Test Drive: HHB BurnIT CDR-830 CD Recorder

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HHb-BurnIT-CDR830

By Steve Cunningham

Since the price of my electric service here in California is definitely going up, it’s some consolation that the price of digital production gear is still going down. About a year ago I reviewed the HHB CDR850, a professional stand alone CDR and CDRW burner with a retail price of $1195. Then last summer I checked out the Tascam CD-RW700 stand alone CD burner at $749 list. Not a company to rest on its laurels, HHB Communications has now fired back in the marketplace by introducing their new BurnIT CDR830 CD Recorder, which carries a price tag of $799. Let’s take a look at this one.

BurnIT is a low-cost professional audio CD recorder. The new recorder cuts a few corners to hit its low price, but it also delivers a full feature set, a good build quality and audio specifications that meet, and in some cases exceed, those of its predecessor the HHB CDR-850. This is due in part to the advent of inexpensive 24-bit converters, which just plain sound better.

It’s also useful to repeat that the main benefit of a standalone CD recorder is that it requires no computer to operate, so it doesn’t tie up your PC during a CD burn. It’s also portable, unlike your average PC rig. The downside of a standalone unit is that you don’t have an opportunity to re-order tracks before you burn the CD. It’s just like a tape recorder—what you record is what you’ve got, so get over it.

THE FRONT PANEL

In keeping with HHB tradition, BurnIT’s 2U front panel is finished in the company’s corporate purple. But it’s a good purple, really. Its CD tray is mounted in the center, just above the multifunction display. The right side features the transport controls, a combination digital record level and data entry knob, a single analog record level knob, and a headphone jack with level control. Left/right balance issues are dealt with in software on this unit.

The left side of the front panel contains the power button, and eight buttons that deal with setup and naming issues. These include SCROLL, which will cause the disc’s or track’s name to scroll to the left, pretty uselessly, I might add; DISPLAY, which lets you choose between either the time recorded or time remaining; TITLE/MODE, which selects between upper case and lower case when you’re naming something (more on this silly business later); MONITOR, which lets you hear the input straight through the unit even without a disc in it; ERASE, which is designed to erase CDRW discs; FINALIZE, which indeed finalizes discs for playback on standard CD players; AUTO/MANUAL which selects between automatic and manual track numbering modes; and INPUT SELECTOR, which lets you choose between the analog, coax digital, or optical digital inputs.

BurnIT also comes with an infrared remote that controls most everything the front panel does, and then some. It controls the transport and track select functions, the CD Text function, and more. The remote is actually somewhat larger than that of the older CDR-850, and while I dislike infrared remotes this one worked well enough, and I was able to deal successfully with its small buttons.

On the front panel, most of the transport buttons are large and engage with a satisfying click. But I found the other buttons to be small-ish and harder to get at as a result. The Analog Record Level and Digital Recording Level knobs are also small, and their lack of fluting or knurling makes them hard to figure and feel. I would have preferred broadcast-level knobs that were knurled for a more positive action.

HHb-BurnIT-CDR830-connections

THE REAR PANEL

BurnIT’s rear panel is absolutely Spartan compared to the HHB CDR850. Analog inputs and outputs are available on gold-plated unbalanced RCA connectors, with an input impedance of 10 kOhms. Both analog inputs and outputs utilize the latest 24-bit AD and DA converters, and they really do sound great. Digital inputs and outputs are in S/PDIF format, on both gold-plated RCA connectors and on optical connectors. The only other connector on the rear panel is the IEC jack for the power cord.


DO THIS, DON’T DO THAT

BurnIT will play standard CD’s, and it will record both CDR and CDRW discs. It works with both standard and consumer music discs, but it does not require consumer discs like some burners at this price level. A single 80 minute blank CDR is included with BurnIT.

HHB has also included nearly everything but the rack screws with BurnIT, including a power cord, an infrared remote and batteries, stereo RCA cables, a 43 page manual, and a nice two-page quick reference card showing all the main functions and how to get at them.

