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Smart and Friendly’s 8X CD Rocket Review

With earth-shattering performance light years beyond anything else currently available, the Smart and Friendly 8X CD Rocket blasts into orbit propelled by the latest and greatest in CD recording technology, Sanyo Electric’s new CRD-R800S CD recorder.


Smart and Friendly’s 8X CD Rocket

Hugh Bennett
EMedia Professional, December 1998

Even though the countdown to liftoff has stretched out considerably since the product was first announced at COMDEX 97, Smart and Friendly’s CD Rocket finally left the launching pad in August 1998 to high expectation and fanfare–well-deserved recognition for an event of great significance in the CD-R universe. With earth-shattering performance light years beyond anything else currently available, the Rocket blasts into orbit propelled by the latest and greatest in CD recording technology, Sanyo Electric’s new CRD-R800S CD recorder. With breathtaking 8X writing speed, 20X maximum CAV playback performance, CD-RW read capability, a 2MB buffer, flash firmware, Disc-At-Once (DAO) writing capability, and a high performance SCSI, the Rocket leaves its competitors in the dust.

In addition to astonishing speed, the Rocket offers tremendous value. The $999 internal and $1099 external models include everything you need to get up and running with 8X recording, including not only the recorder, but also an Adaptec AVA-2902A PCI SCSI card, appropriate cables, one blank TDK 74-minute CD-R disc, and complete installation instructions. Each package is also stuffed to the gills with companion software, including NTI CD Maker Pro for Windows and Adaptec Toast for MacOS (external model only), Sonic Foundry Sound Forge XP and CD Architect, Tracer Technologies Diamond Cut Audio Restoration Tools 32, ECI Disc Inspector Pro, Macromedia Backstage Designer Plus, and MediaPath MediaAgent. And your very own Rocket poster and T-shirt will allow you to set yourself apart from lesser beings.

UNDER THE HOOD
Recording at 8X speed using the Rocket is an addicting experience to say the least. In comparison to 4X recorders, which transfer data at 600KB/sec and take roughly 19 minutes to write a full 650MB disc, the 8X Rocket transfers data at 1200KB/sec and completes the same task in an amazing nine minutes. Single, double, and quad recording speeds are also supported, but most users will want to run the Rocket wide open.

An important factor to keep in mind with the Rocket is that while its Sanyo CRD-R800S recorder writes most brands of CD-R media at up to 4X speed, the Rocket currently writes only discs manufactured by Taiyo Yuden and TDK at 8X speed. Sanyo has not yet shown enthusiasm in working with the rest of the large media manufacturers to support other brands of discs so additions to the list can be expected to be slow appearing on the market.

By way of further explanation, the CRD-R800S makes use of the Disc Identification Code contained in the Absolute Time In Pregroove (ATIP) information of almost all CD-R discs to prevent writing of unqualified media, so while there are other brands of discs on the market that advertise 8X compatibility, they are not specifically supported by the Sanyo recorder at 8X. Since there is no industry agreement on standardized marketing language, it pays to be alert when buying discs. As silly as it may seem, there is an important difference in semantics between 8X compatibility and being compatible with a specific recorder at 8X.

8X PREMASTERED: CD MAKER PRO
Everyday recording functions for the Rocket are accomplished by means of Newtech Infosystems (NTI) CD Maker Pro software. CD Maker Pro creates most disc formats including CD-ROM, CD-DA, Video CD, mixed-mode, and CD Extra in either Track-At-Once (TAO) or Disc-At-Once (DAO) writing modes. Very easy to use, the software employs a standard drag-and-drop interface for importing files from Windows Explorer to the recorder.

A separate CD-Copy Tools utility is also included for duplicating discs in almost any format. Like many programs of its kind, CD-Copy Tools works by either copying disc to disc or by first transferring the CD to hard drive before recording. Also incorporated are several impressive features not found in competing software, such as the ability to set the data and audio read speeds separately, plus read-back verification after writing and a discrete disc compare function.

For Smart and Friendly to make their release date schedule, CD Maker Pro was chosen to ship with the first units. The company indicates, however, that in the next short while they will be replacing CD Maker Pro with Adaptec Easy CD Creator Deluxe 3.5 which will greatly enhance the Rocket’s already significant appeal by adding tools like Spin Doctor and Photo Relay.

