Discribe 4.0, by CharisMac Engineering
Posted: 28-June-2001

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: CharisMac Engineering Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Tom Leahey Class: MULTIMEDIA

Description
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).

Installation
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

Additionally, CD-ROM Extension V1.58 (CharisMac's universal CDROM driver) was placed in my Extensions folder.

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.

Audio CD
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.

Data CD
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.

CD Duplication
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).

AudioScribe 2.0
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.

Documentation
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.

Summary
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.

Test Setup

  • PowerMacintosh G3 266MT, AV, 10GB HD, 512MB RAM
  • MacOS 9.0.4+, also MacOS 9.1
  • 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.


Pros

  • Supports lots of CDR/CDRW drives
  • Supports all typically-used Disc formats
  • 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


Cons

  • No use/support of Apple's CD Remote Programs database
  • No use/support of CDDB or FreeDB for audio CD info lookup
  • Currently incompatible with iTunes


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice