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RealityCheckCD Duplicator of the Gods

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by Josh Ray on January 25 '06

 Magazine Viewpoint 0905 Acard

So I was with some established audiophiles over the weekend doing, you know, audiophile things and, all of a sudden, this beige box is thrown on a table accompanied by all these little spray bottles of clear liquid. I recognized the box from past articles here and there but it didn't connect just what the heck the thing is.

Simply, the RealityCheckCD is a CD press for your living room. We've talked a lot about why CDs are inherently inferior (for you non believers, read about it here) and why USB audio as well as high-end CD players do what they do. To correctly CDs flaws, the RealityCheckCD methodically extracts the original content from your poorly pressed CD and puts it on a new custom black CD (because black is better, I guess) using superior pressing methods than the original crap CD machines the labels use.

The duplication process is actually really easy: original CD in top tray, virgin CD in bottom tray, hit green button, 15 minutes of ???, and magic! Then you use the spray liquids to polish up the CDs for better laser retrieval in your hi-fi CD player. I'm not sure I completely understand the entire liquidization process (there's like 4 different liquids) but, hey, I'm told that's what the instructions are for.

Now, I wouldn't be going to great lengths to describe this thing if it didn't work. In fact, I hate tweaky stuff and believe tweaks are part of what keeps the industry down. Tweaks scare the hell out of audio newbies and make us look like raving lunatics. *cough*

So, anyway, the RealityCheckCD is up and running and we're popping CDs in. SonicFlare contributor Danny Kaey had some girly CD -- he's just like that, I guess -- with really bad mastering. We put Danny's new black CD in and, guess what, everyone flipped out. You can't make a silk purse out of, you know, girly music, but it was stunningly better. None of that tweaky joker stuff where you have to cock your head, squint and then pretend you hear a difference, this was huge. And as anyone waved their arms and tried to describe the sonic changes (using audiophile language, of course), I put my incredible intellect to work and said, "the CD stopped sucking." Everyone nodded profoundly. Yes, the RealityCheckCD simply makes your CDs stop sucking.

With a price around $600-700 (depending on options), this is one tweak I may have to get my grubby hands on. There's no website yet, but you can contact the man behind the curtain George Louis to purchase. Clark Johnsen over at Positive Feedback talks in great length about the RealityCheck CD here and Enjoy the Music's Bill Gaw reviewed it here. Freaky stuff but I'm a believer. Of course, the real question raised by all this is just what kind of improvements an HDD-based system can provide using similar extraction methods...

