As the currency of musicians, CD-Rs replaced the analog cassette tape long ago, not only because of sound quality but because the price of CD recorders and blank media has decreased dramatically. Until recently, there were still things a cassette player could do that CD players and recorders couldn't — at least as cost-effectively — such as change the pitch and speed of a recording for rehearsal and transcription purposes. In the analog-tape medium, however, pitch and speed change simultaneously.
The Superscope PSD300 deals the final blow to the cassette recorder by offering, for just $1,099, a feature set that surpasses the portable semipro analog machines that musicians have been relying on for years. On the surface, the PSD300 resembles earlier Marantz/Superscope PMD-series cassette recorders, which, like the PSD300, included a built-in condenser microphone and miniature speaker. But in its recent offering, Superscope gives musicians a CD-based system to fill many needs.
FRONT AND CENTER
With two CD drives and so many play and record options, you would expect the PSD300 to have a lot of controls — and it does. The main playback drive, which I will refer to as the CD drive, is in the center of the top panel (see Fig. 1). The other drive I'll call the CD-R drive, even though it can also be used for playback.
Below the CD drive is the Select dial, which can be used in a number of ways, depending on the mode you're in. To the left of the CD drive are the built-in mono speaker; bass, mid, and treble EQ controls for playback; and ten control buttons (which I will cover shortly). To the right of the CD drive are the built-in microphone, the transport controls for the CD drive, and a button to open the drive.
Each drive has dedicated transport controls: Play/Pause, Stop, and search (Fast Forward and Reverse). The CD-R drive also includes buttons for Record, Erase, and Finalize. You use the Select dial to scroll through ID numbers, or you can use the ID increment buttons on the wireless remote control.
The PSD300's case is made of plastic and is lightweight, but it feels sturdy. The top-panel display shows the ID number, the timing for each track, the amount of key and tempo change (more on that in a moment), and the playback level of both channels. A standby power switch resides below the screen (the main power switch is on the rear panel).
The front panel offers a pair of XLR inputs and a pair of mic/line ¼-inch inputs (see Fig. 2). Each channel has a dedicated input-level control and a switch for selecting Line or Mic as the input. (The right-channel switch includes an Int position for selecting the built-in mic.) The front panel also includes a Line Out level control; a Phone/Speaker Level control; a ¼-inch headphone jack; a Phone Selector switch (to choose what you'll hear over the headphones); an Input switch (analog or digital); an ALC (Automatic Level Control) switch to engage the built-in limiter; a Mic/Line Split/Stereo/Mix switch; and internal speaker on-off switch. The CD-R drive and remote-control sensor also reside on the front panel.
The rear panel has three pairs of RCA outputs (operating at -10 dBV); S/PDIF digital I/O; connectors for an RC-5 remote control and a related switch; a footpedal input; and the main power switch (see Fig. 3). The removable IEC power cord doesn't fit snuggly into the recorder's power jack, and more than once I accidentally disconnected it when working with the unit.
IN THE FIELD
The separate front-panel Mic and Line inputs are among the PSD300's strongest assets for the recording musician because of the flexibility they offer. Although the recorder doesn't offer phantom power, you can plug dynamic or powered condenser mics directly in to the XLR jacks or interface with a mic preamp using the balanced ¼-inch line inputs.
For example, I plugged the Røde NT4, a battery powered stereo microphone, in to the XLR jacks to record a series of rehearsals in an auditorium. This proved to be a handy setup, but it was also the one time I wished the PSD300 itself could be powered by batteries: I needed an extralong extension cord to power my recording rig from the middle of the third row of seats.
The PSD300's mic preamps have the audio quality of an average portable mixer; they're perfectly suitable for sessions where you want to use a minimum of equipment but still get professional sound quality. When I was back in my studio, I powered the NT4 from an external mic preamp with phantom power (rather than the 9V battery) and ran the signal into the ¼-inch inputs of the PSD300. That arrangement yielded the best-sounding results.
SO MANY WAYS TO RECORD
The PSD300 was designed to cover a wide range of musical uses and offers numerous easy-to-use recording features. To begin with, it has a built-in microphone and speaker. The onboard mic is perfect for informal recording requirements, such as documenting a lesson or a speech, and the speaker is great for quickly checking a recording or dub. The PSD300 records and plays standard CD-R and CD-RW media; it accepts CD-Rs meant for computer data as well as the more expensive CD-Rs intended for music.
When you press the Rec Mode button with the CD drive empty, Record mode comes up first, allowing you to use the analog and digital inputs. For analog recording, you can set individual input levels, choose a bandpass or highpass filter, and add automatic limiting with the ALC switch. (Limiting begins when the input exceeds -12 dB.) You can also set the balance between the left and right channels independently for the CD drive or the CD-R drive.
