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Ahead Software Nero; Adaptec Easy CD Creator; Sonic Foundry Vegus Pro

Nero is a versatile low‑cost solution for the majority of your CD‑burning requirements, and includes a host of features useful to musicians.Nero is a versatile low‑cost solution for the majority of your CD‑burning requirements, and includes a host of features useful to musicians.

Many people seem frustrated with the 'free' software that is bundled with CD‑R drives, so this month Martin Walker looks at a new low‑cost CD‑burning package, as well as reading a few meters.

Our recent reader survey showed that 16.7percent of you already own a CD recorder, and that 29.8percent are intending to buy one. Nearly all drives are bundled with recording software for both PC and Mac, and for PC the two most popular choices among drive manufacturers are Adaptec's Easy CD Creator, and Cequadrat's WinOnCD.

Mind you, there are other alternatives available, including Nero from Ahead Software, who are based in Germany. This is apparently popular with many more serious users, since it provides various features not commonly available elsewhere. Ahead recently sent me a copy of the latest version of Nero (, so I was intrigued to see just what it had to offer. It adopts a similar graphic user interface to most other packages — the Browser window lets you drag and drop selected files from your hard drive to the Compilation window ready for burning, and a wide variety of CD formats is supported.

However, Nero was the first software to allow 8x‑speed recording for those drives that support it, and was also the first of its kind to support CD‑Text, for adding details like track titles and artist's name to the CD itself. Once burned onto the CD, this text will appear in audio players that support CD‑Text, and be ignored by those that don't. However, most CD‑R drives still don't support this feature at all — some will only read CD text (but not write it) and only certain models from a few manufacturers will both read and write CD‑Text information. Sadly my Yamaha CRW4416S doesn't support it at all, but you can check your drive in the comprehensive list found on the Ahead web site.

Overburning is also supported, so that you can cram 76 minutes of audio onto a 74‑minute disc, and in some cases (depending on the make of blank CD‑R) up to 79 minutes! Detailed instructions (and suitable warnings) are included in the help file on this subject. This feature only works with some CD recorders (apparently including my CRW4416S), and only in 'disc at once' mode.

The next feature of Nero really merits a small aside. MP3 files are now widely available via the Internet, and this form of music distribution is growing rapidly. CD Audio uses 44.1kHz 16‑bit data, so a single stereo second will need 88200 samples, each containing 16 bits — a total of 1411,200 bits per second (or 1411.2kBits per second). The most commonly used bit rate for MP3 compressed files is 128kbits per second, so a compression ratio of about 11:1 is required for Internet use.

If you intend to fill a CD blank with audio, the WAV files you use will normally occupy about 650Mb, and even if you are using MP3 files as source material, a 650Mb image file would normally need to be created before the burn. However, Nero allows you to decode MPEG3 files to audio 'on the fly' during burning. The beauty of this approach is that you can download 59Mb of 128kBps MP3 files, and burn them direct to CD without needing an image file at all — during the transfer they will be converted to 650Mb of audio data.

Version 4 also allows you to backup hard disk partitions across multiple CDs. This is a blind sector copy rather than a file‑based one, so you cannot restore files selectively, and as you might expect, it is not recommended that you copy an active partition (the one in which you are currently running Windows). Nero currently supports copying of partitions in FAT16, FAT32, NTFS, Linux Ext2fs and HPFS formats. Once backed up, you have to restore from DOS mode, since there's no way to overwrite an active Windows system. Ahead hope to add compression and 'used sector only' saving in a future release.

Just For The Musician

Nick Whitehurst's shareware C‑Plugs provide an extremely useful set of VST‑compatible plug‑in measurement tools, including a real‑time spectrum analyser.Nick Whitehurst's shareware C‑Plugs provide an extremely useful set of VST‑compatible plug‑in measurement tools, including a real‑time spectrum analyser.

On the audio side Nero has a surprising number of options. De‑jittering is available, if required, to ensure optimum DAE (digital audio extraction) from audio CDs, and if you have particular difficulty in reading CDs then an Advanced window also allows you to specify how errors are corrected. The drive first attempts to re‑read the same data a specified number of times; if this fails it attempts to predict the missing data using correlation techniques.

A useful new option is an Audio Player that can audition CD audio tracks before saving them to your hard disk. This not only works as a remote control for the normal analogue CD output, but also provides a digital option, so that you can play streamed DAE audio directly through your soundcard. This is a clever way to play CD tracks through different D‑A converters, since the chances are that your soundcard converters may be better than those on a comparatively cheap CD drive.

Once you have dragged your WAV files or DAE audio into the Audio CD Compilation window you can easily change the gaps between tracks (not always easy with other utilities). The default is (as always) two seconds, but you can reduce this to zero or make it much longer if required. You can also view the audio waveform at various magnifications to set Index Points if required, and a new Track Limits page lets you specify that only part of a WAV file gets burned to the CD. This feature lets you split large WAV files into several smaller audio tracks (useful for live albums when multiple track IDs need to be placed into a single long recording).

