Yamaha CRW3200 LightSpeed3 CD-RW Recorder 
Home Theater Audio Sources CD Players
Written by Tim Hart   
Monday, 01 July 2002

Introduction
CD-R and CD-RW technology continues to offer faster ways of recording and archiving media, whether it be copying MP3 files, burning copies of your favorite CDs for your personal use or backing up your computer files, just to name a few.

Yamaha’s latest offering, the CRW3200, addresses the need for speed with a CD-R, CD-RW, and CD-ROM drive that has the capability to write data at a blazing 24x. Able to rewrite at 10x and read at 40x, the CRW3200 will also support a wide variety of formats such as CD-DA, CD TEXT, CD-ROM, Mixed Mode CD-ROM (CD-ROM and CD-DA), CD-ROM XA, photo CD, Video CD, CD-i, and CD EXTRA. The CRW3200 is also the first kid on the block with CD-MRW (CD Mount Rainier Rewrite) format. This format allows much easier manipulation of your CD-RW data, eliminating the need for special applications or proprietary drivers to be able to read the disc to other drives, even with long format times.

The $185.00 CRW3200 is an external drive that measures six-and-one-half inches wide, two-and-one-quarter inches tall and ten-and-one-half inches deep. The three-and-three-tenths-pound package is fairly robust-feeling for a computer peripheral, suggesting a rigid structure unlike most products of this kind, which often suffer from flimsy plastic construction.

The front panel of the CRW3200 consists of a slot for the tray opening, a headphone jack, a volume dial, the power button, an emergency eject hole that resides below the tray, and a multifunction LED. By default, this LED is purple/white in color, then changes to a bright blue when a CD is inserted. When you read or write a CD, this blue LED blinks. The back panel of the CRW3200 is very simple, consisting of two FireWire ports, a left and right RCA analog out for connecting the CRW3200 to another component, such as a receiver or pre-amp, a power switch, and a DC-in connector.

The Technology
As recording speeds have increased, the need to vary the CD rotation speeds became a necessity, as vibration and motor noise is a large source for errors and jitter. Most of the older recorders used CLV (Constant Linear Velocity) techniques. This meant that the burner’s RPM never changed throughout the recording process. With higher recording speeds, the necessity to quell these undesirable side effects required a different school of thought. There are two different approaches to remedy these issues. Yamaha uses P-CAV (Partial Constant Angular Velocity) for the CRW3200. This approach varies the speed of the drive throughout the recording process, starting out at a lower RPM, then smoothly increasing the speed, which stabilizes at 24X. Other manufacturers use Z-CLV ( Zone Constant Linear Velocity), which works in much the same way. The big difference is that this approach works in stages. Z-CLV starts writing at a pre-determined speed for a period of time, then stops, increases in speed in steps until it finally reaches 24X for the remainder of the disc. Every time a speed changes, the writing pauses and then continues once the next speed is attained. This requires Z-CLV to link the data from the gap introduced when the speed changes. One reason that Yamaha considers P-CAV to be superior is because P-CAV doesn’t stop data flow at speed changes and therefore requires no links.

The CRW3200 comes with Safe Burn, which is an overall recording protection system to make your CD burning as “error proof” as possible. Part of Safe Burns’ arsenal comes in the form of 8 MB of buffer memory, which under most conditions should prevent buffer underrun. Buffer underrun errors occur when the PC doesn't have enough resources to send an uninterrupted dataflow to the burner cache. Since the dataflow from the buffer to the write head should be continuous, this may cause the burning operation to fail. An 8 MB cache allows you to use the computer for other tasks without the fear of hindering the data flow to the burner.

Yamaha has developed a new writing mode for recording, the Audio Master Quality Recording mode. When this is used, the CRW3200 writes the pits a bit longer than it does in normal writing mode. CD players can read the Audio Master Quality Recorded discs at a linear velocity of 1.4m/s speed. This reduces the jitter that you would get from conventional recording modes. The small downside is that, because the pits are slightly larger, the recording time is reduced from 74 minutes to 63 minutes. The other slight but not insubstantial drawback is that in Audio Master Quality mode, the writing speed drops from 24x down to 4x. The upside is that the recording quality should be better. I’ll let you know what I’ve found in a moment.