Analog Inputs(2) XLR; (2) ¼"; (2) RCAAnalog Outputs(4) RCA; (1) ¼" stereo headphoneDigital I/OS/PDIFResolution16-bit, 44.1 kHzFrequency Response20 Hz-20 kHzA/D Converters24-bit, 64× oversamplingD/A Converters16-bit, 8× oversamplingDigital Input Sampling Rates11-58 kHzAccessoriesPlay/Pause footpedal; hard-shell casePower Connection120 VACDimensions11" (W) × 4" (H) × 9" (D)Weight7 lb.
CD-R DRIVE (playback)
Signal-to-Noise Ratio85 dBDynamic Range85 dBTotal Harmonic Distortion0.05%
Signal-to-Noise Ratio75 dBDynamic Range75 dBTotal Harmonic Distortion0.1%
Signal-to-Noise Ratio80 dBAmount of Gain58 dBuTotal Harmonic Distortion0.05%
MIC LEVEL INPUTS
Signal-to-Noise Ratio60 dBAmount of Gain58 dBuTotal Harmonic Distortion0.5%
ANALOG AUX INPUT
Signal-to-Noise Ratio75 dBTotal Harmonic Distortion0.5%
Unfortunately, the button for incrementing track IDs while recording can only be found on the remote. The PSD300 does have a feature that automatically adds an ID every minute; that makes it convenient to search through, say, a recording of an hour-long lecture.
If there's a disc in the CD drive when you press the Rec Mode button, the Rec with CD mode comes up first. In this mode, you can use the internal mic, external mics, or line inputs and record along with the disc in the CD drive. The PSD300's complement of inputs makes this mode very useful, and you can independently set the front panel audio inputs to accept either a mic or a line-level instrument.
Recording my synth and my voice along with a CD was a snap. I tried plugging my electric guitar directly in to each of the ¼-inch jacks, but the preamps distorted in the Mic setting when I dug in while playing. (As you'd expect, there wasn't enough gain for the guitar from this input in the Line setting.) Putting a DI between my electric guitar and the PSD300's ¼-inch input and using the Line input setting helped me get the clean sound I was looking for.
There are three mix settings for the Rec with CD mode. The Split setting sends the audio from the CD player to the left side of the CD-R and audio at the Mic/Line inputs to the right side of the recording. Audio going to the aux input goes to both channels. This setting is useful if you want to isolate your playing from the material you're playing with.
The Stereo setting sends the source CD to both CD-R channels but sends the Mic/Line inputs to the same channel you're plugged in to (whatever's in the left input goes to the left channel on the CD-R). The Mix setting sends every input to both channels. The only audio levels you can adjust in these settings are the front-panel input levels; the level of the audio from the CD player is not adjustable. However, you can globally adjust the level going to CD-R using the Select wheel.
In addition to your options for analog recording, you have several ways to digitally copy a disc from the CD player to the CD-R drive. In Copy + Listen mode, you can monitor a CD while you make a one-to-one dub. In Copy 2X mode, you can copy selected individual tracks or an entire CD at double speed, but you won't be able to monitor the sound. In Copy 2X + Final mode, the PSD300 finalizes the disc when double-speed duplication is finished. If you're dubbing a CD that has Serial Copy Management System (SCMS) encoding — which controls the number of second-generation, “serial” digital copies that can be made — the dub will include the code. However, the PSD300 does not add SCMS encoding.
For the transcribing musician, the Conv Halfspeed mode dubs the selected tracks at double speed, so the tracks you want sound an octave lower and half as fast. The half-speed results have the aliasing artifacts you would expect from such a digital process, but they are certainly usable for the purposes of transcription. In this mode, you'll have to manually stop the CD-R recorder when the CD drive has finished playing your selections.
Like many CD players, the PSD300 includes a Program mode so you can select the order of the songs you want to play back. The Program mode can also be used as you duplicate a CD in Copy + Listen, Copy 2X, Copy 2X + Final, and Conv Halfspeed modes.
The remaining modes include Sync Record, which allows you to initiate recording from an external device (DAT, Minidisk, and so on), and Sync Record+Final, which adds finalization automatically.
The dubbing capabilities of the PSD300 are part of the reason I wanted to do this review. I imagined it would be convenient to be able to give my clients a duplicate CD-R of the event I recorded before they left the venue — and I was not disappointed. Using Copy 2X mode, I found I could often burn more than one copy before everyone was packed up for the night.
PITCH AND TIME
The PSD300 has controls for changing the pitch and tempo of audio coming from the CD drive. The pitch feature, for example, allows the practicing musician to tune a CD track to a fixed-pitch instrument (such as a piano) or change the key of a song for a singer. Slowing down the tempo of a song is great for learning difficult licks, and speeding the tempo up is great for woodshedding a lick once you've learned it.
