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Adaptec Toast 4

CD-writing Software By Mike Simmons
Published August 2000

Adaptec Toast 4

Adaptec's Toast is already the most widely used CD‑burning software for the Mac, thanks to licensing deals that have seen it given away with most CD writers. The latest update sees it now being sold as part of an attractive bundle, incorporating other useful applications and a CD labelling device. Mike Simmons finds out if it's too good to be true...

Adaptec's Toast software will already be familiar to many readers. If you buy a CD burner, and you're a Mac user, then this is the software that's going to be bundled with it. The last few years have seen a considerable increase in the number of burners on the market, but Adaptec have always managed to keep pace, providing reliable support in the form of incremental updates and drivers targeted at particular machines.

The subject of this review, Toast 4.0 Deluxe, is a slightly different proposition, however, in that it comes boxed, with a printed manual, and with a price tag. It also comes with a highly attractive range of goodies that will make it a pretty irresistible purchase. Besides Toast itself, the package includes Spin Doctor, a program designed to simplify the process of transferring tape‑ or vinyl‑based audio to CDs, PhotoRelay, a cataloguing program for media files, and a jewel box and CD labelling application. On top of all this there's a stereo mini‑jack to RCA cable and a CD labelling device.

The jewel in the crown here is Toast itself, of course. The list of supported burners has now stretched to some 500 models and the breadth of that support has been further increased to include USB and IDE devices. It's possible to burn a wide range of CD formats (see box), but of particular interest, and new to this version, is the ability to take Liquid Audio or MP3 files, load them into Toast and then burn them onto an ordinary audio CD. The implications of this as far as potential copyright issues are concerned go well beyond the scope of this review but, if you have MP3 files on your computer and no stand‑alone MP3 player, this is going to be a very welcome innovation.

There's not that much that needs to be said about using the program itself without going into unnecessary intricacies relating to specific CD formats. Suffice it to say that it works, reliably and consistently. You are presented with an active window into which you drag the files to be burnt. You select the CD format you wish to create, arrange the data in whatever manner you need it to appear, check that the software is set to a speed that your burner can cope with and then hit 'write disk' or 'write session'. You can then wander off to make a cup of coffee while Toast settles down to make you a CD. It's perhaps worth mentioning that there have been suggestions in the press that Toast can now work as a background application. This was not my experience and, given the task that it's performing, I don't find that at all surprising.

Bundled Goodies

The main window of Spin Doctor with a waveform display provided to aid in defining track boundaries.The main window of Spin Doctor with a waveform display provided to aid in defining track boundaries.

What makes Toast 4 Deluxe so appealing is not just Toast itself, however: it's also the goodies that accompany it. Chief amongst these, and the one that may well prompt a number of people to buy the package, is Spin Doctor. For those of us with a cupboard full of LPs, the opportunity to convert them to CD is pretty irresistible, and the programme makes this an incredibly straightforward process. Once you manage to find a turntable (I found mine in the cupboard above my stairs, but you'll have to make your own arrangements) you simply have to hook it up to an appropriate amp and take the line‑level signal to the computer. The software provides record and pause buttons and, until you've recorded everything you want to put onto the CD, they are the only buttons you should touch, since pressing 'stop' will actually end the session. The only limit to the amount of data you can record is the size of your hard drive — as always, the bigger the better — but there is also the finite capacity of the CD to take into account, of course.

Once the data is safely stored inside your computer, the program will generate a waveform on a time line and the next task is simply to break this up into individual tracks. There is an auto‑define function which will try to do this for you, but how good a job it makes of this will largely depend on the type of music you've been recording. There is also a manual option for this process by which the user can simply define each track by eye and ear. I found the best approach was to let the software make a stab at it first, and then edit out any errors it had made. As soon as you're happy with the way the tracks have been identified you can name them and then transfer the entire file to Toast. Once in Toast you can rearrange track order, adjust the gap between tracks and then burn to CD.

This in itself would be impressive enough, but Spin Doctor also offers a range of filters which can further enhance the sound prior to transfer. The most useful of these are probably those designed to minimise crackles and pops, but there are also filters to boost bass, extrapolate lost harmonics and simulate stereo width. As always, such filters should be used with caution, but they are very welcome nevertheless. In practice some of these filters can boost the overall levels of the waveform and, in some cases, cause distortion. Adaptec suggest listening to the effect of each filter through headphones before committing yourself to them.

I liked Spin Doctor and was impressed with its ease of use, but that doesn't mean that it's not without its frustrations. Reasonably enough, tracks appear in the track list in the order in which they have been identified. Normally this would mean that they are in the same order in which they appear in the time line. However, if you have to identify a new track while sorting out any mistakes in the software's automated process, that track will appear at the end of the track list rather than in the position it holds in the time line. This isn't the end of the world, of course, but it can make things a little confusing when there are a large number of tracks.

