Test Drive: The Tascam CD-RW402 CD Recorder/Duplicator

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tascam-cd-rw402

by Steve Cunningham

Most of my clients get CD copies of their finished projects, including those that want the finished tracks sent as mp3 files via the Internet — it’s cheap insurance and a nice touch. As a result, I duplicate a fair number of CDs during a week. Yet I’ve never been able to justify the rather substantial cost of a stand alone CD duplicator.

Tascam’s CD-RW402 CD Recorder/Duplicator presents a compelling argument for adding a duplicator to your room, and maybe to mine as well. For $1249 list the CD-RW402 combines two CD mechanisms: it’s a full-featured CD player as well as a 4X CD burner that can burn audio or data CDs at speeds up to 4x, and can do so unattended.

So in addition to being a CD player, the CD-RW402 (or 402 for short) is also a stand-alone CD mastering recorder, which means it requires no computer connection to do its magic. Stand-alone CD recorders have several advantages over computer-driven CD recorders, the most significant of which is that a stand alone recorder doesn’t tie up a computer during a CD burn. While recent software CD burning programs will run in the background on your Mac or PC, my experience is that doing so runs the risk of buffer underruns that can spoil the disc. Having a stand-alone CD recorder makes this issue irrelevant. Besides, it’s just plain convenient to be able to duplicate a CD without using the computer.

cdrw402 rear

GETTING AROUND ON THE 402

The 402 is a deceptively heavy 3U device whose gray front panel is dominated by the dual amber multifunction displays, one for each of the two CD drives. Drive 1 is the play-only mechanism, and drive 2 is the recorder. Both displays show track and playback information, menu parameters and settings, and provide audio metering. Between the two displays are the tray OPEN buttons, the DISK COPY button that initiates the copying process from disc 1 to 2, and the A-B COPY key that starts copying data between points A and B on disc 1 to disc 2. Just below these buttons are keys that control the display modes, and a CONT PLAY button that allows continuous playback between two discs such that when disc 1 finishes, disc 2 starts, and so on.

Beneath each display is its associated CD tray, and below that are all the function buttons (more about them later), the transport buttons, and a MULTI DIAL knob whose main job is to select and set menu parameters and preferences. You access the menus by pressing the MENU function button, and then use the knob to choose a parameter. The knob is stepped, and pushing in on the knob is equivalent to pressing Enter, confirming any choices you’ve made.

To the far left of the front panel is the power switch, the headphone jack and level control, and a headphone select knob that lets you choose to hear disc 1, disc 2, or both in the cans. To the far right you’ll find the INPUT button for disc 2 that selects between analog inputs, digital inputs, or disc 1 as a recording source, a BALANCE control to set the left-right balance of an analog signal for recording, and a KEYBOARD connector that accepts a standard PS/2 keyboard for titling purposes.

The rear panel is a cornucopia of gozintas and gozoutas. Each drive has stereo analog outputs on balanced XLRs at +4 dBu and on unbalanced RCAs at -10 dBV. Drive 2 has analog inputs on both balanced XLRs and unbalanced RCA connectors. In addition, there’s an unbalanced stereo analog output on RCAs that acts as a common output for both drives, with drive 1 taking priority if both drives are playing. This works well with the CONT PLAY button, so both drives can play alternately using a single audio connection.

Digital audio connections are provided in both coaxial and optical format, with drive one having digital outputs and drive 2 featuring both digital inputs and outputs. Drive 2’s digital inputs have built-in sample rate converters, and can accept digital audio at rates between 32 and 48kHz, which will automatically be converted to 44.1kHz.

Tascam must have had their broadcaster’s hat on when they designed the 402, because they thoughtfully included a proper GPI connector on the back. This DB-25 connector has a set of inputs for each drive that activate PLAY, STOP, CALL (go to last playback start point), and FADER commands, as well as outputs for PLAY, READY, and EOM tallies for each drive. Nice.

RC-RW402-Remote-ControlThe 402 also comes with a wired remote (a wired remote! Yes!) that duplicates most of the record and play functions on the front panel. A DRIVE 1/DRIVE 2 slide switch at the top lets you work each CD drive independently from the remote. You can’t set menu prefs or initiate disk copying between drives, but you can access everything you’ll need to use the 402 as a mastering recorder from the remote.

The front panel buttons generally have a positive feel, and the stepped MULTI DIAL knob clicks into place with a satisfying clunk. Having said that, the front panel is not always intuitive and you’ll want to keep the manual nearby, especially for disc copying operations.

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