Test Drive: The HHB CDR-850 Professional Compact Disc Recorder

HHB-CDR850

By Steve Cunningham  

The compact disc has become so widely used and accepted that it has nearly overtaken the cassette as broadcast’s audio recording medium of choice. Blank CDs are now cheaper than blank cassettes of similar length. They don’t degrade with multiple plays. They’re a random-access medium, and given good recording technique, they sound better than cassettes. But a CD burner is not as simple as a cassette recorder to the uninitiated. HHB have made a good attempt at solving this problem with the CDR-850 Professional Compact Disc Recorder.

London-based HHB have tried to make the 850 feel operationally as much like a professional cassette recorder as possible. In other words, all the advanced features and the gozintas and gozoutas are there, but anyone who can record a cassette can burn a CD with this machine.

The 850 is a stand-alone CD recorder, which means it requires no computer connection to do its magic. Stand-alone CD recorders have several advantages over computer-driven CD recorders. The most obvious of these is that a stand-alone recorder doesn’t tie up a computer during a CD burn, whereas burning a CD using a computer takes its full attention, and doesn’t allow you to do anything else until the burn is complete. If you happen to be waiting for an urgent email from a client, then you’d best not be burning a CD on your computer, because you probably can’t get the email until the CD is finished.

MY, IT CERTAINLY IS... PURPLE

The first thing one notices about the 850 is its color, not that that’s a Bad Thing. The 2U front panel is finished in HHB’s corporate purple, presumably to help remind you to buy your blank CDs from HHB in their distinctive purple packaging. The CD tray is mounted in the center, just above the multifunction display, and all CDs go in the tray as normal with the label up. There’s an indicator LED just above the CD tray that lights in different colors depending upon whether you’re recording, playing, or in the case of CD-RW, erasing.

The left side of the front panel contains the power button, and additional buttons that deal with setting and clearing track ID numbers, finalizing, and erasing, along with the all-important MENU button. The right side features the transport controls, the rotary input selector, concentric left and right record level knobs, and a headphone jack with level control.

The rear panel is a cornucopia of gozintas and gozoutas. Analog inputs and outputs are available on both balanced XLRs and on unbalanced RCAs, and those RCAs are the gold plated variety — an indication of the quality of the 850. The analog XLR outputs can be set to deliver either -8 dBu or +4 dBu levels. Digital inputs include AES/EBU on an XLR, and S/PDIF on both RCA and optical connectors. S/PDIF output is available on both RCA and optical connectors. (HHB have recently introduced the CDR-850 PLUS that also includes AES/EBU output on XLR and a separate word clock input.) Finally, the 850 has an 8-pin DIN connector for an optional hard-wired remote, and a ground terminal for finicky installations that require it.

The 850 also comes with a small infrared remote that controls the basic transport and track select functions, much like those on a regular CD player. However, I found myself using the front panel controls almost exclusively. This was not only to get at the functions that aren’t on the remote, but also because I already have four infrared remotes in my room, and I can’t keep track of them all! I guess I should have asked for the hard-wired remote, huh?

But the front panel buttons are large and have a positive feel, and the INPUT SELECTOR knob clicks into place with a satisfying clunk. This knob allows you to specify a digital input (AES/EBU, optical, or coaxial) or an analog input (+4dBu XLR, -8dBu XLR, or line level). The multifunction display warns you if you’ve selected a digital input source without having actually connected a digital signal to the 850.