Paul White tests Yamaha's new high‑end CD recorder, featuring Apogee's acclaimed UV22 noise‑shaped dithering technology.
Over the past couple of years, recordable CD seems, finally, to have ousted analogue cassette as the distribution medium for demo recordings. This is hardly surprising given that CDs sound so much cleaner and given that blank CD media are, in many cases, cheaper than good‑quality Type II analogue cassettes. CD burners are manufactured by a number of companies for use with computers, and Yamaha are one of the front‑runners in this market, offering CD‑ROM burners at well under £200. However, not everybody wants to go the computer‑dependent route, which is where stand‑alone recorders like the CDR1000 come into the picture. The CDR1000 is not the cheapest CD writer on the market, but its price reflects the fact that incorporates many features that you would expect to find on a professional studio mastering recorder, such as word clock, high‑quality dithering and digital I/O.
Presented in a surprisingly deep and heavy 2U case, the CDR1000 can record and play back CD‑R and CD‑RW media, and can also play conventional audio CDs. Physically, it is an imposing machine, with a solid metallic‑finish panel and purposeful, sensibly sized buttons. All the important transport buttons are arranged beneath the plasma display window, which combines parameter readouts, timing information and metering. A dual‑concentric pot sets the record level and balance while the remaining buttons are located mostly tothe right of the display. Large Erase and Finalise buttons are placed beneath the CD drawer. As ever, discs must be finalised before they can be played on a consumer CD player. Discs can be written with the copy status flag set to Permit, Protect, or Copy Once. The recorder is equipped with 20‑bit, 64x oversampling A‑D converters, and a key point here is that Apogee's UV22 noise‑shaped dithering system has been included to preserve the maximum dynamic range from both high‑quality analogue and 20‑ or 24‑bit digital sources. Noise‑shaped dithering techniques are used in a number of digital recording systems in order to produce CD masters which, while still playable on ordinary CD players, reproduce low‑level detail much more smoothly than undithered masters. As I understand it, the UV22 process is a refinement of such dithering procedures and a separate button is provided on the CDR1000 to switch it in.
The complement of I/O is impressive, with fully balanced analogue ins and outs on XLRs (switchable +4dBu or ‑10dBV sensitivity) plus digital I/O in both AES‑EBU and co‑axial S/PDIF formats. The digital inputs provide sample‑rate conversion which can handle anything from 30kHz to 50kHz, and the conversion can be set to switch in automatically whenever the sample rate at the input deviates by more than 150ppm from 44.1kHz. Yamaha seem to have put a lot of thought into making the sound of these converters as transparent as possible, such that I really couldn't hear any difference between a 'straight' 44.1kHz signal and one that had been sample‑rate converted.
A word clock input BNC socket is provided for use in systems sync'ed to a master clock, and there's a phones output with adjustable level for monitoring. Interestingly, there's a second sample‑rate converter in the playback circuitry so that playback rate will not be affected when an external word clock other than 44.1kHz is used. If the external word clock is at 44.1kHz, the sample‑rate converter is bypassed. A rather small wireless remote comes as standard and a nine‑pin parallel port on the rear panel permits computer control via appropriate software or from hard‑wired transport controls. There's even an optional footswitch that may be used to initiate recording.
The CDR1000 not only provides most of the usual features offered by competing machines, but it also has one or two extra thrown in for good measure. One of these more unusual features is a memory buffer which continuously stores up to 4.95 seconds of any input audio. This means that, if you hit Record the moment you hear a wanted sound, the recording will effectively begin up to 4.95 seconds before that moment. This is an idea that's already been included in some digital location recorders, allowing you to hit Record only after you hear something newsworthy without the recorder missing anything. Naturally, when you hit the Stop button, the contents of the input buffer are safely written to CD before recording actually ceases, preventing you from inadvertently cutting the ends off any of your recordings.
The CDR1000 will write 99 tracks per CD and 99 indices per track, compliant with the Red Book standard for audio CDs. Tracks may be incremented either manually, automatically (based on signal levels) or sync'ed to DAT IDs, CD track IDs, MD track IDs and suchlike. When track IDs or indices are inserted manually, they are automatically moved back by 300mS to ensure they come before the event. However, there was no mention in the manuals as to whether automatically inserted IDs are also placed slightly early, as would seem logical. When I tested this it turned out that no such anticipation had occurred. However, this oughtn't to make catching the beginnings of tracks problematic, because the level threshold at which automatic recording or ID writing occurs can be set to between ‑30 and ‑96dBFS. I certainly didn't notice any song starts getting clipped with the threshold set at ‑70dBFS.
