Discribe 4 is a very capable Macintosh CD authoring package from CharisMac. It provides
capabilities to use a CD-R/CD-RW device on your Mac, regardless of whether it's SCSI/ATAPI,
USB or Firewire-based. It consists of a suite of 3 programs, one being the main CD-burning
application, with the others being aimed at providing a more complete end-user solution
(a direct-to-disk audio recording application and an audio CD player application).
Discribe supports over 200 CD-R/CD-RW drives, including many older drives as well
as new ones. It even works on operating systems as old as MacOS 8.1. A full list
of supported drives is available at: http://www.charismac.com/Support/Discribe/discribedevice.html
Price: MSRP = $100 (current special price $75); Competitive upgrades from other CD
authoring software (OEM or Retail Toast) for $40 (current special price $30). Upgrades
from previous Retail or OEM versions of Discribe $40 (current special price $30).
After reading the Readme file and a copy of Discribe's PDF manual, installation was
straightforward. The Installer gave me the option to select the type of CDRW device
I had - SCSI/ATAPI, USB or Firewire. (My choice was ATAPI/SCSI to support my internal
ATAPI CDRW drive). The install placed a single extension in my Extensions folder.
It left the already installed Apple CD/DVD Driver, v1.3.5, active (I subsequently
manually disabled it so I wouldn't have 2 competing CDROM drivers present). The install
didn't immediately force a system restart as some installers which add extensions
often do. No install log was generated, and none of my existing extensions were either
updated or disabled.
The install left me with a CharisMac Discribe 4 folder on my harddrive which contained
the following items:
- Discribe PPC V4.0
- CD Audio V1.58 (alias
to an application installed in my Apple Menu Items folder)
- AudioScribe folder
(containing Audio Scribe V2.0)
- PDF docs for Discribe
4 & Audioscribe 2
Extension V1.58 (CharisMac's universal CDROM driver) was placed in my Extensions
Using Discribe 4
Discribe's QuickStart Menu provides a good/simple way for novice users to interact
and kickoff the majority of the application's features/capabilities (Data CD, Audio
CD, Duplicate a CD). More advanced or special-need formats are also available through
the main interface and it's menus. For my testing, I concentrated on 3 common functions
- extracting Audio CD tracks and converting MP3s to produce custom Audio CDs; creating
data backups and bootable system CDs (w/CDR & CDRW media); and making duplicates
of Data and Audio CDs. During my testing, I produced no 'coasters' or failed burns,
which can be caused by underruns on data transfers during the burn process. This
is because I used Discribe's capability to 'test burn' and I could note difficulties/issues
and correct them prior to performing the real burn.
Discribe provides no capabilities to query the CDDB or FreeDB CD Titles/Tracks information
databases on the internet. As such, the user has to enter CD names, Artists, and
Track titles manually. Maybe I'm spoiled, but this to me a big drag. I even tried
a workaround, by using another application to capture the data from CDDB for a CD,
hoping that Discribe would see/use it, but to no avail (and even the fallback cut/paste
method was awkward). I was able to use Discribe to convert some MP3s to the needed
AIFF format (44.1khz, 16bit, stereo format required) for audio CD burning. I was
also able to vary song pre-gaps, and rearrange my tracks prior to burning. Discribe
provides options for disc-at-once or track-at-once burning for audio CDs. The conversion
process to Extract Audio from an existing audio CD didn't take an unreasonable amount
of time. The resulting files are identified in the Finder as Discribe 4 documents
vs. AIFF files though.
Discribe supports a straightforward interface for creating data CDs. Drag and drop
is fully supported. You can make copies of whole partitions (as is or blank-space
removed) as well as by simply indicating which folders to capture. For my tests I
just made HFS format CDs, in both data backup as well as bootable system variants.
I only ran into two issues worth mentioning. The first is the process Discribe uses
to create a bootable CD. During the burn set-up process you're prompted to insert
a known-good bootable CDROM, which it uses to extract some driver info from to create
it's own bootable CD (takes about a minute). This contrasts with how Toast does it,
where they prompt the user to locate Apple's CD Driver extension, but it appears
both methods work. The second issue I encountered was that Discribe restricts your
cabability to make a bootable copy of the current Startup volume, a task in my opinion
that user's would very likely want to do. A workaround will require extra harddisk
space to create a non-active copy of that System folder so you can use it to make
a custom bootable CD of it.
Discribe's Disc Copy capabilities allow the user to duplicate CDs. I was able to
successfully dupe both bootable Data CDs as well as audio CDs. Because my setup only
has a single drive, my duplicating process must first start with Discribe creating
a disc image on one of my harddisks from the mounted CD. I was a bit disappointed
that the disc image format Discribe uses is not compatible with Apple's Disc Copy
utility, but it worked fine. Discribe also supports copying a CD directly from drive
to drive, but this requires both an active CDR/CDRW drive as well as an additional
active CDROM drive. The documentation states that if the source CD is an Audio CD,
it doesn't even require audio extraction to make the copy (a nice timesaving feature,
if you can use it). CharisMac also recommends a max burn speed of 4X if you do a
disk-to-disk copy (the limiting factor is system bus and data transfer speeds).
