May 2001|I suppose if I made a list of everything I'd like a CD recording system to do for me, it would include things like buttering my morning toast, fetching my newspaper, itemizing my deductions, and singing me to sleep with a soothing rendition of the Carter Family's "A Distant Land to Roam." But I suppose even in this day of Napster (long may it reign) and other pleasures so guilty they oughtta be illegal (well, not literally), we can't expect all that.
But I'm pretty sure if I made a list of reasonable expectations of a recording device, it would bear an eerie resemblance to the bag of tricks brought to bear by MediaFORM's Reflection CD-5121 one-to-one duplicator. We've certainly seen its like before, in various guises; all-time classics reviewed here under such nameplates as MicroBoards, ACS Innovations, O'Dixion, and the late-lamented Smart and Friendly have delivered similar pure and easy recording pleasures. But just like "Distant Land" or "Ain't No More Cain," or any Acuff-Rose chestnut, this familiar intertwining of form and function gets me every time.
This one actually combines the familiar joys of straight-up, high-speed CD duplication with a few welcome surprises. Primary components of the Reflection are Plextor's UltraPleX 40X Max CD-ROM drive—the recognized industry standard for audio extraction and other activities demanding rugged source-drive reliability—and MediaFORM's own 16X SmartDRIVE2 recorder, a souped-up Sanyo CD-R/RW drive. And what a smart drive it is. Bettering even those Appalachian hillbilly balladeers who could sweep the full range of human harmonics in a single song, this thing whispers and screams simultaneously, barely emitting more than a gentle purr as it tears off disc after disc at blinding 16X speed. And while the Reflection doesn't include the hard drive boasted by some one-to-one standalones, it makes up for it with a handy track-by-track audio extraction scheme ("Select-Song Only" mode) that effectively sidesteps the need for an on-board hard drive in audio compilation creation. Granted, that rules out staging other kinds of data before recording, but how often are these devices really used for incrementally staging media assets in formats other than CD-Audio?
The Reflection, of course, performs ludicrously well when it comes to copying all kinds of CD data in straight disc-to-disc dupes. Other useful features include disc verify and compare, plus the ability to write and erase CD-RW media, for what that's worth (not a tremendous amount in these parts, but to each his own). Another nice perk is a Counter function for counting the number of CDs copied, as well as the ability to connect to a PC as an external SCSI drive when the system's "Reflection Enable" default system setting is disabled. All of these functions and more are managed within a simple and elegant four-line LCD, which users manipulate with four navigation buttons plus a thumb-sized POWER switch. A slick one-page (front- and-back) Quick Start guide with an obligatory ANTI-PIRACY NOTICE! tells you all you need to know to load your discs and start duping.
Copying a disc with the Reflection is so straightforward you hardly need what instructions there are. Sit the compact device on your desktop, or anywhere within six feet of a three-pronged outlet, and plug it in. After powering up, insert a source disc in the top (CD-ROM) drive and a blank in the bottom (CD-R/RW) drive, click the down arrow, and watch the Reflection work its magic. In several tests copying full 80-minute discs, the Reflection raced through the copying process and popped out perfectly duplicated discs in less than six minutes without fail. The fastest burn on record registered a smokin' 5:34.
In addition to the down arrow button, the four-button panel includes an up arrow button (surprise, surprise), a "•", and, at the top, a button with a printed-page icon. The printed-page button handles uber-navigation among the unit's various functions and modes. Think of it like the "Title" and "Menu" levels of a DVD. The first click of the printed-page button brings you to a "Test Only" screen. Users can choose Test Only (to check speed and reliability before actually writing to CD-R or CD-RW); other options in this menu (accessible via the up and down arrow buttons) are Write Only, Test&Write, Write&Verify (the unit does not automatically perform write verification), Test&Write&Verify, Select-Song-Only (for audio extraction and compilation), Compare Only (for comparing a disc copy with its source), Close Disc (a handy function if you've written all you want to in Select-Song-Only mode, but forgot to close the disc in the initial dialog). This all looks pretty simple when you mindlessly hop around the function palette, but that's the genius of it. A lot of good, clear thinking went into enabling the mindless good times you can have with this thing.
The next menu brought up by pressing the printed-page button is Speed. Options include 1X, 2X, 4X, 8X, 12X, and 16X (the system default). This is a welcome change from previously reviewed one-to-one duplicators, which, in many cases, either restricted you to the highest speed, or allowed speed shifting in a less clear manner. Other menus arrived at through printed-page-button clicks are Diagnosis System Resource and Diagnosis Speed Test (further pre-recording protection against unsuccessful writes), Update Software (for implementing MediaFORM-supplied updates via CD-ROM to the current firmware, which was at revision 3.07 at the time of this review), Reflection Enable/Disable (for attaching the Reflection to a PC as an external SCSI CD-R/RW), Counter Enable (copied disc tally on or off), and Language (choices: English, Chinese, and Japanese).
While multiple-drive systems, and moreover, integrated solutions (duplicator/autoloader/printer/PC/network connectivity) are recommended for high-volume and professional disc production applications, the Reflection comes about as well-equipped for serving professional needs as a basic one-to-one model could. For workgroup-level disk-duping chores, or for the IT support pro who needs to distribute application software discs or backups in a hurry, around the office or out in the field, the Reflection is a cost- and space-effective solution. What's more, its extensive diagnostics features provide an unusual level of quality control capability for a unit of its dimensions.
Roughly 75 discs were burned in testing the Reflection over the testing cycle, including several hours of continuous operation. Various branded and re-branded discs were used in 12X testing of the unit, including 12X-certified Kodak, Maxell, TDK, and IBM-branded discs of 650MB and 700MB capacities. But the real razzle-dazzle ensued when I used 16X Mitsui and Memorex media. Without the benefit of autoloaders and multidisc stacks, I've never seen spindles empty out so fast—and with nary a coaster to show.
One lone, heroic CD-RW disc was also tested in the Reflection, though only after several days' personal reflection on an appropriate use for it. The unit was not tested as an external PC recorder; when switching back from PC to Reflection mode, re-Enable Reflection and reset SCSI addresses to 0 (CD-ROM) and 1 (CD-R).
done with mirrors
The Reflection CD-5121 accedes to a right honorable spot amidst the pantheon of crowd-pleasing one-to-one duplicators with that special audio-oriented edge. It's a rip-roaring 16X duper in its own right—a hitherto-unseen achievement at this writing—with awfully handy four-button navigation to get you mode-to-mode with estimable speed and ease. Its extensive diagnostic, disc-counting capability, and PC connectivity give it versatility not always found in the single-disc set.
The Reflection also makes a nice complement to MediaFORM's ever more diverse line of CD duplication and production systems. With the company's increasing emphasis on high-end, autoloading, network-connectable professional production systems like the cdDIRECTOR [See Hugh Bennett's November 2000 review, pp. 72-74—Ed.], MediaFORM has made a shrewd move in entering a top-notch system into the one-off duplication market, and what's more, one with built-in multifunctionality consumer- and hobbyist-type, wide-ranging appeal. And with its built-in headphone jack and front-panel volume control, pop in the Everly Brothers' Roots LP or Roscoe Holcomb's High Lonesome Sound and it'll probably even sing you to sleep.