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MicroBoards Orbit II CD Duplicator

Josh McDaniel

MicroBoards Orbit II CD Duplicator
synopsis: The Orbit II, aptly billed as "The Office Copier", is built to fit: It's easier to use than a fax machine, it occupies about the same space, and it comes at an alluring list price of $3195. That kind of MSRP puts it in uneasy company, like a 6'4" pituitary case on a sixth-grade basketball team, surrounded by smart-aleck kids asking how the air is up there. $3200 CD-R dupers aren't supposed to do this much; they usually sacrifice autoloading, speed, or reliable performance, but the Orbit II has all three in a thrifty, self-contained unit. Near-future integration of DVD-R in select models will drive up the price somewhat, but the Orbit will likely remain a barn-burnin' bargain.

price: $3195

MicroBoards Technology, Inc.
8150 Mallory Court
Chanhassen, MN 55317
800/646-8881
952/556-1600
Fax 952/556-1620
http://www.microboards.com

August 2001 | At six sharp, the backhoes and bulldozers will fire up, but I don't live across the street from them anymore, so I don't care. Do what you will. It used to be that on a weaving late-night trek home, I'd hurl whatever I could find–bottles and rocks, mostly, a Chuck Taylor once for lack of anything else–onto that site across the street in a rage, knowing that at six sharp, extremely loud and dissonant things would start happening over there. I tried talking to the people who worked there, not about the noise, but rather about rolling blackouts or lunch, whatever came up, thinking goodwill might mitigate my anger. It did, of course, but not enough.

Out here, in the ultra-quiet desert (you can literally hear the earwigs move pebbles if your windchimes have fallen), I get wistful every once in awhile, thinking about where I used to live. At first, reflecting, I thought I might have fallen prey to that ugly phenomenon of being driven by contempt: once the object of anger is gone, there goes all meaning and orientation. Then that's just great, now what? Cultivate a distaste for sand? Then I realized, no, I really never had any contempt at all, only inopportune headaches. There was, over there on that site, something perpetually fascinating, sublime even, in the Romantic sense: force, just the sheer force of the operation. No matter what you think of force, where you place yourself morally, it is a magnificent thing, exactly the kind of thing one would expect an epic poet to concern himself with. Earth is really moving over there, people are really doing something.

And CDs really come blasting out of Microboards Technology's Orbit II autoloading standalone duplicator: Watching this rugged little thing shoot CDs from its side inspired the whole force epiphany. It's the kind of thing that pulls you in–with its sheer force and efficiency of motion, its single-mindedness of purpose, makes you want to orbit it. Discs fly like skeet into their bins, which is great, a true joy to behold, until it dawns on you that there's data on those things, probably something important. We know those discs will be fine–and are fine, incidentally, according to McDaniel Labs' rigorous testing procedures–but nonetheless, an afternoon of picking polycarbonate shards from the carpet doesn't appear to fall too far outside the realm of possibility once the Orbit is in motion. However, a couple hundred discs later and the carpet's still clean–well, clean as it ever was.

windfall

You'll unpack some unpacking instructions, and perhaps find that odd. These unpacking and installation instructions come on a single piece of paper, six steps altogether, three of which are the unpacking instructions alone–a good omen of how simple installation will be. Once you've done away with the foam and cleared a spot–the sheet suggests 36" x 24" x 15", more than enough space, eyeballing–you need only to plunk down the machine and plug in to be ready to record. The main switch is on the power supply, which may account for the generous amount of space suggested by the set-up instructions; the power supply isn't extraordinarily large, but it is a power supply with a power switch on it, something you may want up on the desk to spare your knees and back from the trip to the floor.

