Adaptec Jam v2.5

Audio CD Compilation Software

Published in SOS February 2000
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Reviews : Software: ALL

ADAPTEC JAM V2.5 AUDIO CD COMPILATION SOFTWARE FOR MAC

Finding it difficult to compile your audio files and regions for CD-burning in exactly the way you want them? Paul White tries Adaptec's Jam, and discovers there's nothing sticky about it at all.

Adaptec's original Jam software has long been a favourite audio CD-burning utility amongst Mac users within the music fraternity, and not without good reason — it's easy to use, flexible, and gets the job done. In its latest incarnation, Jam is able to import SDII, AIFF and WAV files, and is also capable of importing regions created within SDII files using editing software such as Digidesign's Sound Designer II. Jam also supports Sound Designer II playlists and can be used with split stereo files, such as those created in programs such as Pro Tools. This is a big advantage, as converting back and forth between interleaved and split stereo files can waste a lot of time and takes up valuable hard-drive space. Toast Audio Extractor is bundled with Jam and allows tracks from commercially manufactured audio CDs to be saved as audio files so that they can be added to a Jam playlist.

For those who haven't used Jam before, its sole purpose in life is to import material that's been edited elsewhere so that it can be assembled in a playlist prior to burning a CD in Red Book format. This can then be used as a production master for commercial CD manufacture. Jam isn't an editor, it doesn't have effects plug-ins and there are no destructive editing procedures. However, once items have been loaded in to a Jam playlist, their levels can be adjusted both upwards and downwards, starts and ends of tracks can be adjusted and it's possible to crossfade one track into the next.

Clearly, any serious CD-burning program must provide the facility for adjusting the gaps between tracks and the position of the track start IDs. Jam does all this, and also allows up to 99 index points to be written per track (though not all CD players recognise these); Sound Designer II text or numeric markers may be directly imported as index points if required. At any time, material within the playlist can be auditioned, and when you're happy that everything is as good as it's going to get, you can either burn directly to CD-R or create a disc image first. Jam also allows the host Mac's RAM to be used to increase the effective buffer size of the CD writer, so there's less chance of a buffer under-run leaving you with yet another useless CD (once you've used one as an attractive metallic coaster for your coffee cup, of course). To comply with the Red Book standard, all CDs are burnt in disc-at-once mode, as multi-session recordings can often generate errors in the pauses between tracks.

Jam has the facility to enter ISRC codes for each track and Media Catalogue Numbers (using a standard text box) as well as emphasis and copy-prohibit flags (shown as simple check boxes adjacent to each track in the playlist).

Jam works with pretty much any Mac running System 7 or above, though Adaptec recommend that those stalwarts still using operating systems prior to 7.5 should install 'Drag and Drop Manager', as this simplifies some aspects of CD creation. Installation is from CD-ROM and protection is via serial number only — there's no messing around with key disks, dongles or surprise demands to reinsert the CD.

APAPTEC JAM £234
pros
Cost-effective.
Red Book standard.
Simple user interface.
Implements ISRC and MCN codes.
cons
Not all current CD-ROM drives are supported.
summary
If you already have a means to create audio files or regions, Jam is the ideal way to compile audio CD-Rs.

User Interface

Jam is based around a simple and intuitive interface where most of the screen is taken up by the playlist. Items can be added to the playlist via an 'Add Track' dialogue box or by dragging files directly into the playlist window. The Add Track and Remove Track buttons are positioned at the top of the screen along with a track and time indicator, transport controls and two further buttons for checking the disc write speed and for actually burning a CD.

A new default track spacing may be entered if the usual two seconds isn't what you want, and track pauses can be edited at any time, from zero seconds to as long as you like. Changing values is very easy and if you enter anything invalid, Jam will usually change it to something sensible for you. Any part of the playlist can be auditioned very easily in order to check out the transitions between tracks on an album, and audio is routed through the Apple Sound Manager, so on my own system I have a choice of monitoring via the Mac's own analogue outputs or via my Pro Tools hardware.

