Recordable CD Comes of Age
In an article originally published in LINE UP magazine in June 1995,
Clive Williamson assesses the impact of CD-Recordable to date, and looks
to its future now that computers and recording systems are becoming more
integrated through units like the new Yamaha CDE100 compact disc writer.
When I first wrote in Line Up about CD-Recordable in 1992, it seemed
that the possibilities it opened up were enormous, and that the system -
like many emerging technologies in broadcast studios - would soon catch
on in a big way. Surprisingly, so far this has not been the case, but I
think things really are about to change for CD-R, and it still could become
a common currency for archiving and broadcasting audio in the near future.
CD-R takes the idea of the basic Compact Disc a step further by allowing
individuals to make their own CDs. It offers the facility to write digital
data directly to a specially-surfaced blank disc using a CD mechanism with
a high power laser that can 'burn' the data into a layer of green or yellow
dye. The disc cannot be altered once it has been written, but it can be
played on any normal CD player, and - if cared for reasonably - has a similar
expected lifetime to that of normal mass-produced CDs.
CD-R has already made a number of in-roads into broadcasting
organisations. According to Martin O'Donnell at HHB (who distributed
the original Yamaha 601 and Marantz CDR-1 recorders) users of CD-R machines
now include Virgin, JFM, Abbey Road and Channel
4, and even Radio Latvia has bought one. HHB have noticed a significant
increase in customers for CD-R lately, and have now launched their own brand
of CD Recordable media - a disc holding up to 74 minutes of audio or computer
data - and capable of being written to at up to six times the normal rotational
speed of a CD player. Increased writing speeds are now possible in a new
breed of CD-R drive which was first developed for the computer industry
and can handle much higher data rates by using the Small Computer System
Interface (or SCSI, pronounced "skuh-zee") found on most desktop
PCs, including those used in digital audio editing systems.
But are HHB following trends here, or trying to set them? Up to now
the growth in this potentially useful form of recording has certainly been
slower than I, for one, would have expected. Several factors seem to have
held CD-R back so far:
* The high initial cost of CD-R machines and recordable media (at
first the discs cost £15-£20 each).
* The time taken to produce DAT masters for duplication.
* Difficulty transferring DAT and audio to the CD recorders with
accurate track start-points.
*A significant fall in the cost of pressing CDs, and a reduction
in the minimum quantity that has to be produced at a time.
*Doubts about the long-term stability of the medium.
As with any sector of broadcasting today, nothing stands still for long,
and the converging technologies of digital recording and editing systems,
powerful desktop computers and simpler, more cost-effective CD technology
make a strong swing towards CD-R increasingly likely in 1995. A major factor,
according to the BBC's Ian Astbury, could be the growth in digital
awareness amongst both producers and operators, with the widespread use
of computer-based editing systems such as SADIE, Fairlight, Sonic Solutions
and ProTools III. "CD and DAT both have their good and bad points as
a medium for mastering and archiving audio," he observes, "but
I'm disappointed that CD-R hasn't been used as much as I'd hoped."
Ian has been following the progress of CD-R since it's early days, and has
recently been asked to check CD-Rs recorded both within and outside the
BBC which have caused trouble on transmission. "The problems we've
experienced are due to a lack of care in handling, especially at the time
of recording the discs," he says. "We've discovered black spots
on the dye layer which are caused by dust particles on the CD's surface
casting a shadow at the time of recording with the laser." These black
spots give bursts of errors on playback, and once the error rate reaches
an incorrectable level the disc can skip or stop altogether. So the message
is to keep the discs absolutely clean until they've been burned.
Despite this, Ian Astbury certainly hasn't been put
off the CD-R format. For example, his research indicates that both the Yamaha
CDE100 and Sony CDW-900E make very good recordings on 74 minute blanks,
and he is quick to point out that there are already about 3000 CD-R discs
in regular use at the BBC, mostly made at Brookman's Park and the Radiophonic
Proof of the Pudding
By this time I was hooked on the idea of trying the new generation of
CD writers, and spoke to James Suart, CD-R Product Manager for the
Tyrell Corporation, for some guidance. He told me that CD-R was relatively
big in computer markets, but was only just beginning to attract the interest
of their broadcast customers. "The Sony CDW-900E has been the de facto
machine with its comprehensive digital encoding and the facility to chain
up to 16 devices, but the Yamaha CDE100 is being taken up well in music
and audio mastering, because it can work with both SADIE and Digidesign
software", he said. "It's a fairly new kid on the block, but it's
really beginning to catch on in the UK because it is good value and can
write CDs at up to quad speed."
