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Packet Writing may be a great way to provide a CD‑RW with full drag‑and‑drop file handling, but watch out for the smaller capacity it allows a disc (see main text).Packet Writing may be a great way to provide a CD‑RW with full drag‑and‑drop file handling, but watch out for the smaller capacity it allows a disc (see main text).

This month Martin Walker prepares to burn his own CD‑R disks, discusses the merits of the rewritable variety, and reports back from the Frankfurt MusikMesse.

After a lot of thought, I finally took the plunge this month and bought a CD‑R recorder. I chose the newish Yamaha CRW4260t, which is of the internal SCSI variety, and can manage 4x write speed, 2x write speed with the new CD‑RW (rewritable) discs, and 6x read speed. Internal drives are not only cheaper than external ones, they also mean that you don't get yet another whirring fan in the studio. Although I don't intend to use many rewritable discs, simply because of their current high price, it seemed silly not to opt for a drive that can handle this new technology, since the extra cost above a standard CD‑R drive (about £70) is quite small compared with the cost of the drive itself (about £399).

Eide Burning


The PC press are all talking about Yamaha's new CRW4001t model, which has a similar specification to the 4260t, apart from being an EIDE device. This latter point is something of a departure from the norm, as nearly all CD‑R drives released to date have been SCSI. The reason why EIDE is starting to put in an appearance is that since EIDE hard drives are now significantly faster than they were and CD‑R drives now contain larger on‑board memory buffers (both of these Yamaha drives have 2Mb), reliable writes at 4x speed are a lot more feasible without needing a SCSI buss at all. Previously, many EIDE CD‑ROM drives tended to occupy the computer processor for a large proportion of the time compared with SCSI devices, which made it more likely that you would suffer from a buffer underrun — and if you get one of these during a burn, your blank CD‑R is ruined. As long as CD‑writing software supports the new EIDE drives, I don't anticipate many problems, and since many drives come bundled complete with software anyway this shouldn't be an issue at all, since suppliers will obviously only supply software that works (famous last words). Cequadrat's WinOnCD and Packet CD already support EIDE drives, as do Adaptec's Easy CD Creator 3.01a and Direct CD 2.0.

DAT'S (Not) The Way To Do It


The reason why I finally decided to enter the CD‑R arena is that, increasingly, my two DAT recorders are becoming a bit redundant. I have a Sony TCD‑D7 portable which I still use occasionally for location work, but the desktop model is only used for cloning DAT tapes, and for pre‑mastering of albums. The problem is that DAT tapes don't always travel well and, despite having my machines lined up on various occasions, I have had several major problems when other people have tried to read my tapes. In addition, having been spoilt by the graphic interface of applications such as Cubase VST, Wavelab and Sound Forge, I've been finding having to jiggle the position of the DAT IDs marking individual tracks tedious by comparison.
Using CD pre‑mastering applications such as Wavelab and CD Architect, you get used to being able to shift tracks backwards and forwards to get the gaps exactly right, create digital fade‑ins and fade‑outs or cross‑fades between tracks, and edit out the tiniest of stray ticks and pops. The thought of having to send the result to DAT seems a retrograde step. Being able to complete the process in the computer and burn a master CD‑R with the PQ codes tweaked to perfection seemed the natural thing to do. The beauty of CD burning is that you are effectively auditioning the final product.

A Major Rewrite

Yamaha kindly sent me a CD‑RW (rewritable) disc to try out, along with the latest versions of Adaptec's Easy CD Creator and Direct CD. We've covered Easy CD Creator before (in the Yamaha CD400tx review in the December '97 SOS), but Direct CD is a fairly new program that allows you to read files from and write files directly to a CD‑R or CD‑RW disc, from any normal Windows 95 program, such as Explorer, Word, or Cubase. Direct CD is transparent to the system, so you can use drag and drop, or the 'Save' or 'Save As' options in any application, and point to your CD‑R drive. Once installed, its icon appears on your taskbar, and you can right‑click on this to format, eject, or examine a disc in your CD‑R drive.

The technology behind Direct CD is packet writing (Cequadrat have a similar product called Packet CD), and this overcomes the usual deficiency of CD‑R writing, by enabling you to write in much smaller data chunks than you can in either the DAO (Disc At Once) or TAO (Track At Once) modes (see Mike Collins' Compact Disc Formats feature in the January '97 SOS for more details on these two). The file system itself is based on the UDF (Universal Disk Format) v1.5 protocol, which is designed so that any CD‑R drive can be used as a standard logical device on a computer system — it just appears as another drive letter for both reading and writing.