Setting Jam

As soon as you start up Jam it scans your SCSI buss for a suitable CD-ROM burner, and here is its only real weakness — the last time I checked, the (impressively long) list of supported drives wasn't as up-to-date as that of its more general-purpose counterpart, Toast. For example, the recent, but by no means new, Yamaha CRW6416SX drive isn't yet supported by Jam, despite being a very popular drive that seems ideally specified for the job. If you connect an unsupported drive, Jam claims no SCSI device is connected. Sadly this problem isn't confined to Jam — CD-ROM drives come and go so quickly that software often supports only obsolete drives.

  What, No v2.5?  
  Adaptec currently only sell v2.1 of Jam, the version initially released. However, free upgrades for Adaptec products are available by surfing your way to www.adaptec.com/support/files/upgrades.html, and Jam v2.5 is amongst these. Without the upgrade a number of features are not implemented, among them peak meters and a normalise function.  
The position of audio files or regions in the playlist follows the order in which they were added, but any entry may be grabbed and dragged to a new position if necessary. The file or region name is shown alongside the entry as is its start time, duration and pause length. If your sound files are already level-matched and correctly trimmed, all you need do is hit the Write CD button and choose a write speed, though if you haven't used the software before, it may be wise to go through the Check Speed routine first to ensure you can burn successfully at your chosen speed. As the CD is written, a progress bar lets you know how things are going and a countdown of remaining burn time is also displayed.

Of course, you may want to do more than simply insert gaps and burn a CD, which is why Jam allows you control over crossfades and track levels. Track levels may be attenuated by pretty much any amount you need, whereas gain increases are limited to 6dB. Even so, you have to be really careful not to boost the signal to a level where you clip the audio, because clips come out as spectacularly loud cracks. A neat feature is that separate on-screen sliders appear for the left and right audio channels during gain adjustment, so if you do have a balance problem, you can address it here. Pauses may be adjusted so the audio starts inside the pause, as you may want it to do when applause links the tracks on a live album, and a track can run directly into the next by setting the pause to zero. If you find that your original sound files weren't adequately trimmed, the file start and end points can be adjusted from within Jam.

Fairly comprehensive crossfading facilities are supported: overlapping crossfades allow you to keep region boundaries intact by shortening overall running time, whereas extending crossfades can keep the same overall length by using material from outside original regions, if available, for the fade. In most cases, an overlapping crossfade is the simplest way to handle crossfades between songs. A number of fade options are provided, including linear, equal power, 'fast-in, slow-out', and 'slow-in, fast-out'; overlapping cuts with no fade are also available.

"In some ways Jam is quite a boring piece of software in that it does exactly as claimed with no fuss, but we could all do with more of that kind of boredom."

Image Conscious

It may be desirable to create an image file if your computer is for some reason unable to supply a steady stream of data to the recorder, for instance if the playlist draws on material spread over two or more different hard drives. The image file contains all the audio in the playlist and other necessary Jam data — crossfades, index points, gain changes and so on — and is written to your hard drive. This image file can then be edited using any other audio software which uses the SDII format and you can even reimport it into another Jam project as a single track, which could be useful if you've had to create a track from sections of several audio files. Once the image file is added to a new playlist, any track markers or index points are ignored — it is treated exactly like a single audio file or region.

Summary

I experienced no real problems using Jam except that one of my audio files which I happened to call 'M&L', after the initials of the musicians playing on it, was wrongly identified as the left-hand half of a split stereo file. Adding another letter at the end of the filename cured this, so evidently the program goes by what the filename says. Even though I accepted Jam's offer to use the 'mono' file it had claimed to find, the CD still came out in stereo, so no harm done.

In some ways Jam is quite a boring piece of software in that it does exactly as claimed with no fuss, but we could all do with more of that kind of boredom. The interface is based around a single window, and Mac conventions are used for most of the data editing so you can find your way around without ever looking in the manual. Auditioning material in the playlist is better than on most software, because the transport controls can fast wind backwards or forwards from any location — you aren't restricted to starting at the beginning of tracks or having to enter fixed amounts of pre-roll as you are in Sound Designer II. However, check that Jam supports your choice of CD burner before buying it (www.adaptec.com is a good place to look). Other than that, I have no hesitation in recommending it for both casual and professional use. It's software like this that makes you feel good about being a Mac user and, even with several CDs behind me, I still don't have any coffee mats to show for it!

 information
£234 including VAT and p&p.
Adaptec
+44 (0)800 966526.
www.adaptec.com

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