Comments

w00h00, w00t, w00t! now hear diss: Diana Ross is the queen of rubber-duck disco music! And her 2nd album is the best of its kind, well except some Chic number or thereabouts... On a serious note - everything you read is true - no, no... not the girly part... the process of course! :) I think I am going to purchase one myself... oh wait... I just received another Ti48... hrmmm...
To get those improvements in a HDD based system, use Exact Audio Copy (www.exactaudiocopy.de) for your ripping. Similar methodology, it reads and re-reads sectors to get the best possible data from the disc. Of course it does takes longer than most ripping programs but how many times are you going to rip a CD? For as many times as you'll listen to it, it is worth the wait. Best, it's free.
I would also love to know why it is said black cd's are "better" for this task, besides looking cooler than their hackeneyed shiny counterparts. Better laser refraction? Which translates into... more detail? Snappier transients? Who the hell knows? And coming to think of it, I could buy a sh*tload of LPs with $700... voilá, instant hack-free sonic improvement! (can you say I'm not too keen on "perfect sound forever"?) Cheers!
That Exact Audio Copy looks pretty killer. Doesn't look like there's a mac version, which is a damn shame... Beto, as for the black CD thing, I remember seeing an article a number of years ago where some crazy guy bought all the different CD-Rs he could find in a rainbow of colors and determined that black was best. As for LPs, yeah, buy those up. But for someone looking to upgrade their CD player, don't bother unless you've listened to the RealityCheck first. Dollar for dollar, there's no way spending $700 more on a high-end transport will beat the RealityCheck.
So basically this is if have an invested into a transport. This just looks like a standard rip and reburn to better quality media. To summarize, rip with the right software and hardware and reburn to better media. Or skip the reburn and output via a USB DAC and you will have the same result minus the transport.
Eugene, you're basically right, though there is more tech that goes into this thing than just rip, burn. Really, this product is for the 99% of audiophiles who don't even know what a HDD (hard disk drive)-based system is. Then again, USB audio hasn't caught up to transports and high end DACs in terms of quality or quantity, but it's getting there. Empirical Audio is on a warpath to prove USB audio can punk CDs and I hope they succeed. But if the Stereophile review of the McIntosh HDD server (where the HDD side was inferior to the CD part) proved anything, it's that not even the big names are doing HDD audio right. Danny has his fingers all over the Zero One HDD server which claims to do HDD right, but we have yet to see companies really market HDD as anything more than just convenience.
The Reality Check is not a CD "press." It's a CD burner. A CD "press" is what commercial CD manufacturers use; it physically stamps peaks and valleys in the surface of a CD. This is a completely different process than a CD burner, which uses a laser beam "burn" the information on a chemical dye on the CD. So to say that the Reality Check uses "superior pressing methods" than commerical CD manufacturers use is nonsensical. If you don't know anything about audio, maybe you shouldn't have an audio blog.
Good point. I didn't know about the review of the Stereophile of McIntosh HDD system. I too hope that Empirical Audio does good. I'm suprised that you said USB audio is not quite there yet. All the chest beating I've seen on the web seem to say that USB audio will beat the a fancy transport. Anywho, I'm a computer nerd first and slowly beginning to get into hifi. It is interesting to note that there are sites like this, companies like EA and readers of stereophile who think that highend audio needs to evolve and bring in more fresh blood. To me right now, alot of the equipment out there is still pricey and I'm still accustomed to paying for PC prices.
Hey Jake, LOL, of course it's not a genuine press. I'm sorry if you thought I actually believed the RealityCheckCD is a tiny little pressing machine which, now that you mention it, would be damn cool. For anyone who was actualy confused by my wording, the RealityCheckCD is two different stock DVD burners (as should be abundantly clear from the picture) with custom software to regulate the reading and writing. It's just like a computer with two drives but in a small, audiophile-approved package. As Jake pointed out, computer disc drives use lasers, not big metal stamps, to write and rewrite discs. Hope this clears up all the confusion... Anyway, Eugene, USB audio can blow away CDs but it's "not quite there yet" as an industry. Empirical Audio constantly pushes the edge of USB audio -- both on the transport side as well as understanding the software -- but they are hardly well known and the big mags aren't even talking about HDD audio other than as a quaint trend. In truth, for the serious audiophile, there are issues with the internal workings of HDDs for audio applications. The buffer in HDDs prevents a lot of the jitter issues but also causes other problems. Companies like Medea make HDDs specifically for audio applications but it's still all too confusing for the regular user to figure out. Companies like VRS and Zero One make audiophile-grade HDD servers but it's hard to quantify their performance or tell audiophiles HDD audio is superior when McIntosh got hammered in S'phile. Additionally, Wavelength received a lot of attention for their $1750 Brick USB DAC, but none of the reviews said it's anything more than a convenience product. USB transports (without DACs) like the Empirical can potentially do a lot better because you can hook it up to whatever DAC you have, but then you still have the computer issues to figure out. HDDs can crush CDs, but there's practically no agreement on how it should be done. And with certain companies doing it poorly, it just comes across as gimmicky. The truth is, unless you're going for the super high-end, don't even bother with a USB DAC. Just run analog right out of your iPod or computer into an integrated amp and pair of monitors and you'll be blown away. $1000 and less can get you a sweet little system, no problem. Above that, maybe consider the $120 Firestone USB DAC. Next up is the $1k Apogee mini DAC or a $500 Empirical USB transport with whatever DAC you want. I've talked to a number of audiophiles who believe the hype but won't jump in until HDD audio matures. It will, no doubt, but it's currently a segment of audio that's fraught with confusion for consumers. Hope that made some sense and, so you know, HDD audio will be a major part of SonicFlare as we continue to grow. Someone needs to advance the cause. Why not us?
I've got the RealityCheck - it does something different than EAC. EAC is cool, RealityCheck is something in a class of its own.
I think the idea behind the black CD is that there is less stray light from the laser bouncing around inside the transport. Obviously, the more stray light, the less accurate the reading will be. This is the same idea behind those green and black pens you use around the edge of the CD. They absorb some stray light. Also that german machine that cuts a 45 degree angle on the outer edge of the CD is for a similar purpose, but it instead refracts the light down away from the edge of the CD. Anyway, all these reasons are why HDD based digital audio is superior to CDs in theory, but I agree that people aren't utilizing it to its fullest yet. Most people that know audio equipment theory aren't that knowledgeable with serious computer theory from hardware to software, and vice versa. It's just a matter of time.
For some information on EAC and why copied CD's sound better most of the time visit: http://www.6moons.com/industryfeatures/eac/eac.html
But HDD based digital audio is not superior to conventional CD players BECAUSE of the medium HDD, is it? It's the digital transport ways and the software. Isn't there any manufacturer who offers a convenient hifi package with a CD-ROM drive and the necessary computer-/DA-converter electronics in one "hifi box"?