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Philips CDR775

Reads, writes and copies - what more could you want?

[Philips CDR775]

[Italian version]

Product: CDR775 CD player/recorder
Manufacturer: Philips - Holland
Price: app. $ 350 Euro
Reviewer: Dejan V. Veselinovic
Reviewed: March 2001

The CD format was in effect invented by Philips; it's true that they later joined forces with Sony to market the format, but the fundamentals were set by Philips. Because of this, I have a favorite saying: everything people know about the CD format they learnt from Philips, but Philips didn't teach them everything Philips knows about it.

This may be a little sarcastic, but in real life, that's always true - nobody who sells a licence is ever going to tell everything he knows about it. A little competitive edge is something everybody loves. And to make sure it's true, just look at CD drives; everybody and their dog make one, but they are far from equal. Others may do better or worse, but with a Philips drive, you could put in a chocolate bar and it would read off the manufacturer, country of origin and model name just like that!

Far too many times to even count, let alone remember all of them, I've seen this work. If CD player X won't read it, just dump it in a Marantz, which being owned by Philips sort of naturally uses Philips mechanisms, and watch it read off whatever you like. Of course, this is merely the initial part of the music recreation chain, but an essential one - fail there, and nobody cares what you put in downstream.

So when some years ago Philips showed its CD recorder, intended to finish off cassette and open reel decks, the audio world stood in awe. Soon enough, others were there too, notably Pioneer of Japan, but others also followed, with the exception of Sony, who put their money on Mini Disk. But the first Philips models did show up some significant faults, the most prominent being an addition of over 1,000 picoseconds of jitter. How and why is a long story, but after noting this fact, Philips had to go back to the drawing board. In three months flat, they came up with an answer - if you are copying a standard CD, 16-bit word length, 44,1 kHz sampling frequency, why juggle it around anyway, why not just pass it on to a recording head? And so the passthrough function was born. Today, to the best of my knowledge, everybody uses it.

The next problem such decks ran against was the rather cumbersome procedure of first having to read a number, then record it, unless you were using an outside source and an S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital InterFace) line. But S/PDIF lines are rather rudimentary by their nature, and are not well liked in the pro community. The answer to this problem was to build a double deck, where one half is a CD read unit only, and the other half is a read/write unit. Much like a double cassette deck. Or a London double decker bus. Nowadays, the Japanese offer two, three and soon I expect 100+ CD source bays, all leading to the one writer.

While we at TNT don't pay much attention to such devices, on top of which our beloved Editor just hates CD copies, I for one am always interested in novel and potentially very useful technology (fortunately, so is our beloved Editor, which is why you are now reading this text). The other reason why this unit was tested is that it can be used in three modes - as a CD copier, as a CD changer and as a straight CD player.

What the manufacturer says

Philips are typically conservative in their declarations - a custom I have much respect for with Philips and everybody else. I did make a few measurements, nothing fancy, and found what I like to see best - to the last, they were better than the declaration. Kudos to Philips for that.

And here's what they say, copied from the manual:

Power consumption - 19W
Power consumption in Standby - 6W
Operating temperature - 5-35 deg. Centigrade
Weight - 4.5 kilos
Dimensions - 435 x 310 x 88 mm

Frequency response - 2 Hz - 22.050 Hz
Playback S/N (A weighted) - 100 dB
Playback S/N - 100 dB
Playback dynamic range CDR - 95 (90) dB
Playback dynamic range CD - 90 dB
Playback THD CDR - 88 dB = 0.0033%
Playback THD CD - 85 dB = 0.0056%
Channel separation - 100 dB
Recording S/N (A weighted) - 98 dB
Recording S/N digital without SRC - equal to source
Recording dynamic range - 92 dB
Recording THD+S/N - 85 dB (0.0056%)

The recording section is fully compatible with CDR (recordable) and CDRW (rewritable) disks. However, the writer will accept only Audio CDR and CDRW - these are special disks, which cost more because a part of the purchase price goes to artists, who feel they haven't skinned you enough for the original recording, and if you make copies, the poor dears will be left without bread on the table. And what about your rights? What rights?

The unit will accept CDR and CDRW disks made on a computer only if they have been treated as per the proper IEC958:Consumer part standard, single session only. This is a matter of your software - mine generates disks which to this day not one single player refused to read, so I am probably using good software (Hergesstellt in Deutschland). Make sure you do too.

[The Rear of the Philips CDR775]

The back of the machine contains the RCA Cinch connectors for: L/R analog outputs for your preamp or integrated or receiver, an S/PDIF digital line out to wherever you want to take it, analog L/R in and out, S/PDIF digital in and out, and finally an optical digital input line. So why two sets of stereo outputs, you say? Because you have two CD players (since the recorder will double as a player too), and each has its own output. The recording section is the odd one out, as it has analog inputs too, which means you can feed it an analog signal from the outside, it will digitalize it and write it on the CD. Just think how many old LPs you could put in CD format via that input.

On the front, you have a myriad of buttons, switches and even a jog dial. So many controls are necessitated by the double drive, but I have to say this, I think they are extremely well laid out, very logical, just where you need them and expect them to be. The only control I'm less than happy with is the jog dial. I feel it has far too many functions and requires some adjustment. It selects previous/next track in play and record modes, it is a level control for incoming analog signals and it selects various setting when "Menu" is in the on position - you confirm by pressing ENTER, which is again the very jog button itself. It's not as bad as it sounds after a little while, as you get used to it, but I'd still have preferred a less complex arrangement, even if this one is very cost effective.

