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September 1999
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
R U A Control Freak?
Or Jukebox Hero
Review by Dwayne Carter

 

  Many years ago, when I began fantasizing about my dream house, I stumbled across an ad for software controlled Multi-disc CD Changer. This software system would allow me to control up to 100 CD's from a Touch screen computer monitor! Nirvana!!! Simply tap on the screen and BAM, Madonna in all her glory! The cost of such a high-tech toy? A mere $5700 and up! (more if they had to provide you the Mac computer). The system would arrive at your door with up to 100 CDs programmed and the covers scanned for you. WOW! For a mere $1 per disc more they would program and scan a new CD into your collection. Oh yes, you had to ship them all your CDs too by the way. Needless to say I had to pass.

Until about a two years ago I stumbled onto a website advertising a PC/CD player control software for $ 299.00. The Wintrax Control Software! A year later I moved into our new Townhouse (alas, not our dream house) and decided to get serious about our ever expanding CD collection. You see, our little CD collection had grown to over 700 CDs. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After the installation of our Home Theatre/Whole House A/V system my wife and decided it was time to share our little Townhouse with others (re: PARTY!). Since my wife and I are big music fans (both of us have a background in music production, re-production or retail sales), music is treated with the utmost respect and appreciation in our household. Almost every room in our Townhouse is wired for audio and video. Music is constantly being played and enjoyed in our home. I highly recommend music for whatever's illin' you.

I have been researching Mega CD-Changers for a few years now, but three key problems kept me from buying:

1) The first Mega CD Changers were cheap, cheap, cheap! Very poor construction and sound quality.

2) They only held 25, 50 or 100 CDs. I knew we had at least 200 CDs.

3) Lack of control and management of the CDs.

 

Well, over time the players were built better, reproduced music better, and Pioneer introduced a "Mega Changer" that held a huge 300 CDs for under $300!! So I decided it was time to buy! But what about control? How would I know what CD was in slot 217?

Enter the Wintrax Control Software. If you own 100 CDs or more please take my advice. BUY THIS SOFTWARE!!! Don't walk, run to your PC, logon to the 'net and go to Wintrax (link removed in 2014, company is out of business) and buy this software.

What will this software do for you? Well, let me quote the brochure "Wintrax is a state-of-the-art software program that controls compact-disc players via either a special printer port cable or a serial port controller device. The LPT printer port control method is an inexpensive way to control up to four Pioneer PD-FXXX players (the X's represent various model numbers, three or four digits long) and/or four Sony CDP-CXxxx players."

"Wintrax is a software database and control package that allows you to catalogue your CD library, as well as control your home consumer Pioneer and Sony compact-discs (CD) players via your personal computer (PC). Wintrax adds a significant amount of control to the CD players, allowing you to control them in many new and wonderful ways."

I could not have said it better myself (which is why I let them say it). I will not go into extreme detail on all the cool stuff this software can do for you. I will simple tell you how I use it, and hope that you checkout the excellent website for more details. Here is the process.

I downloaded the Demo software (currently ver. 1.3.2) and installed it onto my CD Burner PC (a Pentium II 266Mhz, 128MB RAM, 6.4GB SCSI-2 system). Do you need this kind of power to run the Wintrax software? No, they specify the minimum of a very basic 486PC with 8MB RAM which most home computers easily accommodate. It will run on this, but once you add the CD covers, well... I'm getting ahead of myself.

I played with the Demo, and ordered the software on-line for a reduced price of $ 249. I ordered the basic Wintrax Wave $249.00 deal. This software/manual only package controls up to four (4) players. You need to build a simple cable, or buy one (I bought the Wintrax 14-foot 2-player cable) for $25. You could probably make the cable (complete instructions are in the manual) but I didn't need the hassle. Using your standard computer printer port (they recommend using a second LPT port), maximum cable length is limited to 25 feet. For longer runs, you need to purchase the $ 25 deluxe LPT high output card. My PC is close to my Home Theatre rack, so I used the 14ft cable. Total cost $ 274.00.

The cable plugs into your printer port and then into the back of the CD Changer. The manual is not very clear on which connector plugs into which port on the back of the CD Changer and my cables were labeled. With a little experimentation it all easily connected correctly. If you have any questions, simply call them at (817) 370-7429. Alan Freeman was very helpful! He answered all my questions every time I called. Great customer service!
Anyway, I loaded a few CDs, started the software and went to the Manual Control Screen to test the connections. It worked perfectly. Ahhh, but this was just the beginning.

Wintrax is a powerful database which allows you to control your CDs like a Jukebox. Wintrax allows you to manually enter all of your CD information manually but you would have to be nuts to do this. In the manual, Wintrax directs you to the shareware site bfmsoft.com. Download the CD Wizard software. While you are logged into the 'net, launch the software, drop a CD into your CD-ROM drive and WHAM, all your CD info is downloaded to your PC (into an ASCII file, actually). Once you have collected the information (I chose 100 CDs at a time), simply export the ASCII file into Wintrax. The manual is very clear on how to do this. I was able to do this several times without a hitch. Go ahead and pay the $25 for the shareware. It's very cool and a time saver. While I was downloading the CD's information for the CD Database, I took the opportunity to scan the CD covers.

Oh, didn't I tell you...

