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the cd writer

Speak of CD-R and the IMPs Shall Appear

Bob Starrett

July 2000 | Today, if you want to record audio CDs, you don't even have to go out and buy a program to do it. CD recording software is available as shareware and freeware on the Web, and many of the current music jukebox programs have recording capability built in. We may even be reaching the point where the user expects that an MP3 or WAV player will not only play files, but also convert them to different formats and record them to CD as well.

MusicMatch Jukebox and RealJukebox, for example, will record MP3, WMA, and WAV files as Red Book to CD. The most surprising among the group, however, is Liquid Audio. Liquid Audio tracks are available in many places on the Web for free or at low cost. These files can have restrictions on them, however. Some files expire after a certain time, others are not recordable to CD. The Liquid Audio player will not record these tunes and no other recording software can currently handle Liquid Audio files.

The whole concept behind Liquid Audio is to place certain restrictions on songs. So why would you be able to download and play a song from your hard drive but not record it and play it from CD? It doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It's like saying CD-R is an evil thing. Download it and play it from your hard drive, Zip drive, or high-density floppy, but don't move it to CD, at least not as a Red Book track. You can, of course, copy it as a file to CD and play it from there, but making a CD-Audio track out of it is not allowed, for whatever reason. (In case you're curious, there is a way around this. An application called Total Recorder, for sale at http://www.highcriteria.com, will take any protected track, whether Liquid Audio, WMA, or a2bmusic, and create a WAV file from it.)

Whatever the end user's desired use of an audio track or workaround of choice, there's one reason why the likes of Liquid Audio want to be anything-but-CD-friendly: because it's output to CD-R that gives all this Web music stuff its real appeal, that makes what you can do with music downloads seem so threateningly equivalent to the physically packaged media you buy in stores.

first shall be last?

One new product that demonstrates a keen awareness of CD-R's essential role in the Web music continuum is the EarJam IMP (Internet Music Player) from EarJam.com. Appropriately enough, it's the brainchild of two veterans of the CD-R old guard: EarJam.com was founded by Dave Ulmer, former general manager, Software Products at Adaptec, and Akyra Pagoulatos, former general manager, Optical Storage, Philips Electronics. Their goal was to create the ultimate music player and recorder, and it looks like they have come close on their first try.

play list

EarJam's look may shock purists, but for today's generation of Internet music freaks, it is all too familiar, skins and all. The most interesting feature of this player is its "Burn To" function. When you click on the Burn button (flames, of course), you get four destination choices. These are Hard Disk, CD Burner, MyPlay Locker, and Portable Device. If you burn to hard disk, the program gives you the option of WAV, MP3, or WMA, so file conversion is quick and easy. CD Burner does what it says, with few options other than recording speed, but it seems to work all the time. MyPlay.com is a service that lets you upload your MP3, WMA, or other files to its servers, then create playlists and either play them, play single songs, or listen to your songs anywhere in the world. It gives you an amazing 3GB of disk space, enough to hold plenty of compressed files. You can also download the files that you have uploaded when you want them locally to record to CD. Earjam gives you the option to convert your files right before you upload them. For example, if you have an MP3 file at 128kbps, you can have EarJam encode it to WMA at 64kbps before uploading it, or just upload it as is. Burn to Portable Device lets you transfer files to the RIO Player and its kin.

The "Burn To" concept used by EarJam is novel and the whole thing works well. It helps us remember that these days, music isn't just for CD-R anymore. But as more and more software integrates recording functionality, more and more people are going to use it. And with prices on home recorders falling and with new models being introduced by more and more manufacturers, even people with little computer skill or little desire to burn on the computer will be empowered to burn music.

wish list

Remember when we all wished that PCs would come with CD recorders in them? That's when we thought things would really take off for CD-R. Only recently, it has begun to happen with current low-end (if you can call any Sony computer low-end) models from Sony and HP that feature CD recorders as standard equipment.

The CD-R market has not topped out and is unlikely to soon. We sometimes assume too much, assume everybody is aware of this technology. I mentioned CD-R in passing to my doctor the other day. He is a rather worldly guy and knew of the MP3.com and Napster controversies, but had never heard of CD recording. I am sure there are plenty more people like him. I wonder if he'd take a burner as payment? I bet he'd find a use for it.

Robert A. Starrett is a contributing editor for EMedia, The CD-R Writer columnist, and an independent consultant based in Denver, Colorado. He is the co-author of of CD-ROM Professional's CD-Recordable Handbook.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.

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