couple of weeks
ago, out for a run on the rugged west side of Woburn, Massachusetts,
a friend and I were discussing the relative merits of growing up
as a baseball fan in our day, the late 1970s, as opposed to today.
If you were the stat hounds that we were 20-odd years agosorting
out slugging percentages and on-base percentages, and applying Thomas
Boswell's Total Average theory to all the everyday players on the
1978 Red Sox and Yankees rostersit made a great outlet for
all that math-letic enthusiasm that wasn't satisfied by the typical
third grade arithmetic curriculum. It also gave you something to
do in those frustrating times when you couldn't actually play baseball,
such as after dark, on rainy days, and 6 a.m. on a Sunday when the
promise of the box scores had yanked you out of bed and you couldn't
even bounce a tennis ball off the garage door wall because no one
in their right mind was up at that hour.
Much has changed in the meantime, from the new-old look of recently
built parks (a welcome change from the monolithic industrial eyesores
erected in the '60s as the game expanded to challenging climes)
to the juiced-ball slugfests that pack them. What's also changed
is the feast of statistics spread across newspapers and Web sites
from USA Today to espn.com. Want to know how a given player hits
against left-handed pitches, with runners in scoring position,
after the seventh inning, in the month of June? Thanks to the
Sabermetric indulgences of the Elias Sports Bureau, the answer
can be pretty easily found. So can the slugging percentages, on-base
percentages, and all the slightly more analytical stats we used
to divine on our own as we scoured the Sunday "expanded batting
Is this a good or a bad thing? Hard to say. Hearing people analyze
baseball in broad sociological terms gets less and less interesting
to me as I get older, and the exegesis less and less convincing;
In college, I recall reading one scribe who said baseball was
rendered unspeakably boring in the '60s by a widespread obsession
with meaningless numberslike shortstops who could hit 12
homers in a season versus a mere 10and the debilitating
dullness of baseball probably explained why '60s teenagers started
spending more time at peace marches than baseball games.
Has this happened with CD-R, as the ever-pressing need for product
differentiation elevates on-the-box stats beyond in-the-box stability?
12X CD recording is a great thing, and achieving it was no picnic.
And as far as CD duplication goes, in the hands of MediaFORM,
Alea, Discmatic, and others, it makes life a whole lot better.
Whether you attach them to networks, printers, or autoloaders,
at the core, duplicators are essentially one-trick ponieswhat
they do is dupe discsso they might as well do that trick
as well as possible, which in assembly-line environments means,
essentially, as fast as possible.
But desktop CD recording has always been a different animal.
A desktop CD recorder has to match up with a range of different
host systems, with whatever also-running baggage they carry with
them, and perform all manner of tasks, from CD copying to audio
CD compiling to packet writing to hard drive backups to one-offs
to haphazard archive creation. A good CD recorder is comparable
to what baseball folks call a five-tool playergood glove,
good arm, good bat, good speed, good power.
Of course, all this rationalizing doesn't keep me from wondering
where Sony's latest Spressa, a 10X write, 4X rewrite, 32X read
CD-R/RW drive, fits in this 12X era. Well, CD-R will never be
as fast as a hard drive, that is, so fast you barely know there's
work involved in transferring files because it happens so blindingly
fast. Writing to CD-R takes time; the good news is, it doesn't
take much time, a statement that holds true for 10X and 12X recorders
alike. For my money, the difference between a 10X and 12X recorder
is comparable to the difference between a shortstop who hits 10
homers and one that hits 12odds are that's not what you're
paying him for, but both totals are nice perks.
So on to what really matters: the Sony Spressa 145S/XS is a
rock-solid performer, which is good news for the CD-R-buying public
because this drive gets aroundthe current flagship CD-R/RW
offering from two of the technology's most visible contenders,
Sony and Hewlett-Packard, it's a mainstream CD-R product if ever
there was one. And what's more, at least in its Sony bundle, it
tinkers a bit with that mainstream status by bucking the popular
trend of licensing Adaptec software across the board. The Spressa
CRX145S/XS uses CD Extreme on the PC side, a Sony-branded version
of Prassi PrimoCD, and CharisMac's Discribe on the Mac.
getting busy with SCSI
The Spressa 145S/XS submitted for review is a standard external
SCSI-2 model, so installation was a snap. The unit was tested on
two systems, a 333mHz eMachines PC running Windows 98 with 64MB
RAM and an Adaptec 2906 SCSI card installed, and a 333mHz Mac PowerBook
G3 with 64MB RAM and built-in SCSI and an HDI-SCSI adapter. The
drive's default SCSI setting of 6 worked fine with both systems;
all that was required was plugging in a terminator to close the
SCSI chain. Some problems resulted on the PC side when attempting
to daisychain the drive with a TEAC 8x24 CD recorder, but otherwise
connecting the drive was quick and painless.
