Denon DN-C550R CD Recorder Combi-Deck

The initial trickle of standalone CD burners has turned into a flood, and joining this crowded field is the Denon DN-C550R CD player/recorder. With well thought-out features, quality construction and a reasonable price, this professional grade device is a welcome addition.
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The initial trickle of standalone CD burners has turned into a flood, and joining this crowded field is the Denon DN-C550R CD player/recorder. With well thought-out features, quality construction and a reasonable price, this professional grade device is a welcome addition.
Product PointsApplications: Installation, studio, broadcast, post production, DJ/sound reinforcement.

Key Features: Dual-well CD player/recorder: dubbing and independent operation; support of HDCD, CD-RW and CD-Text standards; rackmountable.

Price: $899

Contact: Denon at 973-396-0810, Web Site

Plus

+ Flexible and extensive feature set

+ Quality workmanship and sound

+ HDCD decoding

Minus

- No HDCD encoding

The Score: A very well-designed and flexible solution for CD recording and playback.
Features

The C550R ($899) is a standalone dual-well CD player and recorder that occupies two rack spaces. The left well is for playback only, while the right well handles both recording and playback. Each can operate independently from the other, and the front panel contains two sets of transport controls. All display functions are handled by the amply sized LED display, which contains several status indicators, and eight-segment dual level meters with peak indicators.

At the center of the unit is a soft knob for input of information and setting levels, which when pressed momentarily becomes an "enter" key, making for speedy menu navigation and selection. Other buttons allow the user to enter menu and recording modes, select display and dubbing options, and enter CD text data. The front panel is also equipped with a 1/4-inch headphone jack with level control. A well-designed remote duplicates nearly all front panel functions, with a switch toggling between the wells for transport control, and the jog wheel duties handled by multipurpose buttons.

The unit can record both to standard CD-R as well as CD-RW media, which though still not recognized by most consumer players, is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in home computers. In a very nice touch, the playback deck is equipped with an HDCD decoder, making dubs and output from high-definition CDs possible. However, analog conversion and recording into the HDCD format is not supported.

Inputs and outputs are comprehensive and complete, with balanced analog inputs on XLR jacks, line level RCA inputs and individual outputs for each well, and both optical and coaxial digital I/O, again with discrete outputs included, for automatic direct conversion of 32 kHz and 48 kHz sources. Alternate bit depths and 96 kHz are not supported. SCMS protection is included but defeatable.

In Use

As with most stereo recorders it is just a matter of connecting your inputs and outputs. The dual-well construction initially presents a slight dilemma, as each well has a discrete set of outputs in every format, which can eat up an extra set of inputs on your monitoring device. On the whole, however, this is a good thing, as it is an indication that you are really getting two full-function devices that are tightly integrated at the touch of a button.

Each of the wells can be almost completely separated from a functional standpoint, so much so that you can be recording from an external source while simultaneously playing back something completely unrelated on the playback deck.

For dubbing however, the decks work well together. I found the process of copying whole recordings or assembling mixes from multiple CDs to be nearly effortless.

I was also glad that by reverting to playback mode after each recording, the unit is very forgiving to the impatient or distracted (rare qualities in studio engineers, I know). I never found myself in Burn mode by accident when auditioning source material - a cut above several other standalone CD burners I have used recently.

Recording from external sources is similarly easy, and the various modes make for flexible operation. For most recording of quick demos and rough mixes the manual mode is efficient. It is functionally identical to running off a cassette tape - save for the need to occasionally tap the record button to increment track IDs.

I took the time to archive some old DAT mixes and alternates I had been meaning to catalog on CD, which was a set-it-and-forget-it pleasure with the automatic track IDs working fine. Transferring ID times is not accurate to the millisecond, so for tightly regimented source material incrementing IDs manually may be preferable. Analog recording was no problem - setting levels and selecting the source is straightforward.

The balanced inputs are clean, quiet and most welcome, as they have often been woefully absent on units in this price range (e.g. HHB CD-R830, reviewed in PAR 7/01). This makes the unit a great addition to a club's house system or a live engineer's rack in addition to its obvious studio uses, especially given its ability to credibly do double duty as a separate player and recorder.

There are many advanced features included in the CD550R, most well implemented. During manual recording, automatic digital fade ins and outs can be added, with the fade times user-adjustable. The remote control is an asset as well, covering all functions on the front panel, and adding some speed with the numeric keypad. When using CD-RWs some rudimentary editing tasks are possible, and on unfinalized CD-Rs, tracks can be left out of the TOC, in the event of unwanted takes or mistakes.

Playback options and features are also extensive, perhaps a legacy of Denon's long history with professional and DJ-oriented CD players. For instance, users can set a quick pair of locate points for continuous looping. Another option includes relay play for sequential play of both decks.

Summary

In general, the design seems to have been optimized toward maximum flexibility, as evidenced by the discrete dual architecture, numerous recording and playback features, and many user-adjustable parameters. What makes the CD550R a cut above is the way these advanced features are all at your fingertips without getting in the way.

For most users, the major use will be for basic recording and playback, at which the unit excels. For the prospective purchaser it is always a challenge to anticipate all possible uses and setups, and it is comforting to know that this design is likely up to whatever task gets thrown its way.

Sonic quality is professional-level, the switchgear is solid and durable, and control surfaces are well laid out. At a street price of around $700, the CD550R is a very solid value that should be a welcome addition to many recording setups.

REVIEW SETUP

Mackie, TASCAM and Yamaha consoles and EMU/Ensoniq PARIS Pro 3.0 workstation; TASCAM DA-30 DAT; Alesis Monitor 1 and Yamaha NS-10 Monitors; Neutrik connectors; Hafler and Adcom amplification.