So… You Want to Dupe CDs? Part II

By Aaron H. Pratt

[Editor's Note: In the last issue of Church Production Magazine, author Aaron Pratt began this article by talking about some of the more common features available in CD duplicators today. In this issue, he continues this discussion and ends with some advice on what to look for in blank CD media.]

Does a CD duplicator have to connect to a PC?
No it doesn't have to. But it can. This subject can get rather detailed here are some basics. PC based duplication has the following advantages: You can customize the disc, putting different tracks or editing the audio for multiple jobs, and you don't have to come straight off a master. You can use a sound card to bring in audio from tape or your mixing board, even during a live performance. And you don't have to worry about making 50 copies of the wrong disc.

But the disadvantages are heavy, especially for the audio professional that is already dealing with all of the other variables in equipment, environment, and personnel. Things go wrong with machines. They have 'behavior problems', especially in the arts environment. Many a horror story can be told about things in live performances going bad because of a mechanical or electrical problem. Even if you are not recording a live performance, the connections and software and system settings can be daunting for the professional who is trained to work with mics, not Macs.

Often it is better to use a simple on-the-fly recording system, connected to your tape deck or mixer board to create your master, and then letting a standalone duplicator do the rest of the job. Or create your mater disc on the PC, but take it to a standalone duplicator to copy it. That way you can use your PC for what it was made for, instead of tying it up with duplication jobs. Rule of thumb: Unless your work requires the added features of PC-based duplication, don't get the added problems that come with a PC-based system.

What if I don't want to constantly watch the machine and load the CDs by hand?
There are many automated CD duplicators on the market. And since the major cost is in the recorder itself, and the bulk of the technology is in the laser and optics, the auto loading feature is actually considerably more economical than most people expect. A small, one recorder duplicator that automatically loads discs can be found for as little as $2,500. What does that mean for you? Load 50 or 100 discs in the unit and go home and go to bed. They'll be done in the morning.

And there are automated duplicators that handle the printing and labeling of the disc as well, for a more professional looking disc.

Do all automated duplicators require a PC?
Absolutely not. More and more duplicators are entering the market that are fully automated and self-contained. Manufacturers are simplifying the operation and requirements of duplicators to fit in to non-technical markets, such as ordinary office environments, in order to fill an increasing demand for information storage. Why does this benefit the production and recording market? Again, unless your work requires the added features of PC-based duplication, don't get the added problems that come with a PC-based system.

So, what about discs?
A typical, high-quality blank CD (usually called a CD-R or Recordable CD) goes for around US$1. Obviously, when you buy in bulk, the price will drop somewhat. A 'spindle pack' or 'bubble pack' of CDs is typically 50 discs on what appears to be a small spool. At this quantity, the discs will cost $.60-$.90 depending on the quality of the disc and the market conditions at the time. There has been a downward trend in pricing. But you can expect it to level out now - the manufacturers have to make something. A year ago, discs were $2 to retail, and three years ago $6-$10 was not uncommon.

Remember that you get what you pay for. Look for a warranty or guarantee when you buy your discs. If you get a bad batch of media, can you take it back? After all, you can re-record the same tape over and over again but you get one shot with a CD then it's useless. And even though all media claims to be "certified" for the latest recording speeds "Grade A" it's not. Check with friends - bad media gets a name quickly, and people who work with CD-R a lot become loyal to a few brands.

Are there compatibility issues?
Usually not. Older CD players might not recognize a recordable disc, but most new ones have no problems with any of the media. Probably only 1 in 100 CD players out there will not recognize a recorded disc, and the number goes down every day. The real issue is how well the disc handles the recording process, not whether or not it will play on a player.

Also, your CD-R will outlive your tapes and still be compatible with many of the new devices coming out. Most DVD players will play CD-Rs, and the dye in some CD-Rs will theoretically retain data integrity for up to 100 years. This has obviously not been proven yet…

They typical CD you buy at the store (take on out and look at it) has a label on top and is silver on the bottom. The data (or audio) lies in a physically pressed (or 'stamped') layer between the bottom plastic protective layer and the middle reflective layer. It is not visible to the human eye, but when the laser passes through the pressed 'pits' and 'lands', it is altered, and when it bounces off the reflector and returns to the optical reader in the player, the reader interprets the changes digitally.

Not so with a recordable CD.

Since the recordable CD comes from the factory with no data in it, the information must somehow be recorded without removing the protective layer. The recordable CD has a layer of dye between the protective layer and the reflector. A recording laser focuses on the dye and marks or 'burns' it. That's why the recording process is often called "burning." The reading laser interprets these marks the same way it interprets the pits and lands in a stamped or replicated CD.

Another of the advantages of CDs over tape is that the CD can take a substantial beating before being rendered unreadable. Scratches and smudges on the protective layer have less of an effect on CDs because the laser is focused to read only information at the depth of the data layer.

The multimedia tools have lots of potential for churches. DVD, interactive video, the Internet, and all sorts of formats for sharing information and entertainment are shaping the way we perceive the world. Despite limited budges and time restrictions, the ministry must keep up with these powerful mediums; after all their messages are more important.

Aaron Pratt is Director of Marketing, Microboards Technology. He has served as an accompanist, organist, and choral director at churches throughout Minnesota. Previously, he has also served on the Board of Directors for a community theater, as well as in artistic and technical functions with the theater. 

Reprint Note:
The world has changed a lot since this article was written; the average cost of a CD is now in the dimes and pennies range, no longer a dollar. CD Recorder speeds have exceeded 48X and new products that combine CD and DVD recording and printing in a number of ways have emerged in the marketplace. While we can't write anything that will be 100% current tomorrow, Microboards Technology strives daily to bring the latest and greatest from all of the industry's best vendors. Over the past few years we've literally talked to thousands of churches, helping them to find the perfect fit for their ministry needs. And we can do the same for you. Give us a call at 1-800-646-8881, or take a look at the new product offerings on our website. We look forward to hearing from you!