Continuing the cassette recorder analogy, the simplest way to use the 850 is as a direct replacement for a cassette machine. Just connect the analog outputs of your source to either the XLR or RCA analog input connectors. Then set the INPUT SELECTOR to the appropriate position depending on which connectors you used. Pop a blank CD-R into the tray and close it. The 850 spends a few seconds determining what flavor of CD you’ve just fed it, and then reads the disc’s table of contents (TOC). If there is no readable TOC, the display will flash NEW DISC for a moment, and then it’s ready to record.

To begin recording, you touch the RECORD button and give the 850 a few seconds to check its inputs and calibrate itself for the type of media you’ve used. The display tells you what it’s doing, first flashing INPUT, then SET UP. When the display shows the time at 00:00, then you can press PLAY and start your source material to begin recording. When you’re done, press STOP. If you’re sure you don’t want to record anything else to the disc, then it’s time to finalize it (see sidebar). Finalizing a full CD-R takes about four minutes.

One of the advantages of CD-R over cassette is its ability to zip from any track to any other at will. It accomplishes this using Track Numbers (also known as Start IDs on DAT machines) which are imbedded in the TOC. Track numbers tell the laser which sector on the disc contains the beginning of a desired cut.

When recording on the 850 via an analog source, you have two options for generating Track Numbers. You can either insert them manually by pressing the WRITE (MANUAL) button, or you can have the 850 insert them automatically using its AUTO TRACK function. The manual method is okay if you’re recording just a few cuts with which you’re familiar, since you’ll need to press the WRITE button at just the right moment so your tracks will cue accurately. Once placed, you cannot move a Track Number. If you’re recording to CD-RW, you can erase the entire track and start over, but that’s the only solution to a misplaced Track Number.

A better answer is to use the AUTO TRACK function, which is much easier and (mostly) accurate. The AUTO TRACK function considers any silence greater than two seconds to indicate a division between tracks, and it applies new Track Numbers at those times when the audio signal drops below a certain threshold level. You can set the threshold level via a menu, with choices of -66 dB, -60 dB, ­54 dB, ­48 dB, ­42 dB, and ­36 dB. The default level is -60 dB.

Since some music contains low-level or silent passages, this process is not always accurate, but the 850 gives you a way to audition AUTO TRACK without actually recording. By changing the INPUT SELECTOR to any setting other than the current one, then changing it back again, the 850 enters a monitor mode with MONI shown in the display. If you then engage AUTO TRACK by pressing the AUTO/MANUAL button, the LED above the WRITE (MANUAL) button will light during passages below the threshold level, and will go dark during passages above the threshold level. In this manner you can see where the 850 will put Track Numbers, and can adjust the threshold if necessary.

I burned over a dozen CD-Rs using analog inputs, from a variety of sources including cassette, Mini-Disc, and directly from the mixing console. The resulting CDs sounded excellent. The 850 uses “1-bit Multi-Level Delta-Sigma” Digital-to-Analog converters. HHB claim that these DACs perform well even in the presence of clock jitter. I don’t know about that, but I do know that the finished CDs sound quite good.