German software house Ashampoo offers a surprising number of utilities for disc burning, in addition to a raft of other products, including system and hard drive optimisers. The company’s Burning Studio is still available in its previous version 10 for £29.99, but of course we wanted to check out the latest and greatest incarnation, version 11, which costs just a fiver more at £34.99.
Ashampoo Burning Studio 11 adds support for smartphones, social networks, cloud services and modern multi-core processors. Both versions can burn full HD Blu-ray, and both go beyond mere burning by letting you create menu systems for your discs. They’ll also rip and burn audio CDs and compress movies to fit DVDs.
Signup and setup
You can download a 30 day full trial version, and the 176MB installer, compatible with Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7, is available in 20 languages. After accepting the license terms, you can select either an Express or Custom installation – I recommend the latter, since Express installs a toolbar and changes your browser home page and search provider. Once the setup process has finished, you’ll have the choice of starting the app or a gadget. I did both, and I found that the gadget required some more installing.
The program’s interface looks more like that of a large software suite rather than a simple burning utility. It’s close, but not quite as slick as suites from the big names such as Nero or CyberLink, although at least you can change its colour theme. Version 11 introduces a new compact mode to minimise screen footprint, but it actually takes a little while to switch between the two interfaces. In fact, it’s almost like launching another program. The compact version is simply a circle containing the words “Drag&Drop files to burn here!” And don’t forget that desktop gadget: It can launch either interface, and has three main buttons – Files, Movies, and Copy – all of which open the larger interface.
Every activity you can start from the main interface and perform in Burning Studio takes the form of a wizard operation, with the program holding your hand, and providing Back and Next buttons so you can always backtrack to change something. Burning Studio’s installer also adds itself to the AutoPlay box that pops up when you insert media, blank or full, into your optical drive. All in all, it’s quite a neat little interface.
More than just burning
Burning Studio’s nine main menus offer a wealth of options for burning both data and media content to all types of optical media, including CD, DVD, and Blu-ray. The first two option sets concern writing data to disc. The first lets you create or update a simple data disc, with an optional auto-start feature. The second is for backup, letting you span multiple discs with a set of data files. Next up are the music facilities: you can create an audio CD that will play on any CD player, an MP3 disc, copy music files as data for PC playback, or rip a CD’s music tracks to your PC.
Movie burning options come next, with movie and slideshow authoring, using a prepared movie folder, or simply copying video files to a disc. Full disc copying, working with disc images, erasing discs, printing labels, and advanced settings like making a disc bootable round out the program’s options.
In testing Ashampoo’s audio disc capabilities, I first tried creating an MP3 DVD with Burning Studio. I’d hoped to be able to just add a top-level folder containing nested folders with MP3s, but I had to go in and add the actual music files into the folders I’d added. The program boasts a thermometer control at the bottom which indicates how much of the disc the files will take up, a helpful touch. My project was 371MB, consisting of 111 files.
The program went through a 10 minute conversion process, presumably to change the bitrate, even though the files were already in MP3 format (other audio formats aren’t accepted). I’d have preferred an option to leave the bitrate at the source’s setting. It then took just under four minutes to burn on my 3.4GHz quad-core test machine with 4GB RAM, writing to 16x DVD-R media.
When ripping a CD to PC files, Burning Studio first correctly added the album name and track titles, and then offered a choice of ripping to MP3, WAV, or WMA files. I could also change the bitrate from 8kbps to 320kbps. My 14 track CD of 60 minutes (Buena Vista Social Club) took just 2 minutes and 2 seconds to rip to 192kbps MP3s. Unlike iTunes or Windows Media player, however, it didn’t show me which song was being ripped, just a big green progress bar. The results sounded superb.
- Slick, clear, wizard-driven interface
- Speedy burning performance
- Boasts DVD intro and menu authoring
- Useful extras such as label printing
- Stopped responding at one point
- A bit pricey