CD Cyclone T-8 Interactive CD Production Tower – Hardware Review – Evaluation
In the rapidly maturing market for standalone tower CD duplicators, how can any new product come along and stand out from the crowd? What with eight-speed recorders commonplace, prices continuing to fall, and systems offering fairly uniform capabilities, carving out a place in the establishment is no easy matter. That’s where relative-new-comer CD Cyclone Duplication Systems of Lake Forest, California has staked its claim with the new $6,995 T-8 Interactive CD Production Tower, which imaginatively breaks away from the monotony of conventional designs.
Housed in a massive 24″x 7.5″ x 22.5″ metal-server tower enclosure, the T-8 consists of a standard Microsoft Windows 98 PC configured with an AMD K6-2/350 Mhz processor, 32MB RAM, AdvanSys ABP-980UA multichannel Ultra SCSI card, Seagate Medalist 4.3GB Ultra ATA hard drive, 3.5″ floppy disk drive, and eight Teac CD-R58S 8×24 CD recorders. At slight additional cost for the more discerning customer, CD Cyclone also offers the T-8, furnished with Plextor’s award-winning 8×20 PX-820T model. Thanks to the standard PC architecture, additional duplication capacity can also be added by purchasing a $4,595 external eiqht-recorder expansion cabinet that connects to the master tower.
However, what really sets the T-8 aside from other tower duplicators is that the user interface resides on a small Elo Touchsystems 6″ backlite LCD touch-sensitive screen, rather than the conventional LCD screen and membrane keypad used in other devices. Dubbed “One Touch Record” (OTR), this innovation holds the promise of simple command inputs and greater user feedback.
the eye of the storm
Pulling the strings behind the scenes of the T-8 is CD Cyclone’s homegrown “Tornado” software (currently v. 1.2.2b), a fusion of the company’s own programming with bits and pieces from PC duplication mainstay Prassi Software USA. Thanks to the touch screen and Tornado’s easy-to-use colorful interface, getting up and running with the T-8 is simple and is more like operating a modern photocopier than a standalone CD copier.
Duplicating CDs is accomplished either disc-to-disc or from CDs previously copied to the internal 4.3GB hard drive. Original discs can also be created from physical images transferred across a network to the system using an optional 10-BaseT interface card. But disc-to-disc copying is the easiest and most common way of proceeding, and simply involves placing the CD to be duplicated in the top recorder while filling the remaining recorders with blank CD-R discs.
Since the T-8 automatically identifies the disc format, the copying process only involves touching a large “start” graphic on the screen and waiting for the finished discs to be ejected. By using only a couple more commands, the number of copies to be made can also be entered so users need not keep count. In case you ever get a little confused, context-sensitive onscreen help is always available.
Core features of the T-8 include the ability to set the record speed (1X, 2X, 4X, 8X) as well as to perform a test run and verify written discs against the source to ensure the integrity of the copying process. The large hard drive also comes in handy with its ability to hold multiple images for later recording while a system-logging feature maintains an event history that is useful for troubleshooting.
how the T-8 tested
During several weeks of continuous testing, the T-8 proved easy to use and versatile, having no serious difficulties copying a wide range of data and audio discs in a variety of popular formats.
A couple of annoyances, however, arose including incomplete help screens that ended mid-sentence and poor warning messages for indicating a full hard drive. It’s curious why a user-friendly system with a large display like the T-8 couldn’t do any better than displaying, for example, “error 15.”
In addition to straight audio disc copying, the T-8 offers the ability to create compilation music discs a track at a time from one or multiple master sources. The process is straightforward and is accomplished by placing the source disc into the top recorder and then selecting the tracks to be captured individually from a list on the screen. Each track can be fully previewed and an appropriate name given before saving to the hard drive for later assembling and recording.
During testing, the audio CD import feature was a joy to use and worked well most of the time. There were, however, a few unsettling episodes. For example, on five separate occasions the software indicated that an illegal operation had been performed and the screen exited to the Windows 98 desktop. Also, any time the hard drive became full, a message appeared telling the user to run the operating system’s “Disk Cleanup” utility, which proved to be of no use in solving the problem. On the feature side, one useful capability absent from the T-8 is the ability to reduce the reading speed of the recorders to 1X, which would have been be helpful for dealing with importing material from poor-quality master discs.
