CD mastering software


True, all CD-Rewritable drives come with CD mastering software; Adaptec Inc.’s Easy CD Creator Deluxe accompanies many drives. However, both Hewlett-Packard Co. and Ricoh Co. recently stopped bundling Easy CD Creator with their drives in favor of competing products. Why does it matter? Software plays a big part in a CD-RW drive’s performance–if you own a CD-RW drive, choosing the right package will help you wring the most value out of it.

Recently there’s been a deluge of new releases, including Ahead Software GmbH’s US$69 Nero Burning ROM 5.0, Stomp Inc.’s $60 Click’N Burn Pro 1.5, NTI Inc.’s $70 CD-Maker 2000 Professional 4.2, and Veritas Software’s $79 MyCD Pro 2.0. Both Click’N Burn and CD-Maker 2000 are based on versions of Prassi’s PrimoCD Plus, which is not available at retail in the United States.

All of these packages will work with most CD-RW or CD-Recordable drives, so we decided to find out if it’s worthwhile to pay extra for one of them rather than simply using whatever comes with a drive.

Our tests showed that all four stack up quite well against Adaptec’s product–in fact, all of the competing products are easy to use, stable, and significantly faster than Easy CD Creator. All four handle the basics with ease: creating data CDs, mixed-mode CDs, audio CDs, CD-to-CD copies, and image files. Like Easy CD Creator, Nero Burning ROM and CD-Maker 2000 also come with packet-writing software, which allows you to erase and rewrite data anywhere on a CD-RW (but not CD-R) disc. However, all but Easy CD Creator 4.02 and CD-Maker 2000 support creating audio CDs only from MP3 files that are encoded in 44.1-KHz, 16-bit stereo format; that means you won’t be able to burn audio CDs from MP3s encoded in other ways, such as monoaural MP3s or higher-quality 48-KHz MP3s, without other software to convert them.

That said, we feel Adaptec’s product still offers the most elegant interface, and the retail version bundles additional handy utilities for performing tasks like backup and photo editing. But if you want to get the most out of your CD-RW drive, you might still look to one of the competitors.

Pick of the Litter

We tested each software package using a Plextor PlexWriter 12/10/32A drive, running on a 650-MHz Athlon system with 128MB of SDRAM. We also used Ricoh’s 9120A CD-RW/DVD combo drive (with 12X/10X/32X CD-RW speed and 8X DVD-ROM speed) and a Ricoh 7083A 8X/8X/32X CD-RW drive for our multiple-drive tests on Nero Burning ROM.

Compared with the new kids on the block, Easy CD Creator 4.02 disappointed with relatively sluggish performance. Both CD Stomper’s Click’N Burn and Veritas’ MyCD Pro work much more quickly. But Click’N Burn’s multiple recorder support makes it a great choice if you own more than one drive and you need to make several identical copies. In contrast, MyCD Pro is more expensive and outdated compared with Click’N Burn; plus, it lacks the ability to create a Video CD (a CD containing MPEG-1 video) and an easy means of adding CD tracks to a new CD. Veritas has an update in the works that will address those deficiencies.

Ahead’s Nero Burning ROM proved to be our favorite for its speed and ease of use. Our second choice, NTI’s CD-Maker 2000 5.0 Professional, is also a great all-around performer and is the only one that does MP3 encoding as well–however, its included FileCD packet-writing software isn’t as slick as Nero’s InCD or Adaptec’s DirectCD.

Adaptec Easy CD Creator Deluxe 4.02

Adaptec’s software has long been the most popular CD mastering application. But Adaptec’s $89 Easy CD Creator Deluxe 4.0 came out over a year ago. The current 4.02 version fixes some bugs, but others remain. The application has conservative settings: It burned our 430MB test folder to disc in a slothful 6 minutes, 7 seconds, and wrote our 430MB image file only slightly more quickly at 5 minutes, 50 seconds.

Still, Easy CD Creator 4.02’s user interface remains the best of the bunch, offering just the right balance of power and friendliness. DirectCD 3.01, Adaptec’s packet-writing software, is bundled, as are CD labeling, backup, and sound restoration programs. However, Easy CD Creator Deluxe doesn’t support editing and writing CD Text (the list viewable on CD Text-compatible CD players that contains the artist, album, song, and other information).

You won’t be seeing Easy CD Creator under the Adaptec label much longer. The company has spun off its software business into a company called Roxio.

Stomp Click’N Burn Pro 1.5

Stomp’s $60 Click’N Burn CD Pro 1.5 was easily the fastest program in the roundup at burning CDs. It wrote our 430MB test folder in a scintillating 5 minutes, 1 second, and handled a 430MB image in only 4 minutes, 56 seconds. Both of those times were more than a minute faster than those of Easy CD Creator. Click’N Burn has had problems writing at 12X on the fly with several recorders on the slower, 400-MHz Celeron system we use as our Top 5 CD-RW Drives test bed. If you own a fast system and burn lots of discs, though, the seconds Click’N Burn saves you can add up to minutes and hours quickly.

Click’N Burn’s learning curve is steeper than it should be. A nonindexed HTML help file is a large part of the problem. We found locating instructions difficult, though more-informative paper documentation and the program’s optional starter page (a limited wizard) ease operation.

The biggest disadvantage to Click’N Burn is its lack of a built-in file browser–which the other programs have. Instead, you must drag files or folders to a CD layout from the Windows Explorer, or right-click and use an embedded option to add files or a folder. Still, once you’re used to the procedure, you can complete jobs more quickly and efficiently than you can with others. Our only other gripe is that Click’N Burn can’t create a bootable CD from scratch.

