Portable Stereo Cassette Recorder
The Uher name has been synonymous with good quality, portable recorders for many years. Their 'Report' range of reel-to-reel recorders are the broadcast industry standard when it comes to location recording, having been adopted by our very own BBC amongst others. Uher products are characterised by their reliable operation, robustness and exemplary sound quality - and their latest offering, the CR160 stereo cassette recorder, is no exception.
With the upturn in sound quality offered by the compact cassette medium and the requirements for a low-cost, stereo, portable recorder to satisfy the demands of the growing film, radio and video markets, the decision to eschew the reel-to-reel format in favour of cassette comes as a logical move on Uher's part.
The unit has been designed with portability in mind and comes with a beautifully finished brown leather case and shoulder strap that serves to protect the machine also, whilst being transported.
The CR160 offers extraordinary sound quality with Dolby B and C noise reduction. All facilities, including a three-way speaker system, are built into the 9"x2"x7" rectangular steel case, and the whole package can be powered by battery or mains. Six 1.5 volt dry cell batteries, a rechargeable power pack or Uher's Z131 power supply/battery recharger can all be used, which fit into the opening rear compartment.
All controls are mounted on the front panel for convenient operation both in portable or free-standing modes. The CR160 is designed to accept C60, C90 and C120 cassettes which are loaded into the front panel slot. With a cassette inserted, the mechanical cassette lift lever to the far right must be depressed before either record or playback can be instigated.
The Volume control governs the playback level via headphones and/or the three speakers, as well as acting as the power on/off switch. With power on, to begin recording you must first obtain a decent record level for left and right channels. This is simply done using the record channel level controls and peak-reading level meters.
Alternatively, the built-in ALC (automatic level control) can be used, which has two preset positions: 'fast' and 'slow'. Since the ALC circuit works like a compressor, reducing the record gain above a certain level, the time taken to reduce the gain can be selected using 'fast' or 'slow'. 'Fast' is best suited to speech recording which contains a lot of explosive transients that could easily cause distortion, whilst 'slow' is suited to music recordings in general.
If recording at night, as with wildlife recordings or location interviews for radio, say, the meters, cassette compartment and three digit, mechanical tape counter can all be illuminated via a switch. This switch also activates the battery check facility which affects the left channel level meter and produces a constant display (on the green scale) of the battery strength remaining: a very useful and necessary inclusion on any portable recorder.
Similar switches govern the selection of the internal noise reduction, Dolby B or C and 'off', as well as the tape-type selector which accepts chrome (Cr), ferrichrome (FeCr) and standard ferric (Fe) tapes.
The final switch in this group activates the internal speakers located behind the top panel. The two 1" speakers produce an output of 3 watts each for the high frequencies, whilst the mid/bass frequencies are handled by a single 2½" 10 watt speaker.
The playback quality can be optimised to a certain degree using the simple treble and bass tone controls. These are of the cut or boost type and give a flat (linear) response at their halfway setting. If headphone and speaker monitoring is required simultaneously, then the aforementioned speaker switch needs to be set at its -20dB attenuation position to prevent overloading of the headphones.
Four front panel touchbuttons (Start, Pause, Stop, Record) and a two position mechanical lever determine the tape transport mode. With 'Start' selected a green LED above the button activates to indicate the play mode. In addition, the yellow LED below the fast forward/rewind lever pulses slowly when play is operational but flashes quickly when either fast wind mode is latched. In this case, 'Start' must be re-pressed to continue playing.
Record mode is entered by first selecting 'Rec' (but only if the protective lugs have not been removed from your cassette), whereupon the red LED lights, followed by selection of 'Start' to get the tape rolling. 'Pause' will temporarily stop the tape but without disengaging record mode, and re-pressing 'Start' activates the recording once again. All very conventional, but nonetheless simple and convenient to use.
With Uher being a German company, it's no surprise to find that most of the connections on the CR160 are via DIN sockets, as these are far more common on European manufactured audio equipment. Fortunately, the all-important line inputs and outputs all utilise phono sockets which make them ideally suited for connection to domestic multitrack recorders, tuners and amplifiers. These are located on the rear panel along with the external power connection socket, which mates with the Uher Z131 mains power unit and is intended to be used when the CR160 functions as a conventional hi-fi stereo cassette recorder.
The remaining connectors are recessed into the left side panel and are accessible even with the leather carrying case in position. The Mic Input is via an 8-pin DIN socket and is suitable for any low impedance mic. You'll need an adaptor, obviously, if your mic terminates in an alternative connector, you'll also have to remember to switch off the speakers yourself when using a microphone otherwise feedback will occur. Surely Uher could have incorporated this function so that it engaged automatically whenever a mic was connected, for little extra cost?
A condenser mic can also be plugged into this socket, the necessary supply to power it being drawn from the Uher itself - a thoughtful touch.
Connection to external amps or tuners is achieved with the 'Radio/Phono' socket (5-pin DIN) and the recorder may even be remotely controlled from a timer or remote unit using the 6-pin DIN 'Access' socket.
Finally, two sets of low impedance headphones can be plugged in - one via the ¼" jack socket, a second via the 5-pin DIN, which may also be used to drive an external pair of 4 ohm speakers if required.
No likely requirement has been omitted from the CR160; access to the two tape heads and transport mechanism is very easily achieved by pushing and lifting the clear plastic tape viewing window on the top panel. This can then be fully removed, making demagnetising and cleaning of the heads simplicity itself. A vitally important chore if you're to maintain the quality of your recordings.
Running at a standard tape speed of 1⅞ips, the quality of sound obtained from the Uher makes it perfectly capable of use as a 'master recorder' for a home studio. The frequency response extends from 30Hz to 16kHz for all tape-types, and a signal-to-noise ratio of some -72dB is possible with Dolby C in-circuit and a standard ferric tape. These figures were pretty much borne out by tests and I found myself preferring to master my demo tracks directly onto the Uher, rather than use an old Revox A77 and then take a cassette copy from the reel-to-reel master. If your recorded final product is usually a cassette copy, you might investigate the CR160 machine further and by-pass a reel-to-reel machine altogether, it could actually save you money and improve the quality of your finished product.
Wow and flutter can cause terrible problems on a portable recorder, as physical movement of the cassette against the record/replay head can cause unsightly modulation of the sound. This, however, has been foreseen by Uher who utilise an electro-magnetically monitored drive system to ensure perfect tape-to-head contact for absolute minimal wow and flutter.
I tested the Uher CR160 for interviews, and location recording of sound effects. You could even use this machine to record sounds, then sample them into your Fairlight, if you wished - a use to which many pro or university/college studios may find such a machine being put, I would suspect. In all cases, the recorder was a joy to use, very straightforward, and with a clarity to the sound that was hardly expected from a cassette recording. The internal speaker system proved very useful for immediate checking of sounds recorded on location, but lacked in the bass regions.
I have no real criticisms of the CR160 - it worked very well with no complications, but I would have preferred the microphone connection to have been via a ¼" jack instead of the DIN socket.
All in all, a very professional product that has a wide range of applications in the recording field. Beautifully constructed and at £250, very good value for money. There's no real competition about that has a pedigree as superb as that of Uher or which offers the reliable operation, quality and robustness of the Uher CR160 stereo portable recorder.
The CR160 retails for £250 including VAT.
Further details from: Uher Sales & Service, (Contact Details).
Review by Ian Gilby
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