Review: Roxio Toast with Jam
Posted Jun 1, 2002

Roxio's latest Mac recording release, Toast with Jam, might be more aptly named Jam with Toast: it's Jam, Roxio's pro audio CD recording software, that's enjoyed the upgrade here, jumping from version 2.6 to 5.0, and bundled for the first time with Roxio's Toast Titanium general-purpose product. Should happy Jam 2.6 users feel compelled the make the upgrade to Toast with Jam? Jam 5.0 entices with several enhancements and new features, such as vastly improved crossfade capability and a nice new version of Peak LE, not to mention leveraging Toast's up-to-date recorder support. For registered Toast Titanium users with pro audio aspirations, Toast with Jam is well worth considering for the $99 upgrade price.

June 2002|Often, the appearance of progress can be revealed as an illusion. Virtually all things change over time, but do they all change for the better? For all their continuing success and the latter-day refinement of their craft, did the Beatles ever really improve on "Please Please Me" and "She Loves You"? Does that new remote control you just unwrapped, with four times as many buttons as your old one, really make your home-theater setup easier to use?

Roxio's new Toast with Jam product takes two mainstays of Macintosh CD recording and presents them as a single product. The Jam component sees its first significant upgrade in two years (it jumps from version 2.6 to 5.0). Does it represent progress? There are indeed very real and significant changes in the new amalgam. And, happily, most of those turn out to be improvements.

pass the toast, please
When you hit the big "Record" button on Jam's interface, Toast launches for the actual recording process; Jam itself no longer offers built-in recording functionality. In practice, the process is remarkably seamless (for the most part), and my iMac DV (with 64MB RAM) didn't miss a beat even though two applications were open during the burning process rather than just one. However, that process now takes longer than it did with the older, standalone versions of Jam. When the user hits "Record" button, Jam immediately begins constructing a disc image for Toast to burn—a multiminute process that was not necessary in Jam before. When that's finished, Toast pops up to ask the user for a recordable disc and a choice of write speed. Then the burning begins.

The time added to the recording process may mean little if the various features Toast offers are attractive to you. Toast Titanium offers a wide array of CD and DVD burning capabilities, and several impressive integrated tools, including CD Spin Doctor (most of the functions of which, actually, are also built into the bundled Peak LE-VST). As a user who typically works only with audio and CD, though, I found little to miss in the earlier, standalone Jams, and at first I saw the added time as a liability. But I soon changed my mind as balancing factors came into view.

rebooting not required
I tested Toast with Jam on my iMac DV, running Mac OS 9.2.2 (the software requires 9.1 or above, or OS X v10.1.2), with an external Yamaha CRW6416SX SCSI recorder (connected to one of the iMac's FireWire ports via an Orange Converter, a device that performs flawlessly). When I first tested Jam for EMedia (version 2.1, in 1998), it was a $399 standalone product aimed at audio professionals, not far removed from its roots as Astarte's Toast CD-DA. I reviewed version 2.6 in 2000, which cost $199. The new Jam from Roxio, version 5.0, is no longer a standalone product. You must also have Toast Titanium installed on your Mac for Jam to work. The newly integrated Toast with Jam product costs $199; customers who have already purchased Toast Titanium, priced at $99, can add Jam to their menu for an additional $99.

All of the software in the new bundle runs with Virtual Memory turned on—a very welcome change from previous versions of Toast, Jam, and Peak LE. (In fact, when I tried to run Toast with Jam with Virtual Memory turned off, it would not work.) Because of this, the process of extracting and editing audio tracks, and compiling and burning a CD, requires no rebooting. This qualifies as a major improvement and actually makes up for the extra time the burn process now takes.

As with earlier versions of Jam, the latest version can handle a variety of audio file types, including Jam images, AIFF, MP3, WAV, Sound Designer II regions, and QuickTime-compatible files. New to Jam 5.0 is the ability to process 24-bit audio files.

Toast Audio Extractor, the CD extracting tool that came with past versions of Jam, is nowhere to be seen this time around. Tracks from audio CDs can be extracted simply by adding them to the Jam playlist (by dragging-and-dropping or using the "Add" button or menu command); extraction begins automatically. The resulting files find their way to a folder called "Roxio Extracted Items" on the computer's hard drive. One minor annoyance: I couldn't find a way to name the extracted tracks (which default to a name like "Track 4.aif") as part of the extraction process itself. I had to find the file after the extraction and manually change its name.

crossfading away
Roxio has completely overhauled the crossfading tool within Jam. Crossfades between tracks can be fine-tuned and customized to a degree that older versions of the software couldn't touch.

