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EMedia Review

Jeff Partyka

Adaptec Jam 2.6
synopsis: The new release of Adaptec's Jam CD Recording Software for the Macintosh (version 2.6) is available as a free download for previous Jam users, or for $199 as a new product. It removes a variety of bugs from earlier versions and adds improved recorder support and new features, including FireWire support, improved USB support, and direct import of MP3 files. Jam, together with the newest version of its familiar partner Peak LE from Berkley Integrated Audio Software, continues to offer the best array of audio features available to the audio-centric Mac user.

price: $199

Adaptec Inc.
691 South Milpitas Boulevard
Milpitas, CA 95035
Fax 408/262-2533

November, 2000 | In his 1979 cinema classic Manhattan, Woody Allen gave one of his characters the line, "Gossip is the new pornography." The statement, true enough then, is undeniable in the current Age of the Internet. The World Wide Web has become a powerful tool for spreading gossip and rumor (not to mention pornography itself), and in the CD-R corner of the 'Net, Macintosh division, rumors of the demise of Adaptec's Jam recording software spread like butter as the year 2000 dawned.

Nothing new about Jam, first introduced with that moniker more than two-and-a-half years ago as version 2.1 [See "Adaptec's Jam for Macintosh," EMedia Reviews, July 1998, pp. 63-64], had been heard since the last downloadable product update (version 2.5) was offered in November 1998. Version 2.5 boasted great features and loads of promise, but was plagued by bugs ranging from the minor to maddening.

The audio pro-specific Jam, like its sister product Toast, gave Mac users plenty to shout about. It provided an intuitive basic playlist interface with drag-and-drop functionality, a dizzying array of tweaking bells and whistles, and, at first, recorder compatibility that just about spanned the market. But steadily, mysteriously, that compatibility started lagging, and users were left wondering why so much time was ticking by without announcements of new patches or updates. The rumor mill started to turn: Adaptec was discontinuing Jam, determined to integrate some of its groovy audio features into Toast (surely with many lost in the transition), to be sold as an all-in-one, middle-of-the-road product. Naturally, that prospect didn't sit well with the audio enthusiasts who had come to know and love Jam, and plenty of grumbling was heard Web-wide.

Then, this past summer, Adaptec announced the imminent release of Jam, version 2.6. [See "Adaptec Introduces Long-Awaited Jam Update," EMedia Industry News, August 2000, p. 11.] Unlike 2.5–bug-ridden and out-of-date for so long–the new version lives up to visions of the mature Jam many of us Jam veterans had dreamed of all along. The bugs have been exterminated and recorder support is about as current as can be hoped. There are even a few new features–notably playlist support of MP3 files; SCSI, FireWire and USB support; and compatibility with Sonic Solutions' surround sound-capable SonicStudio premastering digital-audio workstation–that warrant more than a look.

what's new, pussycat?

Jam fans who have long suffered with version 2.5's bugs will be more than pleased with the performance of 2.6. As detailed earlier this year in my Waxing Digital column [See "Jeff's Last Jam," EMedia, February 2000, p. 61], the earlier version's normalization feature wasn't entirely trustworthy, the software wouldn't record reliably at any speed above 1X with certain system configurations, and Adaptec's lack of update patches had left Jam incompatible with a variety of newer recorders. (I eventually got a patch for my Yamaha recorder not from Adaptec, but from Yamaha!)

Such problems have disappeared in Jam 2.6. My DVD player's ability to play audio CD-RW discs allowed me to do some normalization testing without sacrificing any CD-R media, and Jam's recording-gain intuition had indeed matured. I tested audio tracks that I'd remembered having problems with thanks to Jam 2.5's inaccurate recording-level recommendations, and Jam 2.6 performed much better. The resulting disc showed no signs of digital audio distortion at any of the Jam-recommended recording levels, and the sound-level meter at the top of the Jam screen proved very helpful for fine-tuning.

Apart from the bug fixes and minor cosmetic alterations (which will be notable only for old-time Jam users), the MP3-ready playlist is probably the most newsworthy new feature. The step of converting MP3 files into hard-drive-hogging AIFF files is eliminated. This can benefit many users with limited hard-drive space, but those with older systems should take note: testing done on an aging Power Mac 8100/100 with just 32MB of RAM proved that the system couldn't quite handle the on-the-fly MP3 conversion during the burn process at any recording speed faster than 1X. Tempting fate at 6X, 4X, and 2X invariably resulted in buffer underruns–although recording at all speeds went remarkably smoothly with an all-AIFF playlist.

