Friday, May 18, 2012

Digitizing analog with the Sony RCD-W500C Compact Disc Recorder

Have a bunch of cassettes from sources that can't be obtained either on vinyl LP or CD? Still have a desire to listen to these rarities, or plan to archive them alongside your CD collection and high resolution downloads? Here's your answer... The Sony (seems like I'm featuring Sony exclusively, huh? It's mere coincidence that some of my go-to items are by the BPC giant, but that's a story for another day. It's sheer coincidence that today's and yesterday's posts feature these two popular, utilitarian items made by the same company...) RCD-W500C Compact Disc Recorder is the answer to your problem.

The Sony features playback as well as recording capability, and, for the most part, I use the recording well most often. Not for any reason particularly, it just serves its purpose as a recorder primarily, thus leaving it in a specialty role. I guess if I had to devise a reason why it's not my go-to everyday player it would be the fact that it's a multi-disc player, and I tend to prefer single-disc players for easy, quick load-and-play operation. So, to summarize the playback feature in a single comment, it has a 5-disc magazine that allows a listener to load a few discs and sit back to listen without much fumbling or getting up to hear all 5. Along with a menu loaded with display options and various ways to get the signal to the recorder, this machine is easy to use. With a modicum of experience ripping and burning analog sources on various CD recorders long gone (killed by overusing, and cheap, shoddy optics, I'm sure!) I was able to operate the RCD-W500C without a manual.

You can, as with most standalone audio CD recorders, make copies of analog and digital sources, both internally or externally (using RCA jacks to access the recording input section of the device). It's really as easy as connecting a cassette player or the output of a receiver or phono stage to the analog input on the back of the Sony to rip a cassette or LP, respectively speaking. Setting the levels is easy with visual level indicators, to make sure you're not overmodulating the analog input of the Sony, and maximizing your recording level without driving the Sony into distortion. You can dub a CD automatically with the internal feature, and manually, track by track, with the analog feature. Simple and effective!

My main application for using the Sony is to digitize cassettes of my appearances on KDHX, St. Louis public radio, that I painstakingly preserved as I appeared on the air in the 80's and the 90's primarily. Dragging my cassette recorder to my on-air appearances and patching into the broadcast mixer proved to be a smart move, historically speaking, as I'm an archivist by nature. To further preserve these rare and precious tapes, a free-standing audio CD recorder is the most convenient way to get them reproduced onto CD's. The final process is to rip the CD's to my HDD on my computer(s) for playback in my #1 system. This process asssures that the cassettes won't fall apart from repeated playings, and as I took the time and effort to store the cassettes correctly (out of sunlight, rewound, stored in cases, in racks, catalogued alphabetically and indexed fastidiously for quick reference when needed), I preserved optimum sources for reproduction and archival material.

I find the only drawback is having to use proprietory audio CD-R's (commonly sourced at all the big-box stores, at least for the time being) that cost slightly more than regular computer data CD-R's, but this is a minor drawback, at least until the audio CD-R's become scarce. At that time, I'm sure that some smart industrious individual (or corporation) will cotinue to keep them available. The Sony is discontinued, like the HD radio I reviewed yesterday, and considering that they were both viable, useful components (not to mention very popular) in the vast Sony line of audio products, nothing has come along in the meantime to replace either of these discontinued devices. Usually the reason for companies to discontinue products is to improve them and raise the price, or because the item is obsolete for some reason or another. They (Sony, that is) haven't been party to the lynch mob that seems bent on killing the silver disc as downloading and alternate methods come and go. It's beyond me why this recorder was summarily dropped. It had no known defects (unlike the HD radio, which had various small problems that probably warranted its demise), and, at least for this reporter, always seemed to be the easiest method for digitizing analog sources. Its lack of software-driven topology, endless menus and confusing hookups, made this an ideal item for the thousands without a EE degree, and as mentioned, I figured out how do get it to integrate into my setup without difficulty (without a manual!).

Sony should support this device for some time to come, as they are pretty good about building serviceable components that don't require complete replacement upon malfunction. This is a good reason (for most, other than name-driven audiophiles that are concerned with peer prestige over perfomance) to invest in a brand that might fly under the radar of someone investing in spendy, name-rated gear. Sony had entered that high-end arena long ago, most recently featuring a line of ultra-high-end (read costly) loudspeakers that should remind folks that they aren't only for the BPC crowd.

As a rating, I give the Sony RCD-W500C a total of 4 stars, as the fact that it's currently discontinued and with Sony having no known plans to reenter the standalone CD recorder market, makes this choice ultimately somewhat (albeit slightly) questionable. With an original MSRP of around $350 you can (and I did) find them, as well as various other non-pro CD recorders for less than a C note. They're pretty common on the used market.

Tomorrow, I'll do a quick rundown of an annual event in my hometown that draws tens of thousands over a two day period! Until then, keep your tubes hot and your antenna up! See you then!


  1. I recently picked one of these up off craigslist. I want to convert some of my rare vinyl to CD. How does it know when 1 track ends and the next one starts?

  2. You operate it manually, track by track. Record pause, start LP, record, song plays, song ends, pause. Cue record to next song and repeat till LP is over.