Creating custom audio CD-ROMs is no longer an exotic pastime practised by those blessed with more money than sense. CD-ROM writers, or burners, are now widely available and affordable enough for us common folk, and they come with software so simple that a reasonably bright chimpanzee could burn a CD.
As easy and economical as this process may be, the software that ships with today's CD-ROM burners - usually Adaptec's Toast - isn't full-featured enough to produce truly professional audio CDs. If you want to create discs without audible gaps between tracks, tracks that crossfade into each other, or an audio master CD for a CD-mastering house, you need Adaptec's Jam 2.5, Digidesign's MasterList CD 2.1 or Emagic's WaveBurner 1.0. The one you select depends on your hardware, the intended purpose of your CD and your tolerance for an unintuitive interface.
Hold the Toast, please
Unlike Toast, which produces both data and audio CDs, the three applications we reviewed create only audio CDs that conform to the Red Book standard. All three let you work with the minutiae of Red Book audio - the P and Q sub-codes that control such aspects of audio CDs as copy protection and index numbering. The apps also let you create crossfades between tracks and tweak the volume of individual tracks. Although none of the three requires special audio cards (you no longer need an add-on audio board to use MasterList CD), hardware is still a consideration. MasterList CD, for example, lets you monitor your tracks through Digidesign's audio cards, which output sound at higher bit rates than Apple's 16-bit Sound Manager. WaveBurner offers similar support for Emagic's Audiowerk cards, but the version we tested doesn't yet support Digidesign cards. Likewise, MasterList CD won't recognise the Emagic cards. Jam is content to route sound through any card that has a Sound Manager driver.
Another consideration is the kind of work you do. MasterList CD is intended for professional users who prepare reference CDs for duplication. Unlike the other applications, it lets you set up to 100 reference points within a CD track list; you can compare the volume among several tracks by calling up different locations in the playlist.
Complete though MasterList CD may be, its interface is anything but friendly. There are very few graphical elements here - mostly number fields and dialogue boxes. Also, unlike Jam and WaveBurner, MasterList CD doesn't support drag and drop; you must add tracks via a dialogue box rather than simply dragging sound files into a track list. And, regrettably, MasterList CD is copy-protected.
Riding the Wave
WaveBurner's interface is a different story. This program looks very much like an audio editor, complete with waveforms and graphic handles that you drag to adjust the length and shape of crossfades. You can also increase or decrease the gap between tracks by dragging; simply click on the track and drag it left or right. Like Jam, WaveBurner has a preview feature that plays all the transitions from track to track sequentially - helpful when you want to review the pacing of your CD. And WaveBurner lets you record audio directly into the program; the other two applications require that you first record audio into a separate program.
Jam's interface is much like Toast's. To create a track list, you drag and drop files into Jam's main window. From there you can create crossfades using the MasterList method: choose a crossfade type; set the duration of the crossfade in a numeric box; and determine whether it occurs pre-splice, centred or post-splice.
As with Toast, you can adjust the RAM cache, preventing underrun errors, and test each track individually before committing to the burn.
One annoyance I hope Adaptec will address in a future version is Jam's inability to impose track markers, something both MasterList CD and WaveBurner support.
In other words, you can't take one long audio file - the side of an LP, for example - and then place a track marker at the beginning of each cut. Instead, you must create regions in the file using another program and then bring the file into Jam.
Audio-mastering engineers who own Digidesign audio cards should ignore MasterList CD 2.1's rough interface and stick with the best tool for their trade. Jam 2.5 is also perfectly capable, but WaveBurner 1.0 costs $US100 less and is more flexible. In this case, I'll take my Toast with WaveBurner instead of Jam.
The bottom line
MasterList CD 2.1
Pros: Autolocate function; support for Digidesign hardwareCons: No drag-and-drop support; unintuitive interface; expensive; copy-protectedPrice: $US495 from Web site.
The bottom line
Pros: Intuitive waveform editing; direct recording into programCons: No autolocate functionPrice: $US199 from Web site.
The bottom line
Pros: Drag-and-drop support; individual track testingCons: Can't impose track markersCost: Available on application from Web site.