Click’N Burn allows you to write to up to four recorders at the same time–if they are the same type and use the same firmware revision, and if you have a very fast system. The best we could do on our 650-MHz Athlon system was to burn at 8X to two PlexWriter 12/10/32A drives, and at 4X to three of the same model. Like its competitors, Click’N Burn supports on-the-fly MP3 conversion to audio CD .wav files while writing audio discs. But unlike Easy CD Creator 4.02 and CD-Maker 2000, it can handle only 44.1-KHz, 16-bit stereo MP3 files. The program will record live audio directly to disc if your recorder supports 1X recording (surprisingly, some newer models do not). Though Click’N Burn does not come paired with packet-writing software, Stomp does include its handy CD Stomper labeling software and label applicator tool.

Veritas MyCD Pro 2.0

Veritas Software’s $79 MyCD Pro is a direct cousin to Click’N Burn–both are based on versions of Prassi’s PrimoCD Plus (sold at retail only in Europe). Unfortunately, MyCD Pro is based on an earlier, less capable release of PrimoCD, and even though MyCD Pro is $20 more expensive than Click’N Burn, it lacks the Stomp program’s ability to create Video CDs or record live audio to disc. The Veritas program also uses a less intuitive method for grabbing audio tracks from CD that requires more steps than the other packages we looked at. One minor difference: MyCD Pro’s HTML help file uses a multiframe format, while Click’N Burn’s is single frame.

MyCD Pro proved just as fast as its cousin, burning our 430MB test folder to disc in 5 minutes, 1 second and our 430MB image file in 4 minutes, 57 seconds. Together, those two apps shared honors for the fastest writing times.

Included with every copy of MyCD Pro is MyCD, a separate, more colorful, step-by-step version of the program that will help beginners as they learn the ropes. Alas, though MyCD is congenial to fledgling users, it too has flaws. When you use the audio CD wizard, MyCD automatically searches your drives for audio files, but you can’t interrupt the process or add specific files through a browser. If you have a large number of MP3 files on your hard drive, this arrangement can be an annoying time-waster. You also can’t retreat a step in a process–if you make a mistake you must start all over again. MyCD (like MyCD Pro, Click’N Burn, and Nero Burning ROM) will only handle MP3 files that are encoded in 44.1-KHz, 16-bit stereo format.

MyCD is available separately for only $39; however, its inability to create or burn disc images and its lack of other advanced features will soon frustrate even beginners.

NTI CD-Maker 2000 Professional 2.0

NTI’s CD-Maker 2000 Professional 2.0 is a solid, well-thought-out program that handles all common CD formats–including Video CDs and CD Extra (which allows data and audio on the same disc, with the audio being burned first)–and features an integrated jewel-case insert designer. CD-Maker 2000 ($70 street, $55 download) is also the only program other than Click’N Burn that will record live audio directly to CD. It can create bootable CDs from scratch, too. A separate program, FileCD, is included to handle packet-writing tasks.

CD-Maker 2000’s intuitive interface is the normal two-paned (file browser and CD layout) affair with a twist: It also offers step buttons on the left side that take you through each phase of the disc creation process without invoking pedantic wizards. The program’s help file is excellent as well, clearly covering all the necessary topics. CD-Maker 2000 wrote our 430MB test folder to disc in 5 minutes, 12 seconds and our 430MB image file in 5 minutes, 16 seconds–slower than MyCD Pro and Click’N Burn, but easily faster than Easy CD Creator.

CD-Maker 2000 Professional and Easy CD Creator are the only programs that can decode MP3 files that are in formats other than 44.1-KHz, 16-bit stereo. CD-Maker 2000 is the only program to offer built-in MP3 encoding (it does so at up to 320 kilobits per second).

Nero Burning ROM 5.0

Don’t let this program’s bad-pun moniker fool you. This package from German software house Ahead Software is a serious, powerful product. Nero Burning ROM 5.0 provides a multipanel interface that is nearly as slick as Easy CD Creator’s, and the program offers friendly optional wizards for most CD creation tasks. Nero is the only program in our roundup that will also create Super Video CDs (Video CDs with MPEG-2 instead of MPEG-1 files) and Mac-native HFS discs.

The software burned our 430MB test folder to disc in a competitive 5 minutes, 10 seconds and our 430MB image file in 5 minutes, 6 seconds. Unlike Click’N Burn, Nero Burning ROM also supports burning to two recorders simultaneously, a feature that may or may not work depending on the two drives you use. Our first attempt with our PlexWriter 12/10/32A drive and our Ricoh MP9120A combo DVD/CD-RW drive failed, but after we replaced the PlexWriter with an 8X/8X/32X Ricoh MP7083, 8X simultaneous writing proceeded without a hitch. If you have two drives and want to see if Nero’s multirecorder feature works with them, download the fully functional (it expires in 30 days) demo from the Ahead Web site.

We were pleasantly surprised by Nero’s clearly written help file, and we had no problem finding the answer to any of our burning questions. Nero is also the potential bargain of this review: Purchasing a serial number to unlock the demo is only $49. However, to get Ahead’s elegant InCD packet-writing software, you’ll have to buy the retail version of Nero Burning ROM for $69. Also included in the full-price bundle are Rocky Mountain Traders’ exPressIt label-design software and a media player. An MP3 encoding plug-in is available, but it costs an extra $15.

Copyright 2000 PC (US), International Data Group Inc. All rights reserved.

Prices listed are in US currency.