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Choosing Your CD-R Mastering Program

Once you've crafted your cuesheet using CDRCue Cuesheet Editor, you want to burn a CD.  Which CD-R Mastering Program do you pick?  There are several to choose from, but they are not created equal.  We review recent versions of Roxio Easy CD Creator, CDRWIN, EAC, Nero, Feurio! and FireBurner and reveal which cuesheet commands each can handle, and more interestingly, which ones they can't!   Oct 31, 2003
Roxio Easy CD Creator 6.1

 

Cuesheet Compatibility

The following table shows whether or not each CD-R mastering program is compatible with Cuesheet commands useful for burning Audio CD's.  Cuesheets are also used to burn copy protected Data CD's, but this is beyond the scope of this article.

Cuesheet Command
Example

Roxio Easy CD Creator
6.1
 US$ 69

CDRWIN
3.8G dated 2.19.2002
 US$ 39  +  $19 annual fee

Exact Audio Copy (EAC)
0.9 Prebeta 9
US$ 0 - Cardware!

Nero Burning ROM
5.5.7.8
US$ 49, $19 update from 4.0

Feurio!
1.64
US$ 29, no updates avail.

FireBurner
2.0 beta 4
 $US 29 (incl. free updates)

WAVE
FILE "Cats.wav" WAVE
yes yes yes yes yes yes
MP3
FILE "Cats.mp3" MP3
NO yes yes (*1) yes yes yes
CD-TEXT
TITLE "How Precious"
PERFORMER "Dino"
SONGWRITER "Enya"
  yes yes yes yes (*2) NO (*3)
INDEX 00
INDEX 00 00:00:00
  yes yes yes yes yes
PREGAP / POSTGAP
PREGAP 00:02:00
POSTGAP 00:02:00
  yes yes yes yes NO (*4)
FLAGS
FLAGS DCP 4CH PRE SCMS
           
CATALOG
CATALOG 1234567890123
           
ISRC
ISRC ABCDE1234567
           
REM
REM A comment
  yes   yes yes  
CDTEXTFILE
CDTEXTFILE "Live.cdt"
           

Note:  Blank fields  (which have neither "yes" or "NO") mean the program has not been tested in this manner.  Sorry, please check back later.

*1 EAC displays an error message when loading a cuesheet containing MP3 tracks.  MP3 files can be burned by specifying, e.g. FILE "Cats.mp3" WAVE and installing the Fraunhofer MP3 Codec; however, this is not supported with other cuesheet software, including CDRCue Cuesheet Editor.

*2 Feurio! nicely inserts text from the MP3 tag, if it is available, and no explicit CD-TEXT has been defined.

*3 FireBurner displays an Access Violation, then hangs when loading a cuesheet containing CD-TEXT commands.

*4 FireBurner burns PREGAPs correctly but ignores POSTGAPs.


Why you should care

Here's a short explanation of each cuesheet command so you can determine whether you need to worry about it.

If your software supports this cuesheet command ...

... you will be able to:

WAVE
FILE "Cats.wav" WAVE

Burn WAVE files to create audio CD's playable on any standard CD player.  All cuesheet mastering programs should support WAVE files.

MP3
FILE "Cats.mp3" MP3
Burn MP3 files to create audio CD's playable on any standard CD player.  If not supported, you need to use another utility to convert the MP3 files to WAVE files, then create a cuesheet using WAVE commands.
CD-TEXT
TITLE "How Precious"
PERFORMER "Dino"
SONGWRITER "Enya"
Create an audio CD that shows the title of the song and/or performer if played on a CD player supporting CD-TEXT (look for the CD-TEXT logo on the CD player faceplate.)
INDEX 00
INDEX 00 00:00:00
INDEX 01 00:03:38
Create tracks which show as negative time on your CD player's display.  Useful for mastering live performances, e.g.  to start a track during the announcer's spoken introduction of a song - during the spoken introduction, which using this example, lasts for 3 secs 38 frames,  the CD player counts -00:03, -00:02, -00:01, 00:00), then at time 00:00:00, the song actually starts.  If you use your CD player's track buttons to go to this track, the player will go to INDEX 01, so the song starts playing immediately.  (You cannot seek directly to the spoken introduction, but then that is the point.  The idea is if you seek to a song, you want to hear the music immediately, whereas if you are already listening to the previous track, it's desirable to hear the spoken introduction to seamlessly lead to the song.)
PREGAP / POSTGAP
PREGAP 00:02:00
POSTGAP 00:02:00
Insert an exact amount of pure silence (all digital 0's) either before or after a track.  Useful for getting the time between songs just right.
FLAGS
FLAGS DCP 4CH PRE SCMS
Create an audio CD whose tracks are marked as Digital-copy-permitted, 4-channel, Pre-emphasis, Serial-copy-management-system.  FLAGS are rarely used.
CATALOG
CATALOG 1234567890123
Create an audio CD which has a Media Catalog Number.  Used only when mastering a disc for commercial production.
ISRC
ISRC ABCDE1234567
Create an audio CD whose tracks have an International Standard Recording Code number.  Used only when mastering a disc for commercial distribution.
REM
REM A Comment
Insert remarks or comments in your cuesheet, making it more readable.
CDTEXTFILE
CDTEXTFILE "Live.cdt"
Create an audio CD that shows the title of the song and/or performer if played on a CD player supporting CD-TEXT (look for the CD-TEXT logo on the CD player faceplate.)  The main reason to use this command  instead of the CD-TEXT commands above is to specify additional, rarely used, CD-TEXT information .  The only way to create a .CDT file is to use CDRWIN's built-in editor.
Table:  An explanation of why each cuesheet command may be useful to you.

