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AUDIOPHILE AUDITION - web magazine for music, audio & home theater
 



December 2003, Part 3 [Pt. 1] [Pt. 2]



Marantz Professional CD Recorder Model CDR300
SRP: $800
Specs:
Applicable Discs: CD, CD-R, CD-RW
Power Requirements: 100-240V, 50/60 Hz, 21W
DC: 13.2V, 1.5A
Dimensions: 11 inches W x 4 inches H x 9 inches D, weight: 6.1 lbs.
Audio:
ADC: 24bit resolution with 64x oversampling
DAC: 16bit resolution with 8x oversampling
Freq. Response: 20Hz - 20 KHz
CD-R Drive Output:
Playback S/N: 85dB
Playback dynamic range: 85dB
Playback total harmonic distortion: .05%
Output Voltage/Impedance at line output: 1.0V/2K
Mic/Line analog input:
Line level S/N: 80dB
Mic level S/N: 60dB
Phantom power: DC +48V
Digital input:
Sample rate: 11KHz - 58 KHz
Digital output:
Output level/impedance: .05 Vp-p/75ohms
Marantz America Inc.
1100 Maplewood Dr.
Itasca, IL 60143
630-741-0300
marketing@marantz.com
www.marantz.com

Intro

Major attention is currently being devoted to DVD burners, so why would anyone be interested in a CD-only burner aside from those already included in most computers? Well, one reason would be that this is a stand-alone recorder, which takes the entire process out of the rf-bombarded environment of a computer’s interior and thus ensures better quality transfers of high-quality audio materials. Another is that this is a professional recorder with all sorts of features not found on most computer-based DV burners. Yet another is that the compact six pound unit is designed for portable use most anywhere and has a number of advantages over DAT for original recording in the field - not the least of which is freedom from any worry that your master recordings may be unplayable months or years later due to tape dropouts or incompatibilities of head alignment etc. I saw a portable CD burner recently being used at a live concert by one of those groups who encourage fans to record their shows, while nearby other fans were feeding their expensive mics into their ubiquitous Sony DM8 DAT portables. The CDR300 has only one recording speed - the equivalent of 1x on computer CD burners. This would make it awfully slow for backing up digital data from your computer but for music audio it’s the best way to go. Just as with analog recorders of all types - whether audio or video - the faster the speed of the operation the poorer the fidelity of the final copy, or at least the greater likelihood of digital glitches in it.

Black CD-R Burning

One thing stimulated me to want to review this product. It was reading about the findings of Gary Koh of Genesis Technologies that burning CD-R copies of standard commercial CDs often resulted in an improved fidelity of the copy vs. the original disc. For an interesting white paper on this, download: http://www.genesis80.com/whitepaper/Black_CDsII.pdf I recorded only to the black CD-Rs recommended by Mr. Koh, using both a few he kindly supplied me, and some of the Memorex black CD-Rs I already had on hand. I’m not quite ready to report on this, but so far I did find that any black blank gave an improved fidelity for music over standard aluminum ones - whether I burned them in the Marantz recorder or the burner built into my Macintosh. In the past any tracks from a music CD I copied (such as to make a personal demo disc) had sounded less good on the copy, but with the black blanks the copies sounded identical to the original.

Professional controls

Rear panel: The first thing to watch out for is that there are separate power switches on both the top of the unit and on the rear next to the socket for the detachable AC cord; the one on the rear must be depressed before the one on top will operate at all. Below the AC socket is a four-pin socket allowing connection of an external Lead Acid, NiCad or NiMH battery power supply. At the center area of the rear panel is a socket for connecting an optional foot pedal control and in and out RCA jacks for connecting an RC-5 wire remote control (also optional). A small slide switch to the right must be slid to Ext. When using the RC-5. Continuing right to left there are next the two digital coaxial in and out jacks, the AUX in and out jacks, and finally the LINE and MIX pairs of out jacks. The MIX out allows use of an optional external second recorder and the signal here is unaffected by use of the tone controls or filters on the CDR300.

Front panel: The CD tray is on the right half of the front face, with four small slide buttons above it. From R to L they are: Input - either analog or digital; Record Level - ALC (Automatic Level Control), Manual or Limiter; Mic/Line Attenuation - on/off; Speaker - on/off. The tray open/close button is in the upper RH corner. On the left half of the front face at bottom is a jack for headphones, a tiny knob for Line Out level setting, and both XLR and phone jack inputs for two mics (or line inputs if the switch above them is changed from mic to line.) On the top LH row there are six controls, from L to R: A level-setting knob for headphone or speaker level, a selector for mic/line, AUX, Line Out or Mix Out; next is the switch to select either Line, Mic or Internal and last are the pair of level-setting knobs for the L & R inputs below them, on either side of a two-position switch for either L/R or L+R. The translation here is the former is your choice for stereo and the latter is for feeding a single mono mike or line input to both channels equally.

