For many years, music and HiFi enthusiasts have used recording devices in their home systems to archive radio broadcasts, and to convert their music into portable formats. These formats have included reel-to-reel tape, compact cassette and minidisc, as well as a variety of other less successful formats, such as Elcaset. CD recording systems entered the domestic market in the early 1990s, initially with some highly-priced models, but with more affordable options emerging by the middle of the decade. In professional circles, traditional reel-to-reel recorders have been replaced or supplemented over the years with a variety of digital formats, including Digital Audio Tape (DAT), Hard Disk (HD or HDD) Recording, and CD. Although many keen amateurs and recording professionals now used computer-based and solid-state recording methods, CDs still have their uses for portability, and standalone CD recorders still have a place both in the home and in the studio environment.
A CD recorder is a standalone audio device that allows an external audio signal to be recorded to a blank compact disc. A number of combination units, mainly intended for the amateur market, combine LP and/or cassette players with CD recorders in an all-in-one style, but these can't really be termed 'CD recorders'. Many amateurs and professionals use computer-based recording systems to assemble and edit audio projects prior to committing them to disc, but again, these systems fall out with the term 'CD recorder'. A standalone CD recorder, usually of similar size to a domestic cassette deck, integrates into many recording situations, especially in the home, far better than a PC-based recording system.
Domestic and Professional Recorders - the Differences
There has always been a distinction between CD recorders intended for use in the home (domestic recorders), and those for professional use. Domestic recorders were designed to use discs specifically intended for audio use, and would only work with these discs. An attempt to use a conventional CDR in a computer drive would result in the recorder rejecting the disc. The audio-specific discs carry a different pricing structure, with the intention that a royalty from the sale of these discs would be passed on to the artists, in the expectation that they would be losing sales of their original product due to copying. Another consequence of this point of view is that domestic recorders are often fitted with copy-protection systems, notably SCMS (Serial Copy Management System), which allows one digital copy to be made of an original disc, then prohibits further copying. Domestic recorders will carry the style of input and output connections to match typical home audio equipment - most often twin phono (RCA) socketry. Domestic recorders are usually made by the same manufacturers as those who typically make home Hi-Fi equipment. Professional recorders are only rarely found with any kind of copy-protection system, and will most often by designed to work with any kind of CD, whether audio-only or generic. Since professionals are likely to be making many copies of their own work as routine, and any work they have in progress will be unlikely to be yet covered by copyright restrictions, any copy-protection system would be a great hindrance to them, and to a certain extent, redundant. Input and output connections will be more extensive and varied than on domestic recorders, and a professional machine will often be fitted with XLR inputs and outputs, allowing balanced connections to other professional and semi-professional gear. Professional recorders will usually also be supplied with or fitted with rack 'ears' - brackets, allowing for it to be mounted in the standard 19 inch rack bays found in studios the world over. Typical manufacturers of professional recorders are the likes of Tascam, TEAC and Alesis.
CD Recorders and Hard/Flash Drive/CD Combination Recorders
CD recorders will record direct from an audio input to disc, and will only allow limited processing of the input signal, perhaps with some EQ or gain adjustment. This gives the operator one chance to get levels and other factors correctly set when committing the recording to CD. Some CD recorders are available in combination units fitted with hard drive or solid-state flash drive systems, along with some form of editing software and operating system. This allows recordings to be made to the internal hard disk or flash drive, where they can be edited, previewed, and only committed to disc when ready. These recorders also allow multiple CDs to be made from a playlist stored on the hard/flash drive, allowing consistency between all the copies.
How to Choose a CD Recorder
As described above, the prime factor in choosing a recorder is to determine the use to which it will be put. The amateur recordist who is likely to be making only one copy of each item, who has no editing or assembly requirements, and who is unlikely to be hindered by copy-protection, will often find that a domestic recorder will suffice. Features to be considered should be the connectivity, in order to match any existing equipment, and form factor, to ensure a visual match in the domestic environment. A number of domestic recorders are fitted with, or can accommodate, some form of timer facility, and this is often useful for recording the likes of radio broadcasts when the recorder is unattended. The keen hobbyist, semi-professional, or anyone with a need to perform some kind of editing prior to committing a recording to disc, should probably choose a professional recorder, probably one with a built-in hard/flash drive and editing capability. Most professionals will have a clear idea of their requirements, and these could vary from using the CD recorder as a logging recorder, as a quick method for distributing copies of a project, or as a quality-assurance device. In all cases, consider what type of inputs and outputs are fitted to the machine, specifically whether or not the recorder has optical or coaxial digital connections as well as analogue, and how these match up with the other equipment in use.
How to Find CD Recorders on eBay
There are, as mentioned above, clear category differences between domestic and professional recorders on eBay. Although some sellers may misplace their items between these categories, in the main, domestic machines will be found under Home HiFi & Separates, and professional gear under Musical Instruments. For domestic machines, from the eBay homepage, select Shop by Category, and choose the see All Categories option. Select Sound & Vision, Home Audio & HiFi Separates, and CD Players & Recorders. Since there is no subcategory for CD recorders only, this subcategory selection will include playback-only machines as well as recorders, and a search on 'recorder' or similar within the category will be required to refine the search further. For professional machines, again from the eBay homepage, select Shop by Category, and choose the see All Categories option. Select Musical Instruments, and Pro Audio Equipment, then the Recorders subcategory. Since many of the devices in this subcategory are of the solid-state type, and there is no specific CD recorder subcategory, a search for 'CD' may be required to narrow down the number of listings.
A CD recorder can be a useful tool for both the amateur and professional user, and, although solid-state recorders are becoming more prevalent, a CD or CD/HDD-based recorder still has its uses for many domestic and professional applications.