When you've selected two tracks you want to crossfade, you click the Xfade icon (labeled "XF") on the first one. You're presented with a waveform display, complete with zoom-in tool, within which you can design the crossfade of your dreams.

Three waveforms and three bars appear in the window. The top waveform is the first track, the bottom one is the second track, and the middle one, labeled "CD," lets you see (and manipulate) the way the two tracks overlap.

As for the bars, the green one illustrates the end of the first track, and cannot be moved. The blue bar appears at the start of the second track; this can be moved to determine the amount of waveform overlap and, therefore, the length of the crossfade. Finally, the red bar indicates the point where a CD player will recognize the start of the second track. This can be placed wherever the user desires.

Black curvatures represent the audio fades, and can be manipulated simply by clicking anywhere on them and then dragging the mouse. You can preview fades by clicking the "CD" icon. The "Equal Power" button locks the fades in both tracks to the same length, and balances them perfectly; this should be applied when abrupt fade-ins and -outs are not desired.

Most of the predefined crossfade options offered in earlier versions of Jam are present as well. These include linear, slow out/slow in, slow out/fast in, and fast out/slow in crossfades, each of which are labeled with a distinctive icon (which will be familiar to Jam veterans).

The new crossfading tool might throw seasoned Jam users for a loop, but once you've experimented and played with it for a while, you'll be impressed with the possibilities it opens up. The complexity of crossfades is limited only by the imagination of the user.

we are the normal
As in previous versions of Jam, you can choose the "Normalize" menu command to find the ideal gain setting for an individual track or for all the tracks in your project. Used in tandem with the sound level meter and the easy-to-use gain "lever" for fine-tuning, this continues to be a particularly useful and effective tool. New to Jam 5.0 is a dithering feature that, when activated, automatically removes any distortion that may have resulted from encoding, editing, or normalizing. Today's audio CDs are typically mastered at exceptionally high levels, so this is a timely and welcome addition to Jam's repertoire.

As usual, the Jam CD-ROM also contains an installer for a version of BIAS Inc.'s Peak LE software. The latest version, Peak LE-VST 3.0, offers superb recording and editing capabilities, and even a few freebie plug-ins for adding effects to sound files. I took the opportunity during testing to transfer some favorite tracks from vinyl records to CD-R. While CD Spin Doctor (integrated with Toast Titanium) also can handle the task of creating digital files from analog sources, Peak LE excels at the task. The software facilitates the process with a gain control lever, a choice of encoding formats (AIFF, SDII, WAV, QuickTime, MP3, Jam image, etc.) and even a clock display. The addition of Peak LE to Jam continues to enrich Jam's functionality and performance.

is it a must-buy?
It's easy to hypothesize about Roxio's strategy in choosing to combine Toast and Jam at this point, a move they could have made years ago when they first acquired the products from Astarte, or at virtually any time since when new iterations of either tool became available. Increasingly, Apple is integrating CD recording functionality into the OS, particularly on the audio side with iTunes—standard issue in most recent iMacs, Powerbooks, and desktop G4s. Of course, Toast and Jam (not to mention Peak LE) can do much that the embedded tools can't, but Roxio is probably right in assuming that the advantages are obscure enough to most users that it's worth hedging their bets and offering the two in tandem. On the other hand, the new combo package is clearly more of a Jam release than a Toast release; since there's no upgrade to Toast involved, what we're really looking at is Jam with Toast, rather than the other way around. It will be interesting to see how Roxio packages future upgrades of Toast: they can hardly expect Toast's broader, less pro audio-centric users to start paying $199 or thereabouts for a product they're used to getting for $99.

But for this release, the key question remains: should happy Jam 2.6 users feel compelled to make the upgrade to Toast with Jam? Jam 5.0 entices with several enhancements and new features, not to mention leveraging Toast's up-to-date recorder support. For those who already own Toast Titanium and have found it lacking in the sophisticated audio features that Jam delivers, it's well worth considering for the $99 upgrade price. And those new to CD recording on the Macintosh, free of the consideration of whether the new product represents progress or mere change, will definitely want to try some Toast with Jam. It's a yummy treat.