As for Jam's older, more basic features, they work better than ever in version 2.6. The playlist offers all the familiar flexibility in the areas of file support (including mono, stereo, and split-stereo files; Sound Designer II playlists; and disc images), track lead-in times, non-destructive cross-fading, and recording-level adjustment. And, as stated, the normalization feature–which automatically finds the highest recording level without distortion for an individual track or playlist–works with much greater accuracy than in earlier versions. The software still offers autoloader support (for models including Optomedia Hawk, MediaFORM CD-2500, Kodak Disc Transporter, and Glyph GAL-2500), including batch mode for unattended operation. Jam also wisely continues to include Toast Audio Extractor 1.1 for easy CD track extraction.

vinyl fun

Jam remains a wonderfully handy tool for recording sound files extracted from vinyl LPs and other analog media. Its Sound Data Trim tool, accessible with a click on a track's playing time, makes separating one long sound file (say, a vinyl LP side) into individual tracks a cinch. One need simply import the long file into the Jam playlist multiple times–five times, for example, if there are to be five tracks–and specify in the Sound Data Trim window at what points a particular track should begin and end (say, from 3.13 to 6:49; then, the next track can be picked up at 6:49).

In addition to the new Jam, the software CD-ROM contains the latest version (2.10c) of Berkley Integrated Audio Software's Peak LE, the useful sound-recording and -editing tool that has always come with Jam. New features include a playlist for CD recording right from Peak LE; encoding of ShockWave, MP3, and RealAudio 5.0 files; and importing of multiple CD-Audio tracks. As with its predecessor, the program does not work with Virtual Memory turned on, which may prove to be an annoyance for users who must turn it off and reboot whenever they want to edit. (And, once again, testing on the older Power Mac system revealed problems. The program wouldn't work at all with only 32MB of memory and Virtual Memory disabled, so users with older systems may want to keep version 1.60 handy.)

Jam is indeed aimed at the professional audio market, and Peak LE is even more specialized for it. But it can also be a handy tool for the CD-R hobbyist. For example, when including a selection from a live CD on a party mix, one can use Peak LE to fade the applause in and out at the beginning and end of the extracted audio file before burning. More ambitious music fans can even recreate the three-minute edit of their favorite eight-minute album track that they first fell in love with on the radio. The software's interface makes such jobs phenomenally easy, but Peak LE could be even more useful to Jam users if a printed manual were included in addition to Jam's thorough and informative one.

Unlike Jam, the new Peak LE boasts a completely overhauled and improved interface. It continues to provide easy manipulation of sound files and, as ever, it's a fine addition and a wonderful complement to Jam.

rumors of my death

So no, Jam isn't dead, it just smelled funny for awhile. Here's hoping we can look forward to a future of more of the sort of development and improvement from Adaptec evidenced in version 2.6 of Jam. Good ideas for the future may be the inclusion of analog-to-digital sound-file creation within Jam itself, and perhaps even a filtering feature for files made from vinyl records and other noisy sources (which has already appeared in Adaptec's Toast, a much less audio-centric program).

And shame on those who bad-mouthed Adaptec–a company that has more often than not served CD-R users on the Mac platform remarkably well–in Internet chat rooms and newsgroups for its temporary stasis in the Jam arena. Sometimes–as another Manhattan character says–"you have to have a little faith in people."

Companies Mentioned in this Article

Berkley Integrated Audio Software Inc.
1370 Industrial Avenue, Suite A, Petaluma, CA 94952; 707/782-1866; Fax 707/782-1872; http://www.bias-inc.com

Sonic Solutions, Inc.
101 Rowland Way, Suite 110, Novato, CA 94945; 415/893-8000; Fax 415/893-8008; http://www.sonic.com

Jeff Partyka (jeffjp@yahoo.com), a former associate editor and current Waxing Digital columnist at EMedia Magazine, is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer currently employed at the Alzheimer's Association of Eastern Massachusetts.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.

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