Minnetonka Audio discWelder Steel

Dec 1, 2002 12:00 PM, BY RANDY ALBERTS

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Anyone who is waiting for easier-to-use, more affordable DVD-A authoring tools will want to check out Minnetonka Audio's discWelder Steel. This basic authoring/burning program creates high-res DVD-Audio discs from nearly any Windows-based PC that is equipped with a DVD-R burner. Programmed to quickly burn stereo and surround mix-reference discs that are recognizable by most DVD-A players, Steel's simple to operate, allowing even newbies to author, name and burn multiple mixes to a DVD-A disc in under 10 minutes.

Create surround discs for mix approvals on any DVD-A 5.1 system? Sure. High-res 24-bit/192kHz DVD-A discs for an ultimate stereo experience? Absolutely. And if you need to author more complex discs for replication, Minnetonka offers discWelder Chrome ($2,495) and SurCode MLP ($2,495), though Steel's real beauty is being able to burn great-sounding mix-reference discs for only $495. Minnetonka also offers a software/DVD-burner bundle on its Website (www.discwelder.com) for $825 that includes Steel, a Pioneer DVR-A04 DVD-R drive and a software bundle from Pioneer, which features DVD movie-making tools and file archival/backup-to-DVD apps.

I installed Steel and the bundled DVD-R burner on a Pentium 4 mini-tower in 20 minutes. From the Browse window, I quickly located my 2-channel projects' .WAV and .AIFF folders, and then went to the Soundfile window to click and drag the files into the program's Album window. Steel does not support more than one group (Chrome allows up to nine groups), though 99 tracks per group are plenty for reference mixes. I named the group “Randy's First DVD-A,” and Steel automatically created a 6-channel sub-tree directory with L/R/C/LFE/Ls/Rs channel icons. The DVD-A spec also allows fewer than six channels, such as a L/R/LFE mix without surround.

I selected my stereo-left/right 24-bit/96kHz mix files for three new songs and dragged each onto its corresponding channel icon for each track. Steel automatically changed its surround multichannel indicators (L, R, C, LFE, Ls, Rs) to S, recognizing my stereo files. Once my stereo mixes were in place, I named each song track, selected Save and clicked the toolbar's Record button. This brought up a Record Disc dialog box in order to choose the destination drive, confirming available DVD-RW disc space, and the verify, test and/or write-to-disc commands. Also, a TV System dialog box selects between NTSC and PAL screen systems.

Once the audio was set, I needed an onscreen interactive DVD menu. It's not exactly Lord of the Rings on DVD, but Steel creates a default DVD menu where I could pick one of two fonts and font size, style and color before going ahead with my first DVD burn. The screen menu's text is centered and placed on a generic steel-plate background. After a “closing time” (which can be up to 15 minutes for Steel to scan up to 4.7 billion bytes of data per disc), my finished DVD-A popped out of the drive.

I was impressed with how my 24-bit/96kHz stereo mixes sounded. I put the new DVD-RW disc in my Sony SACD/DVD player, chose the first of three tracks from the onscreen menu and now all of my CD-R mixes — which sounded fine before — sounded thin in comparison. Now, thanks to Minnetonka, I have to re-burn my old mixes to DVD-A if I want to enjoy the playback of those mixes this much.

Steel works with linear PCM audio and can import either .WAV or .AIFF files (no SD2 support) in 16, 20 and 24-bit word depths, and 44.1 or 48kHz 5.1-channel surround and 44.1 to 192kHz stereo sampling rates. Surround and stereo tracks may be intermixed on the same disc, and a discWelder Steel-burned disc will play on any DVD-A player that also supports DVD-R/RW. Sound files can be imported via network, DVD-ROM/CD-ROM or 1394/FireWire drives. Some sample rate/bit depth combinations require MLP encoding; Steel does not support MLP import, though Chrome does. (An MLP encoder [such as Minnetonka's SurCode MLP] allows you to have six 96kHz tracks playing simultaneously by reducing, or packing, the data rate to less than the DVD-A format's 9.6Mbps bandwidth ceiling, with bit-for-bit accuracy in playback.)

Steel doesn't offer high-level authoring and editing features, such as serious menu and text options, background images, slide shows, MLP import, VIDEO_TS import and DLT export, but if a high-resolution reference disc is all that you're after, who cares?

Those who require more advanced DVD-A authoring features, especially when creating master discs for replication, should consider Minnetonka's $2,495 disc-Welder Chrome. It has MLP and VIDEO_TS-import capability, allowing formatting of universal DVD-A/DVD-V discs, plus the ability to place up to 891 tracks (nine groups of 99 tracks) on one disc and output masters to industry-standard DLT (digital linear tape).

Considering that other DVD-Audio authoring programs can cost more than 10 times as much, discWelder Steel is ideal for those looking to get into the format, as well as anyone who needs to quickly and easily create high-resolution stereo and surround reference mixes.

Minnetonka Audio, 17113 Minnetonka Blvd. #300, Minnetonka, MN 55345; 952/449-6481; fax 952/449-0318; www.discwelder.com; www.surcode.com.


Randy Alberts is a musician, engineer and author.






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