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

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FINALIZING THIS REVIEW

I have only one complaint with the 850—no make that a rant—and that concerns the manual. I didn’t receive a printed manual with my review unit, and on calling HHB’s L.A. office they directed me to their website where a .PDF version is available. Fair enough, I don’t mind that; lots of companies provide electronic manuals and you can print them out if you wish.

But the manual is a nightmare. It runs 128 pages, and every other page is a copy of the previous English page, but in both French and Spanish. So the English version should be a 64 page print job, as should the French and Spanish versions, not a 128 page print job. I understand the need for foreign language versions of the manual, but most companies create entire sections in each language. Co-mingling the languages like this is a Bad Idea that needs correction.

And worse, while there is a table of contents there is no index! The first time I tried to go through the menu screens it took 15 minutes of searching to find each item. C’mon HHB, let’s please fix this problem. Okay, I’m done ranting now, and I feel much better.

I burned through a lot of CD-Rs and a few CD-RWs while exercising the CDR-850, and I like it. It’s a professional product, well-built and well-thought out. With the exception of my logo CDs, it handled every disc successfully, and generated zero coasters. I used it on several occasions to record a live voiceover, a job for which I usually use a DAT. Worked great, no problems.

The CDR-850 would make a good addition to most any production room. And with CD-Rs at a buck fifty each, why are we still buying cassettes or DAT tapes?

The CDR-850 has a suggested retail price of $1249. For more information in the US, contact HHB Communications USA at (310) 319-1111. For more information worldwide, phone 020 8962 5000, or go to www.hhb.co.uk.

SIDEBAR: WHAT IS FINALIZATION?

Finalization is the last process in recording a CD-R to allow the disc to be played on a standard CD player.

A disc that you can add audio data to is “open.” When you begin a recording, all data is written into the current recording “session.” When you stop recording, the recorder will close that session and open a new session at the same time for later use. However, if you’ve used all the recording time of the disc, then the recorder will not be able to open a new session at the end. It’s then impossible to add more data to the CD-R. The entire disc is considered “closed.”

The process of changing a session from “open” to “closed” is called “finalizing,” “fixating,” “fix-up,” or just plain “closing” the session. When you close the last session, you have finalized, fixated, or closed the disc.

A finalized disc has three basic regions: the lead-in, which has the Table of Contents (or TOC); the program area, with the data and/or audio tracks; and the lead-out, which doesn’t have anything meaningful in it. An “open” disc doesn’t yet have the lead-in or lead-out written.

If you record audio to a disc and stop without finalizing it, the TOC—which tells a CD player where the tracks are—is written into a separate area called the Program Memory Area, or PMA. CD recorders are the only devices that know to look at the PMA, which is why you can’t see your data in an open session on a standard playback device. CD players won’t find any audio tracks. When the disc is finalized, the TOC is written in the lead-in area, enabling other devices to recognize the disc.

When the recorder closes the current session and opens a new one, the lead-in of the closed session will include a link to the lead-in of the next. The CD player in your car or stereo system doesn’t know about chasing from one lead-in to the next, so it can only see tracks in the first session. But a CD recorder will know about multisession discs and will happily return the first session, last session, or one somewhere in between, depending on what it is capable of.

So once a disc is finalized, recording or skip ID manipulation is no longer possible. It’s important to ensure the disc is in its final form before you finalize it. Furthermore, if AC is interrupted during finalization, the disc may be unusable. No, scratch that—it will be unusable.

According to the 850 manual, “CD-RW discs whether finalized or not can only be played on a CD-RW player, and not on a standard CD player.” I was unable to play finalized CD-RW discs in either a Denon CD player or a Sony Discman, but I hear some folks have been able to play finalized CD-RWs in CD players.

 

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