As your CD plays, the COVER of the corresponding CD with show up on your monitor (or TV screen in my case) if you so desire! VERY COOL!! Just like the $6,000 software of my dream house! Alas, I did not own a scanner (no, computer geeks don't always have all the toys) so I borrowed a $99 "plug it into your printer port" scanner from my Brother-In-Law (thanks again, LOU!!!). It worked perfectly. I was able to scan and download the CD's information simultaneously. After a while it became an assembly line task. Did it take awhile to download and scan 700 CDs? You bet it did but you only do this once. I scanned/downloaded 50 CDs or so a night which made the task more acceptable. I could do about 25 CDs an hour or less. Remember, you do not need to scan the covers, but you will eventually want to. The images are small (approximately 15MB for 100 CDs). The images should be saved as .BMP files. Complete instructions are in the manual. While the software will run on a 486, do yourself a favor and us at least a Pentium 166 or faster.

Once all the info is imported into the Wintrax database you need to assign the scanned images to the correct CD and plop the CD into the corresponding slot. There are a number of short cuts, but once again, a little manual work is required. I labeled each CD case (still on our "wall of CD's" case display) with a little round dot. Each dot is numbered according to the CD slot and changer. If you want to find a CD, simply look at the back of each case, find the slot number and remove the CD from the player. Remember, we are cursed/blessed with 700+ CDs. Organization is a must!

We quickly filled 300 CDs and still had over half of our CD collection to go! I quickly purchased another Pioneer changer and plugged the same interface cable into the back of the second player (the standard cable provides connections for 2 players). NOTE: If you use more than one changer you will need some sort of mixer to combine the signals.

This is mentioned in the literature, but not very clearly. It was a nasty surprise to me that I could not simply daisy chain the players together. This is not the fault of the software, it is a design limitation of most CD Changers. Fortunately DJ type mixers work fine to fix this dilemma. They range from only $29 (carp, I had to return it) to over $1200. I purchased the American DJ XDM 241 "Shredder" Mixer ($69.00). It works very well but only has 2 inputs. I will need something else when I add more changers. A 19" rack mount mixer that takes 4 Digital inputs into 2 Digital and Analog outputs. Yeah, that's what I'm looking for! Please let me know if you find such a mixer.

After connecting the second Mega Changer to the mixer I continued loading the CDs. We discovered that we have about 700+ CDs so some were left out (for now player 3 will be coming soon!). Which brings up another problem. The Wintrax manual is very detailed on how to make your own cable but they do not have a pre-made cable for purchase. If you want to add over two Pioneer Changers. Big bummer. Why sell software that can control four players but only provide a cable for two? Not cool. They do have a cable for the Sony player, though. They also sell the PSR-8 which is an external microprocessor that has eight control outputs and connects to your serial port like an external modem. All the details, including pictures, are on their website. After a bit of searching I found a cable maker (write me for info, if you need it). They will custom make a four player cable for about $98. The cable would be guaranteed to work. I'll let you know how it works when I get the third Mega Changer.

So after all this work how is it?!?! Well... I finished just prior to our first real house party. Wintrax works like a Jukebox so you can make up an unlimited number of Play Lists. I simply went to the Main Screen (there are multiple screens: Main Screen, Album Search, Album Song Select, Song/Album Screen, etc.) and selected Album view (this is where scanning the images comes in handy). While viewing the CD covers I simply clicked on the CD I wanted, viewed a list of the songs on that CD and clicked on the ones I wanted. Then i simply proceeded to the next album. My 80's Play list has over 34 hours of songs! Yes, you can add to or subtract songs at will, randomize the play order, and move songs around. You will virtually, mathematically never hear the same song, in the same order, twice if you so desire.

During my wife's party, she pre-selected her favorite 70's hits, pressed play and spent the rest of the time enjoying the party! Which brings up another thought. It helps if you are comfortable with a PC. My wife became frustrated with the IR keyboard (her first time using it) and became agitated with the interface. She was unfamiliar with the keyboard and it was also just two hours before her party. This is not a great time to create a new Play List. In the end I entered the songs while she called them out. It worked fine and she was happy. Wintrax software was not at fault, but you should be rather comfortable with your PC as this is a computer driven application and graphical user interface (GUI).

There is so much this software can do I would be writing a book just trying to list them all. Wintrax acts like a Jukebox so you do give up a little control, but you'll only hear the songs you want!! I've been listening to the system as I typed this review. In the last two hours I have not heard a single song I didn't want to hear! My Wintrax software runs on a computer, which has the video output, distributed throughout our house. With the addition of a simple IR system (and an IR keyboard), we can control the CD Changers from any TV or Touch pad (via X-10 control) in the house!

 

A Few Reminders
Wintrax will disable the IR ports on your changers so the remote will not work. Also, if you want to advance a song, tough luck buddy. It takes a bit of work to do it (if at all). It works like a Jukebox, just remember that. I have also discovered many CDs long forgot. It is so much easier to enjoy music now and I never touch a CD! You will develop a new appreciation for music. You really will. I view a CD cover I've never noticed before, add it to my "never listened to before" Play List, and BAM, I discover a new artist!! I have a rather elaborate setup but Wintrax works well on its own. For $249 and a CD Changer ($100 to $300 and up) you can have a truly incredible CD system.

If you own over 100 CDs you'd be crazy not to buy the Wintrax software. I have too many CDs... we can't begin to imagine how we lived this long without it! A must have!

 

Value for the Money

89

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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