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CD Recorder By Paul White
Published August 1997

When HHB unveiled their CDR800 stand‑alone CD recorder at a trade show in Germany earlier this year, it attracted a huge amount of interest from all sectors of the studio market, not least because of its attractive price. With quantity prices of blank CD‑R discs running at under £3.50, the whole concept of producing your own short‑run CDs, or CD masters for commercial duplication, is very attractive. But why is everyone so excited about this machine? After all, for less than half the price, you can buy a CD‑ROM burner for your Mac or PC that will not only let you write disks in a quarter of the time, it will also allow you to back up audio files, archive entire hard drives and create your own CD‑ROMs. The answer is that the CDR800 offers simplicity, and it doesn't tie up your computer. What's more, if you're making copies directly from a DAT master, you're restricted to real‑time operation anyway.

To create a CD, all you need is a DAT tape with track IDs placed where you want the CD tracks to be. In real time, the DAT tape is then digitally cloned to a CD‑R blank, and when this is done, you have a CD that can be played on a regular CD player or even used as a master for CD mass production. Of course you can also record from other digital sources, such as MiniDisc, DCC or digital workstations, but for media that don't include embedded track numbering, track IDs will have to be entered manually unless there's a sufficient gap between tracks for the auto system to work. This being the case, perhaps the user would have benefited from being able to change the CDR800's preset 10‑second silence recognition time? Track ID entries must be made during recording — it's not possible to add them once the recording is done. The auto level detect system is factory‑set to recognise passages below ‑60dB as silence, but this may be reset anywhere from ‑40dB to ‑80dB in 10dB steps, or switched off altogether.

Physically, the CDR800 is not unlike a regular rackmounted CD or DAT machine, and can accept both analogue and digital inputs in a number of formats. The analogue input is available on both balanced XLRs (switchable from +4dBu to ‑8dBu) and unbalanced phones; the digital input stage offers a choice of AES/EBU, S/PDIF or optical. The output is on unbalanced phonos, S/PDIF and optical. There's also a DIN socket for a parallel remote, and the manual thoughtfully includes wiring details for connection to hard‑wired remote transport buttons, such as might be built into an edit suite.

The CDR800 offers simplicity, and it doesn't tie up your computer.

When used with an analogue input, the CDR800 employs a single‑bit conversion system for maximum low‑level linearity. The digital input includes a sample‑rate converter, so that you don't get fooled by mixed‑sample‑rate DAT tapes or tapes made on domestic 48kHz machines. The incoming digital system is passed through to the digital output without sample‑rate conversion. A three‑beam pickup with a differential push‑pull system is used for reading discs — the CDR800 also functions as a player — and the overall design approach is claimed to minimise cross‑interference from signals within the machine, which many experts now believe is the underlying reason that numerically identical CDs can sound different when played on the same machine. For example, if the pickup servo system were to modulate the power supply, and that modulation were to find its way into the audio circuitry, an increase in distortion would result, and if some mechanical imperfection made the servo work harder, the affect on the sound would be more significant, even though the actual numbers recorded on the disk were identical.

Mechanical stability is also important for accurate recording and playback, and the CDR800 features a stable platter mechanism that supports the entire surface of the disc from below. When you open the disc drawer, the disc turntable comes out with it. This means you have to insert the disc label side down but, as the optics can be suspended above the disc, there's less risk of dirt accumulating on the lenses. There are also four chunky, non‑slip feet on the bottom of the unit for free‑standing use.

An infra‑red remote control is supplied with production models (although no remote was included with the review unit), and the usual stereo phono cables are also provided.

Disc World

Current CD‑R blanks can record up to 74 minutes of audio and, in order for a recorded disc to be playable on a domestic CD player, it needs to contain not only the required audio material, but also a table of contents that tells the player where the tracks are, when they start and so on. CD‑Rs may be recorded in multiple sessions or all in one go, but they can't be played until the disc is 'finalised', a process that creates the table of contents and prevents further recording. Before it's finalised, the disc can be replayed only on the CDR800. If the disc currently in the machine hasn't been finalised, an icon in the display window lights to let you know that further recording is possible.

The control system is more straightforward even than that of a DAT machine, though there are many similarities, including a multi‑function time display that may be switched to show elapsed recording time, total recording time or remaining recording time. Also included in the display window are twin‑peak recording‑level meters, a sample‑rate readout that monitors the incoming digital signal, and a readout of the recording source selection. As on a DAT machine, skip IDs can be written to direct the player to skip certain tracks, but of course any ID changes have to be made before finalising — once that's done, your disc is strictly read‑only.