 

Experience and Recommendations

Our experience writing and using CDRCue Cuesheet Editor over the past three years has exposed us to many top CD-R burner programs.  It has been gratifying to watch how many of them have recently added support for cuesheets.  Here is our personal experience with these programs - it reflects our personal, subjective opinions - so feel free to differ and let us know what yours are

Summary

1.  Try EAC first, as it is the cheapest (by far), plus you need it anyway for flawless CD ripping.
2.  For 100%, no-worries cuesheet compatibility, choose CDRWIN.

3.  Try Nero next, if you can't get the hang of CDRWIN.

4.  For advanced audio-only features, jump directly to Feurio! 
5.  FireBurner is stable and inexpensive, but not full-featured.
6.  Easy CD Creator  is very popular with first-time and mainstream people.  It just got the ability to burn basic cuesheets.

EAC

EAC started out as the World's Best Audio CD Ripper; the only Windows program that re-reads each sector multiple times to guarantee accuracy (that means no clicks, pops, or other digital nasties).  While most audio ripping programs do well with CD's that are physically free from dirt and fingerprints, these programs ultimately fail to accurately rip dirty CD's that still play fine on a normal CD player.  People in-the-know insist on EAC rips when trading music (both in-person and on-line).

While steadfastly improving the ripping feature, EAC has also gained the ability to burn CD's on a limited selection of burners.  And its file format of choice is the cuesheet (lucky us).  The only thing it doesn't do is burn MP3 files, so you'll have to convert them to wave files before burning.

EAC also recently got a cuesheet editor.  It is graphical in nature and presents the cuesheet in two lists using nice colors.  You can edit CD-TEXT information and change index locations, but can't split a file into multiple tracks or add indexes using the graphical editor.  However, you can select Edit Cuesheet and edit the text in a simple listbox, the equivalent of using Notepad.

Since EAC is still in Beta (and has been for the several years that it's been in existence) it has a decidedly unpolished feel.  The documentation is uneven.  Still, it does work, and work well.  There is an on-line, web-based forum (frequented by the author) as well as scattered documentation.

The cost?  A postcard and a stamp to Germany.  That's right, just  tell the author that he is appreciated.  That's it.

EAC is by far the cheapest cuesheet burning program, so it should be your first stop.  If it doesn't work with your burner, or you want to burn MP3 files directly, look to one of the other programs.

To burn a cuesheet:

1.  Start EAC.
2.  Select Tools | Write CD-R.
3.  Select File | Load CUE Sheet.  Specify your cuesheet file.
4.  Click CD-R | Write CD.
5.  The disc will now be burned.

CDRWIN

CDRWIN was the first program to directly accept cuesheet (.cue) files for burning, and to document the format so end-users could create them.  So it's 100% compatibility is not surprising - it is the standard.  Moreover, engineering competence really shines through.  It just works; this is one of the few programs we don't have any reservations about immediately updating to the latest version without worrying about new bugs.  Like Nero, it is a full-featured burning program.

OTOH, the user interface is spartan and somewhat hard to understand - you will probably have to consult the Help file before long.  However, the program is simple and logically laid out, so once you've learned your way around, it isn't as hard as it appears.  Technical support by e-mail is usually fast and concise.

For 100%, no-worries cuesheet compatibility, choose CDRWIN.  If you would like something easier to use, or if it doesn't work with your burner, consider the rest of the programs.

To burn a cuesheet:

1.  Start CDRWIN.
2.  Click on the first icon (Record Disc).
3.  Click Load Cuesheet.  Specify your cuesheet file.
4.  Click Start Recording.
5.  The disc will now be burned.