If Volvo made bathyspheres, they would probably look something like the Orbit: It's a box, essentially, tapering upward from the base toward the invisible point that would make it a pyramid, rounded at all edges. Up front, there are two buttons–"Yes" and "No," gotta love that–set atop a small, smoky plate where information is displayed and directives are received. It's here in front, too, that a well-concealed drive tray emerges to receive a master disc. On either side, trays slide out from beneath the Orbit to receive finished discs hurled through horizontal slots, the left side for good copies, the right side for rejects. On top, there is the loader: Three prongs capable of holding 50 discs, and positioning media to be dropped into the guts of the machine. The Orbit I have here is slate gray, a nice change from that ubiquitous Band-Aid beige that, for whatever reason, came to indicate "high-tech."

driving the view

Naturally, though, the things you can't see, at least when the Orbit has a stack of media blocking your view of the inside, are the most interesting parts of the machine. The old, familiar dilemma rears up here: How ethical is it to pop the thing open, science on one side, people trusting me with their property on the other? Sometimes, I do open things (once, even, to fix what got sent to me so that I didn't have to bash it in print); this time I didn't open anything, mainly because what I was most interested in–the mechanism that shoots discs–is in plain view, once the stack of media up top dwindles away. There's a 16X drive in there (for a total of two drives: The recorder and the one up front for a source disc), but I couldn't tell you who made it, or how it's wired. It works as promised, recording up to 16X. No BURN-Proof, no handicapping, no apologies–just disc after disc in under five minutes. That's good enough for me.

Rubber bands, it turns out, are responsible for the velocity placed on the finished discs; you can see all this happen as you look downward into the Orbit. After a disc is burned, the drive tray opens, and the disc is plucked from it and lifted up by a couple of plastic flaps. The drive tray then closes to reveal four large rubber bands. The flaps drop the disc onto these rubber bands, which are stretched around two rolling bars at either end of the machine. If the burn is successful, the bars rotate counterclockwise, rolling the rubber bands left; by friction, the disc is carried to the output bin. For the rejects, the bars roll clockwise.

The loader, as you may have guessed, is propelled by that most immutable of all forces–gravity. Five pieces of media go straight in, the rest lean up against one of the pegs. A metal ring obscuring a slim crescent of the input aperture suspends the stack of media over the innards of the Orbit. This ring moves slightly–the crescent disappears–to allow media in. Media drops about an inch to the waiting recorder tray. When I saw this arrangement before, about a year ago, it didn't work: If a single piece of media got through (usually, it was two or three pieces at a time plummeting into that particular machine), it often missed the tray, and nothing got done. Something changed. Everything works great now. One piece at a time, straight into the tray.

open all night

Operation is a breeze. On firing up, questions appear on the small screen next to the Yes and No buttons. You begin with "Copy CD-to-CD?" Pressing the Yes button here opens the master tray; a few minutes later, after loading a master and some media, you've got a CD. The No button takes you through three more questions: "Copy & Compare?", "Compare?", and "System Setup?" Answering "Yes" to "System Setup" takes you through the final group of questions: "Burn?", "Use Buzzer?", "4x?", "8x?", "16x?", and "Ask Quantity?" That's probably all any duplicator should ask: What speed and how many? You're not building a Space Shuttle here, after all.

The Orbit II, aptly billed as "The Office Copier," is built to fit. It's easier to use than a fax machine, it occupies about the same space, and it comes at an alluring list price of $3195. That kind of MSRP puts it in uneasy company, like a 6'4" pituitary case on a sixth-grade basketball team, surrounded by smart-aleck kids asking how the air is up there. $3200 CD-R dupers aren't supposed to do this much; they usually sacrifice autoloading, speed, or reliable performance, but the Orbit II has all three in a thrifty, self-contained unit. Near-future integration of DVD-R in select models will drive up the price somewhat, but the Orbit will likely remain a barn-burnin' bargain.

It looks good, too: It doesn't have all the bells, whistles, robotic pickers, cool software, lights, and noise, but if you don't need or want those things, the Orbit II is a great way to go without them. In fact, that could be considered a point in the Orbit's favor: The mechanical operations are enclosed in that gray shell, and therefore relatively quiet. If you're like me, though, you have to ask yourself, is quiet truly what you want? At least the Orbit will let you hear yourself think while you ponder the question.


Josh McDaniel (josh@simulacra.to) is a freelance writer based in Glendale, CA.. He is also co-author, with Robert A. Starrett, of The Little Audio CD Recording Book, published by Peachpit Press.

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