Top panel: The recorder’s built-in small speaker is in the upper L corner of the case, below it are small knobs for bass/treble/mid. Below that are ten small rectangular buttons (see graphic) for various options: They are labelled Test, Phantom, Prog, Repeat, Menu/Store, DISP, Rec Mode, Single, A-B & Cancel/Delete. At the center toward the front is the large rotating Select knob - something like the select button on a typical remote. It is pushed to Enter anything, but also rotates to display different options on the LED display in the lower left corner of the top of the case. Lastly, over on the lower RH corner of the top of the case are two very small round buttons and five rectangular buttons. Erase and Finalize are the two small buttons, directly over the Red Record button. The four on the immediate right are for fast forward and reverse, play/pause and stop. You cannot select tracks with the forward and reverse buttons - you must go to the big Select knob and rotate it to select the specific individual tracks. At least you don't need to depress the knob afterwards as with most of the other options.

Recording features

The display presents more information than most CD player indicators. When simply playing a disc it indicates whether it is a CD, CD-R, CD-RW or CD Text disc. It shows the total number of tracks on the disc and the total playing time recorded therein. To play a single track on the a disc without using the remote you push the Single button, rotate the large Select knob to the number of the track you want and then push it. Disp is to select different displays, such as elapsed track time, remaining track time or total remaining disc time - which operates when recording too, which is most handy. Prog allows programming up to 30 tracks in any order. Phantom turns on phantom power to professional mics so powered.

The recording procedure is a bit different from an analog or digital tape recorder. Let’s say you are recording directly from a mono mic - perhaps preserving a meeting discussion. You insert the CD-R or RW, plug in the mic, set the switches for Mic, turn the level controls all the way clockwise and set the Rec Level slider to ALC and Input to Analog. Set the L/R L+R switch to L+R and turn the big Select knob so the Display readers RECORD. Then you push and release the Select knob; the small record button flashes and you push it to begin recording.

Copying a CD or recording from an outside analog source is a bit of a different procedure. A very useful feature is called Sync Record. You access this via the Select knob. It allows you to then read record levels on the display to set the proper point just short of overload while you feed in the analog signal. Of course for feeding in digital signals, you just leave the slider at Manual since whatever level the original is at will be maintained on the copy. Although the manual suggests using the ALC setting for analog and the limiter when using mics, I quickly found that ALC compromised the fidelity seriously even before recording. So although it is much more difficult to find the loudest peaks on an analog tape of any type than on an LP, one really has to try for that and set the level just under the overload point. - keeping in mind the thoroughly unpleasant results of digital overload. Best to allow a bit of extra headroom just in case you missed a big climax.

I tested the CDR300 first by transferring some of my Beta Hi-Fi tapes of live radio broadcasts to CD. Then I transferred several of my beloved two-track prerecorded open reel tapes as backup against the day - probably not far off - when the backing will begin to curl or the oxide will fall off (it’s happened already to some of them). Sync Record made this a breeze because once you follow the display’s direction to Push Rec Key, the recorder doesn’t begin recording until it gets the first audio signal from the source. The first note is not cut off, and the display starts immediately with an indication of either time elapsing or time remaining. Even with CD copying, the recorder only showed two seconds more on its display than the display on the source CD player. There is also an Auto Stop option selected with the Select knob and display which stops recording by going into pause after a 20 second silence. The recorded time so far is then displayed so you can see how much time you have left on a typical 80 minute CD-R. I saw that my first tape ran about 30 minutes and I had plenty of room for recording the second open reel tape.

There were six movement in the first work but the Auto Track indexing which I earlier selected now showed nine tracks, so the signal from the tape must have dropped below -40dB for three seconds or more at some points to cause the three additional track indexes. With digital sources the point for marking a new track occurs when the level drops below 80dB, but in addition any track markers on the original source will be duplicated on the copy. For later serious editing you may want to use the Minute Track feature, which automatically inserts a track marker every minute, whether these is a pause or not. There are also options for record balance, both high pass and bandpass filters (which could be useful when using a mike input for speech recordings) and also for equalization of the signal. In addition, the three tone controls affect playback (only) through the Line Out jacks (but not through the Mix Out). I found it a bit confusing setting these various parameters with the Select knob and display because when you push the knob the display adds the word On or Off, but you lose that display when you rotate the knob to another setting and it is difficult to remember what you enabled and what you didn’t. Adding Text to the display for the CD is even more complicated - one of those patience straining situations where you have to rotate the Select knob to select the various letters of the alphabet and numbers and then push the knob to add that character to what you are writing out.

