In the 1950s, computers and automation promised to make our lives leisurely and prosperous by the year 2000. Most of us are still waiting. Occasionally, a product lives up to those expectations by lightening the workload. MediaFORM’s CD-3702 CD-R duplication system turns a tedious job into effortless simplicity.
Product PointsApplications: Recording studio; production studio
Key Features: Automatic, hands-off CD duplication
Contact: MediaFORM at 800-220-1215
+ Automatically records up to 100 CD-Rs
+ Easy to use; PC literacy not required
The Score: CD burning for dummies – very easy to use.
The standalone unit can be operated by a complete novice. Advanced users will find features that give it the flexibility to handle most any task. If you burn a lot of CD’s, let the CD-3702 handle the job, freeing you to take care of business elsewhere.
The CD-3702 is basically a PC, a pair of CD-R recorders and some very sophisticated robotics. The unit is vaguely reminiscent of the old automatic record players that plopped albums stacked on the spindle – often with mixed results. Sometimes it would drop more than one LP at a time or bounce the needle on the vinyl. The CD-3702 is light-years beyond those simple mechanical devices.
The robot arm carefully and correctly picks up CDs, loads them into the burners, then stacks them properly when done. It calibrates and adjusts automatically to get it right every time. The spindle holds up to 100 discs, so you can load it in the morning and keep cooking through a full workday.
The device has a simple interface. The display shows a single line of text. Commands are entered through a 14-key pad. Its most basic operation requires just two keystrokes. After the system boots up and runs diagnostic tests (all the usual PC aspects are invisible to the end user), the display reads “SELECT COPY OR COMPARE.” After the COPY key is pressed, the display prompts “COPY IN RELAY MODE?”
Relay mode makes multiple copies from multiple masters. Stack the desired number of blank discs, place the original on top of the pile and slide them onto the input spindle. Different numbers of copies can be made from several different masters – just pile these batches on top. Now you are ready to burn.
When relay mode starts, the robot arm picks up the master disc on top of the input spindle while the platter to the top CD-R opens. It carries the disc over and loads it in. The computer reads what kind of a disc it is – data or music, and how it is recorded – and shows this on the display. The content is then copied onto an internal hard disk to make an image file of the master.
While the drives can read data at 20x, audio extraction is inherently slower because the information has to be translated into a different format. The display shows progress in terms of the percentage of the disc fed into the hard drive.
With the information loaded in, the master is removed and placed on the accept spindle. Blank discs are cycled into the twin CD-Rs. Copies are cranked out two at a time at 8x until it either runs out of media or encounters another master.
When a new master is encountered, the process starts over. The new content is read to the hard drive and copying to blank discs begins. All successful burns are placed on the accept spindle. If there are any rejects, they are put into a separate pile.
Relay mode performed flawlessly through some 20 copies from a variety of masters using Sony CDQ-74CN media. Attempts to get the machine to goof failed. It managed to properly identify most any master fed to it – whether Red Book compliant or not.
The only hang came when a master had more content than the 74 minutes available on the blank disc. After the data was on the hard drive and the media in place, the CD-3702 correctly rejected the blank before ruining the disc. Then it moved onto the next master. In normal operation, it will keep going until it runs out of discs or you hit the stop button. The only thing to be aware of here is the GIGO factor: copies are only as good as the masters – Garbage In, Garbage Out.
Relay mode operation is a classic no-brainer. For many, this basic functionality is all that’s needed. Choosing HD mode offers a great deal more flexibility. The function keypad allows image files of different masters to be stored on the hard drive. Ongoing projects can be continued without having to reload the data each time. Also, individual tracks can be ripped from discs to compose a project.
Additional options allow for changing the recording speed, date stamping discs, and having each disc compared with the master either bit-by-bit or by table of contents. The unit can also be linked to a PC through the external SCSI port. This allows one to use third-party mastering software and still perform a burn with the CD-R drives onboard the CD-3702.
Some functions found on other MediaFORM models are missing – the ability to run on a network and to import audio from analog or digital sources. These are sacrificed to achieve the CD-3702’s goal of ultimate simplicity of operation.
The only complaint I had with the unit was minor. If you punch in a mistaken command, the unit has to go through the full set of commands before it quits, and it takes about a minute to go through this. Hitting the stop button would not interrupt the programmed sequence. (The stop button will cease continuing a repeating cycle, such as a multiple burn.) This annoyance was easily avoided once I got the hang of the controls and capabilities.
The CD-3702 is truly a marvel of technology. The magic comes at a cost – $6,000 list. In a small shop, it takes a lot of CDs to recoup the time and effort saved from having to make copies manually. But it is important to figure in the total cost of do-it-yourself duplication.
For larger operations, the CD-3704 or CD-3706 comes with four or six CD-Rs. The CD-3706 can be fitted with a printer to complete its capabilities. Other improvements come through future upgrades in firmware. MediaFORM will also be offering a version with customized CD-Rs that can shift PQ markers on the hard drive image to correct frame errors found on some discs.
The MediaFORM CD-3702 is a serious piece of gear that eliminates the drudgework of CD replication. For some users, the payback comes in significant savings in time, training and equipment utilization. Everyone else will find the gee whiz factor enticing, whether or not their needs justify it. For those frazzled from feeding CD-Rs by hand, the CD-3702 delivers what we’d hoped for in robotics when the year 2000 seemed like a long way away.