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Hitachi's $7,000 CD recorder

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

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Hitachi's $7,000 CD recorder

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1992, The Syracuse Newspapers

In the 10 years since the first compact discs were introduced, audiophiles have dreamed of the day they could push a "record" button and make their own discs on a CD player.

For most of us, that day is still a long way off. But Hitachi, one of the world's leading electronics manufacturers, has just given wealthy music lovers the plaything of the decade - a compact disc player that can record on blank discs.

The price of Hitachi's new CDR-1 is about 10 times what most consumers probably would be willing to pay - at $7,000, it ranks as a professional component, sold only in limited numbers - but the fact that the company has been able to achieve such a difficult technical feat is stunning even at such a cost.

What is just as impressive is Hitachi's design, which produces CDs that can be listened to on any CD player. Putting audio signals on a laser disc is relatively easy, but making those discs compatible with the millions of CD players now on the market has been, till now, an engineering nightmare. Most research efforts have gone toward non-compatible audio discs, such as the Tandy-backed THOR system or Sony's tiny new mini-disc.

The THOR system, which is unlikely to get past the prototype stage, makes discs that can only be played back on similar THOR players, and Sony's soon-to-be-released mini-disc also needs its own players. But anyone with access to a Hitachi CDR-1 can make a CD that can be played anywhere.

Each recording will be very expensive, however, even leaving out the cost of the CD recorder itself. Blank discs for the CDR-1 cost $80.

But if other companies adopt Hitachi's recording method, competition will bring down the price of CD recorders and blank discs within three or four years. Blanks could eventually cost about $10 to $20, and recorders could list for about $900.

Besides price, the biggest drawback of the CDR-1 is what could be called its "one-chance" recording method. Once the disc is spinning in record mode, every sound that it captures is permanent. You can't back up and try again, as you can with a tape recorder.

Technically, this means the CDR-1 is a "WORM" recorder - a "write once, read many" design, common in laser-disc-based computer storage devices. In other words, the disc can be recorded once but cannot be erased or recorded again. Fans of vinyl LP recordings may remember a similar limitation to the direct-to-disc LPs made popular by a company named Sheffield Lab in the 1970s.

However, the performances in these exceptionally clear recordings, which bypassed the standard tape recorder, often conveyed an excitement in the do-or-die atmosphere of the recording session - something that is missing in even the best CDs. This sense of immediacy could be restored if studios started recording special-issue direct-to-disc CDs using the Hitachi CDR-1.

Hitachi does not plan to sell the CDR-1 at typical electronics stores, and you may even have trouble finding it at specialty shops that cater to so-called high-end audiophiles. For information, contact Hitachi directly at 1150 Feehanville Drive, Mount Prospect, IL 60056.

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