As you approach filling up the disc the display will show the time remaining even if you had earlier chosen Elapsed Time. A series of vertical lines next to the time indication is also reduced one line at a time until all are gone and the disc stops recording. One final step is required after you have filled the CD-R or CD-RW, and that is to finalize the disc. If a CD-RW disc and still has time remaining, you can finalize it and later un-finalize to record some more. Of course with the CD-Rs - the cheaper and more likely playable type on more CD players - once you have finalized that’s it and you cannot record on it again even if much space remains. You can either press the small Finalize button on the top of the deck and the display indicates the couple of minutes required to do this, or if the entire recording can be made at one time you can select at the start the Sync Rec + Final option in the display, which automatically finalizes the disc at the end of the recording session.

Sonic quality and ease of use

I found both the CD-Rs and CD-RWs burned from both analog and digital sources to sound excellent as long as I used the Manual option and carefully set recording levels on the analog with sufficient headroom. As I said, the ALC reduced the quality on music. The Memorex black CD-Rs I burned from my open reel tapes were very close in fidelity to the original tapes except the hiss level seemed slightly lower. The final CDs sounded better I thought than most standard CDs, retaining the analog-like naturalness and spaciousness of the tapes and especially the generous amount of L-R information on most two-track prerecorded tapes - which translates to an extremely convincing surround field when processed via ProLogic II. I recall in the past transferring some of these tapes to Dolby C and Dolby S cassettes, and much of that information was lost in the process. The excellent quality of the transfers of the high-def analog sources to 44.1 CD seems to point up the losses that usually occur when masters - either analog or digital - are transferred to the final CD pressing. It’s not that different from the losses experienced going from master tapes to vinyl - just different sorts of losses. This is the forte of JVC’s expensive xrcd process - tweaking the steps in the Red Book processing to the utmost to preserve a higher conformity to the original sources.

By the way, the Marantz is no slouch as a plain CD transport. Plugged into one of the digital inputs on my Sunfire preamp with a Jena Labs digital cable, it gave a good account of itself and in fact equalled the fidelity of the $3500 Lexicon player reviewed here last month (when playing 44.1 CDs). While the manual selection of tracks on the unit directly is a hassle, it operates normally with the remote (except that since the display is on the top of the case you can’t see it when seated).

I discovered a few quirks about the Marantz CD burner. When I tried to erase a CD-RW I had earlier used to back up data from my Macintosh, the burner refused to work with it. New blank CD-RWs worked fine however. The manual said to raise the two mic/line pots on the front to maximum when using either ALC or Manual settings, but I found they had no effect on levels at all, and neither did some of the other switches on the front. One had to use the level control at the analog source, for example, to set the meter reading on the Marantz. The differentiation between Aux and Line was somewhat confusing, as well as the selection of the many options in the display using the Select button, as groused about earlier. After getting the DISK FULL display at 80 minutes when copying one of my analog tapes, I had to push the Stop button many times repeatedly before it finally displayed the total time and allowed me to press Finalize. No disc will be playable anywhere without finalization.

Wrap Up

In summary and in spite of these quirks, I found my first experience with a standalone CD burner a positive one and can see many uses for the CDR300. It would be a natural for those recording live music in the field, as well as for making masters for CD duplication. The recordings can be easily transferred without losses to computers for digital editing and then finally back to a high quality black CD-R for mastering. For schools of music and similar organizations recitals can be preserved for posterity on standard CD with the fairly solid assurance that years from now they will be perfectly playable - whereas with DATs that would be an extremely iffy situation. LPs warp, open reels tapes curl and lose oxides, cassettes snarl, come off their hubs and the felt pads fall off, unusual formats such as Elcaset, dcc, Beta, MiniDisc etc. risk not having a player around in the future , but there’s a good chance there will be a backwards-compatible player for 44.1 CDs for a very long time in the future. Now if I could just keep this CD burner long enough to transfer all of my library of PCM Format Beta tapes to CD...

- John Sunier



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