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL ROCKET: AUDIO TOOLS
Probably the best known of the multiple audio tools included with the Rocket are Sonic Foundry’s Sound Forge XP and CD Architect software. Considering that the duo normally sells together for $395, their inclusion is a happy windfall for those doing a lot of audio work.

Sound Forge XP is Sonic Foundry’s easy to use entry-level digital wave file editor which records 16-bit, 44.1kHz audio from any sound card or alternatively imports most audio file formats and manipulates them with a wide spectrum of effects and tools. CD Architect is a different beast entirely and provides an excellent solution for assembling audio tracks for final recording to CD. Going beyond the audio capabilities of general-purpose CD recording software, CD Architect makes available the tools needed for the serious hobbyist or professional, including full PQ subcode editing, mixes and crossfades, index points, and UPC and ISRC code support.

While Sound Forge XP and CD Architect may be the best known of the audio tools included with the Rocket, the most mesmerizing to use is Diamond Cut Audio Restoration Tools 32 from Tracer Technologies. In addition to a powerful wave file editor, Diamond Cut offers a wide range of sophisticated tools necessary to perform noise reduction and sound restoration on any type of audio recordings. These include powerful impulse, continuos noise, dynamic and harmonic rejection filters for dealing with ticks, clicks, pops, hiss, hum, feedback, and buzzes, as well as sound shaping enhancements for improving overall sonic quality. Diamond Cut is sophisticated, but easy to use nonetheless, thanks to a number of excellent and accessible features, including the ability to preview and adjust noise removal and enhancement functions in real-time before altering the source material. It’s nothing short of astounding the types of sound problems that it can correct with a little patience and practice.

INTERCHANGE AND DISC TESTING
With any significant leap in recording speed, there is always the danger that compatibility might be compromised. To ensure that discs written with the Rocket are playing by the rules, the unit was tested rigorously. Twelve full 74-minute discs from two media manufacturers (six each of TDK and Taiyo Yuden) were recorded at 8X and analyzed using Audio Development CD CATS and Philips JET test equipment. In addition, interchangability was estimated by performing byte-level comparisons of the discs’ contents to source data using a mix of 18 CD-ROM drives consisting of LG Electronics (32X), Plextor (32X, 12X, 8X), Acer (32X), TEAC (24X, 16X, 12X, 6X), Pioneer (24X, 12X, 4.4X), Toshiba (15X, 12X, 6.7X, 8X), NEC (8X), Sony (8X) as well as 5 DVD-ROM drives including LG Electronics (4X/32X), Pioneer (2X/24X), Matsushita (2X/20X), Hitachi (2X/20X), and Sony (1X/8.6X). The operations were then timed.

Considering the difficulties involved in 8X recording, the overall results proved to be very good, with impressively tight writing uniformity, no significantly obvious low-level problems, and all discs comparing well on all the drives close to the drives’ full speed. Obviously, it remains to be seen if every Sanyo-based recorder will write this well on every disc, but there is no denying the impressive job that Sanyo has accomplished with this recorder as manifested in the Smart and Friendly package.

In fairness it should be noted though that one area where the Rocket does come up short is in its lack of Running OPC (the technique used for ensuring the accuracy of all the mark and land lengths across the disc which is made possible by altering writing power to respond to changing conditions). During testing with a specially prepared flyspec disc, upon which simulated fingerprint patterns and dust spots of various sizes have been printed, the recorder wrote the entire disc without generating any error warnings even though the finished disc was unreadable. Since most high-speed recorders have this same deficiency, it is difficult to single out the Rocket for succumbing to this limitation, but it is prudent to be aware of it in mission-critical data environments.

SOLID DISC READING PERFORMANCE
Certainly no one-trick-pony, the Rocket, in addition to offering breathtaking 8X recording speed, offers 20X Constant Angular Velocity (CAV) read performance and the ability as well to read CD-RW discs. As a 20X CAV drive, the Rocket has an advertised sustained CD data transfer rate of 1200KB/sec at the inner diameter reaching 3000KB/sec by the outer diameter as well having a 190ms random access. Tests conducted with TCD Labs CD Tach 98 version 2.00 confirm that the Rocket largely lives up to its billing by displaying a 10-pass average transfer rate of between 1306 and 2905KB/sec using 16KB blocks and a 159ms random access time.