After formatting my CD‑RW disc for use with Direct CD, I was rather surprised to find that I only had 493Mb of storage available. Given that CDs normally hold 650Mb of data (or up to 740Mb, 74 minutes of audio, which uses less error correction) I initially thought I had a faulty blank, but apparently not. The overhead for the packet blocks is about 14% of the total space available, and Direct CD also uses about 32Mb for mapping any bad sectors during the life of the disc. A further 10Mb is used if you close the session so that other drives can read the data. The space left is 493Mb. Also note that since small gaps are created between each packet, read‑ahead optimisation normally needs to be switched off on your PC, and this will reduce the read speed of any other CD‑ROM drive in your machine as well.

However, packet writing has its advantages: you can read and write many small files and treat your CD‑RW drive just like any other hard drive, including deleting individual files. For a smaller number of larger files, TAO mode will give you more room to play with, and for complete disc images DAO is the way to go, but packet writing is an ideal way to keep incremental backups of smaller amounts of data, and although CD‑RW writing is a lot slower than saving to Zip or Jaz drives, it's still quite good value, at about £15 for 439Mb of storage.

PC Snippets

Well, it's happening — Pentium II processor prices are dropping. You can now buy a Pentium II 233MHz chip for just over £200. Considering that this time last year you would have paid around the same price for a Pentium 166MHz MMX chip, I think we can safely assume that Intel intend us to all update on a yearly basis. Somehow, I don't think it's going to happen.

However, for those of us who do want to climb gracefully onto the upward spiral, Novatech have now introduced a Pentium II version of their Bare Bones system (first mentioned in the January issue). For the modest sum of £175 including VAT, you get an ATX case fitted with 3.5‑inch floppy drive and an LX440 chipset motherboard. This supports Pentium II processors between 233 and 333MHz, DIMM RAM, the new AGP graphics buss, and Ultra DMA/33 hard drives. Simply add your choice of processor and RAM. You can use the hard drive, monitor, mouse and keyboard from your current machine, giving you a fairly cheap but significant upgrade path. Contact Novatech on 0800 777300.

Frankfurt Musikmesse

I've just returned from the huge annual Frankfurt music fair. Probably the most interesting news I heard is that Emagic and Steinberg have reconciled their differences and are now supporting each other's products (the MDs of the two companies were even photographed smoking the pipe of peace during the show). A press release from Emagic states that the forthcoming version 3.1 of Logic Audio for PC (Silver, Gold, or Platinum) will support DirectX plug‑ins, and the Mac version will support the VST plug‑in standard. These updates should be available by the beginning of May. Emagic are also now committed to producing a driver for the Audiowerk 8 card that will enable its features to be accessed fully from Cubase VST.

The update to Cubase VST 3.551 (aka 3.55 revision 1) is now available free to registered users, and besides adding rewritten drivers for more solid sync with both MIDI and audio, it offers a new switchable higher quality EQ option (shown here), which also extends the normal +/‑12dB EQ range to +/‑24dB.

On the other hand, Steinberg will be benefitting from Emagic's AMT (Active MIDI Transmission) technology, which is claimed to provide software sequencers with the same timing stability as hardware ones. AMT uses the Unitor 8 interface, and bypasses the limitations of the MIDI serial port by moving the timing engine into the hardware interface. For MIDI systems that use more than eight outputs, timing accuracy should be significantly better.

Other news from Steinberg is the announcement of Cubase VST/24, a new flagship 96kHz/24‑bit‑capable version which will replace Cubase Audio XT shortly, and which also supports the forthcoming Yamaha DS4216 soundcard. Together they provide full 02R functionality and up to 24‑bit resolution through the entire system.

Also on the sequencer front, Cakewalk announced that version 7 of their range (Home Studio, Professional and Pro Audio) will have an attractive virtual MIDI + Audio mixing console, as well as 32‑bit floating‑point audio effects.

Ensoniq have released version 1.2 of their Paris software, which now offers 24‑bit recording and playback. Eight‑channel 24‑bit I/O modules are also now available to fit the MEC (Modular Expansion Chassis) rack unit. Waves have added three more effects to their budget EasyWaves plug‑in bundle. For the same price you now get not only the Audiotrack and EZVerb, but also a 3‑band EQ, configurable reverb, and a compressor. The new plug‑ins are said to require very little CPU power.

Finally, I also saw Event's Layla soundcard in action, along with a new control utility for the entire Event soundcard range (Darla, Gina, and Layla), which replaces the standard Windows 95 mixer applet. Layla is due to start shipping in 2‑3 weeks, so by the time you read this, availability ought to be reasonably assured. Fingers crossed!

Going Native

The Generator, from Native Instruments, is a software synthesizer which allows you to create low‑latency synths using modular synthesis, connected by virtual patchcords. We hope to review the forthcoming version 1.5 (previewed at Frankfurt) shortly. In the meantime, why not try the demo of version 1.2 at www.native‑