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CD-R...One Step Beyond

Bob Starrett

September 2000 | Manufacturers are producing recorders and media at unprecedented levels, and unlike the gasoline moguls who've pushed pricing to repugnant heights, those manufacturers do not collude to drive prices up with supposed shortages and other unnamed market factors.

By contrast, CD-R manufacturers simply produce as much as they can to meet the demand and price it to sell. At current pricing levels, and with all the big players, and many smaller ones, gaining retail shelf space, one can confidently argue that CD-R has finally gone completely mainstream. As in the early days of CD-ROM, when industry participants once despaired of ever seeing anything approaching mainstream acceptance, once the rocket took off, there was no way to stop it. How often do you see software, even the smallest of programs, delivered on floppy disk? Considering the "title" boom of a few years ago, one that is now a bust, mostly, there is a good argument that software manufacturers and audio discs, not CD-ROM production, are what has kept disc replicators busy for the last couple of years.

So here we wade, knee-deep in the mainstream, passing strange days in times when everybody can record CDs, Audio, Data, maybe even Enhanced CDs, Bootable CDs, CD-Text, Mixed-Mode, and Video CDs with the easy-to-use, wizard-enhanced and overly cartoonish software that comes with every recorder. So where does that leave those who used to be on the vanguard, where every successful burn was an event, every coaster a tragedy? When the "e" in EMedia signified for some of us, between a wink and a nudge, a CD-R-hip techie elite? How do we get back that frontiersmen feeling, like we did when we manually patched the Mac boot block to make a hybrid disc before anyone knew what a hybrid disc was? Or when we made a bootable disc before the ink was even dry on the El Torito specification?

Well, there is still room for the frontier spirit, for the hardy to go forward, courage undaunted, and discover new territory in CD recording, territory untouched and unblighted by the mainstream recording programs that make things so sickeningly easy. In this territory, we find uncharted rivers and streams, mountains to climb, wild animals to defend against, and the other dangers that haunt any such expedition.

START THE MADNESS

If you are serious about low-level recording functions and flexibility, Feurio and CDRWin are where you will get them. Both products give you complete control over what you want to do with your CD and neither makes apologies, although the help files do partially explain some of the low-level functions.
What are we to do, then, to keep the pioneer spirit alive? First, we must acquire and assemble the latest and greatest in gear, lest we climb a mountain without proper safety equipment and get stuck on the face. For the moment, that means speed-speed in our recorder, speed in our source drive, speed in our hard drive, speed in our bus, our processor, our memory; fast recorders, fast CD-ROM drives, fast computers. And we need capacity-that means large, dedicated hard drives that are not crippled with extraneous files; hard drives that we can defragment quickly because they contain only large WAVs and sort-of-large MP3s. Large, of course, is a relative term. A single four-minute MP3 that weighs in at 5.1MB would not have fit on the first personal computer hard drives. We need dedicated hard drives because, instead of painstakingly defragmenting them, we can just format them and be done with it. We need lots of clear, contiguous space for our source's files that allows the fastest data transfer we can get.

We need to upgrade our motherboard and processor. We'll get what we can afford, an AMD Athalon or a Pentium III, preferably 600MHz, at least, but perhaps 700 or 800, with a 133MHz system bus. We'll get 128 or 256MB of RAM, remembering all the while that we're piling up as much RAM as we had hard disk space five years ago. We'll use that IDE drive for our programs and add an Ultra160 SCSI hard drive with an Adaptec Ultra160 controller dedicated to our source data. We'll make sure we have the latest 12X recorder from Plextor or Sanyo, or an even newer entry from TEAC or Ricoh. And forget that idiot-proof Burn Proof Technology. We're not idiots, and, as such, we turn it off and proceed unfettered. With our hot system, we won't get buffer underruns. We'll make sure that we have both a Plextor UltraPlex Wide 40X and a Kenwood TrueX 72X seven-beam CD-ROM drive for ripping and copying our source material to our speedy SCSI hard drive.

Put it all together, terminate the SCSI bus properly, and we are ready to roll. Oh, we need some software. Let's not just get something off-the-shelf, so to speak, but something that really rocks. Let's get Feurio and CDRWin, which are sold primarily (if not exclusively) via Web sites. With those, we can explore where no one has gone before.

