Cutting Audio CDs on an Amiga By Adam Hough
This was originally published in Amiga Report 508. I recently picked up a Yamaha CD400T CD-ROM burner. My initial intent was to use the burner to cut my own data CDs, and I'm still using it for that, but recently I've rather changed my priorities. Yes. Audio. Everyone has their custom music mixes on tape, but these days if you're like me you're rather used to being able to skip tracks that just don't appeal to you much at a particular moment in time and for that tape just doesn't cut it. Besides, even with Dolby the hiss from standard tape audio can be quite irritating. Well, the obvious answer is to start burning your own custom audio CD mixes. Now, certain PC users have been making "nya nya nya" noises about being able to do that on their machines so in true bullheaded Amigan fashion I decided to try it out myself. It started easily enough. I tracked down a few pieces of software that would allow me to accomplish the task. On Aminet there are demo versions of some CD-ROM burning software that do audio work in addition to data: MasterISO (from ASIMware of Canada) and MakeCD (from a pair of shareware authors in Germany.) I started with those. MasterISO unfortunately was initially unusable as the version I had did not support the Yamaha drive so I started playing around with MakeCD. Despite a slow start trying to figure out what all the commands meant I soon got the hang of it and decided to work on the first audio CD. I used ASIMware's ASIMcdfs to pull CDDA data off music CDs and stored them on my harddrive. CDDA, for those who're still in the dark, is the format in which audio is encoded on audio CDs. It rather predictably stands for Compact Disk Digital Audio. Then I loaded those tracks into MakeCD and cut my first CD, "Diva". You can probably guess the content (although Annie Lennox doesn't appear on it.) Shortly after that the full version of MasterISO turned up (mail order is a wonderful thing) so I decided to cut a second CD with it, this time focusing on instrumental works. Again I dumped the CDDA to disk and started work. MasterISO's interface is a little less intuitive than MakeCD's but it is functional none the less. As MakeCD in its demo form only allows up to 10 tracks and this CD had 15 tracks I didn't have much choice. On cutting the CD I found a significant problem with my process of grabbing from assorted CDs. With the first one I'd been lucky -- as I'd only been using contemporary rock CDs for source material, the volume level was consistent. With the instrumental tracks I was pulling from a variety of sources, they weren't. This means that a relatively loud track (in terms of recording level) lead to a quiet one (also in terms of recording level) and so on. A number of tracks also started as a continuation of a previous track, so they seemed rather abrupt when starting. The result didn't sound very good. So I began my search for an audio editor capable of editing CDDA. To cut a long story short: there isn't one. So I started looking for alternates based on the fact that ASIMcdfs had the capability to pull off audio in AIFF, MAUD and one or two other formats in addition to CDDA. AudioLab16r2 was highly recommended by people and supported AIFF. I'm sure it is indeed excellent but I couldn't even figure out how to edit a sample. Then I moved over to SinED. Again, it looked good, but the author hadn't implemented any form of virtual memory in it. As the average five minute audio track takes up about 60MB or so, that was not acceptable. I then went through just about everything else I could find. They either were purely 8 bit, didn't support the formats I needed or were reliant on custom hardware that I didn't have. At this point I was getting close to packing it all in. Except I'd not counted on AMUC [Adam's Calgary-based Amiga user group], that wonderful resource. One AMUCcer, John Lees, had a Studio16/AD516 combo that he wasn't using so he was willing to lend it to me. For those who've not been looking at high end audio equipment on the Amiga (probably most of us), this is about as good as it gets. When available commercially a few years ago, the AD516 sold for about $1500 American. In terms of capability and software/hardware integration many PC users who've migrated from the Amiga still wish there was something similar for the PC. Anyway, the hardware is indeed excellent, but the software is a little on the old side now. It's not terribly CyberGraphics capable -- waveforms are mapped to the background colour and so become invisible (making editing very hard) and the entire program runs incredibly slowly. However under DBLNTSC on the internal chipset it runs very speedily. Go figure. It is however nicely 060 compatible (yay) but since almost all of the functionality of the software is based around the board's DSP the processor is almost irrelevant. Studio16 (the software side) is very capable. While not CDDA compatible it is 16 bit AIFF-able so served my purposes admirably. It has a nice waveform editor able to edit stereo waveforms (admittedly split into two simultaneous mono waveforms.) For those of you familiar with older products like Oxxi's AudioMaster the idea is quite simple -- you select areas of the waveform you want to edit and then perform one of the many specified operations such as cutting, volume edits, fades and so on. More importantly it can handle large audio files (up to 2 GB) without needing a corresponding amount of memory. Then it occurred to me that instead of just a sample