Since the audio comes in as one long stream of data, it would also have been helpful to be able to identify parts of that data and simply delete it, but this isn't possible. This doesn't mean that unwanted data ends up on your CD, of course, since only identified tracks are sent to Toast, but it's still a slight irritation. It may be that the very way that the data is arranged on the screen — as a waveform on a time line — adds to this frustration: it seems natural that this data should be editable, but it's not. The waveforms are simply there so that you can identify the tracks and the areas to be filtered, and no more. It's also worth noting that though it's possible to zoom in and out on the time line, you can never go right down to sample level. As a consequence, you can't be absolutely sure that a flat line on the screen really means that there is no data present. You can't just rely on your eyes with this program, you have to use your ears too, otherwise there's the risk of cropping the beginning or end of tracks.

Finally, while Spin Doctor is auditioning a track it's impossible to do much else but simply listen to it. I frequently found myself trying to name a track but being unable to do so because that track was still playing, and this certainly slowed the process down considerably. To be honest these are fairly small niggles, though, and certainly not ones that would stop me buying the software — I'd just like to think that they might be addressed in some future upgrade.

Major Labels

Another new feature in v4 is the ability to customise the appearance of the Toast window, should you wish to do so.Another new feature in v4 is the ability to customise the appearance of the Toast window, should you wish to do so.

Toast doesn't stop once you've burnt the CD, however. Software for creating insert cards and labels is provided, as well as a CD label applicator. To find this included in the package was a real delight, and something of surprise too, since I hadn't noticed any mention of it on the box. In fact it is referred to, but only in very small print! Given the price of other such devices on the market I'd have expected Adaptec to make rather more of this, since it really is a very pleasant bonus. In practice, I found it just as easy to use as other proprietary systems — the seemingly impossible task of centring a large, round and very sticky label onto a CD only a little larger made perfectly simple by the use of a plastic die.

Relay Running

By creating and listing thumbnails for all your media files, PhotoRelay could make cataloguing a breeze.By creating and listing thumbnails for all your media files, PhotoRelay could make cataloguing a breeze.

The last goodie to come out of the box — or, in this case, the Toast folder — is PhotoRelay. Any media file, or folder of such files, can be dragged onto this application and it will immediately be catalogued and thumbnailed. 'Media files' in this case include pretty much anything you might imagine it to — JPEGs, GIFs, PICTs, TIFFs, and so on, along with sound files such as WAVs and AIFFs, plus Fonts, QuickTime movies and so on. Once in a catalogue, the data can be searched, sorted, arranged and rearranged and exported in wide range of formats — everything from a QuickTime movie to an HTML thumbnail page.

I am a fairly obsessive archiver of data, but not so conscientious when it comes to listing what I've archived. I dragged an entire CD onto the application and it promptly catalogued every media file it could find — including one that I'd thought I'd lost. There's a downside to this, of course — the resulting catalogue was some 6Mb in size and took several minutes to create — but given how much I'd wanted that file it was well worth the wait! I found PhotoRelay a little less stable than the other applications discussed, and suffered from several freezes, particularly when the catalogue attempted to display a file that I'd moved since cataloguing. Nevertheless, this is still a program worth using, and I shall shortly be settling down to catalogue all my media files.

The one thing that I haven't mentioned yet, and something that's beginning to feel unique in any piece of software, is the provision of a real paper manual. This was so good to have, and reminded me once more of how much I dislike PDF files. You can walk away from your computer with a manual. You can sit in the sun reading it. You can always see the entire page. And unlike a PDF file that you've printed out, it doesn't cascade a couple of hundred loose pages all over your studio floor. Not only have Adaptec provided a manual, they've also provided a good one, packed with information and easy to read. And as if that wasn't enough, if you're only happy learning from a computer screen then there's even more information on Adaptec's web site, with direct links from Toast itself.

Hot Toast

From the tone of this review you will have guessed that I'm pretty much won over by this package. I think it offers tremendous value for money, and I certainly want a copy. I won't particularly be buying it for Toast 4 itself, because my own burner is running perfectly happily on version 3.5.7, and if something isn't broken I don't really see the point in paying to have it fixed. Why I will be putting my hand in my pocket is for all the peripherals that come with the package — for Spin Doctor, for PhotoRelay and for that applicator. If you've got a pile of LPs you'd like to listen to again, or a quantity of MP3 files, or if you have trouble keeping track of all your media files, then this is a must!

CD Formats Supported By Toast

  • Mac Volume
  • Mac Files and Folders
  • ISO 9660
  • Mac/ISO Hybrid
  • Audio
  • CD‑i
  • Video
  • Enhanced Music


  • An excellent software collection at a bargain price.
  • A real manual.
  • Includes CD labeller.


  • None.


The added value of Spin Doctor, PhotoRelay and the bundled CD labelling system, as well as the inclusion of an excellent printed manual, make this a must‑have package.