A further page provides a selection of useful audio treatments: you can also normalise tracks, widen their stereo image, add fades in and out, tweak the EQ with a 20‑band graphic equaliser, and treat your audio with special filters to declick, descratch, and denoise files imported from LPs and cassette tapes. These are rather more basic than those of Steinberg's Clean! (the denoising is a simple noise gate with threshold and reduction sliders), but are still useful tools to have.

You may remember that back in October '98's PC Notes I described my attempts to create a backup of aAkai‑format Syquest 270Mb cartridge using the useful shareware disk2file utility, and ran into problems trying to burn a CD from its image file using both Easy CD Creator and WinOnCD. Nero, on the other hand, makes it easy to cope with various image files, whether it understands their contents or not.

I found Nero extremely easy to use, and had started burning an audio CD from a collection of WAV files within about two minutes of first booting the program. Nero requires a PC with a minimum of a Pentium 90MHz processor (remember those?), and 16Mb of RAM, running Windows 95/98 or Windows NT 4.0. You would, however, benefit from a more powerful processor if you wanted to use the audio treatments. A wide range of CD‑R drives is supported (both SCSI and IDE) as well as various SCSI host adaptors besides Adaptec ones.

One current limitation is that you can't run it if you have Adaptec's Direct CD packet‑writing software installed, but Ahead are currently working on a solution to this. For audio purposes, it would also be useful to be able to hear the transitions between tracks to help set gap length, but Ahead seemed interested in my suggestion, so let's wait and see! You can download a free trial version from the Ahead website at, and you can check at the same time that your own CD burner is supported. The full version comes complete with cover‑design software, and a well‑written manual that explains a lot about the whole subject of CD burning. The price is just £49 (further details from Et Cetera on 01706 228039).

Finally this month, I thought I'd pass on a few 'words of wisdom' from the Soundcard Buying Advice section of a PC magazine I bought recently. While discussing the number of voices it claimed "You should not confuse the voices with the polyphony. This latter term refers to the quality of the processed sound". It also claimed "MP3 files stream the data at 128kBps, but the sampling rate will be a third of this. Most cards can only cope with sampling rates of 44 and 48kHz, with a few £200‑plus models going up to 52kHz. An average user will not have the option of sampling at 128kHz." Well, now you know.

Sharing Is Good

Several readers have emailed me in the past trying to find an affordable spectrum analyser to help them learn more about mixing, so when I came across a whole suite of measurement tools for $28 (about £18) while surfing the web, I downloaded them immediately for a closer look. C‑Plugs are VST plug‑ins (you simply copy the DLL files into your existing VST Plug‑ins folder), and the Zip file contains four useful utilities. C_FFT provides an extremely useful real‑time spectrum analyser that you can use to see what's going on in your mixes. Although a 'lite' version, it still took 21 percent of my 300MHz Pentium II's processing power, but most people should be able to run it in real‑time. You can hold the peak display, or completely freeze the display at any time for closer study. A more advanced version is available separately, but its processor overhead does tend to be a lot higher.

C_Phase displays the phase correlation between two signals using an 'edgewise moving‑coil' style meter, and is useful for checking mono compatibility — you can certainly see the difference when using any stereo‑widening effects! C_Stereo displays Lissajous figures, familiar to most people who have used an oscilloscope. It displays the two channels of a stereo signal at 90 degrees to each other. Mono signals appear as a vertical line, panned mono ones as tilted lines, while out‑of‑phase signals move towards the horizontal. With some practice you can discover a lot about your mix. The final tool is C_Tuner, an accurate instrument tuner. From a reference value of A3 (normally set to 440Hz), frequency is displayed in Hertz, Note, MIDI note value, and the cent value from true pitch (also shown in another edgewise meter). It is accurate to +/‑ 1 cent between 8Hz and 5000Hz.

One excellent feature that applies to all but the tuner is a setting for latency, so that you can 'tune' the meters to react perfectly in sync with the sound you are hearing — if only Cubase had this! C‑Plugs were developed by Nick Whitehurst, and are not restricted in any way. He only asks you to register if you like his plug‑ins and can afford to. You can find them at:

PC Snippets

New releases in the world of PC music include Vegas Pro from Sonic Foundry — a 'multitrack media editing system', also claimed to be 'the ultimate audio/media production and Internet authoring tool'. This is the first product from them to support 24‑bit audio as well as a 96kHz sample rate. Let's hope that Sound Forge now gets a similar upgrade as well. Sonic Foundry are also releasing another update to their CD Architect burning program with added driver support. This will be available as a free download to registered users from about the end of June (

Syntrillium have updated their Cool Edit Pro software to version 1.2. The new version includes reverb, hard limiting, notch filters for hum removal, pitch bend, real‑time preview, and enhanced quality for nearly every effect. Owners of version 1.0 or 1.1 can download the update free of charge from the Syntrillium web site (

Sonic Timeworks have introduced the rather tasty‑looking Compressor X DirectX plug‑in. The 'front panel' mimics a hardware rack unit, complete with retro VU meter. Whether or not this makes it easier to use, it certainly looks the part, and the plug‑in has a comprehensive set of features including 'desirable' analogue breathing and pumping! Point your browsers at for a demo.