Philips CDR880 CD-R/RW CD recorder Page 2

Pretty well, overall, but it was a puzzling machine in some ways. If bits is bits, and all we do when we record from a digital source to the copy is transfer the ones and zeros, then there should be no difference between the copy and the original—or between copies made on different machines. That much seems obvious.

But there's a pair of overalls in the chowder: I could consistently hear minor differences between the original and the copies made on the CDR880, and I could hear differences between copies made on the '880 and copies made on Stereophile's sample of the Meridian CDR. Big differences? Not really. They were relatively small, but they were certainly there.

To begin with, I made multiple copies of Buddy Miller's Poison Love (Hightone HCD 8084). I made one copy straight to consumer audio-grade CD-R and another on CD-RW. I then made a copy using the Meridian onto a data-grade CD-R and, to discount differences between media, another onto a Philips consumer-grade CD-R. (If you want to use the costlier consumer-grade discs on pro machines, there's nothing stopping you.) Finally, I figured out a way to record a data-grade disc on the '880 (see Sidebar, "Sneaky People"). I labeled them all using a fine-point Sanford Sharpee, because it was getting confusing.

Let's get the easy one out of the way first: I heard very little difference between the CD-R and the CD-RW recorded on the '880. Perhaps the CD-RW sounded a smidge smoother—I certainly thought so some of the time. But the differences bordered on the insignificant.

Another easy one to dismiss: The differences between the consumer-grade CD-R and the data-grade CD-Rs made on each player were also next to nonexistent. Let's leave media out of this—the differences seemed to stem from the players.

Comparing consumer-grade discs made on the two different recorders revealed consistent differences between them. The Philips disc, again, had great bass: tuneful, punchy, and well articulated. Buddy Miller's voice sounded natural and had good body. But the upper frequencies were a shade spitchy in comparison to both the original and the Meridian copy. The Meridian disc did not have bass as forceful or as taut as either the Philips disc or the original, but the acoustic guitar sounded rounder than on the disc recorded on the CDR880—and the splash cymbals sounded brassier and had a longer decay. And there was one other difference that was less definable: The Meridian disc seemed to hold together better musically. If I listened to the disc made on the '880 for long periods of time, I grew restless, less interested in the music. I know that sounds maddeningly "unscientific"—there's no measurement for "holding my musical interest"—but there you have it. It's a symptom that might indicate something that is quantifiable, such as jitter. I'll be interested to see JA's measurements.

I wondered if the differences had anything to do with the compatibility of each disc with the machine that made it, so I performed the same tests with a third machine: an Arcam Alpha 9. No significant variation.

In case I seem to make too much of these relatively minor differences, I should note that they are exactly that: minor. I just find it frustrating that they're there at all—I keep picking at them, the way I can't leave a sore tooth alone. It would be better to just forget about it, but I keep worrying and worrying it.

Ana who?
I also recorded some LPs to test the CDR880's performance when converting analog to digital. I presume that most buyers will be interested primarily in recording from CDs, but a lot of people, myself definitely included, have material on LP that has never been reissued on CD. It would be nice to record your own for travel, commuting, or taking to the office.

Here's where the recording-level control comes in—it isn't needed for direct transfer of digital data. The control, an Alps pot, is for both channels; individual tweaking of each channel is not offered. The analog signal is converted to digital 16-bit resolution by a Stereo BitStream SAA 7366 A/D converter. It is then sample-rate-converted by a Philips TDA1373.

One minor annoyance in analog recording was the teensy little recording meter. It's hard to read and, therefore, it's easy to clip. With digital, you get no period of grace: overload is instantaneous.

Recording analog was almost as straightforward as recording digital, except that if you want to differentiate tracks from one another, you have to sit at the recorder and press Record every time you want a new track marking. Theoretically, if you select Auto track allocation, the '880 will mark a new track whenever it senses three seconds of silence. However, I discovered that you can look long and hard for an LP that has three seconds of silence after every song. If it's important to you, do it manually.

