Like all of Yamaha's LightSpeed3 CD-R drives, the CRW3200EZ features the new Audio Master Quality Recording option. Audio Master Quality Recording improves the sound quality of a CD-R audio recording, Yamaha says, by writing the pits and lands on the disc relatively longer than it would in standard recording mode, thereby reducing jitter on the recording. The net effect is that audio CD player then reads the disc at a linear velocity of 1.4 meters per second instead of at the standard 1.2 meters per second, and in that slight time shift, Yamaha says, enough stability is gained to audibly improve the playback experience.
Audio CD players contain an error correction and servo circuit that corrects errors on the discs that the player reads. But after repeated use, that circuit can cause undesirable effects on the player's power supply circuit, which leads to defects like unclear sound positioning, lack of bass, and noise. Reducing the amount of jitter in your recording helps reduce the strain placed on the circuit, which in turn helps to improve overall sound quality.
But Yamaha hastens to add that Audio Master Quality Recording doesn't slow CD recording speeds to improve sound quality, a strategy that audiophiles have advocated for years. "There's a general idea that if you reduce recording to 4X, you get a purer sound," says Allen Gharapetian, for Yamaha. "You do reduce jitter levels when you reduce [recording] speed, but because Audio Master increases the size of the lands and pits on the disc, we're taking a lot of the uncertainly of recording at high speeds away."
Although Audio Master Quality Recording only lets you record 63 minutes of audio rather than 74 or 80 minutes, Gharapedian explains that Yamaha isn't attempting to compete with formats like MP3 and DVD-Audio—both of which offer the option of putting significantly more music on a 120mm disc—preferring instead to appeal to a select group of audiophiles. "With MP3s, the greatest thing is the size of the files," he says. "But we're not after capacity. With Audio Master, you don't really care about the size per se. You just want to create a professional-quality CD."
Leading electronic media research and testing firms agree that Audio Master Quality Recording will reduce disc errors, but they question if consumers will notice a significant difference in audio quality. "If they do achieve the same quality as a high-quality 63-minute disc, then I would think that there would be benefits regarding interchange and longevity," says Jerome Hartke, president, Media Sciences. "But unless defects are introduced that overwhelm the capabilities of the error correction, all discs should sound the same."
"I think it's definitely a step in the right direction, as far as reducing errors," says Jim O'Dea, engineering manager, CD Associates. "Jitter represents a portion of a CD's pit and land length. As you increase pit and land length, the amount of jitter remains the same, but the percentage of jitter on your pits and lands decreases." What's more, O'Dea argues, a feature like Audio Master only solves part of the problem, and even obscures the issue to some extent. "Right now there's an education process that's missing," adds O'Dea. "Most consumers don't understand that disc errors are commonplace, and that the errors on their CDs are corrected by a decoder circuit in the CD player. So Yamaha is technically correct, but for now it's more of a marketing issue than a technical issue."
The CRW3200EZ drive, priced at $199.99, comes bundled with a software package that includes a proprietary version of Ahead Software's Nero 5.5 designed for Yamaha that lets you select Audio Master Quality Recording by clicking an icon onscreen. Each drive also ships with NeroMIX for audio ripping, Nero Wave Editor for editing audio files, Nero Utility for troubleshooting, and the latest version of InCD for packet writing. Other releases in the LightSpeed3 product line include three 24X external drives, all of which will incorporate the AudioMaster feature. The CRW3200SXZ drive with Ultra SCSI interface costs $349.99; the CRW3200FXZ using IEEE 1394 FireWire technology costs $329.99; and the CRW3200UXZ using a USB 2.0 interface costs $299.99.