THE BOTTOM LINE
Clearly, the CD Rocket has a few rough edges and is not suited to be an archiving tool (given its lack of packet-writing capability) or production system. But the fact that it delivers on its ambitious promise is an impressive achievement and makes the drive ideal for day-to-day business users and sophisticated hobbyists. Speed doesn’t come cheap, but the Rocket is an excellent value for environments where time is money. Best of all, it puts the thrill back into CD-R!


High-Speed CD Recorders On The Horizon

Even though the Sanyo CRD-R800S is the fire behind the CD Rocket and has with the CD Rocket’s release become the first 8X writer to hit the market, high-speed CD recording has been with us for some time now. It’s hard to imagine, but back in 1993, while most recorder manufacturers were playing with 2X go-carts, Eastman Kodak was tearing up the track with its 6X Hummer. Originally designed for generating Photo CDs, the U.S.-built PCD Writer 600 was truly ahead of its time what with 6X read and write capabilities, high-bandwidth Running OPC (still unmatched today), a de-tuned read channel, and rock solid construction for commercial applications. But Kodak’s hardware development program, the PCD Writer 600, and its successors fell victim to corporate restructuring in April 1998, notwithstanding that Kodak still remains in the marketplace as one of the largest CD media manufacturers worldwide.

Since then users with serious production needs looking for high-speed and reliability have been waiting patiently for someone else to answer the challenge. Many hoped that Sanyo’s 8X would be just the ticket. And no doubt, the CRD-R800S will find its way into some duplication systems. But Sanyo never designed the drive as a high-production recorder, nor should we expect that it will be the last word in high-speed writing. A number of other manufacturers, including TEAC, Yamaha, Plextor, and Matsushita have indicated that they plan over the next year to release 6X and 8X recorders of their own.

Hopes are that a true production recorder will emerge from one or more of these and that competition will result in lower prices for those requiring more robust units.


Other Companies Mentioned in this Article

Taiyo Yuden USA, Inc.
Arlington Center, 714 West Algonquin Road, ArlingtonHeights, IL 60005; 800/368-2496; Fax 847/925-0899; http://www.t-yuden.com

TDK Electronics Corporation
12 Harbor Park Drive, Port Washington, NY 11050; 516/625-0100; Fax 516/625-0100; http://www.tdkonline.com


Smart and Friendly’s 8X CD Rocket

Synopsis: With earth-shattering performance light years beyond anything else currently available, the Smart and Friendly 8X CD Rocket blasts into orbit propelled by the latest and greatest in CD recording technology, Sanyo Electric’s new CRD-R800S CD recorder. With breathtaking 8X writing speed, 20X maximum CAV playback performance, CD-RW read capability, a 2MB buffer, flash firmware, Disc-At-Once (DAO) writing capability, and a high performance SCSI, the Rocket leaves its competitors in the dust. The high-value, low-cost bundle includes not only the recorder, but also an Adaptec AVA-2902A PCI SCSI card, appropriate cables, one blank TDK 74-minute CD-R disc and complete installation instructions. Each package is also stuffed to the gills with companion software, including NTI CD Maker Pro for Windows and Adaptec Toast for MacOS (external model only), Sonic Foundry Sound Forge XP and CD Architect, Tracer Technologies Diamond Cut Audio Restoration Tools 32, ECI Disc Inspector Pro, Macromedia Backstage Designer Plus, and MediaPath MediaAgent.

Price: $999 internal, $1099 external
Media Supported: TDK, Hitachi, Maxell

For more information, contact:
Smart and Friendly Inc.
20520 Nordhoff Street
Chatsworth, CA 91311
818/772-8001
Fax 818/772-2888

http://www.smartandfriendly.com


About the Author

Hugh Bennett, editor-in-chief of Hugh’s News, is president of Forget Me Not Information Systems, a reseller, systems integrator and industry consultant based in London, Ontario, Canada. Hugh is author of The Authoritative Blu-ray Disc (BD) FAQ and The Authoritative HD DVD FAQ, available on Hugh’s News, as well as Understanding Recordable & Rewritable DVD and Understanding CD-R & CD-RW, published by the Optical Storage Technology Association (OSTA).

Copyright © Online Inc. / Hugh Bennett

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