Princeton Disc 12X CDXpress Plus
Stephen Clark Jr.
Princeton Disc 12X CDXpress Plus
synopsis: Newly equipped with a 12X Plextor CD-R drive, Princeton Disc's CDXpress Plus sports a large frame and a simplistic interface that is ideal for novice users, but may leave those more knowledgeable a bit stifled. An impressive array of audio features is supported, and most of the basic features are very intuitive.
Princeton Disc Co., Inc.
600 Bay Avenue
Point Pleasant Beach, NJ 08742
September 2000 | Some people believe that simpler is better. For example, many people look at manual-transmission car owners as if they are crazy, expending so much energy to operate manually what can be operated automatically. Some stick-shift drivers, on the other hand, refuse even to consider driving anything that they are not in complete control of. Princeton Disc's succession of CDXpress Plus duplicators have always promised audio CD recording at its simplest, streamlining its feature set to only those tasks that specifically pertain to audio, and accomplishing them all via a two-button membrane keypad. This has made for occasionally clumsy operation in the past, but there's no denying its simplicity, with all the pesky gear-shifting of CD-R's inner-workings cleverly hidden from the user. The latest model now features a Plextor PlexWriter CD-R drive, boasting a 12X write speed and a 32X max read speed--which gives it an engine to race with some of the fastest machines in the neighborhood--and MP3 recording and playback capability (not available on the last unit we saw) that should give it plenty of hip cachet as it cruises the new audio CD-R market.
At first glance, the standalone CDXpress Plus looks like a hybrid computer of sorts, an older desktop PC crossed with a VCR. The unit sports large operation buttons on the front, and a green panel display. A look at the back of the device further displays its PC lineage. The CDXpress Plus is very easy to set up; once I'd plugged in the included AC adapter and pressed the power button, I was all set to duplicate CDs. If you've ever set up a desktop computer or home stereo, then setting up the CDXpress Plus should be no problem. The device includes two sets of audio cables, an AC adapter, a 56-page manual, and other installation guides.
the first burn
Anxious to fire up the CDXpress Plus, I borrowed Freddie Hubbard's First Light album from a friend. I popped the CD into the duplicator, and the CDXpress automatically began loading the CD at 4X (the duplicator supports up to 32X data read and 8X audio extraction, which are adjustable under the System Maintenance option). After the disc finished loading, the CDXpress prompted me to insert a blank CD-R disc. I placed a 12X Mitsui CD-R into the tray, and 4:46 later I had a complete copy of First Light (which I promptly destroyed after testing, of course). The time that it took to burn the CD was somewhat offset by the time it took to load the master into the CDXpress' hard drive, although for multiple copies there is no additional loading necessary. The CD Verify option does not support audio CDs, but a quick listen to the CD allowed me to verify the copy for myself.
The Audio CD Player function allowed me to play back the CD just as I would with a component CD player, with the notable absence of a remote control. Track data is displayed on the front panel display. The CDXpress can also play tracks stored on the internal hard drive.
One feature that is sure to please any Internet-savvy audiophile is the CDXpress Plus' MP3 playback capability. For this, I fired up my favorite Internet MP3 file-sharing software and downloaded a dozen songs, which I then burned onto a CD-R disc. Using the CDXpress' Audio MPEG Player, I was able to play the MP3 files the same as I would with a standard audio CD. In this way, the CDXpress resembles the Brujo and other CD-ROM-based music playback devices (or MP3-capable DVD players like the Apex unit) that pour out MP3 music as if it was coming off a regular audio CD. Of course, the CDXpress also can record music, which the Brujo and its ilk cannot. If available, the song length, name, and title of the song are displayed on the CDXpress' display panel. Every once in a while, the unit has trouble with a file, which may be chalked up to a poorly encoded MP3.
reviving the classics
A particularly enticing feature to anyone whose music collection largely consists of aging LPs, 45s, and cassette tapes is the CDXpress' ability to convert an analog audio input into a digital audio track. In my music collection, for example, the analog recordings outnumber the digital recordings at least three to one.
I decided to start with the best, attempting to convert Marvin Gaye's What's Going On? album from cassette to CD. Connection of my analog source to the CDXpress' sound card was an easy process, and I began selecting conversion options, including mono or stereo, and auto or manual track-breaking. I selected a half-second period of silence to determine where a track-break should be placed, as well as a stereo track and automatic track-breaking. The CDXpress actually froze the first few times I attempted to record in auto mode, but worked fairly consistently after that. The device did remarkably well in converting the music to digital and separating the individual tracks. Music tracks that ran together were not separated by the auto mode, however.
The manual warns that the auto mode will have trouble dividing a poor-quality audio source, and this proved true when I tried to copy my badly worn Places and Spaces cassette by Donald Byrd. Recording in manual mode proved to be much more of a time-consuming process, but it allowed me greater control over where I set track-breaks and thus produced better results.
Once I finished recording music to the CDXpress' hard drive, I then decided to remove a few songs and rearrange the order of others. The CDXpress once again proved idiot-proof here, giving me a simple series of questions and answers. Advanced users may find this to be a little limiting.
The CDXpress Plus can also connect to a computer, and be used the same way as an external 12X CD-R drive. To connect, I used the duplicator's SCSI connection to connect to my Macintosh. After setting the duplicator to the proper mode, I then started up Toast 4.0 Deluxe. To my surprise, Toast did not recognize the drive, so after a few calls to Princeton Disc's technical support, and an upgrade to Toast 4.1 Deluxe, I was able to get the CDXpress' PlexWriter to function as an external drive. Writing to the CDXpress as an external drive worked adequately well, but was counterbalanced somewhat by the inconvenience of setting up the CDXpress and the computer, as well as the SCSI connections.
But while the PC or Mac connectivity is nice to have, or at least to know you have, the Princeton Disc CDXpress' real triumph is all the things it can do without a computer--almost everything the intense hobbyist would want in an audio recording device. (It can also connect to MIDI, mixing, four-track, and other professional audio equipment, although these features weren't tested.)
Sometimes simpler is better, and for those who desire a simple, intuitive solution, the CDXpress seems to fit the bill. For those who desire complete control of their hardware, the CDXpress may leave you feeling somewhat stifled.
Stephen Clark Jr. is News Editor of EMedia Magazine and principal designer of the EMedialive Web site.
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