Installation
I asked Yamaha for the IEEE1394 FireWire interface for the review piece. FireWire has a larger bandwidth for data transfer than USB does and, in my experience, it is more powerful. This interface required that I get a FireWire interface card, since my system didn’t have that capability. I chose the Adaptec FireConnect 4300, which retails for about $49.00. FireWire was created to handle the large amount of digital data needed for fast video transfer, but it is highly effective for an application like transferring audio as well.

The software bundle that comes with the CRW3200 includes Ahead CD mastering software called Nero, a powerful program that will handle VCD creation, CD copying, CD text and over-burning. Nero uses a drag-and-drop approach for ease of use, and does conversion of MP3 files on the fly. Nero features wizards to allow novices like myself to start burning copies in literally a matter of minutes.

Another nifty feature is NeroMIX, a program that combines CD burning with an Internet-ready media recorder and then slaps on a customizable, skinable interface. NeroMIX allows you to create data and audio CDs or on-the-fly 1:1 CD copies.

If you want to use the CRW3200 to back up computer data, InCD is a packet-writing software, which allows the user to drag and drop files onto a CD-RW disk for a large format data backup. Move over, Zip drives.

Last but not least are the venerable Adobe PhotoDeluxe 4.0 and Adobe Photoshop LE 5.0. Want to create labels for your CD copies? There is not much you cannot do with this suite of power products for image creation and manipulation.

Yamaha provided a FireWire interconnect that was only long enough to set the CRW3200 on top of my computer tower. It would have been nice to have some added length to allow more location options. For the review, I used my computer, which uses a Pentium-based PIII 800 MHz processor, 128 megs of RD-RAM, a Hitachi GD-500 DVD-ROM, and a 60-gig hard drive. I give kudos to Yamaha for making the CRW3200 hookup simple and straightforward. Installing the software was also a breeze. I was up and ready to go in no time.

Burning Down the House
When starting the process of burning a CD, the Nero software can take the data straight from the disk with a simple drag and drop format, or you can store it on your hard drive in a file Nero will create for you. I used Nero Burning ROM to start the process. Nero Burning ROM has a nice interface that will look at the drive you have your master CD in and retrieve the data off of that drive and display that information in the Nero window. If required, Nero can also get the track information from the Internet, along with other data you might want to use to create image files for the CD that you are burning. This is very cool.

I wanted to get a feel for how fast the 24x speed really is, so I chose Dream Theater’s latest CD, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (Elektra Entertainment Group), for this test. The play time is 71 minutes, 10 seconds, and weighs in at 714 megabytes of data. Using the Yamaha professional grade 24x certified CD-R blank discs supplied by Yamaha, I launched Nero, which faithfully read the CD information from my Hitachi drive. I chose to record in the order that my test CD was originally recorded, although you can create any order you want by selecting any track and putting it in your own custom hierarchy. Then I simply hit the “burn“ icon, sat back and waited. But not very long. Total burn time, excluding the time it took to create my track order, was six minutes, 48 seconds. Did it work? I popped the newly-created disc into my CD player to find out. My normally picky Audio Research CD2 player read the disc with no problem. This was a good start. How did it sound? At first listen, my immediate impression was that it sounded specifically digital. When I put the original CD in for a comparison with the copy, the differences were quite recognizable. While certainly listenable, the copy sounded a bit flat and definitely less musical, lacking the presence of the original, most notably in the midrange timbre and soundstage depth. Space around the instruments and vocals on “Blind Faith” was not as defined as the original, lacking the suspended placement in the soundstage that I’m used to hearing. In the CRW3200’s defense, the Yamaha had to record from my cheaper Hitachi drive as the source. The other aspect is that Yamaha acknowledges that high-speed recording does not necessarily equal high quality, as evidenced by the fact that the recording speed drops to 4x for the Audio Mastering Quality mode. I therefore wanted to compare the 24x recording to the Audio Mastering Quality Recording mode to see if I could discern the benefits of this technology.

