About Disco – Why It’s Not Quite The Toast of The Town

In the Mac development community there’s been some discussion of Disco.

Disco is being touted by the developers as “the last burning app you’ll ever need” for only $14.95 (introductory price. Out of beta it’ll shoot up to $24.95.) Compared to Toast and its $79.99 tag, that’s a rather boisterous remark.

So obviously I’m intrigued. After messing with the beta (1.0b5) for a bit I don’t think Roxio has much to worry about. Disco is quite a stylish piece of software; maybe one of the best looking OSX applications I’ve seen. But it lacks too much functionality to support its claim.

Having to go through 90 Emusic downloads each month I tend to burn a lot of CDs and am very meticulous about how they are created. Typically, I burn an audio session in Disc-At-Once mode (no gaps between tracks) first, then create another session for the MP3s, closing the disc at the end. This way I always have a backup of my MP3s along with an audio disc that works on every CD player I’ve tried. As far as I can tell, Disco cannot do this very well.

The interface is pretty simple. You’re first greeted with a window simply asking you to drop the files you want to burn onto it. You can also insert a disc, but that doesn’t seem to do anymore than get rid of the “insert disc” text. If it’s a disc with content on it I assume you can enter into dialogue to create an image or copy, but since audio disc burning is what’s important to me I’ll stick with covering that for now.

The Emusic downloader creates a “My Emusic” folder on the desktop. Usually what I do in Toast is select the kind of disc I want to burn (“Audio CD”) and drop the folder into the window. The way I have Emusic naming the files allows easy sorting by track number in the Finder, and Toast always puts them in the correct order without me having to do anything.

What Disco does is guess that you want to burn a data CD since you are dropping a folder onto it anyway. There is no way to directly switch from here to an audio CD. You have to start the whole process over again by canceling your layout.

The way to even get to burn an audio CD is by dragging and dropping the files onto the window. At this point it will assume you want to burn an audio CD, but there’s an option to switch to a data CD in the upper right hand corner. Disco seems to be hit or miss with how it arranges the tracks. Since the window is small and cannot be resized, Disco may not be able to display the entire track name, making it tedious to rearrange tracks in the correct order. You have to click each magnifying glass to reveal the file in the Finder to confirm which track you’re looking at.

When you have your tracks in order and name your disc (where it says “Untitled Disc” at the top) you have the option of creating a disc image or burning your CD. Click “Image” and Disco will create an image of your CD. I assumed it would create a format like Sound Designer with track markers (which is how Toast makes its audio disc images), but what it actually does on default is create a DMG file on your desktop with the original audio files in it. There are also options for ISO and CDR, but I haven’t tested if those actually save the audio.

If you click Burn you are prompted for a disc if one isn’t already present. Insert a disc and it will prompt you to cancel or to confirm that you want to burn once again. At this point the disc is burning. Note that during the whole process there is no option for disc-at-once burning versus track-at-once burning. Nowhere are you asked if you want any gaps between tracks or how long you want them to be if you did. Disco will insert 2-second gaps.

Creating multi-session discs is simple, but maybe too simple. If I want to burn the MP3s I used to create my audio disc I can just re-insert my CD-R and go through the process to create a Data CD. However, it seems that there’s no way to get Disco to close the CD after a burn if you’re in a session mode.

It should be noted that Disco’s claim to fame is its smoke effect. When burning a CD you can enable smoke to come off the application window to symbolize the burning process. You can even blow into a microphone to disperse the smoke (I assume). I think it would be pretty cool if the smoke didn’t move with the window as it’s dragged, but I think it’s important to get audio CD burning right. I think it says a lot when smoke gets its own preference pane, but there’s no way to configure DAO burning.

Disco has a lot of promise, but I hope the developers don’t let style rule over substance. Ideally I want to be able to resize the window to accommodate larger file names, pick between DAO and TAO burning, and customize my gaps. As it currently stands, Disco’s audio CD burning ability is no better than iTunes.