Hard drive based audio recorders

In addition to the MP3 players and the new "NetMD" minidisc units, Sony also presented a hard drive-based audio recorder. This unit comes in a very stylish case and is equiped with a 40 GB hard drive.

Sony HD recorder

This unit, however, uses ATRAC3 for audio compression. The default bitrate for encoding is 132kbit/s; copying from the CD to the HD is done at 2x speed. The unit is compatible with copy-protected CDs (e.g. Cactus Data Shield).

It cannot even play MP3s, and what's worse: it cannot read CD-R or CD-RW media at all. You can't even play the music you recorded yourself on a burnt audio CD on it! The player has an USB interface, but it can only be used for controlling it from the PC - music transfer to and from the PC is not possible. The unit doesn't even feature an SP/DIF out put - a feature that is standard now even on low-end CD players.

The recorder has a two-line text-only display, which is behind a mirror-like surface; it looks cool, but is a little hard to read under certain lighting conditions.

It is obvious that this recorder is designed with the interest of the music industry in mind (and that includes Sony itself), and not to meet the wishes of the potential customers.

The price for this unit will be $880 at the time of writing of this article. The big question is: Who is going to buy this? PC enthusiasts are certainly going to avoid it because of the lack CD-R and MP3-support, and the inability to exchange files using the PC. And audiophile HiFi-enthusiasts probably won't buy it either, because of its low bitrate encoding.

A much, much more interesting hard drive based audio recorder was presented from a company that isn't quite as well-know as Sony: Terratec.

Terratec MP3 recorder

Just like the Sony unit, it features a 40GB hard drive - but this is where the similarities end. The Terratec unit uses the Fraunhofer MP3 codec for compression; MP3 encoding at bitrates from 64K to 320K CBR are supported. The recorder has an easy-to-use and easy-to-read graphical interface; navigation is done using the jog-dial on the right.

The recorder has some interesting features for coping with the large amount of music titles stored on it. You can define and combine rules based on ID3 tag information - e.g. you can tell the unit something like "show all Jazz from 1970 to 1975".

Using the USB port, it is possible to control the unit from the PC, and exchange files in both directions. CD title recognition is done using the "Gracenote" database, which is installed locally on the HD, and can be updated via PC or CD. The recorder has all relevant in- and outputs, including SP/DIF in and out.

As for the technical details: The recorder uses an ARM processor, and runs a proprietary operating system. No info on the DAC chips used or the specs of the analog part of the unit were supplied. But even in the case that the analog output isn't great (which we don't know yet - with the small speakers and the background noise on the Terratec stand it was impossible to judge the sound quality), it is possible to use the unit with an external DAC or use a DAT or Minidisc recorder for the digital/analog conversion, since the Terratec recorder features an SP/DIF output. This, together with the possibility of  using a high encoding bitrate, should make this recorder interesting even for very audiophile Hifi users.

While all this sounds good, the unit isn't flawless. First of all, it can only copy CDs at 1x speed. And second, it does not support copy-protected CDs. The reason for this is not technical, but legal: with laws made to defend the interests of the music industry in Europe, bypassing even the most simple copy protection is illegal.

The price of the Terratec recorder is identical to the Sony's, $880.

Index Going MPEG4

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now