MediaFORM CD-3703 CD Replicator

Have you found yourself growing impatient waiting for your one-off CD burner to create a duplicate disc at the now antiquated rate of 4X? And it is frustrating having to babysit a multidrive duplicator; feeding it discs several times an hour. It may be time to consider purchasing a standalone, autoloading CD duplicator.
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Have you found yourself growing impatient waiting for your one-off CD burner to create a duplicate disc at the now antiquated rate of 4X? And it is frustrating having to babysit a multidrive duplicator; feeding it discs several times an hour. It may be time to consider purchasing a standalone, autoloading CD duplicator.
Product PointsApplications: Studios and duplication facilities, in-house corporate and government facilities

Key Features: Fully automated; robotic arm loading; extensive diagnostics maintain audio quality; security features

Price: $5,999

Contact: MediaFORM at 610-458-9200 Web Site

Plus

+ Comprehensive duplicator

+ Lots of features pertinent to audio production

Minus

- One-year warranty on robotic arm

The Score: A standalone duplicator designed to produce high-quality CD copies in a wide range of applications with little human intervention.
More and more studios are offering clients low- to medium-volume duplication services these days. It is hard for project studios to compete with large duplication facilities that do disc replication and graphics, jewel case insert design and more, but not everyone makes albums. There is a need for small- to medium-volume duplication in the corporate world, radio, advertising and elsewhere.

Surprisingly, some of my most recent recording projects have been with artists who did their own artwork and distribution. They usually inquired as to whether I could help them with disc duplication. At the same time, I have been producing a daily radio spot that goes out to about 20 radio stations each month and I find that sending the master out for duplication is almost as frustrating as burning one-off discs from my computer.

Enter the CD-3703 ($5,999), one of many duplicators from MediaFORM, the Pennsylvania-based company that is a leader in the field. Billed as an economical, automated production system, the 3703 is capable of producing more than 150 650-MB (full) CDs in an eight-hour day.

Features

The 3703 has a chassis that is 19.13 inches wide, 16.25 inches high and 15.75 inches deep. The height comes a stack of three drive bays and a tower for the robotic arm. The robotic arm is situated so that it can remove a disc from the input spindle, deposit it into one of the open drive bays and then, when the burn is complete, deposit the disc onto the output spindle. Any rejected discs are deposited in the reject space that lies directly in front of the drive tower.

Disc capture is done by way of three suction cups on the robotic arm. These cups are attached to a pneumatic motor in the main chassis. The front side of the 3703's chassis is where the LCD display and keypad controls reside.

With three drive bays, the 3703 creates three CDs simultaneously. When using an approved blank media, these patented SmartDRIVE2 drives do this at a maximum speed of 12X, yielding an impressive 18 CDs per hour for discs containing 650MB, or almost 60 CDs per hour when your master has just 10MB of data/audio (as in a radio spot). These times include the load/unload process as well. The 3703 can use both CD-R and CD-RW discs and it can accommodate most contemporary formats, making it useful outside the audio world.

MediaFORM's Relay Mode operation is an impressive feature that allows the operator to create copies of multiple masters with no human intervention. Simply stack the number of blank discs you want to create on the input spindle and then place your master on top. Then place the next batch of blank discs on top of those followed by the master for that project. Each time the 3703 ingests a disc with data on it, it will create a new master for the blank discs below it on the spindle.

If you have a tendency to revisit duplicating jobs, the 3703 can handle that too. The internal hard disk can store up to four master CD images for later recall. Suppose you need to create a compilation disc from multiple masters; the 3703 can oblige. By using the keypad, you can select specific tracks from your source disc(s) for inclusion in the compilation.

The CD-3703 has a bevy of diagnostic functions will be useful to the audio professional. The Full Scan function performs a full surface test of the master disc to ensure that it is readable before copying begins. Also, if audio tracks are present, the master is checked for low-level (C1 decoder) errors that could appear as audible noise on copies. The 3703 can also compare copied discs to the original to ensure they are identical. In a hurry, you can utilize the "express" comparison method that matches Table of Contents (TOC) areas only.

The 3703 also has security features. Entering a password into the 3703 prohibits use beyond the initial screen display. Also, the 3703 can install unique electronic fingerprints onto copied discs. These fingerprints, called SmartRID and SmartSTAMP, allow discs to be traced back to the specific 3703 unit and even the drive that recorded them, thus helping to diagnose copying problems. These features are also useful in dealing with unauthorized copying problems.

In use

Over the course of several months, I used the CD-3703 to create nearly 1,000 CD copies. Most of the audio CDs I duplicated with the 3703 were compiled to Red Book spec in Sonic Foundry's CD Architect and I used Taiyo-Yuden discs WHICH MediaFORM lists as compatible with 12X duplication on the 3703.

Whether working at 8X or 12X, the 3703 proved very reliable during the reproduction of all those discs. Although a bit noisy, the robotic arm proved to be precise in the delivery and extraction of discs from the drive bays. On one occasion, I was witness to a partially botched drop to the output spindle. The disc was left teetering on the point at the top of the spindle. This did not cause a problem as the next disc forced it down the spindle shaft.

More seriously, after several months of use the stop collar at the top of the robotic arm cracked and the arm, while still functioning, began to make a loud clicking sound during operation. To its credit, I called MediaFORM and it promptly sent me a replacement collar.

Using the 3703's Relay Mode made replication a real breeze. On a recent task, I had to create 21 CDs that were to be sent out to area radio stations. I piled the blanks on the input spindle, set the 225 MB master on top of the blanks, turned on the machine, pressed copy (which prompted the display to read: copy in relay mode?) and then pressed the Yes key. Forty-two minutes and 50 seconds later the job was complete.

It should be noted that the master disc could be read at either maximum speed or 4X. MediaFORM recommends 4X to improve the chances of copying poorer quality masters. Also, it is advisable to have the Full Scan function engaged. Although this will slow the process some, it will make sure that your master is readable and free of errors before copying begins.

I had two qualms with the CD-3703. First, I wish the warranty for the robotic arm assembly was longer than one year. It really gets a workout shuttling discs around; I suspect this would be the component most likely to have trouble on the CD-3703. Second, the manual is a hard read with many redundancies. It mentions removing discs from the reject area eight different times.

Summary

The MediaFORM CD-3703 is a fantastic machine. With its simple, automated copying process, security features and great diagnostics, it is well suited to the pro audio environment. The question is, does your business having enough duplication work to justify its price tag? Some local duplication facilities in my area are currently offering CDs for less than less than $3 each (with printing) so you need to have a reasonably high volume to justify the expenditure.

Speaking of printing, MediaFORM has a sister unit to the 3703 - the AP-1301 - that can print onto your copied CDs. The Inkjet version (slower but higher quality) is $5,899 and the Thermal version (faster) is $10,199. These machines are also fully automated and will allow you to offer a complete duplication service.