalized CD-Rs. I went to New York recently and played my CD-R of John Atkinson's 1997 recording of the Marc Copland Quartet on the systems of several Stereophile reviewers without incident, but when I tried to play it on my pal Ruben's CAL Icon II, the machine wouldn't acknowledge the disc's existence. Like other older CD players, it requires greater contrast between the land and the pits than the 40–70% reflectivity of CD-Rs. It also appears that DVD players that use a single-beam, multifocus laser will not recognize them either.

Philips is being cautious about making claims for compatibility for CD-RWs, but when I tried a finalized disc in an Arcam Alpha 9, it played. I walked from room to room trying the CD-RW in other players I had in the house—neither the Meridian 508.24 nor the Audio Research CD2 recognized it. Intrigued, I went door-to-door around my neighborhood, trying it in players wherever they'd let me in. (Would you?) A Sony CDP-C535 played it, but a Denon DCM-360 and DCM-30 did not. Given the high price of the discs in the first place, I can't imagine anyone just handing them out like the mythical five-cent seegar, but I recommend checking playback compatibility before making any CD-RWs for friends.

To ask the hard question is simple
How well did the CDR880 perform? "As what?" I ask.

As a CD player, I'd call the '880 competent but not too ambitious. It sounded like a lot of other mid-priced players: better than some, but not the pick of the litter. It had good, punchy bass, although truly deep bass seemed MIA, and it got the midrange essentially right. Voices and guitars sounded natural and focused. Further up the frequency band it ran into some hard going, however, as I felt string overtones and other HF information was slightly lackluster—not screechy, certainly, but not particularly sweet or extended either. Nor was it a soundstaging champ. But once I'd gotten used to its somewhat flattened perspective, I could distinguish layers of information from the front to the somewhat farther back. Good performance, but certainly not up to the best affordable CD players I've heard—like the Marantz CD63SE, for instance.

But then, most people who buy an CDR880 will already own another CD player. The real question is, How did it perform as a recorder?

Footnote 1: Presumably a nod of the head to the concerns of the recording industry, this sample-rate conversion would ensure copyright owners that "the numbers were different," that a CD-R made on the '870 would not be a bit-for-bit clone of the CD being copied.—John Atkinson
Philips Electronics
64 Perimeter Center East
Atlanta, GA 30346-6401
(770) 821-2400

Lofty's picture

Why, oh why, do we get a vintage review of a cd recorder/player. These machines are obsolete. Don't get me wrong, I have a component cd recorder and use it occassionally. 

To add to further irrelevance, the keepers of this website deem it important that we should read of a late 80's FM tuner. Don't get me wrong but I have three tuners and use them every day. Thank God for public/college radio in the NYC area.

OK, editors of Stereophile, what is the criteria for determining what vintage equipment reviews to publish on-line. For instance, I would rather put up a Music Reference MR9 amplifier (reviewed by DO) or a tuner, more important than the Marantz, like the Onyko T-9090 MkII.

So, to make a short story short, what is Stereophile's criteria  on listing equipment reviews on this website? 

As JA might say, "color me (un)impressed".

John Atkinson's picture

OK, editors of Stereophile, what is the criteria for determining what vintage equipment reviews to publish on-line

One: requests from readers, as in the case of the Marantz tuner to which you object.

Two: filling in gaps in our archived reviews, which are almost complete going back to 1994, with many more going back to the magazine's founding in the early 1960s. (My goal is have every review Stereophile has ever published available on this website.) The 1998 Philips CD-R recorder review falls into this category, as it is one the few remaining reviews by Wes Phillips that had not yet been posted.

Three: personal interest on my part. Again, this was the case in the Philips recorder review, as it shone a light into an era where recordable CDs had not devolved into a commodity with no intrinsic value and where the concerns of the record industry were still affecting the performance of the hardware.

Four: from the page view statistics, these reviews appear to be as popular as anything else we post on-line.

And I fail to understand your objection. We are not forcing you to pay to read these vintage reviews. They also don't replace anything. You object to seeing them on-line, turn the page.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

mrplankton2u's picture

Arghh....another whiny post about vintage reviews:


"why, oh why do we get a vintage review..."


