Now that writable and rewritable DVD's are all the rage right now, not a lot of excitement can be drummed up for new and decidedly better CD-R/RW recorders. However, Yamaha has pulled a neat trick with their newest generation of drives-the CRW-F1 series-and indeed it should get some of us excited. For those of us who need to burn reference audio CDs at home, this new drive offers something really useful: Audio Master mode. I found this feature to be a remarkable improvement over the two previous CD writers I'd owned, as I can actually hear a dramatic difference in the discs I burn.
First, a quick explanation of Audio Master mode. Essentially, this feature allows you to track better across a broader range of CD players and recording media with substantially less jitter. When the CRW-F1 series is in Audio Master mode, longer pits and lands compared to normal audio mode are written at speeds of up to 8x. The folks at Yamaha describe the end result this way: "Any disturbances in the audio-digital data flow, so-called jitter, are reduced considerably in order to achieve the best possible sound quality of audio tracks on CD-R disks. This results in a distinctly audible clarity in the high and medium sound range, full bass reproduction and convincing spatial presentation, thus permitting reproduction which is true to the original."
I have to agree 100%. I burned identical mixes and then played them on the most finicky device I have: my car CD player from 1993. I burned a mix at 4x without Audio Master mode, another copy with it enabled at 4x, and compared both with another earlier disc of the same material made with my old burner. (I should also mention that I used the same brand of media for all discs.)
The difference was striking. The disc burned with AM- mode bested the others. Instead of the typically flat, rather brittle mid and upper midrange I usually get, the AM-mode disc in my car sounded fabulously rich and detailed. Then I compared them all once again with my main home stereo-same result. Finally, in an attempt to try to rule out the possibility of me "hearing what I expect to hear," I performed a blind test on a disinterested third party: my wife. I had her listen to the same song on each of the discs and labeled each one A, B, and C. She picked out disc C-the one with AM-mode enabled-as the best sounding version.
It's important to note that the AM mode is not yet supported by the more professional caliber CD mastering/writing software suites. For example, Wavelab plans to include AM-mode support to coincide with the next version update slated for the spring of 2003. In the meantime. Yamaha includes a special version of Nero Burning ROM (a fine program in its own right) that features AM-mode as a write option.
The CRW-F1 comes in three interface versions: EIDE, SCSI and USB 2.0. Finally, I should also mention that the drive is remarkable silent and produces almost no detectable vibration even at the highest burn speeds. ($119 street; www.yamahamultimedia.com)