In your favor, the process of copying a whole disk is facilitated by two aspects - the double recording speed, which cuts your playing time in half, and the fact that once you select to press the power on switch, whole CD copy is the default mode, so all you have to do is put the source in the right player only compartment, a recordable CD in the left recording compartment, and press two button. Then sit back and read a paper.

I'll finish this description by saying you have three modes of operation - plain vanilla CD player, DJ mode in which you use both units as CD players and the source and record mode, where you copy from source to recorder all or just some, as you please.

So, let's take a look now how this unit operates as a CD player, and then as a recorder.

CD player microdynamics

For all practical intents and purposes, what you will hear is the same as you would hear from a Marantz CD 4000 or 5000 models, typical Philips budget stuff. The bass goes down deep enough, but lacks authority and weight - in its defense, it's not muddy and with little overhang, both as long as the music you are listening to is not too complex. The midrange is clean enough, but lacking life and vigor, most noticeable with tenors singing classic arias and pieces accompanied by large orchestras. The treble is better than on most budget fare, but still definitely a budget treble - not much grain, but noticeable sheen, as if the drummer is using chromed and not brass metal.

When the going gets very tough, as for example with some tracks by Hevia and Blue Man Group, with many instruments playing all at once and pronounced rhythm section participation, the player loses it and becomes murky and muddy. Detail is lost and there is a tendency to bunch everyone together, make a potpourri where there was none in the original. But this is quite typical of budget CD players, and the effects observed were no better or worse than in most such cases.


More of the same. The sheer volume will improve matters somewhat, but this is more a matter of psycho acoustics than the player. To its credit, it gets no worse when the volume is turned up than it is at low volumes, rather it stays more or less the same. That means it's strictly a budget player, no more, and makes no pretensions at being anything over and above that.

So, as a CD player, I'd say forget it, you could do better even in the budget sector.

Recording from built-in source

The obvious first attempt was to use it as intended - source into the CD player, blank Audio CD in the recorder and go. It copied the CD in question in half the time, including finalization of the CD. This procedure was repeated three times, with three disks containing both hard hitting and very soft passages, all three extremely well recorded.

For the life of me, I could not hear any difference playbacking the copies on the recorder itself. Thanks to its two analog outputs, it was very easy to do A/B tests, which involved merely switching sources on the integrated amp. Aha, but the CD player is not much, and besides, what about compatibility?

So other resident players were pressed into service. I skipped the PhilipsCD721 and went straight on to the heavily modified Harman/Kardon HD730, equipped with SoundCare spikes, additional weight inside, new filter caps, etc. Again, try hard as I might, I could not hear any discernible difference between the copy and the original.

My last resort - the Yamaha CDX-993. It's heavily tweaked. It now has additional mass and internal dampening material (as if its 9.6 kg/22 lbs wasn't enough already), AD826 instead of original NJR junk op amps, SoundCare spikes. More to the point, the Yamaha will upsample to a notionally 20-bit signal, so any differences should be shown up much more readily. But no, they were not, because I could not hear them. I was pretty frustrated by now.

Recording from an outside digital source

Having the opportunity, I'd be a fool not to use both the HD730 and the CDX-993 as sources, since both offer S/PDIF outputs, and the Yamaha offers an optical output as well. That one I didn't try, I hate it so much I don't even have a cable for it.

Anyway, both gave me identical results - both were obviously better players than the Philips by itself, so with both the original and the copies there was much more to be heard. But any losses in copying would be down to mechanism quality and its initial electronics, as DACs and analog sections are bypassed. Unfortunately, also down to how well the S/PDIF interface is executed.

I kicked the game off by connecting the source with the recorder with an MIT Terminator 5 cable - I KNOW it's not a very special, very expensive digital cable, but that was my first try. Next, I repeated the process using my Van den Hul D102 Mk.3 cables with Neutrik plugs, and finished this round by using an RG56/U coaxial cable terminated by some decent, gold plated plugs of my own manufacture.

Well, the MIT killed the treble pretty effectively, making it sound dull and very uninspiring. Van den Hul's cable did MUCH better, but I still felt there was a very slight shift of balance, bass a little up and treble a little down. My room is acoustically rather dead, so lack of treble will easily show up; in rooms which are more alive, this might not be a bad effect. I got the best results from my humble RG56/U coaxial cable, and best here is zero difference between copy and original upon playback on the machine used as source.

Recording from an outside analog source

I'll make this very short - I tried it. You shouldn't. A decent LP will not sound like much after recording on this unit, so I'm off to do it on my specially assembled PC I built for that one purpose only. Sure it costs more, but it works better too - MUCH better.

A Few Thoughts

For all practical intents and purposes, the best method is to use the CDR775 as both the source and the target. Since it's all down to the pickup mechanism, more or less, I cannot say I'm surprised Philips shines here. As noted above, they never told everything they know about the CD, and here's where it shows. Reading and recording are quite simply faultless.

Since all but the pickup and recording electronics are bypassed, it is capable of producing copies which are indistinguishable from the original. In that respect, the CDR775 is a creditable piece of work, which shows Philips' mastery of the format very well. Analog recordings are a different matter. They must be processed and here the CDR775 does not shine. It is, in my view, on the threshold of acceptability. Use it for this only if you have no other choice.

As a CD player, though I doubt anyone would buy it for that purpose, so I note this only for those who might consider it an overall solution, you will get what you can buy for much less money, albeit without the recording function.

So, for CD copying, this is a great deal - but that's it.

© Copyright 2001 Dejan Veselinovic - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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