The T-8 does have the ability to convert analog audio sources (cassette tape, microphone, vinyl records) to digital through its built-in sound card and record them on the hard drive. By using a couple of commands, audio material can be manually transferred to the system, or the T-8 can automatically start and stop digitizing on silences in the audio stream. An optional feature that should appeal to service bureaus and music production houses is an inexpensive $695 DAT import kit.
Utilizing a Zefiro Acoustics ZA2 digital audio card, the interface kit allows material from digital audio sources (such as DAT and MiniDisc) to be imported into the T-8 through standard RCA coaxial or TOSLINK fiber optic S/PDIF or XLR AES/EBU ports for recording onto CD.
One additional benefit of the T-8’s large screen display is that it allows for useful features that aren’t possible on standard duplicators. For example, after importing source material, users can carve up the transferred sound files into tracks using a simple graphic audio editor.
optional disc- label printing system
Rounding out the T-8’s stable of unique capabilities is an optional autoloading printing system for unattended labeling of up to 50 CDs at a time. Consisting of a Champion Duplicator Comet CD-R Printer Loader ($1,495) and a Primera Technology Signature II ($1,099) or III ($1,495) color inkjet printer, the system connects externally to the T-8 through a parallel port and is operated using the touch screen. Easily worth the extra money and clearly evident during the evaluation is the new Signature III’s increased 1200dpi output as well as significantly faster speed.
Sitting behind the Comet loader, the Signature printer tray is gravity-fed using an escapement system to individuate discs stacked vertically in a hopper. After printing, finished discs are dropped into an accumulator drawer which is manually emptied from the front of the loader. Labels are prepared as needed on a separate computer, saved on 3.5″ floppy disks in standard JPEG format, and imported into the T-8 through a floppy-disk drive located (inconveniently) at the rear of the duplicator tower. The label designs are then selected from a prepared list and previewed onscreen, and the number of discs to be printed is then entered on the T-8 screen.
Printing with the T-8 is as easy as any other operation, and one excellent time-saving feature is the ability to label while the user goes on with other tasks. However, problems and shortcomings encountered during testing overshadowed the elegance of printing labels with the T-8. For example, over the course of one week, the Comet escapement mechanism physically jammed on ten separate occasions. As well, every time the loader ran out of discs, the system produced a display showing a standard Windows 98 printer timeout error rather than showing a helpful message.
The T-8 also disappoints by not offering a means to adjust the printer driver to optimize the settings in order to compensate for the different ink-absorption characteristics of the various brands of inkjet printable media [See Hugh Bennett “CD-R, Fit to Print: Printing Devices for CD-Recordable, “August 1997–Ed.].
the bottom line
It’s always encouraging to see manufacturers looking for better ways to do the same thing, and there’s no doubt that CD Cyclone has hit upon an interesting and worthwhile idea with touch-screen technology. The T-8 Interactive CD Production Tower shows great promise, and with some additional engineering could be a significant force in the higher-end market. Unfortunately, it’s still a diamond in the rough, exhibiting some instabilities, poor error handling, and an as-yet-incomplete feature set. For now, the T-8 remains a work in progress.
CD Cyclone T-8 Interactive CD Production Tower
synopsis: It’s always encouraging to see manufacturers looking for better ways to do the same thing, and there’s no doubt that CD Cyclone has hit upon an interesting and worthwhile idea with touch-screen technology. The T-8 Interactive CD Production Tower shows great promise and with some additional engineering could be a significant force in the higher-end market. However, due to a few lingering instabilities, poor error handling, and an as-yet-incomplete feature set, the T-8 remains a work in progress.
configuration and extras: T-8 duplicator with TEAC CD-R58S, $6,995; T-8 expansion unit with TEAC CD-R58S, $4,595; T-8 duplicator with Plextor PX-820T, $7,297; TS expansion unit with Plextor PX-820T, $4,995; DAT import kit, $895; Champion Comet
Hugh Bennett [email@example.com], an EMedia contributing editor and columnist for The CD Writer, is president of Forget Me Not Information Systems [www.forgetmenot.on.ca], a company based in London, Ontario, Canada offering CD and DVD-ROM recording, mass reproduction, and consulting services as well as CD-R/RW and DVD-R/RAM hardware, duplication systems, software and blank media sales.
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