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Burning needs

CD-burning applications all do it a little differently.

Somewhere, Karl Marx must be smiling at how the means of compact-disc production have been co-opted by the masses. By now, everyone and his mother (including mine) has the luxury of a CD-burning unit on his or her computer. But even this bit of utopia comes with a price: Once you have a burner, you have to shop for burning software, and the options and variations in this area are plentiful and varied. This month we’ll look at a few burning applications that have come our way recently, in hopes of simplifying the process.

Roxio’s Easy CD Creator 5 is probably the most versatile of the lot; in fact, it has more versatility than most people will need. Aside from an array of musical functions, it can be used for data storage, as well as for editing and enhancing photos and video. But if all you’re after is something to make CDs with, Easy CD Creator 5’s $99 list price might seem a bit steep. Odds are with a little hunting, you can find the basics much more cheaply.

Nero’s Burning ROM should be upgraded to a $15 version 5.5 by the time you read this. Burning ROM is posing a strong challenge to Roxio, the reigning king of Windows-based burning software, thanks mostly to its versatility. There are few such programs that can do everything Burning ROM can, especially at such a skimpy price. My favorite feature is its ability to put exact intervals of silence between individual tracks, or to crossfade between them, which is handy when working with live recordings or other source material that requires smooth segues. Its Achilles heel is its unreliability, especially when burning in disc-at-once mode; about one-third of my attempted CDs have ended up in the trash when I’ve tried to use Burning ROM this way.

Acoustica’s MP3 CD Burner 1.13 is a fairly no-frills unit that offers cross-fading, auto-normalizing, and other features familiar to most users. Its primary selling point seems to be that it can detect incomplete MP3 tracks; I’m not sure what it does once it detects them. My favorite feature of CD Burner is its ability to change pitch or pan sounds (adjust their place in the stereo spectrum) in a track to be burned without affecting the characteristics of the source file. At $16.99, CD Burner is a solid (if frills-shy) application.

The most pleasant surprise of all was Apple’s iTunes. This handy little freeware item, obviously, is for Mac users, whose CD-burning options previously were limited to Adaptec’s Toast and a handful of dodgy shareware apps. iTunes (which requires at least Mac OS 9.1 or OS X) won me over for one simple reason: I’ve probably burned 20 discs with the program, and I don’t have a single dud to show for it. There’s nothing fancy about iTunes’ burning capabilities; in fact, its frills are practically nonexistent. But thanks to a generous buffer capacity, it does its business quickly and unobtrusively (unlike Toast, which monopolizes your Mac), and also contains a radio tuner and an MP3 player/converter.

And though they’re a bit off the subject, I want to mention the Que! M3 and Micro Solutions’ BackPack USB 2.0 portable hard drives. More and more musicians are committing their handiwork to a computer by using various recording and mixing software. Some of us need a way to get the music from place to place without lugging a PC around. That’s where these 80GB-capacity drives come in handy, even if you don’t have any use for its obvious other data-storage functions. Just connect to any USB-enabled computer, and you’ve got a plug-n-play, hot-swappable hard drive in an instant.

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