Recordable CD (called CD-R) was launched in 1988. Called CD-WO (CD-Write Once), the format was fully compatible with the original ‘Red Book’ CD standard when giving up to 74 minutes of recording (650 MB), but later CD-Rs offered up to 80 (737MB). CD-RW (CD-ReWriteable) discs were also offered, and these had the ability to be used multiple times like the Compact Cassette format, or MiniDisc, but had a lower reflectivity making them hard to read for many CD players. Some older CD players also struggle with CD-Rs for the same reason.
It took a long time for the technology to trickle down into consumer audio, however. Meridian’s CD Publisher (1990) was an early, bulky and very expensive design. In the early nineties several models surfaced, costing upwards of £10,000 in the UK – until in September 1995, a Philips-built machine nudged under the £1,000 price point. The new wave of consumer machines that appeared in its wake all used a special type of CD-R disc, the so-called “music” or “audio” CD-R, which was more expensive that data CD-Rs due to RIAA copyright issues. There’s no difference between the two discs physically; instead it’s the Disc Application Flag in the disc’s sub-code that identifies the type.
By the late nineties, the cost of hi-fi CD recorders had dropped sufficiently so as to be affordable for most audiophiles. Philips in particular had driven the consumer side, although the likes of HHB, Traxdata, Pioneer, Denon, Yamaha and Marantz had also taken CD-R seriously, especially on the pro side. The latter was able to use its close connection to Philips, which actually manufactured a great many of the CD writer mechanisms, to produce several noteworthy machines. When Marantz’s DR6000 was launched in spring 2000, it was widely thought to be the best of its type that money could buy. Unlike many CD recorders on sale back then, it was a high quality design that was made in Japan (with most rivals being made in Malaysia), and it sported an all-metal case and fascia, and high quality components inside.
Crucially, the DR6000 was sold as a high quality CD player that also happened to record CDs. Most CD recorders were not famous for their audio quality when playing CDs – to put it politely – so Marantz’s pitch was that you didn’t need to invest in an additional, ‘proper’ hi-fi CD player too. This product benefited from the combination of a decent quality Philips Bitstream DAC – the TDA1305, as seen in products such as the original Cambridge Audio DACMagic – and Marantz’s Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Modules (HDAMs) in the analogue output stage. The respected Asahi Kasei AK535VF 20-bit analogue-to-digital converter chip was fitted for analogue sourced recordings, too.
The machine displayed all the other usual mid-price Marantz trademarks; careful choice of components, optimal layout of the circuitry inside including vibration isolation for the disc read/write mechanism, and short signal paths for the recording section that bypassed unnecessary circuitry. It accepted inputs from 32 to 48kHz sampling frequencies and downconverted to CD’s 16-bit, 44.1kHz standard. The DR6000 recorded both CD-R and CD-RWs, as well as playing back all types of optical CDs. It had CD Text functionality, a handy feature both then and now. Around the back, there were both TOSLINK optical and coaxial electrical S/PDIF digital inputs and outputs, plus unbalanced RCA audio line inputs and outputs. The front fascia had a full sized 6.3mm headphone jack with level control.
This is one of the best made consumer CD recorders ever – it feels solid and crisp to the touch, especially when compared to the thin, plasticky build of most such products. Its case is pressed steel with a thick brushed aluminium fascia, and measures 440x87x317mm and weighs 4.6kg. It came in a choice of black and the company’s trademark light champagne gold. All the switchgear feels crisp to use even now, the fluorescent display looks a bit dated but does the job, and the disc tray has a decently engineered feel. In terms of measured performance, the Marantz offers numbers that would make a Nakamichi Dragon cassette deck owner of the mid eighties, green with envy. When recording from its analogue line inputs, it has a quoted dynamic range of 92dB, and a frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz (+/- 0.5dB). Playback S/N ratio is put at 105dB; although this figure seems a little dated now, it’s still decent enough.
The Marantz DR6000 benefits from a large and comprehensive remote control which makes operating its recording features easier than via the fascia buttons. Still, either way it’s pretty straightforward. There are CD Sync and manual record options; the former being ideal for direct copying of an audio CD, including all its track numbering and record level settings. The latter is for recording LPs or cassette tapes, where the metadata (i.e. track start IDs) is written manually, and here you have to set the recording levels as you would with a cassette deck, for example. Additionally, CD Text can be entered via the remote control’s keypad. There’s a useful four second input buffer, so you don’t miss the beginning of what you’re trying to record, and the machine can – if you so wish – automatically write track ID numbers even in manual mode if it senses a gap in the music longer than 2.7 seconds. The one respect in which the old Compact Cassette format wins out is speed; the DR6000 needs a few seconds or so to get its ducks in a row before you start recording, and several seconds when you finish to finalise the disc.
Like many CD recorders, the Marantz is a little media sensitive. You might like to experiment with brands, as there’s still a lot of choice of media to buy on eBay, for example. Do be sure to buy Audio CD-Rs though; although these are more expensive than standard data CD-Rs and usually come supplied in jewelcases, rather than on a spindle, standard data CD-Rs simply will not work in an audio CD recorder. I have got good results with brands such as TDK, Sony and Maxell, which are all still readily available. When recording from an analogue source such as LP, the DR6000 makes extremely good recordings. There’s a slight softening of the sound, a subtle lightening of the bass and a marginal deterioration in soundstage depth, but the overall result is still far superior to MiniDiscs, MP3s and so on.
As a standalone CD player, it’s pretty capable. It’s fractionally lighter and more two dimensional sounding than the company’s own CD-6000OSE LE, which was Marantz’s ‘budget audiophile’ CD player of that period. Compared to a modern machine, and you’ll find it slightly lively in the upper midband, and a little less crisp and detailed, but there’s not much in it until you compare it to a modern DAC like Chord’s Hugo 2. Hook one up to the DR6000 via one of its two digital outputs, and things sound substantially more detailed, dynamic and rhythmically engaging, compared to the Marantz’s built-in DAC.
It’s funny how CD recorders were once cutting-edge, whiz-bang technology that so wowed hi-fi reviewers and purchasers alike, but are now very much residing in the technological graveyard of history. What’s interesting to me though, is that if you use CD – and a great many folk do – then they’re actually still really handy things to have. The media is cheaper than when they were on sale new (approximately £1 a disc now, compared to £4 back in the year 2000), and you can pick up a decent, lightly used Marantz DR6000 second-hand for as little as £200. If you’re a collector, archivist or general music obsessive, that’s a lot of flexibility for not much money.
For me, the DR6000 resides in a real price/performance sweet spot. It makes excellent recordings, plays them back nicely, is very well built (in Japan) and is small and innocuous enough not to take over your system – unlike some of the bigger CD-R Audio pro recorders. The only other model to consider is the DR-17, which went on sale when production of the DR6000 finished in 2003. It’s a beautiful but altogether more expensive machine that’s harder to find in good condition; expect to pay upwards of £600 or more. Another interesting option is the DR6050, which is the dual disc version of the DR6000 – a sort of higher end rival to Sony’s popular RCD-W100 that sold from 2004 onwards. As with all such things, buy the one in the best cosmetic condition that you can find, preferably in its original box, and make sure it’s in full working order, ideally by getting a demonstration.