editor I now had a full audio sampling board. And I had a whole slew of vinyl records that I'd been unable to track down on CD. After some significant hardware moving (as in physically carring stuff around the house in search of a 240v socket; don't ask) I connected the Amiga up to the record turntable and started digitising. At first I tried digitising whole sides of records but had to stop after seeks through the 200+MB files were taking ridiculous times. Again AMUC came to the aid. Bryan Ewert (another AMUCcer) mentioned that perhaps an MS-DOS format filesystem might work better than AmigaDOS's FFS for this sort of thing. So I reformatted a Jaz disk to MS-DOS and watched seeks go from extremely slow (we're talking about 90 seconds here) to instantaneous. This then allowed me to record an entire side and then cut the resulting sample into its component sections. Those I then edited them for running time and content ("it used to be King Lear") and ensured that starting and ending level on each audio track were zero -- otherwise I'd end up with an abrupt audio hiss starting the track. Part of the editing involved removing hiss and pops and other audio glitches inherent in a vinyl source. Pops are little spikes that result from scratches on the record of static hitting the needle and are easy to remove (assuming you can find them rather than just hear them.) Hiss is harder and I've not found (as of yet) a way to remove it without killing the high range of the audio. If anyone has any ideas, please feel free to share them with me. EasyCD Pro (or any other PC based product) is *not* an acceptable answer! There were some interesting side effects from deciding to use MSDOS as the file system. The first one which took me ages to find out was that if I chose a file name longer than 6 characters for the base name, Studio16 hung on recording. Studio16 adds "_L" and "_R" to the samples for each of the audio channels; with more than 6 characters already that breaks the 8.3 rule and the software gets confused resulting in a reboot to clear it. The other problem was more minor. When editing a waveform and cutting and pasting to another sometimes the new file would go one letter over resulting in one audio channel overwriting the other. Mono is nice (I suppose) but it wasn't what I wanted... I did have a few crashes on cutting sections from the audio sample but they've been rare and fortunately have not resulted in any data being lost. Ok, so now we enter the endgame: cutting the newly digitized and edited audio out to CD. As mentioned previously MakeCD had a limit of 10 tracks and I was cutting more so I started using MasterISO. MasterISO unfortunately has a major flaw in its audio cutting routines. It drops a blip right at the start of the track (you don't want this) and roundabout 3-4 seconds in to the each track a second audible glitch (this you most definitely don't want.) I didn't realise this (neither does ASIMware I'd imagine) and burnt a couple of coasters before I discovered where the problem lay. As a test I then burnt a 9 track CD via MakeCD using the same audio data and it was glitch free. Not a happy camper was I. The following day Bryan decided to cut his own CD using data we'd digitized. Being a PC kind of person, while digitizing the audio via Studio16 on the Amiga, he'd done all his editing on a PC using CoolEdit96 in 16 bit WAV format and then brought it back to the Amiga on the Jaz. We used ASIMware's AudioThunder to convert from WAV to CDDA only to find that it generated a file the wrong size to record to CD. A second try converted the audio file to 16 bit AIFF which MakeCD can handle. We then ran the data through a test before going onto the main cutting only to discover that in the demo of MakeCD 10 tracks is the limit per MakeCD session, not CD. Notch up another coaster. In the end we did cut a successful audio CD and from what I've heard back from Bryan it's working just fine (on audio CD players, CD-ROM players and so on.) Certainly the CDs I have cut for myself sound really clear and accurate as the vinyl masters I took them from were in good condition. Obviously a properly mastered commercial CD will sound better, but the results after editing do sound quite excellent. I've not totalled up the cost of all the hardware and software involved in this little project yet, but I'm sure it's rather high. It does work, and it works well. Blank CD-Rs cost between CDN$6-25 and I tend to use the cheaper ones. They've worked for me. [In the US, some stores are offering CD-Rs for $2 and under. You can find rebate deals which even make them free. -Jason] As my registered copy of MakeCD has just turned up I'm looking forward to the upgrade which adds DAO (Disk at Once) to the existing TAO (Track at once.) The former is far more common these days as it allows one track to segue straight into the next; TAO leaves a mandatory 2-3 seconds between tracks meaning that live albumns or ones with crossfades between tracks are not possible. Happy audio burning! Addendum: 1) The MakeCD guys have no idea what caused the problem with the 10 track limit; they can't duplicate it, and I don't want to :) 2) The MasterISO guys have found the sound glitch problem and it's a Yamaha firmware bug. Use 128k buffers instead of 512k ones to get around it. 3) AudioThunder really doesn't pad out CDDA files to the proper size. It's not an accident and apparently will be changed in the next update. 4) Using CyberGraphix v3 the waveform in Studio16 reappears so it's purely a problem in v2.