THE SPECIALS

Feurio and CDRWin are not meant for the timid, the faint of heart, or the namby-pamby newbies who like dancing paper clips, dancing CDs, or CDs with tongues, eyes, noses, glasses, unneeded appendages, hats, or gloves. Run along, cartoon fans-it's past your bedtime. These programs are meant to record CDs right now and push data across the bus with a minimum of fuss. No wizards, no suggestions, no decisions made for you, and no pretense whatsoever. If you know what you're doing, these are great tools. If you don't you will quickly find yourself confused and in trouble. This is serious recording, folks. We are not making jewel case inserts, or labels (well, Feurio can if you really want it to). We have core recording engines here: CDRWin is 6 files, 1MB total. Feurio is larger at 8MB and 98 total files, partly because both English and German are included, but still smaller than many other recording packages. Install and use. There's no rebooting, no mandatory speed tests, no suggestions that your hardware is not up to snuff. It is or it isn't-you'll find that out if you make a coaster first time out. I'm surprised that either program has a test function at all. We don't have time to test. We're gonna burn, and burn now.

Now that we have both the hardware and the software let's see what we can do. If you are serious about low-level recording functions and flexibility, Feurio and CDRWin are where you will get them. Both products give you complete control over what you want to do with your CD and neither makes apologies, although the help files do partially explain some of the low-level functions.

FEURIO CAN'T FAIL

Want to see what percentage of your total disk space is taken up by WAV files? Feurio easily charts it. Need big endian or little endian? Toggle it one way or the other, and swap the audio channels for those backward drives that still come about from time to time.

More flexibility shows up as you dig deeper into the setup parameters. There are eight read command sets, seven reading modes, with read speed adjustable from 1X to 128X; the size of read block, approach time, and number of retries are all available for you to adjust.

What if we want to set specific speeds for various drives? Different drives apparently use different Mode Pages to do this, but that is no problem for Feurio. The Mode Page is adjustable. And if the Mode Page uses Format 2 or Format 3, we can adjust that, too. Need to send a specific command to a drive before reading from it? Take your choice: Start Unit, Read, Read TOC, Rezero Unit and Seek can all precede the read request.

Want to change the spin-down time of a drive? Do it. Want to correct a systematic offset on a cheap CD-ROM drive? Just enter the offset number. Want to know exactly how much data that disc will hold? Feurio will tell you (74- and 80-minute media are larger than you think). Want the coolest, custom-compressed audio files on the block? Feurio supports 14 different compression codecs.

There's more, too. CDDB support is built in, of course. There is also a CD database locally that tracks your CDs.

And that is only part of Feurio. Beyond the CD Manager that I have just described, you get Feurio Writer, which sports still more low-level functionality. Feurio Writer can record ISO 9660 images made by other programs and copy CDs. As another example of the flexibility and low-level functionality of the program, click on Display ATIP Information. Ever want to know things about your media parameters no conventional recording program would ever reveal to you? What about lead-in start position, vendor code, maximum lead-out position, reference speed, minimal recording speed, maximum recording speed, unrestricted use, disc type, disc sub-type, indicative target writing power, power multiplication factor, target Y value of the modulation/power function or recommended erase/write power ratio? It's all here. If you need it, Feurio will show it to you.

CDRWIN: JUST CAN'T STOP IT

Goldenhawk's CDRWin has an interesting presentation. When you start the program, you see a small window with nine icons. It takes a little getting used to to identify or remember what each does. However, each takes you to a different function window as follows:

  • The Record Disc screen is used to load audio tracks and create a cue sheet for an audio job. Here you can choose the recorder you want to use, load audio tracks to record, set track pregap, and enable a disc transporter if one is attached.

  • Make a Backup Disc (Copy) is the copy disc function of CDRWin. You can copy a disc to an image and then record or you can copy directly from a CD-ROM or CD-R drive to a recorder. Options available here are the ability to set the destination directory for the image, set the reading options, which include RAW, CD+G, and CD-Text. Error recovery, Jitter correction, and Subcode Analysis can be enabled here, too. Test mode is off by default and the disc transporter mode can be set to standard, disabled, or batch.

  • The Extract tracks or sectors screen allows you to extract audio tracks, or, with a data disc, extract specified sector ranges or tracks from a disc (sector ranges work with audio discs, too). You can manually enter the stop and end times and choose the datatype. Available datatypes are Audio, Audio with Subcode Q, Audio with CD +G Subcodes, Data Mode 1, Data Mode 1 RAW, Data Mode 2 Form 1, Data Mode 2 Mixed, Data Mode 2 RAW, and Data Raw with Subcode Q. Here, too, you can set the error recovery to Replace, Ignore, or Abort. Subcode Analysis can be set to Auto, Fixed, Disable, Quick, or Full.

  • File Backup and Tools is the screen in which general data recording is done. Available operations are: build and record an ISO 9660 image, record data files directly to disc, build an ISO 9660 image file, record an ISO 9660 image file, finalize session/disc, erase disc full, and erase disc quick.