In the interests of full disclosure:  DCSoft, inc. has provided consulting services to Golden Hawk Technology and negotiated to sell CDRCue Cuesheet Editor to them, which did not happen.  Though we are on good terms with them, we have no bias either for or against them.


Nero Burning ROM

Nero is by far the best looking, most complete program of the bunch.  It is winning accolades in many major computer magazines, and it's not hard to see why.  It's the first program to seriously contend with the de-facto standard, Easy CD Creator.  Plus it does cuesheets!

Unfortunately, like Easy CD Creator, Nero does not seem to have the same quality as the rest of the programs reviewed here.  Updates appear every few weeks, perhaps too frequently, because there seems to be numerous reports of welcome bug fixes, at the expense of newly-broken features that used to work.  It pays to wait a few days to see if the latest version is good enough.

One wonders about the overall stability, but it seems to work well enough, and you can get real work done with this package.  If you are looking for an easy-to-use, full-featured program that also handles your cuesheet burning needs, look no further.  If you run into problems, CDRWIN provides most of the functionality in a harder to use, but cheaper, more stable and compatible package.

To burn a cuesheet:

1.  Start Nero.
2.  Select File | Burn Image.  Specify your cuesheet file.
3.  Click Write.
4.  The disc will now be burned.

Feurio!

Feurio! has long been the favorite of many for low-cost burning of audio CD's.  Feurio! is limited to burning audio CD's; you cannot burn data CD's.  But this means the user interface is optimized for audio CD's.  Once the cuesheet is loaded, the screen clearly shows the tracks in a list, along with total playing time and other useful information.  It was easy to play the tracks and even open them in the built-in wave editor.  Indeed, being accustomed to seeing cuesheets only in text format, it was eye-opening to see them displayed in such a graphical format; it is the most successful cuesheet viewer we've seen.  You can edit cuesheet information in separate dialogs and in the wave editor, although we're not sure if all cuesheet information can be specified, nor is it all conveniently in the same document, as in CDRCue.

Feurio! passed our cuesheet compatibility suite with flying colors.  It's CD-TEXT support is unmatched; it was the only program to read the MP3 tag to supply missing CD-TEXT in the cuesheet.  In addition, we were impressed with the use of CD-TEXT information during the burn process, and the unusually highly accurate estimate of remaining time, which factored in the time to burn the leadin/leadout.

The program seems designed for highly technical users who prefer flexibility and many features over ease of use.  For example, selecting common tasks like "Burn" displays a popup window with very useful information such as caveats of having the CD burner share an IDE channel with another device, making sure Bus Mastering drivers are loaded, etc.  These tips can make the difference between a successful burn and not; however, it is doubtful the novice user will understand them.

The program is almost as unpolished as EAC:  the documentation contains many spelling errors and is not written with correct grammar; the graphics and the animations could be considered "cheesy".  Features seem to be added as needed, without much thought to overall finesse or comprehension.

Feurio! caters most to the audio-burning crowd.  If you need its advanced audio features, it is unmatched.  It is an excellent cuesheet burner.  However, be prepared to spend a lot of time learning the nuances; if you only have basic cuesheet burner needs, you may be better off with CDRWIN or Nero which are full-featured burner programs and are more refined. 

To burn a cuesheet:

1.  Start Feurio!
2.  Select Project | Create project from cuesheet-file.
3.  Specify your cuesheet file.
4.  Select Project | Burn project.
5.  The disc will now be burned.

FireBurner

FireBurner has an attractive, simple user interface.  Like EAC, it has never left the Beta stage, but for a beta, it is easier to comprehend.  There is a terrific on-line, web-based forum (frequented by the author) and FAQ.

The program is limited to burning CD's based on cuesheets.  For example, you cannot copy a disc on the fly or burn a data disc of  folders on your hard drive.

Some swear that it's the simplest, best cuesheet burner, which supports many CD-R burners flawlessly.  We recommend you try the other programs first, as FireBurner is not a full-featured burning program and is not out of Beta.

To burn a cuesheet:

1.  Start FireBurner.
2.  Select File | Load Cuesheet.  Specify your cuesheet file.
3.  Select Create CD | Burn.
4.  The disc will now be burned.

Roxio Easy CD Creator

The popular Roxio Easy CD Creator 6.1 just got the ability to burn cuesheets.  Preliminary analysis shows it does not burn MP3 files.  Stay tuned for more complete testing.

To burn a cuesheet:

1.  Start Roxio Disc Copier (6.1 or later).
2.  Set the Source to "Select Image File."  Specify your cuesheet file.
3.  Click the burn button (round orange button with fire coming out of a CD).
4.  The disc will now be burned.

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CDRCue Cuesheet Editor

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