Unfortunately, the length of time for which the input signal must be sub‑threshold before a new track is generated is fixed at three seconds — this will doubtless frustrate those people who occasionally demand shorter gaps between certain tracks. Similarly, there's no way to reset the time after which the machine automatically drops out of record after encountering a long period of sub‑threshold programme material — this is preset at 20 seconds.
In sync mode, either a single track or a whole album may be recorded with track IDs automatically transferred directly from the source material. Fade‑ins and fade‑outs of up to 10 seconds in duration can be programmed, though it would have been nice to have longer fades available, as a decent fade may need to be up to 25 seconds long. This seems rather remiss on a machine of this sophistication, because there are always people who want to include a 'surprise' track a minute or so after the supposed last track has ended. You can fudge this by adding a low‑frequency tone at around ‑80dB to the end of the penultimate track, then setting the threshold detection below this, but you really shouldn't have to do this kind of thing — especially on a machine with this price and feature set.
All the usual CD replay options are included, and unfinalised disks can be played back. The finalising process is started by pressing the button of the same name followed by Play within two seconds, at which point the display counts down the time until you can extract your finished disc. CD‑RWs can also be read, written and erased by the CDR1000. You can erase tracks one at a time, starting with the most recently written, or the whole disk can be erased. Alternatively, the whole disk can be erased and the data area initialised at the same time — this option, though it takes longer, is recommended when recording audio on discs that have previously been used for data storage.
Anyone familiar with domestic CD recorders of the last few years should find operating the CDR1000 very straightforward, as most of its functions have similar counterparts on other manufacturers' machines. There are some welcome extras, too — the recording buffer is a useful tool for recording live events, especially now that we have CD‑RW. The sound quality of the machine is excellent — although you come to expect this when recording digitally, the analogue‑to‑digital converters are also quite impressive. For most pop music applications, switching UV22 in or out will make a smaller difference than most people can hear, but if you increase the listening volume of a signal recorded at a very low level, then UV22 is noticeably smoother than simple truncation. What's more, the provision of the word clock input is good news for serious users with complex digital setups.
However, when you're buying a machine of this calibre, you need to know that it can do any job you ask of it, and the CDR1000 does lack a few useful features, not least the ability to adjust the timing for the automatic cessation of recording. In most cases, these omissions won't matter at all, but a small minority of tasks will be rendered more difficult because of them. Nevertheless, in most respects, this is an excellent stand‑alone CD writer for mastering applications, with the inclusion of the Apogee UV22 process a strong point in its favour.
Not All CD Recorders Are Equal
Hardware audio CD recorders vary in price, from budget consumer models that can only work with more expensive consumer media to mid‑priced 'professional' models with quite basic features, all the way to sophisticated recorders like the Yamaha CDR1000. You might argue that digital audio is just numbers and that, as long as you can get the right numbers onto the CD, the choice of burner makes no difference. In fact, there are considerations such as clock jitter and error rates that cut across this intuitive logic. Furthermore, some types of music are very hard to record using lower‑priced recorders. For example, a very quiet passage of classical music may be interpreted as a long silence by a cheaper recorder, which would turn itself off assuming the end of the source material had been reached.
There's also the business of track IDs. When recording from an analogue source, track IDs tend to be generated by detecting the increase in signal level when a new track starts, but this often means that IDs are placed slightly late, because the track has to have already started in order to generate an ID. This is particularly problematic with machines that have a fixed detection threshold, especially when recording material that fades in. Some high‑end machines provide a means to get around this by placing a small delay in the audio path — the ID is generated from the undelayed audio, then the delayed audio is recorded a fraction of a second later. Making the triggering threshold adjustable also eases the problem.
And life isn't necessarily any easier when recording from a digital source: not everyone records at 16‑bit/44.1kHz any more, so for maximum flexibility a CD recorder needs to have a built‑in sample‑rate converter. However, if these converters are cheap, they can be detrimental to the sound, so there's more to choosing a machine than simply ticking off the features that each one has.
- Excellent range of I/O facilities, including word clock input.
- Apogee UV22 included as standard.
- Good sound quality.
- Easy to operate.
- Buffer memory allows recording to be started up to 4.95 seconds after an event without losing anything.
- Auto track‑increment time and end silence time are fixed.
- Buffer can't be used to pre‑position IDs in auto mode.
An impressively engineered CD recorder with a host of useful features — but at a price.