On the PSD300, you can change the key of a track as much as an octave, in increments of eighth tones, without changing the speed, by pressing the b or # buttons. You can also change the tempo of a track in 1 percent increments — as much as 50 percent faster or 33 percent slower — without affecting pitch, by pressing the + and — buttons. When you change tempo first and then press Key, you change the pitch of the CD in 0.1 percent increments, as much as 20 steps higher or lower. Percentages are not a musically useful way to show the amount of pitch change, but at least the functionality is there.
You can toggle between the original key or tempo and the one you've set by pressing the b and # or + and — buttons simultaneously. The tempo and key changes remain even if you scroll through the tracks on the CD drive. The pitch and time controls work even in Rec with CD mode; I found that very handy.
The pitch and time changes sound remarkably good when used judiciously; the artifacts become more apparent as you reach the extreme settings. But even if you pitch a song an octave down and slow the tempo down by half (which you can do automatically in the Conv Halfspeed mode), the results are fine for transcription or practice. If you want to isolate a musical section to work on, the PSD300 lets you set a loop point manually using the A-B button.
A LA MODE
The PSD300's feature list includes a few nice surprises. Voice Reduction (VR) mode significantly lowers audio material panned in the center, so you can use the PSD300 karaoke-style. This mode works remarkably well when the voice is panned dead center. Sometimes I could hear a very subtle bit of distortion on the material that was being subdued, but that was only when I was listening on headphones with the level cranked way up. The VR mode is certainly a nice bonus on this device.
In Changer mode, the PSD300 will automatically switch between the two CD drives in playback mode: it plays the disc in the CD drive first, then plays the disc in the CD-R drive. In addition, the PSD300 reads and writes CD text. The data Select wheel is used for choosing the text characters.
TAKE ME ANYWHERE
The PSD300 offers a combination of portability and useful features that just about any musician can use. The only drawbacks are the lack of phantom power and the ability to run the device from a battery. These two additions would make the PSD300 a formidable product.
For the price, however, the PSD300 is a superb deal considering it includes a CD duplicator, a built-in microphone and speaker, and handy transcription features. The PSD300 is one item you'll want to take almost everywhere you go. I know I did.
Gino Robairis an associate editor atEM.
MARANTZ PROFESSIONAL CDR300
Just as I was finishing up my review of the PSD300, Marantz Professional (which parted ways with Superscope in October 2002) released its own portable CD recorder, the CDR300 ($849). The CDR300 bears more than a passing resemblance to the PSD300: in fact, the specs are identical. However, the CDR300 was designed primarily for recording and offers two major advantages over the PSD300: 48V phantom power and a battery option.
The size and shape of the units are the same, as is the configuration of most of the controls (see Fig. A). The CDR300 lacks the top-panel CD drive and transport controls, as well as the Key and Tempo buttons. Also missing on the CDR300 are the dubbing and transcription features and some of the record modes of the PSD300. Other than that, the top, front, and rear panels of the two machines are almost indistinguishable.
The CDR300's dedicated phantom-power button is situated where the VR button is on the PSD300. In addition, the CDR300 offers two limiter modes for recording: a mic attenuation switch, which drops the level at the Mic/Line inputs by 20 dB, and the L+R switch, which lets you send the signal from each Mic/Line input to both channels of the recorder simultaneously.
Like the PSD300, the CDR300 lets you jam along with whatever is playing on the CD-R drive. Because the CDR300 has only one CD drive, you won't be able to record and play CDs on the same machine. You can plug another CD player in to the rear-panel aux, though, and record yourself along with that. Like that of the PSD300, the IEC power cable of the CDR300 fits loosely in the jack. (However, Marantz says it's working on addressing that situation.)
Marantz Professional's RPS300 Remote Power System ($199) includes the lead-acid battery, battery charger, and associated cables. The manufacturer claims that you can record for four hours before the battery needs recharging, and recharging takes about 14 hours. The battery weighs only a few ounces less than the recorder itself, but because it's three quarters the size of the recorder, it feels heavier than it looks. Nonetheless, I will gladly carry around an extra six pounds if it will allow me to record in out-of-the-way places. If you want a lightweight, portable, pro-level CD recorder, and you don't need the musical options of the PSD300, the Marantz CDR300 is worth considering.
tel. (630) 741-0330
FEATURES4.0EASE OF USE3.5AUDIO QUALITY4.5VALUE4.0
PROS: Two CD drives. CD-duplication capabilities. Balanced XLR and ¼-inch inputs. Digital I/O. Pitch and time independently controllable. Voice Reduction mode. Built-in mic and speaker. Ability to record along with CD. Filters on analog inputs.
CONS: No phantom power. No battery option. Unbalanced RCA analog outputs only. Remote required to increment IDs while recording. Power cable doesn't fit snuggly.
tel. (630) 820-4800