This app is launched if you hit the "Record..." button in the bottom of
Discribe 4's main window. Or it can be run independently. AudioScribe 2 is a direct-to-disk
audio recording tool with a nice set of capabilities. I was successfully able to
record AIFF files from some old vinyl I had. Burning them to CD is done via Discribe.
AudioScribe doesn't support direct to MP3 recording - you'll need to run another
utility to convert the AIFF's it produces to MP3s if that's what your interested
in. AudioScribe appears to me to be very similar to Coaster - one of my existing
favorite freeware applications for doing this exact thing. While the interface is
rearranged a bit (multi-window vs. single-window), it appears to have the same excellent
basic feature set which includes automated gain control and click elimination. It's
nice they included this application to complement Discribe.
CD Audio v1.58
Discribes included Audio CD Player is nothing spectacular, but it's nice that they
provide a complete package in case user didn't have Apple's or a 3rd party player
already. The player provides 3 basic view modes - Full (about 3" x 4")
and two collapsed views (horizontal or vertical orientation). At first I couldn't
play a CD through it, but I simply needed to manually change the Sound input source
to CD. Throughout my auduo CD usage, I encountered some flaky interactions between
CD Audio and other players/controllers I use (particularly Apple's CD Control Strip.)
CD Audio v1.58 is a capable player, but my biggest problem with it is it doesn't
recognize or support Apple's CD Remote Programs database of CDs and tracks! Even
though it doesn't have CDDB or FreeDB lookup itself, by not using the standard database,
all CD's I played via CD Audio always showed up with blank CD Titles and blank track
titles. I have over 200 CD's already cataloged and I wasn't about to re-enter them.
It was easier for me to just use alternate players I have which do support Apple's
CD Remote Programs database file.
Discribe comes with Acrobat PDF files for documentation - one for each application.
The manuals provide decent coverage of how to use the applications, having only some
redundancies. The Discribe manual has a nice Glossary, even if it's a bit technical
and superfluous, covering lots of terms and info on CD technology that is not used
within the application documentation itself. CharisMac's Discribe website provides
good support, FAQs, the list of supported devices, etc. Here they also provide useful
identification of all installed components, what they are, and where they were installed.
They have an online store and tech support contact information available. It's also
nice to see that CharisMac offers a free Discribe 4 demo (limited to 5 burns) for
download so potential customers can try before they buy.
Comments & Observations
Discribe supports a lot of CDR/CDRW drives as can be seen from the pop-up list available
under the "Recorder Info" button in the main interface or a trip to their
online list. I also liked the listing of driver capabilities and formats supported
for read/write by my CDRW drive that is provided in the Recorder Info window.
I noticed that Discribe seems somewhat sensitive to disk fragmentation. On the one
or two occasions my test burns failed, it was due to disk fragmentation. Typically,
after a defrag (or in some cases just a recopying of the data to the source drive),
a retry will work successfully. I was unable to write from a volume used by Discribe
(i.e., that Discribe itself resides on). The workaround here is to relocate Discribe
or rearrange your data prior to burning.
If you are a USB or Firewire CDR/CDRW user, you'll find a conflict with Apple's iTunes
USB & Firewire Authoring extensions (requiring you to boot using different extensions
sets to use either Apple's software or Discribes), but CharisMac has promised an
iTunes-friendly update soon that will allow iTunes to work with Discribe's driver.
Overall, Discribe is a capable CD authoring/mastering package. My main point of criticism
with it is that by not supporting CDDB or FreeDB lookup, or Apple's CD Remote Programs
database, it makes the user interested in working with Audio CDs type a lot more.
Discribe provides all the key CD burning features a user might need to use their
CDR/CDRW drive. I successfully burned each CD I attempted at either 8X or 4X (using
Memorex 12X 700MB CD-Rs or Maxell 4X 650MB CD-RWs respectively). For the uninitiated,
an 8x CD-R burn (74 mins audio or 700MB data) takes just over 9 minutes.
- PowerMacintosh G3
266MT, AV, 10GB HD, 512MB RAM
- MacOS 9.0.4+, also
- QuickTime Pro v4.1.2
- ATAPI Sony Spressa
CDRW 8x4x32x drive - Model CRX140E/CH2 (in place of original Apple 24X CD). This
is the same CDRW used in Apple's desktops.
- Supports lots of
- Supports all typically-used
- Supports direct conversion
of MP3s to produce audio CDs
- Supports Macs running
MacOS 8.1 through 9.1
- Simple interface
enables non-expert CD mastering
- No use/support of
Apple's CD Remote Programs database
- No use/support of
CDDB or FreeDB for audio CD info lookup
- Currently incompatible
4 out of 5 Mice