I wasn't terribly impressed with the '880's analog recording capabilities. You can put your LPs on CD, but that won't make you Bernie Grundman or Steve Hoffman. The sound is adequate, but reminiscent of the kind of digital sound that Michael Fremer rails against: everything gets flattened out—including dynamics. Even so, I'll probably use this feature quite a bit when I put together "theme" compilations encompassing many different artists and songs—it's gonna be a long time before I've duplicated my entire record collection on CD. ("You should live so long," my wife snorts.) One more thing: There's a genuine cognitive disconnect when you hear surface noise, or pops, while listening to a CD.

Moved to delight by the melody
Taken as a whole, is the Philips CDR880 CD-Recordable/Re-Writable deck better than a cassette deck? Well, it certainly doesn't have the speed-stability problems that such machines are prone to. And, while there are analog superdecks, such as the Arcam Delta 100 and the Revox B-215, they are the exception rather than the rule. So yeah, the Philips '880 is better than a cassette deck—hell, it makes CDs, for Pete's sake. I have a great cassette deck, but I'm not even sure which part of the garage it's buried in. No, when I want to shift data around, I want it in a form I can use at work, in my car, at 32,000 feet, around the house—I want my CD!

I've been hard on the Philips CDR880, but its faults are quite minor. The '880 is affordable, and it couldn't be simpler to use. And it has one feature nobody can quibble about: it's a hell of a lot of fun to make your own CDs. As I write this, there are only ten CDR880s in the country; but as soon as Philips fills the dealer pipeline, I'm going to order one. Remember, if the red light over my door is on, don't disturb me—I'll be recording.

Philips Electronics
64 Perimeter Center East
Atlanta, GA 30346-6401
(770) 821-2400

Lofty's picture

Why, oh why, do we get a vintage review of a cd recorder/player. These machines are obsolete. Don't get me wrong, I have a component cd recorder and use it occassionally. 

To add to further irrelevance, the keepers of this website deem it important that we should read of a late 80's FM tuner. Don't get me wrong but I have three tuners and use them every day. Thank God for public/college radio in the NYC area.

OK, editors of Stereophile, what is the criteria for determining what vintage equipment reviews to publish on-line. For instance, I would rather put up a Music Reference MR9 amplifier (reviewed by DO) or a tuner, more important than the Marantz, like the Onyko T-9090 MkII.

So, to make a short story short, what is Stereophile's criteria  on listing equipment reviews on this website? 

As JA might say, "color me (un)impressed".

John Atkinson's picture

OK, editors of Stereophile, what is the criteria for determining what vintage equipment reviews to publish on-line

One: requests from readers, as in the case of the Marantz tuner to which you object.

Two: filling in gaps in our archived reviews, which are almost complete going back to 1994, with many more going back to the magazine's founding in the early 1960s. (My goal is have every review Stereophile has ever published available on this website.) The 1998 Philips CD-R recorder review falls into this category, as it is one the few remaining reviews by Wes Phillips that had not yet been posted.

Three: personal interest on my part. Again, this was the case in the Philips recorder review, as it shone a light into an era where recordable CDs had not devolved into a commodity with no intrinsic value and where the concerns of the record industry were still affecting the performance of the hardware.

Four: from the page view statistics, these reviews appear to be as popular as anything else we post on-line.

And I fail to understand your objection. We are not forcing you to pay to read these vintage reviews. They also don't replace anything. You object to seeing them on-line, turn the page.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

mrplankton2u's picture

Arghh....another whiny post about vintage reviews:


"why, oh why do we get a vintage review..."


Considering all the other e-zines that offer nothing but advertising and cheesy subjective reviews for non subscribers and subscribers alike, it would probably be smarter to refrain from looking a gift horse in the mouth - unless you represent a competing ezine. That would certainly explain the sour, demanding, and petty attitude.  Not very shocking though as the above commenter calls him/herself "Lofty". Perhaps LoftyWhiner would be more suitable. If you would prefer more "cheese" with your whine, there are several other ezine websites available to choose from. They're very good at serving up hyped, subjective, propaganda...ahem... I mean "reviews" - for the companies that advertise with them and you won't have to endure the posting of vintage reviews. You'll only get advertising hype....ahem... I mean "reviews" - of currently produced and advertised product.

smittyman's picture

There are a couple of valid questions being asked in Lofty's post.  I've wondered about the vintage reviews myself and I think JA has done a good job of explaining the rationale for the decisions.  I've always applauded Stereophile for making so much content available for free; I had no idea that JA's goal was to get every review  ever published on to the site and I think that is great.