BurnIT also has the ability to read, and more significantly to write, CD Text on a CDR. This lets you store disc, track, and artist names with your audio. Further, these labels will be displayed whenever the disc is played on a CD Text compatible CD player or recorder.

This is definitely a good news/bad news story. The good news is that you can label your stuff with text that is meaningful. And in a compatible player, you can see it and confirm that indeed you have the right disc inserted. I could see using this to confirm that I had indeed inserted the correct sound effects CD into the player.

The bad news is that entering the text labels is incredibly clumsy. Here’s the procedure: first, you press the TEXT button to choose to label either the DISC NAME or the ARTIST NAME. When you’ve selected one, the cursor will appear and flash on the left side of the display, indicating that you’re ready to label. Then you turn the Digital Record Level knob to scroll through characters, and you push the knob in once to confirm the current letter and move to the next space. If you want lower case, then you push the TITLE/MODE button to change from upper to lower case and continue to spin the Digital Record knob to find your letter. When you’ve found your desired character, you press in on the Digital Record Level knob to move to the next character space and repeat the process. When you’re all finished, you press the TEXT button again to confirm the names, and they’re written to the disc.

Does that all sound a bit awkward? It is. How many times do we have to tell product designers that we don’t want to select letters with a wheel or knob? How much more can it cost to implement a PC ASCII keyboard connector? I think it’s great that I can enter CD Text, but not being able to type the text is a huge pain. This is clearly BurnIT’s one glaring flaw.

SYNC ‘EM, DAN-O

BurnIT’s digital synchro recording couldn’t be much simpler. It’s available in three modes: SYNC-1, which will start recording a single track upon detection of start of sound (for CD and MiniDisc) or DAT start ID, and will then stop at the end; SYNC ALL, which will continue recording through source tracks and will automatically increment track numbers when the unit detects silence between source tracks; and SYNC FINAL, which is the same as SYNC ALL except that at the end of all tracks it will automatically finalize the disc.

You can set all the above recording functions to MANUAL, if you just have to do it yourself, but why would you? The automatic functions work as advertised, and I can only imagine using the MANUAL functions with source material that is inherently noisy, like an LP... anybody out there remember with that is? But for an LP, one would use the analog inputs anyway, and that’s a different story.

When dealing with analog inputs you can still use many of synchro’s automatic track numbering features of BurnIT. By accessing the MENU function, you can set the silence level that will trigger a new track from -66dB to -24dB. This is especially useful in transferring vinyl records to CD since, when properly set, BurnIT will automatically set a new track number between songs on your LP.

HOW DOES IT SOUND?

In a word, BurnIT sounds great. The 24-bit converters that are now cheap and pretty much standard on all new digital gear pretty much ensure that your output will sound as good as does your input.

While I had the CDR830, I transferred a number of recordings from 1/4" reel-to-reel to CD. I had rented in an Otari 2-track for playback, and I used the BurnIT’s analog synchro features to give me proper track numbers from the reel tracks. It worked flawlessly, and gave me audio CDs that I could then process and noise-reduce in the computer.

I’ve played with and used the HHP BurnIT CD-830 CD Recorder for over a month now. It works as advertised, so what’s the problem? Sure, I want a PC input for an ASCII keyboard, but I’m not likely to get it soon, am I?

The BurnIT unit makes it easy to burn custom audio CDs from existing CDs, using the digital Synchro function. And yes, BurnIT will strip out SCSMs if you so desire, so you can copy an otherwise un-copyable CD or DAT. But you wouldn’t mis-use that ability, would you? Of course not...

With its emphasis on digital synchro recording, it would seem that BurnIT is primarily aimed at the consumer market. HHB have done their best to make the BurnIT CDR830 easy to use for someone who wants to create customized audio CDs from lots of different existing CDs, and they’ve succeeded. But beyond that, the CD Text feature shows promise for broadcasters and sound effects mavens, even though it is maddeningly clumsy. With enough patience to make it work, it does. Now where’s that keyboard?

The BurnIT CDR830 CD Recorder has a suggested retail price of $799. 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.

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