The drive itself is a nice, robust unit with a sturdy tray,
a solid feel, and an on/off button on the front, which is much
appreciated. Sony stuffs the box pretty well, toothe $349
unit ships with premastering software for both PC and Mac (CD
Extreme, a.k.a. Primo CD; and Charismac's Discribe), a neat audio
curiosity called Mixman that works on both platforms, plus one
Sony CD-R and one Sony CD-RW disc. The 41-page manual devotes
most of its text to general information about CD recording (including
a nice glossary), media compatibility, physical characteristics
of the drive, and useful stuff about getting the unit up and running
on both platforms. It's reasonably readable and helpful for getting
started with the technology and the drive. Information about the
software is found in electronic form on the application CDs. The
PDF of the Discribe manual is particularly extensive; at 92 pages,
don't plan on printing much besides the sections you'd really
like to kick back with.
words to discribe...
As ever, Mac recording is basically a breeze. The Sony Spressa comes
bundled with two pieces of Mac software, Charismac Engineering's
Discribe, a general-purpose Mac recording tool, and Mixman Studio,
a music mixing and recording product that allows users to assemble
their own recordings using prerecorded sounds and instrumental parts.
For the last few years, the software market for Mac CD recording
has basically been a two-horse race, with Adaptec's Toast coasting
far ahead and Discribe drawing attention primarily from Sony drive
users through their bundling program and fans of Charismac's long-standing
Mac backup product, Backup Mastery. Now in version 2.99 as a retail
product, Discribe seems to have several features in its off-the-shelf
configuration that aren't found in its bundled version, at least
on the audio side. Also soon to enter the running for Mac CD recording
is a product called MerkWorks' CD Wonder Writer, although little
is known about it at this point.
The bundled version installs easy enough, has a simple interface,
and does just about everything you'd expect a recording product
to do. The problem is, it doesn't do it with much elegance, and
managing its organizational quirks and visual limitations can
be a bit frustrating. Plus it crashed the G3 frequently in testing,
although never in the recording process, so no discs were blown
as a result.
On the left side of the main interface, staggered in a cascaded
arrangement, are the four words "source," "image," "recorder,"
and "write," with what appear to be round buttons to the left
of each. But these seeming buttons aren't clickable; in fact,
according to the manual, they're status indicators, which tell
you where you are in the recording process. Thus these provide
a key to the organizational structure of the program, although
they're just as easily ignored. But for those keeping track at
home, each LED changes from red to green as you advance through
the process, as the element corresponding to each is selected.
On the right half of the screen is the clickable stuff. Somewhat
lacking in color contrast (another source of enervation), the
right half includes two columns, one in which specific selections,
such as format, can be made, and the other, for selecting write,
done, cancel, and so forth. The first selection screen you'll
see when opening the program is Select Source, which gives you
the choice of working with an existing project or a new one. Follow
the arrows after coming up empty when first attempting to click
on the boxed words and you're in business. The second selection
screen is "Select Format." Here, the user can select from a good
range of choices, including Mac HFS, ISO 9660, ISO 9660 XA, Audio
CD, "Build a Mac HFS," Mac/ISO Hybrid, or Disc Copy Image. Mac/ISO
Hybrid and "Build a Mac HFS" point the way to some of Discribe's
more sophisticated features, such as bootable CD creation (a must
for drive backup when disaster recovery is needed), which are
a welcome component of the program.
Copying a disc under Discribe, like using the software for digital
audio extraction, is also problematic. While the Sony drive reads
and rips like a champ (it cranked up to about 13X for extraction,
and stacks up to any 32X CAV drive in file-loading), Discribe
refuses to use anything but the recorder for disc extraction or
copying. This is a real pain if you expect to do a straight disc-to-disc
copy. By comparison, disc-copying on the PC side is a snap, since
the CD Extreme software is more than happy to recognize any other
installed drive as a source, including the 32X (a Toshiba DVD-ROM)
installed on the test-bed eMachine.
