Musicians have problems finding CD‑ROM drives that work reliably with samplers. Martin Walker checks out one that claims to work with everything.
Buying a SCSI CD‑ROM drive ought to be simple — decide on a speed (4x, 6x, 8x or faster), carry out a quick check on performance specs and price, and then buy your chosen model from a reputable local or mail‑order outlet. Sadly, life is never so simple. Compatibility, far from being a matter of looking for an appropriate tick in the manufacturer's catalogue, is not a yes/no feature. There are so many conflicting standards out there that compatibility must be tested with each hardware device that you might want to connect. And musicians have a harder time than most. Some samplers, including Akai models, are picky about working with some drives. Akai say at their web site (www.akai.com) that NEC drives will not work, but most others will. However, Akai unreservedly recommend only Apple Mac CD300E or CD600E models, and you won't find out whether another one works unless you can try it before you've bought it.
The Canadian company Dynatek have seized on this fact to provide a range of products that have been thoroughly tested with a range of music hardware, and this removes much of the guesswork from a CD‑ROM purchase. The review model is a 4‑speed SCSI device in an external casing, with in‑built mains power supply. It features the same front‑panel controls as most others — apart from the disc tray, there's a headphone socket and thumbwheel volume control, an LED, and an eject button. The LED is normally green to show that the unit is switched on, but changes to yellow to indicate 'busy' status. The change in colour was extremely subtle to my eyes, and a red/green LED would have been easier to see. The rear panel has a standard IEC mains socket, a small rocker mains switch, a pair of phono sockets for stereo audio output, and two 50‑pin Centronics‑type sockets for SCSI connection. In addition, there's a push‑button SCSI ID selector, operating between 0 and 6, since ID 7 is normally used by a computer host adapter. However, for sampler use this convention does not apply, so having access to ID 7 as well would have been useful. A termination block is provided for use if the drive is at the end of the SCSI chain.
Although there is no mention of which device is actually inside the Dynatek's casing, one of the beauties of SCSI devices is that they can plug into any other SCSI‑equipped controller. I attached the drive to my PC, and then powered up, and a new entry automatically appeared in Device manager — with the mechanism identified as the Sony CD‑ROM CDU76S. I tested the drive with the
For those who would prefer to grab a SCSI CD‑ROM drive as a snack, rather than making a meal of it, the Dynatek is an ideal choice.
CD Certify Pro utility provided with Quarterdeck's Winprobe 95, and it gave the results shown in the screenshot, left. This confirmed the speed as 4x, with an average access time of 216ms. It also worked with everything I could find to throw at it — Akai 2000, 2800i, and 3000 samplers, and both Mac and PC computers; I also managed to digitally grab a track from an Audio CD using the drive and WaveLab 1.6.
For those who would prefer to grab a SCSI CD‑ROM drive as a snack, rather than making a meal of it, the Dynatek is an ideal choice. Although quad‑speed devices are fairly slow by today's standards (new PCs come with 8‑ or 10‑speed devices), unless you plan to do a lot of computer software installation, or run video clips, this speed will be perfectly adequate. Music Connections advertise that "Dynatek CD‑ROMs work with all music applications, unlike cheaper imitations". However, there is nothing inherently better about them — what you're paying more money for is the extra time Dynatek have taken to check compatibility, which other manufacturers seem loath to do.
The price will seem high to PC owners who are used to IDE drives at under £100, but SCSI CD‑ROM drives are more expensive, especially when supplied in external cases. If you need a drive that works reliably with music applications and hardware, this could save you a lot of hassle in the long run. You might buy cheaper, but unless you have a money‑back guarantee to cover incompatibility problems, you might end up wasting a lot of time trying to negotiate a refund. Full marks to Dynatek for spotting this gap in the market and filling it.
- Compatible with a wide range of music hardware and applications.
- Works with digital grabs of CD audio.
- Rather a high price for the rated performance.
- No access to SCSI ID 7.
An easy and reliable way to buy a quad‑speed CD‑ROM drive, albeit slightly more expensive than some.