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Duplication or Replication?

Duplication or Replication?

Is there really a difference between CD duplication and CD replication?  Aren’t they the same thing? It’s a question we get asked everyday. If you’re an independent musician looking to release an album, it’s vital that you understand the distinction.

Unfortunately, an internet search probably won’t help much – there’s an awful lot of misinformation floating around these days, and the terms are often used interchangeably. Also, the phrase “CD duplication” is commonly used in web searches, so most manufacturing companies use it in their site description in order to drive more traffic, even if they don’t offer duplication.

Here at GrooveHouse, we offer both types of services, which is why we want to help our customers (and prospective customers) understand the terms.  The fact of the matter is, there’s a BIG difference between the two. Which option you chose really depends on how you plan on using your discs (more on that later).

Basic Definitions

OK, first let’s get the facts straight with a couple of simple definitions:

CD replication (aka CD manufacturing) is the process where discs are literally manufactured from scratch.  Over a series of several steps, your original master is transferred to a glass master, then to a metal stamper.  Then a tiny pellet of molten polycarbonate is injection-molded to create the discs.  The discs are finished by successively applying a reflective layer, protective lacquer, and printed labeling. Replication has an extreme level of quality control, requiring millions of dollars worth of equipment, a specialized dust-free environment and highly-trained technicians.  Every disc is a perfect replica of the original master (hence the term replication) – especially if transferred directly in real time from your master to the galss master as we do it here at GrooveHouse.  Replication makes for more reliable discs with fewer errors and less jitter.

CD duplication is the process where information on a server is burned onto a pre-manufactured CD-R which has a laser-sensitive organic dye layer embedded under the reflective layer. During the transfer process, a laser beam “burns” the vegetable dye so that some parts reflect light and some parts absorb the incoming light. It’s the same as when you burn a disc on your computer, only we use a bank of recorders controlled by a single processor, which speeds up the whole process.  The quality of the final product is directly related to the quality of the CD-R discs.

While both methods are a viable means of transferring information from one master on to many discs, there are several factors to consider:

Turnaround Time

Of course, duplication wins here – because the discs are already manufactured.  It can even be done overnight for an additional price.  This factor is the main reason why we started offering our Fast Tracks duplication service. Human nature is what it is…people procrastinate, schedules get delayed, then suddenly you have a show in 3 days.  We would get calls from panicked customers needing discs RIGHT NOW, and we couldn’t help.  Now we can.

Replication and offset printing are much more involved, so it takes more time, though of course you end up with a much higher quality product – as you’ll see below, replication is more than worth the wait.


Because of the extensive set-up time involved in replication, it’s feasible to manufacture only quantities of 500 or more units.  The price per unit drops considerably at the 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000 quantity levels.

Duplication is best for short-run orders of 1-300 units.  As the quantity increases, it starts making more economic sense to replicate.

Consider this example: Let’s say you order 100 duplicated CDs printed with 4 panel folders and packaged into jewel cases.  The cost is $254.00, or $2.54 each.  If you reorder every time you run out of 100 units, your total out-of-pocket cost for 1000 CDs is $2540.00.  If your selling price is $10, total profit after 1000 discs comes to $7460.00.

On the other hand, 1000 replicated CDs in the same package is $1290.00, or $1.29 each.  If your selling price is $10, the total profit is $8710.00.  You would make $1250.00 more than if you had duplicated. It makes sense to pay more up front for replicated discs.  Definitely a worthwhile investment.

Audio Quality

You probably spent a good deal of time, money and energy in recording and mastering your tracks, and chances are you’ll want the finished discs to sound as close to your master as possible.  This is where replication really shines – especially ones manufactured using the GrooveHouse TrueSound™ process.  A replicated disc will always sound taller, wider and more musical than a duplicated disc.  Your mastering engineer will tell you that this is the absolute best way to create a CD.  It’s really the only way if you want to make a money by selling your CDs.

The duplication process is just not as precise as that for replication, and though it may be acceptable to some ears, you will notice a bigger difference between a duplicate and your original master. Also, a duplicated disc is at the mercy of the CD-R its being burned on, so there’s a greater chance of getting a bad batch of discs or of errors cropping up. Even if the error is “correctable” by the CD player, the sound quality suffers.

If your master or upload contains MP3 files, the sound quality degrades even more. MP3s are “lossy” which means that some of the musical information is eliminated in order to reduce file size.  (I’ll be posting another article soon about the difference in compressed file formats.)  This is why we always recommend that you submit WAV files for duplication orders.

Print Quality

Paper goods for duplication orders are printed using high-end digital color copiers – the finished product looks pretty darn good, but color-matching and proofing (other than PDF) is not possible.

Our replication orders are printed on top-of-the-line offset printing presses.  There is no better way in the world to reproduce color and images.  Replicated discs are silk-screened (for solid colors), or offset print (for full color) directly onto the discs, then lacquered for a perfect finish.  In addition, our state-of-the-art ripping and proofing system is calibrated to our presses to ensure accurate print with every replication job. This ensures that your artwork prints cleanly, accurately and vibrantly.  If your project is color critical, then CD replication is the only way to go.

Packaging Options

With duplication, you’re limited to basic packaging options: jewel cases (with up to 6 panel insert), single 5” jackets, 4 panel wallets, and 4 panel Digipaks.  Currently, none of these configurations are available with eco-friendly options.

With our replication service, however, you have many more options and styles to choose from.  Browse through our templates section to get a taste.  In addition, you get all the eco-conscious options such as 100% recycled stock for jackets, wallets or Digipaks; FSC-certified paper for jewel case print; 100% recycled Digipak trays, vegetable-based inks, and recyclable wrap.

If green packaging is important to you then replication is your only choice.  The exception is if you opt for our blank recycled sleeves and wallets.  These can be purchased at lower quantities for DIY projects.

So…What’s the Take Away Message?

The take away from all of this is that it’s best to duplicate when you’re in a hurry and out of time, or have a very limited and targeted number of people that you need to deliver material to.

Replication is best for both promotion and retail - ie. any time that you want your best work viewed by the public.  If you want to be taken seriously as a recording artist, you need to be able to produce the best-looking and best-sounding release possible.  This especially applies to sending promos to radio stations, music reviewers, film & TV supervisors, publicists, and record labels.  If you are selling your CD to the retail market, whether at live shows, in stores, or online, replicated discs are the gold standard.  Major labels never sell duplicated discs, and neither should you.  Hopefully this article will help you in your music career – we’re always here if you have any questions.


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