Once your files are ready, Discribe asks you to choose a speed
(a nice option when working with slower systems for safe and secure
recording) with 10X as default, asks you whether you want to write
a session or a finalized disc, and gets down to the business of
burning. Usually there's a brief stutter step in realizing that
a recordable disc is installed in the drive (something that happens
with many CD-R tools, Mac and PC). A rectangular, vertical window
indicates the progress of the burn with a typically low-contrast,
cone-like shape that gradually swells to the top of the window.
In testing on the Mac, Sony succeeded at 4X recording for CD-RW
and 10X recording for CD-R on every disc used in a variety of
formats, including data discs with small and large filesets and
audio discs of varying size. Asked to record 80-minute discs,
Discribe didn't blink, and tore off a jam-packed 79:54 audio disc
in about nine minutes. Once the recording phase was at hand, no
buffer underruns, no queues, no waitinga fine testimony
to the Spressa's strong performance. It also did so with a range
of media, faring splendidly with Mitsui Gold and Silver 74, Smart
and Friendly Rocket Fuel 80, Ricoh 12X Platinum 80, and Sony's
The Spressa burned just as reliably on the PC side, and things went
much more smoothly with the software. CD Extreme installed easily,
and quickly was set to the task of performing a heap of direct disc
copies of multisession Kodak PhotoCDs. Since the drive arrived for
review just two weeks after my sister's wedding, and a day after
the five-disc PhotoCD compendium of wedding pictures came in, my
responsibility of generating seven additional sets for various kith
and kin was easily passed off to the Sony Spressa, which handled
the task in exemplary fashion. Kodak was careful to leave each disc
about one-third to one-half empty so none of the pictures felt too
cramped, and each disc of 400MB or so copied at a rapid-fire six-
to seven-minute clip.
CD Extreme also offered the option of downshifting to slower
speeds for safer recording, but that proved unnecessary in each
case, as the eMachine's hard drive and installed 32X CD-ROM reader
proved well up to the challenge in supplying data for 10X recording.
At 333mHz, the host system was well ahead of Sony's prescribed
minimum 233mHz PC.
Most types of recording tasks are easily managed from within
CD Extreme's "Starters" menu, including Data CD, Copy CD, and
Audio CD, and excursions from there happen smoothly and gracefully
without the intrusions of wizards, cartoons, and the like. For
the official word on Prassi Primo CD Plus (and a more extensive
description), see Bob Starrett's review in the June 2000 issue,
PC recording also proved effective with the above range of media
(Mitsui, Ricoh, Smart and Friendly, and Sony) and incurred two
blown discs in roughly 60 attempts, including almost 40 in rapid
succession (close to five hours of continuous use)not a
bad record with a just-installed PC recorder.
the burning question
There are a lot of great recorders out there today, and it would
be foolish to claim any one was significantly superior to any other,
especially since most are based on one of a small handful of recording
mechanisms and aren't a whole lot different under the hood. The
salient point here is that the 4X era is over, and the 8X era is
more or less over, although nobody out there with an 8X drive is
hurting for speed. There's little appreciable difference in the
recording experience you're likely to have with an 8X, 10X, or 12X
recorderat least not one solely or even primarily determined
by the maximum writing speed of the drive. There are a lot of ways
of storing data faster than any CD-R drive can achieve. With CD-R,
it's all about the disc you get when you're done, where you can
take it, and that you didn't have to wait too terribly long for
The Sony Spressa isn't just significant because it's a high-performance,
high-reliability drive; it's also the drive you're most likely
to bump into as you wander the world of drive retail and distribution,
whether in the Sony box, or (perhaps more commonly) the HP. Where
you do run into it, give it a good, long look. And while you're
at it, if you're a Mac user, give some consideration to how much
orneriness you're willing to put up with in your software, because
that's a factor, too.
What's interesting in the whole speed-racing question is where
Sony's looking next: from all appearances, its key concern isn't
raising CD-R speed, although it is making the odd allusion to
16X like everyone else; its main concern these days is doubling
CD-R density. Is double-density CD-R (DDCD), the new Purple Book
spec developed by Sony and Philips, the kind of cataclysmic Next
Big Thing that might change the way the CD recording game is played?
Not necessarily, but it's a lot more likely to be than incremental
speed changes. In any event, for those of us with numbers on the
brain, the leap from 650MB to 1.3GB is certainly more interesting,
whatever we decide to do with it.
Stephen F. Nathans (email@example.com)
is Editor of EMedia
Comments? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.