Considering all the other e-zines that offer nothing but advertising and cheesy subjective reviews for non subscribers and subscribers alike, it would probably be smarter to refrain from looking a gift horse in the mouth - unless you represent a competing ezine. That would certainly explain the sour, demanding, and petty attitude.  Not very shocking though as the above commenter calls him/herself "Lofty". Perhaps LoftyWhiner would be more suitable. If you would prefer more "cheese" with your whine, there are several other ezine websites available to choose from. They're very good at serving up hyped, subjective, propaganda...ahem... I mean "reviews" - for the companies that advertise with them and you won't have to endure the posting of vintage reviews. You'll only get advertising hype....ahem... I mean "reviews" - of currently produced and advertised product.

smittyman's picture

There are a couple of valid questions being asked in Lofty's post.  I've wondered about the vintage reviews myself and I think JA has done a good job of explaining the rationale for the decisions.  I've always applauded Stereophile for making so much content available for free; I had no idea that JA's goal was to get every review  ever published on to the site and I think that is great.

I usually skip the reviews of older equipment - especially stuff that is no longer in production and I wondred why these reviews were posted.  I would find them a lot more valuable if they perhaps referenced current used prices and or compared the equipment to its present day equivalant - but I realize that would be a huge amount of work and might not even be possible in some cases.

Stephen Mejias's picture

I usually skip the reviews of older equipment - especially stuff that is no longer in production and I wondred why these reviews were posted.  I would find them a lot more valuable if they perhaps referenced current used prices and or compared the equipment to its present day equivalant - but I realize that would be a huge amount of work and might not even be possible in some cases.

For me (and I bet I'm not the only one who feels this way), the simple historic value is enough. I wasn't aware of this stuff the first time it came around, so it's great for me to have the opportunity to learn about the past and tie it with what we're seeing today.

A time when CD-RWs sold for $30 each?! Unthinkable today. 

Plus, this is just really fine writing from Wes.

volvic's picture

As someone who buys vintage gear these reviews are a "trip down memory lane".  Besides some of this gear still holds its own even today and are great bargains and have such character.  Nope, keep em coming, I love reading them.  


IgAK's picture

This is useful to used equipment buyers, just not titillating to dry-salivating perusers of stratospheric equipment those Walter mitty-esque folks generally can't afford to buy anyway. You know, used equipment...what happens to new equipment that the more well heeled sell after it isn't this year's latest and greatest.

FWIW, nowadays you can also buy used pro machines like the HHB 850, which ignore scams...I mean SCAMS...and also have excellent sound quality both as players and recorders...if you can find ones that aren't misbehaving. These are pro versions of the Pioneer PDR555RW, which SCAMS you into submission. While I don't know if the Pioneer consumer version has the same problem, I see no reason to buy a "scammed" burner on the used market, then have to fuss with all the restirictions. The problem? The HHB's have a 1F memory backup "supercap" that leaks ands destroys the triple-layered main board irreparably, which costs about as much to buy as the whole used unit, and installation under multiple boards in the way above this main board isn't quick or easy. But if you find a unit that isn't acting up yet, you can simply replace that cap for under $10 at worst price possible, and it can even be done (carefully) without removing any boards to do so - if you or someone you know is skillful enough. Just don't figure on repairing one that has already gone bad and acting up already - too late by then, that board is already rotting away from the caustic exudate form the cap! Then you have a fantastic unit for cheap, and no one is going to tell you what you can copy or not...oh, not that anyone would actually ignore the industry-profit serving legalities...of course (eyeroll)...right? We should respect laws rammed through with lobby money, never mind where on us they rammed them, of course...right? 



Audio Asylum Bruce from DC's picture

You never know what you learn on this site!  I happen to own an HHB 850 (working) which I have had for a number of years.  I don't use it to make copies of CDs, but I do use it to make digital versions of analog recordings.  So, for example, I can have my vinyl records "playing" in my car.

Never knew about the 1F cap failure.  So, I'll pull the sucker out and have a look.  TIA, as they say.

While we're at it, using the balanced outputs, the HHB is an inferior-sounding CD player to my Sony XA-777ES, which has only unbalanced outputs.   But CD dupes it makes of my records are surprisingly good.  Also, a couple of years ago we discovered a vinyl record of my late mother-in-law (who had a trained, operatic voice) singing Christmas carols, probably recorded in th e1950s.  The record was a mess, but using the HHB to make a digital copy that I could work with on my PC, we cleaned it up surprisingly well . .  . and gave CD's of the cleaned up version to all of her descendants who greatly apprceiated the gift.