Thursday, May 27, 2010

Audio CD Mastering Drives and Lite-On iHAP422 Review

Well I just installed my new Lite-On Drive iHAP422. In Audio Mastering the "standard" I guess was to get a Plextor Drive since they had this awesome CD tester called Plextools. Well Lite-On has a similar product called K-Probe. Plextor and Lite-On are the only ones that provide this capability. But Lite-On does make drive for lots of other brands. There is also Nero's DVD-Speed and DVDInfoPro which support selected brands and models as well.

"Mastering" technically is the creation of a glass master for replicated or stamping CD's. Duplication is burning CD-R's. So besides the sonic and creative aspects, a mastering engineers job is to pre-master a CD ready for the replication plant. To spec, a CD must have below 220 C1 errors per 10 second chunk which is actually quite high. Most respected mastering houses shoot for below 100, many for below 50. And you want no C2 Errors or CU errors.

In a nutshell C1 Errors are correctable errors, the others are not. They are caused by a combination of the media, drive, and the speed. There are a lot of internet folklore as to why this happens and I don't really know either. In general, slower tends to be better, but on modern faster drives, half the recommended speed tends to give better results. But really every drive and media combination is different. Some media/drive combinations may want full speed.

Taiyo-Yuden is regarded as the most consistently good media. They recently got bought out by JVC and used to be TDK. Most shelf brands buy their media from wherever they can get it the cheapest, so your results will definitely vary. So you will have to test on your own, but Taiyo-Yuden is cheaper in bulk online than shelf-brands anyway.

Back in the old days, things were a LOT more finicky. I own a SCSI Plextor Drive and a SCSI Yamaha drive since they were the best for their time. They were very picky about media. These days it doesn't matter as much but it is still something to keep in mind if you are burning your own masters for replication.

Better yet, leave it to a Mastering Engineer. But so many bands are going DIY or having their Mixing Engineers do the mastering. So for you guys:

  • Plextors are hard to find and are expensive. Lite-On's are cheap and relatively easy to find.
    Buy Taiyo-Yuden, JVC, or TDK media, or do a lot of testing and tuning.
  • Get K-Probe. Test your masters after burning them. Shoot for below 100 C1 Errors per Second, I would say 50.
  • Learn your burner and find which speed gives the lowest BLER/C1. But half-speed is a good starting point.
  • Test EVERY disc. It only takes a minute and you know what you are sending out is good.
  • I still listen to every disc too on an old CD-Player just to be extra sure and listen for clicks and pops or any other weirdness. The band should do the same.

This particular drive so far is quite nice. From reading reviews, many are DOA so test it as soon as you get it so you can get another if it breaks. It is very fast and pretty quiet while burning. It has LightScribe which is cool for labeling discs, but terribly slow (20 mins for a full Disc). Now that I have a Disc Printer I will not bother with it anymore, but I have media to get through.

Just pulling some craptastic media, I was able to get a BLER of 11 and 66 TOTAL at 16X. Can't complain about that! I think on the report it was actually POSTECH!

With my new stock of Taiyo-Yuden Ink Jet Hub Printable Non-Branded media I got 0.. that's right ZERO C1 errors across the board! AMAZING! Call me crazy, but I think it even SOUNDS better than the crappy media. I have heard this theory before, I think it might be mostly placebo and I don't have the time to scientifically A/B double blind.

My old stock of TDK media on my ASUS drive gave me a BLER of 5 with 31 total which is quite impressive as well. So many drives will be fine for burning, but you can only test with a handful of them. You might as well go with a Lite-On where K-Probe is free and you get an awesome drive as well!

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