This standalone, cross-platform application allows mastering engineers to provide complete evaluation masters to artists. If you're wondering why this matters, it means that artists can review masters remotely. There is no need to ship a physical CD. There is no need for the band to travel to the mastering house. This saves money and hastens the approval process.
Here's how it works. The mastering house provides the client with a copy of DDP Player OEM and a license code. The client installs the application on a PC or Mac. The mastering engineer exports the client's finished project in DDP 2.0 format. (Version 1 is also supported.) The DDP files are transferred to the client electronically or on physical media such as CD-R, USB drive, or hard drive. The client imports the files into DDP Player OEM for review. To be sure the DDP is a bit-for-bit clone of the master, the Tools menu lets you check the MD5 checksum file for validation. (This topic is beyond the scope of this article, but an MD5 checksum is a cryptographic hash function used to check the integrity of files.) Inside the program, the audio can be auditioned via the onscreen playback controls or can be burned as a reference copy by the client's machine. A PQ reference sheet can be viewed or printed, allowing the client to confirm spellings for CD TEXT and ISRC allocations.
Of course, audio engineers have been able to send audio over the internet for quite some time, but sending individual songs is not the same as a complete master. Reviewing factors such as crossfades, relative loudness, and spacing has been difficult at best. Of course, people have cobbled together workarounds. Some engineers send disc images or Roxio Toast images, but these options require that the client owns a copy of Toast or Jam and has the computer skills to import the image, load it, and make a copy. And there's always the send-one-big-glob-of-audio option, but that doesn't show where start and end flags will be, etc.
The OEM version has all the features of the regular Sonoris DDP Player application but comes with a customized splash screen and help section with your studio branding, logo, name, address, and website URL. For example, when I send DDP Player OEM to my clients, the branding elements, including the application icon, are plastered with Treelady Studios' logo and contact information. OEM customers receive a license from Sonoris allowing engineers to send any number of copies freely to customers.
Since many clients are concerned about the security of their intellectual property, a Security Option is available as an additional-cost option. Its most significant feature is encryption of the file-set that precludes anyone but the intended receiver from opening the DDP. A second security feature limits DDP imports so a customer can only open a DDP coming from your studio, preventing the load-in of competitors' DDP files.
Of course, if you're still wondering what a DDP is, you're not alone. With audio CDs being the predominant delivery format, there are mastering engineers who haven't heard of DDP. DDP stands for Disc Description Protocol, a format originated by Doug Carson Associates (DCA). DDP was extended to DVD in 1996, with High Density formats added in 2006, and continues to be licensed and kept current by DCA. When it was a popular album delivery format, DDP masters were written to 8 mm Exabyte tape, 4 mm DAT, or Digital Linear Tape (DLT), and shipped to the plant. As the data tape formats began to fade (and CD burners became more affordable), fewer masters were submitted via DDP. For a while, it seemed like a burned CD was the only format most plants received.
However, not everyone gave up on DDP and with good reason. DDP has some advantages over a master CD. First, it reduces a step in the manufacturing process. Audio Master CDs must be read at the plant and made into a DDP for pressing. Supplying a client-approved DDP removes one layer (and chance for errors) from the equation. Second, DDPs are written as data, with better error detection and correction routines than those used for audio CDs. A third advantage comes from sending a compressed DDP or DDP with a CRC checksum to the plant. The plant can verify that the DDP is a 100% bit-for-bit copy of what's on the mastering house's hard drive. You can't do that with an audio CD. (To be fair, the number of CDs released using Master CDs is insanely large. And the vast majority of those releases had zero technical issues.)
Sonoris DDP Player supports both Windows and Mac OS X operating systems. Although there was a minor driver glitch with certain Apple burners, DDP Player has been rock-solid throughout testing and implementation phases. Even users with little computer experience can install, open, and load their DDP in a few minutes.
My concerns with this application are minor. First, the menu terms Import and Export have been confusing to users in USA, who have been trained by Microsoft to look for commands like Open or Burn. Another small issue deals with how ISRC codes are displayed on the track grid. Per the Red Book Standard, the ISRC is written at the first flag of a given track. This sometimes leads to confusion. For example, track 1 must have a 2 second pause index before the start-of-track marker. Thus, the ISRC for the first song displays on the 2 second pause line instead of the track 1 start line. Likewise, any time there is a pause between songs, the ISRC will be displayed on the pause marker line instead of the track title line. While this makes perfect sense to those of us on the technical side of the art, it is confusing to artists. Every time I've had a client with ISRC allocations, they have complained that they did not understand why the codes show up with some songs sometimes and on pauses other times. My thought is Sonoris could either go through a big recode that forces the ISRC to go alongside the song name (which would be imprecise according to the standard) or add a note on the audition screen that warns users that ISRCs must appear on the first flag of a track, which may or may not be the same line where the track name is. (At press time, Sonoris informed me that they are working on enhancements to the graphic user interface to decrease confusion over ISRC placement.)
Users have also had every kind of "how do I do this?" question. But Sonoris includes a well-documented help section that answers just about every question someone might have. If people would only Read the Furnished Manual (RTFM)! There is also a video tutorial page on the Sonoris website, with new content being added frequently.
My clients have been very pleased with DDP Player. In particular, those with specific sequencing requests are most impressed. DDP Player OEM provides a level of certainty that their manufactured CDs will play the way they intended it to play. Short of creating a custom-coded solution or having clients that have professional studios (so you could send them your project files), I can't think of a better way to offer reference masters for approval. A fully functional 10-day demo can be found on the Sonoris website.($367 direct, $123 for Security Option)
by AJ Wilhelm
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