Now I already use Digidesign's Sound Designer II software and need to
master audio CDs to the full Red Book standard. I also want to author my
own CD-ROMs - and I archive large amounts of computer data - all on a limited
budget. Oh well, blank CDs are less than a tenner now, so I decided to try
Toasting the Yamaha CDE100
Yamaha's new CD writer connects easily to the SCSI interface of a PC,
or an Apple Quadra or Power Macintosh, but requires specialist computer
software to drive it. For my Mac system Yamaha recommended the German company
Astarte's Toast CD-ROM Pro software, which can write entire discs
- or single tracks - of either audio or computer data, and even mixtures
of the two! The software is straight-forward to use, and allows you to choose
which data or audio to write, and how fast you want to write it. It also
has test and simulation modes, which are very important, as
the limiting factor controlling the maximum CD writing speed is the rate
at which audio files can be read off your hard disc drive and fed to the
CDE100 itself. I went for a gigabyte of storage on a Quantum 1080 AV drive,
which can run very fast for long periods without stopping to recalibrate
itself, and hence is ideal for CD-R applications. My audio tracks were imported
and edited on Sound Designer and, where necessary, cleaned up with the very
useful DINR (Digidesign Intelligent Noise Reduction) plug-in software. Toast
then lets you import tracks into a running order and write them to a blank
The process is relatively painless, and incredibly rewarding!
Imagine the possibilities: CD 'juke boxes' of favourite tracks; personal
collections of Sound Effects; programmes mixed from digital editors like
SADIE and ProTools III which can be easily auditioned, stored and cued up
for transmission; jingle packages; fully P & Q coded Red Book CDs which
can be used for mastering commercial CDs; backing tracks for special events;
standby programmes... the list is endless.
Of course there are a few anomalies to be resolved: Toast works at up
to 4x speed from my clanky (but trusty) old Mac IIcx and from Quadras, producing
a one hour CD in just over 15 minutes, but as yet the software/Yamaha combination
can only manage 2x speed on my new Power Mac 8100/80, and no-one can tell
me why! (This was eventually sorted out, and 4x is fine now! - Ed.)
Currently SADIE can only (only!) drive the CDE100 at twice speed, and the
true shelf life of the CDs is still a mystery. But the number of CD-R machines
is growing all the time. Astarte already have Toast CD-DA which gives
finer control over Digital Audio mastering from standard AIFF and SoundTools
II audio files including adjustable gaps between tracks, advanced coding,
and selectable pre-emphasis flags. Digidesign are also busy, and are about
to release a new version of their MasterList software which can drive
the Yamaha CDE100.
The CD format is rare in having developed such popularity with both
the public and broadcasters alike. Producers are now used to recording and
mastering on DAT tape, and are looking for further high quality digital
tools in their studios. Judith Bumpus from the BBC's Arts and
Features was one of the first producers to try mastering a radio programme
to CD-Recordable. As she points out, "After spending a lot of time
getting good recordings and editing them on a computer, one wants something
that goes out easily and is of the highest quality!" Judith
likes to use the latest technology if it's appropriate, and she sees CD-R
as the next logical step for mixing down her work. Her programme Building
a New Britain was successfully transmitted from CD, and could easily
pave the way for more CD-Rs in the BBC's Continuity Suites.
Driven by both audio and computer manufacturers, the cost of CD technology
is falling all the time, and Kodak's Photo CD system has helped to reduce
the cost of blank CDs for everyone, so it looks as if CD-Recordable is ready
to fight its way into our studios at last! Let's hope the larger broadcasting
organisations are formulating a consistent policy for its future.
This artice originally appeared in the June/July 1995
issue of the
Institute of Broadcast Sound's magazine LINE UP. www.ibs.org.uk
Credits: The main CD image was digitally captured using an Epson GT-9000
colour scanner and adjusted in Adobe Photoshop on an Apple Power PC. Thanks
to Astarte in Germany, and Jim Corbett and Nick Howes of Yamaha's Media
Technology Division for their help in preparing this article. Hot links
to those sites soon...
NB (July 1995): Astarte are about to release Toast CD-DA Version 2, which contains many new features previously found only in Digidesign's Masterlist software.
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