  • The Devices and Settings window gives you information and lets you control the following: Adapters, ASPI, Caching, CDDB access (not implemented in this version), Default Settings, Readers, Recorders, Transporters, and Discs. Under the ASPI tab, you can set the ASPI to Microsoft, Adaptec, or CDRWin proprietary. You can change the maximum buffer size, enable software support for SCSI Logical Unit Numbers, and enable software support for SCSI Wide device IDs.

  • The Caching tab allows you to enable/disable caching, set the cache size, set the full-to-empty cache ratio, and set the CPU priority level to low, normal, or high.

  • The Readers tab gives you information on installed CD-ROM drives. The information available here indicates whether the drive will read subcode information, read CD+G discs, read MCN and ISRCs, and read rewritable discs.

  • The Recorders tab also shows drive information, this time about the capabilities of attached recorders. These capabilities include record track-at-once, record disc-at-once, record CD Extra, record CD+G, record MCN and ISRCs, and record to rewritable. The Transporters tab allows you to set the transporter control mode to SCSI or serial. In the case of a serial transporter, you can also change the com port and the baud rate.

  • The Table of Contents (TOC) window shows the status of any inserted disc. Status items are number of sessions, number of tracks, total disc time, media catalog number, and CDDB disc ID.

  • The CD Text Editor window allows you to enter information that will be included on a CD-Text disc including title, performer, songwriter, composer, arranger, message, and UPC/ISRC.

  • The Sector Viewer allows a hex dump of any CD. The remaining two windows are the Help window and the Keycode window, where you enter your registration code. CDRWin (and Feurio, to a certain extent) have been a favorite target of software pirates eager to make key generators so that people can download the software and open the full version without paying for it. The download version of CDRWin is fully functional except that it limits recording to 1X speed. Goldenhawk takes piracy seriously, as do all software developers, and has implemented strong security and crack code detection into the program. If you are tempted to use a key generator or a cracked code on either CDRWin or Feurio, don't. If you do, bad things can happen and you can waste a lot of time making the bad things go away.

SAVE IT FOR LATER

Buy them. You never know when you'll need to crank your CD recording to 11 and wish you had an extra gear. Both programs are reasonably priced; Feurio Standard Edition is $23.68 at current exchange rates. There are also professional editions of Feurio that support up to 25 recorders for simultaneous recording. The two-writer version lists at $62.39 and the price is progressively higher as you add writer support. The 25 writer Pro version is $1173.98

CDRWin is priced at $49 for the standard edition which includes versions for Windows 95/98, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows NT/ALPHA, and MS-DOS. Full-time students, active military members, and employees of Compaq, Oracle, or Microsoft qualify for a reduced price of $35. (Don't ask me why). A multi-user site license is available for an additional $15 per user.

Bored with everyday recording? Get these packages and bring back the thrill of low-level operations. Play with the parameters. Make weird discs, like a bootable CD for an operating system that you wrote yourself. Try to extract audio from an old NEC 3X drive. Hook up and use an old Kodak 600 or Philips 225-the support is there. Do whatever you want; one thing is guaranteed. Making that special disc with these programs gives you that old time glorious feeling of accomplishment-like the time you patched your first boot block or manually hacked your first bootable CD image.


Companies Mentioned in This Article

Feurio
Fangmeier Systemprogrammierung, Methfesselstr. 102, D-20255 Hamburg Germany; 0049-40-43270263; Fax 0049-40-43270264; support@feurio.de; http://www.feurio.com

Golden Hawk Technology
909 Columbia Circle, Merrimack, NH 03054; 603/429-1008; Fax 603/429-0073; http://www.goldenhawk.com

Kenwood Technologies (USA), Inc.
20400 Stevens Creek Boulevard, Cupertino, CA 95014; 888/730-4206, 408/863-6800; Fax 408/873-3860; http://www.kenwoodtech.com

Plextor Corporation
4255 Burton Drive, Santa Clara, CA 95054; 800/886-3935, 408/980-1838; Fax 408/986-1010; http://www.plextor.com

Ricoh Corporation Disc Media Systems
One Ricoh Square, 1100 Valencia Avenue, Tustin, CA 92780; 877/742-6479, 714/566-3235; Fax 714/566-2683; http://www.ricohdms.com

TEAC America, Inc.
7733 Telegraph Road, Montebello, CA 90640; 323/726-0303; Fax 323/727-7672; http://www.teac.com


Robert A. Starrett (bobs@cdpage.com) is a contributing editor for EMedia Magazine and co-columnist for The CD Writer, and an independent consultant based in Denver, Colorado. He is the co-author, with EMedia Magazine contributer Joshua McDaniel, of The Little CD Audio Recording Book, published by PeachPit Press.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.


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