Graff HSCD2 Cassette Duplicator
High, speed cassette copying used to mean low quality copies but now times are changing.
The Graff high speed cassette duplicator can copy audio cassettes (from a master cassette) sixteen times faster than it would take to make a real time copy. Because both sides of the cassette are recorded simultaneously, a C60 can be copied in stereo in an impressive one minute and fifty seconds.
Mono or stereo formats are available and both types feature glass lined ferrite heads which are extremely hard wearing (very important if the machine is to be in constant use).
The system is modular and in its most basic form comprises a master and a slave unit, enabling one cassette to be copied at a time. Welded mild steel is used for the main case and aluminium alloy is used for the top mounting plate to ensure a rigid and stable tape path. Additional slave units may be added to the system as needed, and these are simply patched in via a single delta connector. There is no real limit to the number of slaves that may be run from one master unit and the slaves may be racked, if that would be an advantage in terms of space.
Incorporating high quality Papst direct drive motors, the duplicator is controlled by an onboard microprocessor which monitors the tape speed(s) of the slave unit(s) ensuring that all the slave units run at the same speed. Wow and flutter is quoted as being 0.1% wrms or less, which is quite acceptable for most audio applications involving cassettes.
If a tape jams or is too short, an audio alarm informs the operator of the problem, presumably by sensing the tape tension via the motor current. Unlike some duplicators I have used, the Graff HSCD2 has record and play level controls as well as LED recording level meters and the bias is adjustable to accommodate ferric, chrome and metal tapes. Fine setting up is normally done by Graff before dispatch but the bias presets are easily accessible should the user wish to make his own adjustments. Even at this high tape speed, the HSCD2 maintains a frequency response of 14kHz which is quite amazing when you consider that the record bandwidth has to be some 448kHz to accommodate this.
The power unit is located to the left of the master cassette transport and utilises a high efficiency torroidal transformer.
Two versions of power supply are currently available, one which will run up to four slave units and one which will handle anything up to ten.
Graff kindly brought us their perspex bodied demo model so that we could see how the machine was put together internally and I was impressed by the modular circuit card system which allows quick and easy servicing.
Looking first at the master module, there is a gain control for each side of the tape and these should be set such that the LED level meters show only one red light (0dB) during peaks in the programme material.
Below the tape transport are four buttons, the 'Record' and 'Stop' buttons being used to initiate and terminate the recording process. The second button from the left has two status LEDs labelled 'A' to 'M' and vice versa, 'A' being automatic rewind which occurs as soon as the tape reaches the end. 'M' conversely stands for manual and in this mode, the transport stops at the end of the tape and awaits further instructions.
Both master and slave units have rewind buttons, the master controlling all units whereas the slave rewind buttons affect only the slave units concerned.
No, not an excerpt from the Falconhurst saga but more knobs and buttons! Each slave unit has input level controls and LED meters and, like the master unit, these should be adjusted so that only one red LED shows up during peaks when the master cassette is being played. By pressing the button labelled 'Side', either or both sides of the slave cassette may be recorded and status LEDs show which side or sides are in record mode.
Two bias settings which may be set up to the users specification are selectable using the 'Bias' button which again works in conjunction with status LEDs. Whereas the master stop button affects the whole system, the slave stop buttons affect only the individual slave units.
Using the machine is simplicity itself: just switch on, pop in the master plus blank cassette(s) and it's ready to go. A quick burst on the master rewind button will ensure that all the tapes are fully rewound, then it's just a matter of checking that you've selected the correct bias setting, deciding if you want to record both or only one side and then pressing the record button.
Obviously the heads need to be given the occasional clean and they should be demagnetised every week or so, especially if the machine is in regular use. Even so, the HSCD2 only needs a dealer service once a year, even if it's in daily use and a set of heads may give something like four years life with the machine putting in a regular 40 hour week. I wish that the same could be said for some personal multitrack equipment.
It was the general quality of high speed duplication that caused a lot of people to opt for more expensive real time duplication. Real time copying still produces the best results (given good equipment) but properly used, this Graff copier can rival that quality, adding only a meagre 3dB to the noise level when decent cassettes are used. If cheap cassettes are used, drop-out is likely to occur and it is not unknown for the shells to explode at the increased operating speed. Also, static charge can build up on the tape which may manifest itself as clicks on the recording.
We tried standard TDK cassettes in the machine and chose a good bright-sounding master tape which copied with no problems. A direct A/B comparison using headphones revealed a barely discernable increase in background hiss but the copy was still bright and exhibited none of that drop-out or phasing which is the downfall of many other high speed cassette duplication.
Used with a bit of care and with good blank cassettes, this machine produced the best high speed copies that I have heard to date and I was genuinely surprised by the sound quality.
At a recommended retail price of £1295 + VAT, the basic package is an attractive proposition for small studios where clients are always wanting a dozen or two cassette copies in a hurry. Extra slave modules will cost you £606 + VAT each.
If you live outside London or the other large cities, you will probably find that there is a demand for a tape copying service in your area and investing in one of these duplicators could be the start of a small but lucrative business - you can add more slaves when you need them.
The Graff HSCD2 has been in production long enough to establish itself as a reliable workhorse and Graff boast a 24-hour service turnaround time if ever necessary. It's good to see a British product giving the competition a hard time and with Graff's quality and backup, they deserve their success. Graff also make displays for flight simulators but they declined our offer to review one.
Delivery is usually within ten days of a confirmed order and more information can be obtained from Graff Electronic Machines Ltd., (Contact Details).
Review by Paul White
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