VarioPac Disc System CD casesReview date: 14 June 2003. Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
Remember when you used to need CD racks? Yeah, me too.
These days, you might have a cupboard full of DVDs, and you might have a lot of writable CDs and/or DVDs for backups and such, but the Lounge Room CD Rack is a thing of the past for those of us with a basic level of technical competency. Rip all your music to MP3/Ogg/WMA, work as much playlist and categorisation magic with the files as you like, stick the CDs in a box under the bed.
Wander around a homewares store, though, and you wouldn't know this was possible. There the CD racks still are. Big ones, little ones, rotating ones, unfolding ones, wiggly ones, round ones, wooden ones, titanium ones, shiny ones, see-through ones. Future anthropologists will think we worshipped the things.
There's still plenty of room for clever 120mm disc storage ideas, though - some people need a lot of them in one place, and some people need to move a reasonable number of them around.
Ehlebracht AG's "VarioPac" are in the portable disc storage business. They're in it with a pretty neat product, too.
At a glance, this "Disc System" booklet looks pretty much like any number of other awkward CD storage book/wallet thingies.
Opening it up isn't terribly promising - the cover doesn't hinge terribly smoothly, and the individual CD sleeves flop around heavily.
Nothing falls out, though. And nothing breaks. And nothing is made of cheap vinyl that'll weld itself to the CDs in a matter of weeks.
These points, by themselves, put the VarioPac product ahead of most of the world's small CD storage devices, which can be broadly categorised as either Cases The Discs Fall Out Of (Or Will Fall Out Of As Soon As The Thing In The Middle Breaks), and Cases The Discs Can't Be Removed From Without Bending Them Like A Fruit Bowl.
Fortunately, the VarioPac system has more going for it than that.
To get at the CD storage slots, you unclip the sleeves from the holders that're themselves clipped into the spine of the booklet. The sleeves just pull out, and snap back in; it's easy to do.
The holders are called "Binder Clips"; they click into booklets like this one, and they also have holes to fit a three-ring binder, and they also have the outward-notched-oval hole in the middle that's used to hang products on hooks in stores.
The Clips, and the sleeves, and the booklets, and some other things, are all sold separately; you can set yourself up with VarioPac storage in a variety of configurations. There's nothing stopping you buying nothing but sleeves, if you want.
Once you've got the sleeve off its clip, you've made it to the "oh, cool!" part:
Push down on the lever in the corner, and the CD slides smoothly out. Push the lever hard and the disc will fly right out of the sleeve; push it slowly and it'll only slide out as far as this picture shows. The springy arms at the top and bottom hold the disc firmly; you'd need to be pretty violent with the sleeve to get the disc to come out when you're not pressing the lever. Generally, shaking the sleeve just causes the CD to slide out a bit and then pop back in.
Because the CD's held by the edges and surrounded by plastic on all sides, it's about as well protected in one of these sleeves as it's ever going to get, and inserting and removing discs is easy. Also, the position of the eject lever makes it obvious which sleeves in a booklet have discs in them and which don't. The lightly frosted finish on the sleeves lets you see the discs easily, too.
There are two kinds of sleeve. This is the slimmer kind, with room for a CD only; there's also a "Booklet Sleeve", with a fold-open cover under which you can stick a slim CD booklet, or paper insert. Both kinds of sleeve click into the same clips.
Here in Australia, VarioPac are represented by, um, VarioPac Australia. They'll sell you 20 Slim Sleeves (the non-booklet kind) in an A4 folder for $AU26.40 including GST; 10 Slim Sleeves in a book like the one I got for review is $AU11; 16 of the thicker Booklet Sleeves in a folder are $AU26.40. Binder Clips are eleven Aussie cents each, Slim Sleeves by themselves are 72 cents; Booklet Sleeves are 66 cents, and Booklet Sleeve paper inserts are 11 cents.
Slim and Booklet Sleeves can be had in cartons of 70 and 50, respectively, and you'll get a volume discount.
So these things may be nifty, but they're not terribly expensive.
You can get clear polystyrene (standard jewel case plastic) CD cases much cheaper, and paper sleeves for close to nothing per unit, but they're not at all in the same class as these things. The VarioPac cases are far tougher, and protect the CDs far better.
And, I'm not afraid to say, they're much more fun.
VarioPac are proud of the fact that their products are made from "a completely new polypropylene named metallocene", which sounds like something out of a jaunty 1950s ad campaign, but is actually real. Well, almost.
This page explains what's going on, and links to lots of other pages that'll explain all about various aspects of plastics production, which saves me from having to pretend that I know about it. In any case, "metallocene" is not, actually, what these things are made of; they're made from polypropylene manufactured using metallocene polymerization (which is "the hottest thing to hit vinyl polymers since the invention of Ziegler-Natta polymerization", I'll have you know).
Such polypropylene can be stronger than non-metallocene-catalysed plastic, or not; presumably, in this case, it is. VarioPac describe it as "unbreakable"; which for practical intents and purposes, it is. But that misses the point a bit; these cases are still bendable, so you could snap a CD inside them without, technically, breaking them. They'd probably stay bent, too. But they're unquestionably strong, and tough, and well designed.
Unfortunately, there's no way for me to continue this investigation by setting anything on fire, so it'll have to stop here.
As the VarioPac page's title points out, these cases are sold under various names (VarioPac, Ejector, Ehlebracht, disc ProTexx, KickOut, PopOut, Flip-n-Grip, Quickflip, CD-Jet...). They've been around for a while now, so you shouldn't have much trouble finding them. And they're good.
If you carry important 120mm discs around a lot, check these things out. Recommended.
VarioPac CD cases kindly provided by VarioPac Australia.