It wasn't so long ago that burning your own CD meant shelling out a huge bundle of dough. Nowadays, you can opt for either a stand-alone CD recorder or

It wasn't so long ago that burning your own CD meant shelling out a huge bundle of dough. Nowadays, you can opt for either a stand-alone CD recorder or one that acts as a computer peripheral and get away with spending between $300 and $700. And with CD-R media costing as little as a buck apiece, it's hard to imagine a better way for the budget-conscious recording artist to go. But what if you want to burn more than one disc at a time? And what if you want to burn them quickly?

Enter MicroBoards Technology's StartRec 400 ($3,995), a CD-duplication system that includes a 6 GB hard disk, helpful editing features, and multiple burners that write at up to 85 speed. And while CD-to-CD duplication is possible, you can also transfer audio (or data) onto a hard disk, organize it, and then burn CDs. The price for such convenience may seem steep, but this is a fast system that could easily win over artists who run homespun labels, as well as studios in need of an efficient backup system.

Lay of the LandThe StartRec 400's layout is logically organized. The unit comes with one CD source deck and four CD recorders that feature stable Plextor drive mechanisms. The control panel, located in the upper right corner of the box, sports a small LCD and controls for navigation and record level. There are buttons for transport functions such as record, playback, pause, fast-forward, and rewind; some buttons perform double duty- for instance, selecting menus as well as entering parameter values. An Input button lets you choose either analog or digital inputs, and status LEDs for each input are provided. The front panel also features a 11/44- inch headphone jack and a level knob.

The rear panel offers analog inputs and outputs via balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA plugs. Digital connections include AES/EBU and coaxial and optical S/PDIF. A 9-pin port for a remote control is also provided, but it isn't mentioned in the manual. These features all fit into a 4U rackspace and are housed in a sturdy chassis.

Start Your BurnersThe StartRec 400 is organized into three sections (or menus) for copying, extracting tracks from CDs, and recording and editing audio. Each function is straightforward, but it takes a while to get used to navigating the unit. Part of the problem is a poorly organized manual that isn't much better than a flowchart. A lucid description of the unit's operations, complete with step-by-step diagrams, would be much more helpful.

Once I became familiar with the system's nomenclature, I was able to operate it painlessly. I copied from CD to CD, CD to hard disk, and hard disk to CD. I also took several CDs, marked and extracted some tracks for a custom job, and encountered no glitches on the finished disc. Additionally, the StartRec 400 records seamlessly to hard disk from outside sources, a feature not seen in most duplication systems.

I found some other cool features, as well. An audio-verification function lets you compare each duplicated file with the original to help ensure accurate digital audio transfers. Within the Audio menu, you can automate the placement of a track marker (a start ID in DAT lingo) by setting the desired decibel level below which an index will be recorded. Working with audio in the hard disk affords you the most flexibility, letting you divide one track into two, remove an index to merge two tracks together, or move a track to a different location before burning.

You can quickly erase data from any of the three partitioned areas on the hard disk (which measure 2 GB each). Be careful, though, as there is no onscreen warning that you're about to torch your work: once you press OK, it's gone. Also, the StartRec 400 ignores SCMS data on CDs and leaves it up to you to determine how many times the CDs that you burn can be duplicated.

A Fast BurnIf you work briskly using four burners, you should be able to knock out between 25 and 30 CDs, each containing 60 minutes of material, within an hour. Other relatively inexpensive CD duplicating systems are available, but few if any of them combine all of the features found in the StartRec 400. Anyone who is serious about CD duplication should check out this system.

Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 4