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Disc Burning with Sony's Digital Relay

by Derrick Story

When my geriatric LaCie CD-R burner sputtered then fell silent as I was finishing a big job, I saw my digital lifestyle flash before my eyes. The old boy had already been on life support for two years via a Microtech SCSI-to-USB converter that had reduced my burn rate from 4X to 2X. Not to mention that it was so large that it annexed almost as much desk space as my flatbed scanner.

Still, at the moment, I hated to see it go.

The compatibility dilemma

Because of an upcoming deadline to deliver a CD to a client, there was no time for mail order. I had to replace the LaCie immediately. I logged on to the Web to see what the local stores (BestBuy, CompUSA, Circuit City, etc.) had in stock on a Sunday afternoon. Not much for a Mac. I couldn't even find a Que burner that wasn't back-ordered.

Then I spotted a Sony Digital Relay available locally. I remembered reading a little about it in PC Magazine, and quickly did some online research.

The initial findings were positive. It connected via USB for both Macs and PCs (good). Its footprint was small and weight was light (good). It could burn CD-R, CD-RW, and MP3 discs (very good), and it was on sale (great!).

But there were still lingering questions that always seem to plague me during a rushed purchase. Is it compatible with Mac OS X? Will it work with iTunes? Can I use Toast with it?

Fortunately I did find the Digital Relay (CD-RW CRX10U) listed as "compatible" in the AppleCare Article #75106 for Apple's Disc Burner 1.0.1 software. That was good enough for me -- I was off to the store before it closed!

The Digital Relay specs

Before I tell you how darn handsome this portable burner/player is, or how well it works with Mac OS 9, OS X, and Windows 98 computers, not to mention iTunes, here are the major specs from Sony:

  • Write speed: CD-R 2X and 4X; CD-RW: 2X and 4X
  • Read only: 6X
  • Compatible disc types: CD-R, CD-RW, CD-ROM, CD-ROM XA, CD-DA, CD+, Video CD, CD TEXT, photo CD, CD-I, and CD Bridge
  • MP3 play format support: MPEG1 Audio Player Level 3 with ID3 Tag versions 1.0 and 1.1
  • Data transfer rate of 900 Kbits per second
  • Drive interface: USB 1.1 compliant
  • Buffer capacity: 8 Mbytes
  • Rechargeable Lithium battery that provides two hours of burning or 2.5 hours of playing
  • Weight: Only 95 grams
  • Basic operations: Burns CD-R and CD-RW discs; serves as an optical playback drive for Macs and PCs; can also operate as a standalone portable player for standard Audio CDs and for MP3 CDs
  • Street price: USD$299.

Look and feel

For me, two tech companies that consistently deliver good-looking products are Apple and Sony. In the case of the Digital Relay, Sony really outdid itself.

The Sony Digital Relay.
The Digital Relay with the top door open ready to receive a CD.

The Digital Relay is only about two inches longer than a standard portable CD player, it sports a sharp-looking, brushed, silver-like exterior, and it has omitted most of the ugly switches and buttons that plague devices of this type. It's light enough, even with the lithium battery, to serve as a portable MP3 player for MP3 CDs (containing hours of music on one disc). And appears durable enough to sit next to your computer day in and day out serving as your primary CD burner.

The Sony Digital Relay, opened.
The Digital Relay is also a portable MP3 player as well as being able to handle standard audio CDs.

The external power supply, remote control, USB cable, and ear-bud headphones (all included) pack nicely into a small pouch or in your backpack.

The remote control.
The remote control plugs into the side of the Digital Relay allowing you to control the player during playback as well as providing track information in the LCD window.

In other words, you can use it for listening to CDs on the train to work, then plug it into your laptop and burn discs while in the office. About the only disc-thing that it doesn't do is play DVDs.

Mac OS 9.1 compatibility

Everything that I just covered doesn't mean squat if the Digital Relay doesn't work smoothly with a Mac. And for me personally, that means for both System 9 and Mac OS X. I'm happy to report that not only does the Digital Relay work on the Mac, it works great.

Let's start with System 9.1 compatibility because that's where you'll have the most flexibility for burning CDs. First thing, make sure you have Apple's Disc Burner software installed (there's a helpful AppleCare ID #75106 article that has lots of good info on this topic). And don't forget to install iTunes 1.1, because there's more to life than just data backup.

Disc Burner can be downloaded via the Software Update Control Panel. If you already have the Disc Burner and the authoring software, you might want to check that it's the latest version. Currently, Authoring Support 1.1.2 is the latest release.

Comment on this articleIf you have a Sony Digital Relay and are using it with a Mac, let's talk about your experiences.
Post your comments

With this combination of free software from Apple and the Sony Digital Relay drive (or any built-in Apple CD-RW drive, not to mention all the other supported drives listed by Apple), you can burn CDs (that work on both Macs and PCs), CD-RWs, and iTunes audio discs. These tools are integrated right into your system software and are available as soon as you connect the drive.

Sony also provides Mac software for CD burning, Discribe PPC V4.0. But I found it to be more trouble than it's worth. First of all, the two Extensions it loaded into my system folder, CharisMac1 SIM V1.05 and CharisMac1 USBD V1.05, created total chaos with my system and crashed it on every startup.

So I went to the CharisMac web site and happily found a "Charismac OnSpec SIM 1.07c Update" in the downloads section. Unfortunately, the patches refused to update my CharisMac USB drivers even though they were the right version. At this point I decided that I really didn't need to test Discribe after all.

One important point to consider: If you plan on using Apple's Disc Burner software sometimes and third-party software other times, you need to create two different extension sets to do so. The Disc Burner extensions override those by third-party vendors rendering them useless. It's one or the other, and you have to reboot your Mac to switch between extension sets.

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