I used a favorite reference CD, Shawn Mullins’ disc Soul’s Core (Sony Music Entertainment) to record “Twin Rocks, Oregon” at 24x speed, then in Audio Mastering Quality Recording mode on the same disc. The differences were subtle, with very slightly improved resolution and transient information in Audio Mastering Quality. When recorded in Audio Mastering Quality mode, the presence of Shawn Mullins’ voice also benefited somewhat, lending a bit more lifelike quality to the raspy sound of his voice. I have to admit that I had to listen really carefully, as the differences between the two recording methods were not readily discernable. Although Yamaha claims that using the Audio Master Quality Recording will improve jitter and errors over the other recording methods the CRW3200 will execute, I doubt that most people would detect the difference. Once again, I feel the problem here is that I was forced to use the DVD-ROM drive of my computer as a player for the source. You could say that it is unfair for the CRW3200 to be hamstrung by a cheap computer DVD-ROM, or even a CD-ROM, but in reality, this will be the most common situation in which the CRW3200 is likely to be used.

I next used the CRW3200 as a transport to see how the Yamaha product would handle this task. Using a pair of AudioQuest Topaz RCA interconnects, I hooked up the CRW3200 to my preamp and put in Puddle of Mudd’s Come Clean (Flawless/Geffen Records). The CRW3200 faired better as a CD player, sounding more musical than the recordings it made. The midrange frequencies that sounded compressed and flat on the copy of this track that I had made sounded much less digital, with more midrange bloom and resonance, when played through the CRW3200. It also sounded more musical, bringing back some of the immediacy of the performance.

The Downside
The CRW3200 will not allow an outside digital signal to be directly hooked into it. In order to plug in a digital output from a CD player or other digital source to the CRW3200, you’ll need to have a soundcard with a S/PDIF digital input. From an audio perspective, this is a glaring omission. To go from a source through a soundcard, a motherboard and back to the recorder is not the ideal scenario. Using the Hitachi DVD-ROM drive on my system as the source for my copies explains why the CD-R’s I recorded sound the way they did.

The quick start manual supplied with the CRW3200 is just that. There is no in-depth documentation for the supplied Nero software. It took me awhile to find out how to record in Audio Mastering Quality mode, as the manual did not specify where it is in the Nero interface.

Conclusion
Yamaha’s CRW3200 lives up to its LightSpeed banner by offering blazing fast 24x CD-R write speeds for music or data archiving. Handling a variety of formats, such as CD-DA, CD TEXT, CD-ROM, Mixed Mode CD-ROM (CD-ROM and CD-DA), CD-ROM XA, photo CD, Video CD, CD-i, and CD EXTRA, offers great versatility.

The powerful software bundled with the CRW3200, which includes Nero, InCD, Adobe PhotoDeluxe 4.0 and Adobe Photoshop LE 5.0, offers a ton of creative ways to record, print, and store your data. With CD-MRW (CD Mount Rainier Rewrite) format, future data manipulation will only improve, as this format gives the user a powerful tool for the CD-RW format. Setup and installation was straightforward and error-free, allowing me to quickly start creating my own CD’s in a matter of minutes.

The biggest issue I had with the CRW3200 is the inability to connect an external digital source, or even an analog source, directly to the back panel. To have the option to archive or copy any type of media to CD-R would be a big win for this product. The benefits of the Audio Mastering Quality Recording that the CRW3200 provide are lost, I believe, because of the convoluted signal path required for the data to transverse. For recording high quality copies of your source material I feel that CRW3200 will not live up to the audio enthusiasts’ ideal of quality. While the copies that I burned through the CRW3200 are certainly listenable and fairly accurate, a person who is looking for a more error- and jitter-free transfer may be disappointed by the results. The method of getting the data to the CRW3200 is the biggest suspect. Also, the Audio Mastering Quality Recording mode not only decreases the amount of playtime on a 74-minute CD to 63 minutes, and a 80-minute CD to 68 minutes, but it takes longer to burn as the max speed in this mode is 4x.

The CRW3200 is better suited to creating CD compilations, copying CDs and MP3 files for non-critical listening, or backing up your data, providing 700+ megabytes of cheap storage that puts another nail in the coffin of Zip drives. The Yamaha CRW3200’s ease of use, convenience, speedy burn time and powerful software suite make it a tough act to follow.
Manufacturer Yamaha
Model CRW3200 LightSpeed3 CD-RW Recorder
Reviewer Tim Hart





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