CD capabilities are not on a top rank on the todo list of drive makers and firmware programmers/hackers nowadays.
either way it still leaves me with the firmware update problem which nobody has bothered to try to help me address,
Well, you were given some hints. There is not much more we can do from here
I prefer to burn at lower speeds because even with my old lite-on drive (16X DVD Burrner) and with my old Toshiba-Samsung TS-H552 burner (another recent 16X burner I owned) I often encountered problems with reading media that had supposedly been successfully burned at speeds above 12X, even with good quality Verbatim media this happened quite often unless I burned at a lower speed.
Then you need a drive with better CD capabilities.
Apart from that, Verbatim is sourcing their CD stuff from different manufacturers (unfortunately). Perhaps Taiyo Yuden CD-R perform better for your needs.
I have an old JVC UX-T1 stereo. This beast doesn't like CD-R and most are not even recognised. Sometimes cleaning the lens does help, sometimes not. So this unit is excellent for CD-R quality testing.
From my experience, this combination worked for me:
Drives: Pioneer DVR 112 (212) or Optiarc 7200A (7200S) (in brackets: Sata equivalents)
Media: Taiyo Yuden, CMC, Ritek (Manufacturers, not brands)
My SH-S203B together with Verbatim (MiI) was not a working combination.
So if you need a drive/media combination that is good for CD-R which shall be read by poor reading units, you may consider buying an Optiarc drive (check reviews first please) and blank media made by the aforementioned manufacturers.