Sony's latest ATAPI CD-RW offering is a mixed bag. When compared to the competition, it lags at reading CDs, in digital audio extraction, and writing to CD-RWs, but our tests show it to be one of the fastest 12X CD-R writers around. We were also impressed with the CRX160E's utter operating silence and cool operation. It appears as if Sony took great pains to soundproof this drive, as even high speed random seeks were nearly inaudible. Our stress tests showed admirable performance when faced with high CPU loads, despite the lack of any buffer underrun prevention technology. Still, BURN-Proof or JustLink enabled drives have an undeniable leg up on the CRX160E when it comes to eliminating buffer underruns.
The included software package was average, not outstanding, in our opinion. Sony's CD Extreme premastering software looks identical to Prassi's PrimoCD Plus, save for a different name and Sony rebadging. Subjectively, we found CD Extreme to have an unintuitive interface. It gets the job done, but we would've preferred a different package. The lack of a printed manual adds to the frustration of learning to use CD Extreme quickly. The included packet-writing software is abCD, which is only compatible with Win9x.
The software suite also includes Retrospect Express (Win9x/WinNT/Win2K), Mixman Studio (Win9x only), and Spressa Liquid Player (Win9x/Win2K). It's disappointing that Win2K and WinNT are not fully supported. In particular, we felt the packet-writing software should have been fully supported by all major operating systems as is Adaptec's DirectCD. We did like the thick printed drive manual, but again, were disappointed to see no printed manuals for any of the bundled software.
A check of StorageReview.com's new online price comparator shows the Sony available for as low as $235 plus tax and shipping. The average price from the top-10 retailers was $244. For comparison, Plextor's 12/10/32A was as low as $229, with an average price of $246.
Sony's CRX160E warrants consideration to those primarily interested in CD-R writing, strictly because of its outstanding CD-R write speeds. However, with the competition offering superior CD read and CD-RW writing performance, faster digital audio extraction, a better software package, as well as buffer underrun protection at a similar price point, its difficult to recommend this drive over units such as the Plextor 12/10/32A.