Recording Modes

There are five possible recording modes, the first of which is Automatic Digital Source Synchro Recording (one track). As the name implies, this mode allows you to record one track at a time — the recording starts as soon as the source plays, and stops automatically at the end of the track. Recording starts when a sound is detected (the threshold has several user‑definable options), and finishes either when a second track is detected, when a silence of longer than 10 seconds is detected, or when the Stop button is pressed. The process is started by pressing the Digital Synchro button to 'arm' the recording process, after which the source material is started.

Modes two and three are both Automatic Digital Source Synchro Recording (all tracks), but mode two is used when the source isn't DAT, or when the automatic transfer of DAT IDs to track IDs is not required. Mode three (DAT Exclusive) is the most useful if you want to transfer a compiled DAT to CD in one take. Press the Digital Synchro button until ID Sync is displayed, and DAT IDs are transferred directly to the recorder for use as track IDs. Note that the AES/EBU interface doesn't carry this information, so you must use either S/PDIF or optical connections. Once again, recording continues until a pause of greater than 10 seconds is detected or until the source is stopped.

Mode four is Manual Digital Source Recording and is used mainly for recording from less common digital sources. The main difference here is that recording is started and stopped manually rather than automatically. Finally, there's the Analogue Source mode, which is used when you're recording any analogue source material into the CDR800.

Once your recording is complete, pressing the Finalise button writes the table of contents and makes the disc playable on a regular CD player. This takes several minutes, during which time the machine should be left to get on with its job uninterrupted. There is a Resume function, which attempts to salvage a finalisation that's been interrupted by a mains failure, but the manual warns that this doesn't always succeed.

Other user‑friendly functions include the ability to create fade‑ins and fade‑outs during recording, and to record blank spaces or blank tracks. To enter track IDs manually when recording, you must press the Manual button on the front panel at the appropriate time. If you mess up a track, you can write a skip ID to have the player skip it, providing you do this before finalising. In Play mode, the CDR800 can offer all the programmed play functions you'd expect to find on a commercial player. Of course, if I had one of these, the last thing I'd do is wear it out using it as a player!

In Use

Recording a CD from a DAT on which the track IDs have been properly placed is extremely easy; simply press the Source button until DAT shows up, then press the Digital Synchro button until Auto ID is in the display window. At this point, the DAT tape can be started and the recording starts when the first track start ID is read. There's no ID offset facility built into the CDR800, so it's advisable to move the DAT IDs back slightly to prevent the risk of a song with a quiet start being indexed late.

Once the recording is complete, the recording process stops after 30 seconds of silence, but there seems to be no way to make it stop right at the end of the last track: the CDR800 doesn't seem to recognise DAT End markers or even the end of the recorded subcode. I see this as quite a limitation, because, if you want to produce a CD master for production, you don't want 30 seconds of blank at the end of it, and you certainly don't want to have to hover over the machine while it's recording just so you can press Stop at the appropriate point.

Before the disc is finalised, the recording conforms to Orange Book standard, which means it can't be replayed on a conventional CD player. Pressing Finalise, followed by Pause, takes around four minutes to create the table of contents necessary to convert the disc into a Red‑Book‑standard, PQ‑encoded disc that can be played on regular CD machines and used as a master for CD duplication.


The CDR800 is certainly one of the most cost‑effective stand‑alone CD burners around, and the fact that the PQ‑encoded discs can be used for CD production cuts out an expensive pre‑mastering stage. I like the ease of use of the machine, and certainly have no complaints about the number of I/O formats supported, but I feel that the auto track ID system could have been made a little more flexible, especially in recognising the end of a recording. The whole point of a machine like this should be that you can let it get on with making a copy while you do something else, but the fixed 30 seconds' silence before the CDR800 stops at the end of a tape means that you have to be on the ball to press the Stop button manually. Other than that, there's little not to like about the CDR800, and I foresee both professional and private studio owners buying them in large numbers to produce their own limited‑run CDs or CD masters.

Protect & Serve

Copy protection was a big issue when DAT first came on the scene, and consumer machines still have SCMS (Serial Copy Management System) built in (which inconveniences everyone except the actual pirates, who can afford pro machines without SCMS!). CDs have their own copy protection system, and the CDR800, via rear‑panel DIP switches, enables three types of disc to be produced — those that have no restrictions upon copying (copy bit 1), those that can be copied once (copy bit 0), and those that can't be copied at all (copy bit 1/0).


  • Affordable.
  • Simple to use.
  • Produces Red Book, PQ‑encoded master discs.
  • Good range of I/O facilities.


  • Auto ID numbering and end‑of‑recording detection a little inflexible.


An affordable stand‑alone solution to short‑run or one‑off CD production, which doesn't require the use of a computer or difficult‑to‑learn software.