Not every musician needs a computer-based DAW with a ton of tracks, instruments, and plug-ins. You might be content to build tracks one at a time with

Not every musician needs a computer-based DAW with a ton of tracks, instruments, and plug-ins. You might be content to build tracks one at a time with a hardware system you can plug in almost anywhere. Perhaps you just want to patch into your band's P.A. system and record gigs with a minimum of setup. The simple design of Roland's CD-2 ($799) easily accommodates those tasks with no-fuss, high-quality recording. The unit also offers several other useful features. Although Roland markets it primarily as an education tool and location recorder, the instrument's versatile capabilities make it a good tool for building tracks anywhere.

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Roland''s CD-2 recorder offers a novel overdub recording capability, using either CompactFlash or CD-RW media.

The CD-2 is not a field-recording unit; it can't run on batteries. It can, however, read files from CompactFlash (CF) cards formatted for Edirol's R-1, an eminently compact field recorder. The CD-2 records 24-bit, 44.1 kHz audio to CF cards with capacities of up to 2 GB. It can also record 16-bit, 44.1 kHz audio directly to its built-in CD-RW drive. You can conserve recording time with several levels of compression or record audio in WAV format. Recording WAV files to a 2 GB card yields roughly 196 minutes of recording time. Because of the two types of recording media, the CD-2 affords interesting creative possibilities for the solo musician; for example, you can overdub to the CF card while the CD plays back tracks.

In and Out

The CD-2's I/O options are flexible. Two built-in condenser mics are located at the top front of the unit. The front panel hosts a pair of balanced ¼-inch line jacks and an unbalanced ¼-inch high-impedance instrument input. On the left-hand side of the unit are a pair of balanced XLR jacks and a switch for 48V phantom power. The rear of the unit sports stereo RCA line-in jacks next to RCA aux outputs. A ¼-inch stereo headphone jack is provided in front, and stereo speakers are built in at the top rear of the unit.

A single MIDI Out port lets you play back Type 0 Standard MIDI Files (all MIDI channels on a single track) from CD and trigger external synths. MIDI, however, seems like a design afterthought, because the CD-2 cannot record audio and play back MIDI files simultaneously. Despite the number of inputs, recording to the CD-2 is always stereo, and you can use only a single input pair at a time. However, you can switch the leftmost front-panel ¼-inch input between the low- and high-impedance jacks, letting you record, for example, vocal and electric guitar tracks simultaneously.

The redundancy of recording controls makes the process simple. On the left-hand side of the device are record and playback controls for CF. CD-RW recording buttons are on the right-hand side. Dedicated buttons control many of the other recording functions. Other tasks are relegated to the CD-2's menu system, viewed on a small but clear 16-character LCD. You scroll the data knob to the location in the menu you want, and hit the Enter button. The Exit button backs you out to the top level.

The CD-2 provides several amenities, including a programmable metronome, CD-track looping, the ability to adjust pitch and speed independently, and a nice-sounding collection of built-in, preset effects for recording and mastering. Recording effects are applied on input and fall into three main categories: Dynamics, Vocal, and Guitar. As always, Roland's guitar effects are very good and include delays, amp modeling, pitch-shifting, and multi-effects patches. You can apply some effects to a single channel, letting you use, for example, an amp simulation on one input and a reverb on another, a handy aid for recording guitar and vocals simultaneously.

Mastering effects run the gamut from compressors and limiters to delays and modulation-type effects. Neither the recording nor mastering patches are editable, but Roland thoughtfully covered a lot of ground, from meat-and-potatoes effects to imaginative, over-the-top algorithms.

For the Record

Getting from your first simple track to finalizing a stereo master is a streamlined process: set input levels, apply effects, hit the record and play buttons, and you're off. Overdubbing creates a new stereo track for the new material. There is no multitrack editing, virtual tracks, or comping. This approach requires careful tweaking of levels to achieve a good balance between the overdubbed audio and the previously recorded track. (You can always use the Erase button and return to the previous recorded state.)

The CD-2's limited choices can make for a liberating experience, especially if you're eager to get your ideas down quickly and with a minimum of fuss. The recorder's sound quality is quite good, and although I wouldn't want to rely on the built-in condenser mics for anything other than a quick demo, they worked fine when I wanted to dash off a quick overdubbed banjo duet.

The CD-2 would appear to face tough competition from portable digital studios, including some made by Roland and Boss, but the simple sound-on-sound modus operandi of the CD-2 puts it in a no-frills recording class of its own. Check it out and see if it suits your recording style.

Value (1 through 5): 3