I usually skip the reviews of older equipment - especially stuff that is no longer in production and I wondred why these reviews were posted.  I would find them a lot more valuable if they perhaps referenced current used prices and or compared the equipment to its present day equivalant - but I realize that would be a huge amount of work and might not even be possible in some cases.

Stephen Mejias's picture

I usually skip the reviews of older equipment - especially stuff that is no longer in production and I wondred why these reviews were posted.  I would find them a lot more valuable if they perhaps referenced current used prices and or compared the equipment to its present day equivalant - but I realize that would be a huge amount of work and might not even be possible in some cases.

For me (and I bet I'm not the only one who feels this way), the simple historic value is enough. I wasn't aware of this stuff the first time it came around, so it's great for me to have the opportunity to learn about the past and tie it with what we're seeing today.

A time when CD-RWs sold for $30 each?! Unthinkable today. 

Plus, this is just really fine writing from Wes.

volvic's picture

As someone who buys vintage gear these reviews are a "trip down memory lane".  Besides some of this gear still holds its own even today and are great bargains and have such character.  Nope, keep em coming, I love reading them.  


IgAK's picture

This is useful to used equipment buyers, just not titillating to dry-salivating perusers of stratospheric equipment those Walter mitty-esque folks generally can't afford to buy anyway. You know, used equipment...what happens to new equipment that the more well heeled sell after it isn't this year's latest and greatest.

FWIW, nowadays you can also buy used pro machines like the HHB 850, which ignore scams...I mean SCAMS...and also have excellent sound quality both as players and recorders...if you can find ones that aren't misbehaving. These are pro versions of the Pioneer PDR555RW, which SCAMS you into submission. While I don't know if the Pioneer consumer version has the same problem, I see no reason to buy a "scammed" burner on the used market, then have to fuss with all the restirictions. The problem? The HHB's have a 1F memory backup "supercap" that leaks ands destroys the triple-layered main board irreparably, which costs about as much to buy as the whole used unit, and installation under multiple boards in the way above this main board isn't quick or easy. But if you find a unit that isn't acting up yet, you can simply replace that cap for under $10 at worst price possible, and it can even be done (carefully) without removing any boards to do so - if you or someone you know is skillful enough. Just don't figure on repairing one that has already gone bad and acting up already - too late by then, that board is already rotting away from the caustic exudate form the cap! Then you have a fantastic unit for cheap, and no one is going to tell you what you can copy or not...oh, not that anyone would actually ignore the industry-profit serving legalities...of course (eyeroll)...right? We should respect laws rammed through with lobby money, never mind where on us they rammed them, of course...right? 



Audio Asylum Bruce from DC's picture

You never know what you learn on this site!  I happen to own an HHB 850 (working) which I have had for a number of years.  I don't use it to make copies of CDs, but I do use it to make digital versions of analog recordings.  So, for example, I can have my vinyl records "playing" in my car.

Never knew about the 1F cap failure.  So, I'll pull the sucker out and have a look.  TIA, as they say.

While we're at it, using the balanced outputs, the HHB is an inferior-sounding CD player to my Sony XA-777ES, which has only unbalanced outputs.   But CD dupes it makes of my records are surprisingly good.  Also, a couple of years ago we discovered a vinyl record of my late mother-in-law (who had a trained, operatic voice) singing Christmas carols, probably recorded in th e1950s.  The record was a mess, but using the HHB to make a digital copy that I could work with on my PC, we cleaned it up surprisingly well . .  . and gave CD's of the cleaned up version to all of her descendants who greatly apprceiated the gift.