by Steve Cunningham

In the beginning, burning audio CDs was Big Voodoo. I witnessed a CD-burning session in the mid-1980s that involved a $35,000 machine, a lot of computer programming and some prayer, just prior to invoking the “Burn CD Master” command. As often as not, the process yielded little more than a very expensive drink coaster.

We’ve come a long way since those dark days. Today most computers come equipped with a CDR drive and software as standard equipment. We deliver our finished work on CDR, then use it to back up our project files for future use. And the process is usually as simple as dragging and dropping audio files into a list.

In researching this article I found over sixty different software packages for burning CDs. You can get CD software for every platform, including for the Unix variants, at prices that range from around twenty bucks (for shareware) to several hundred dollars. For this piece we’ll focus on a few of the most popular commercial packages — Easy CD Creator, Click ‘N Burn, and Nero for the PC, and Toast for the Macintosh.

A WORD ABOUT BLANK DISCS

There are two basic types of discs that you can buy for CD burners, CDR and CDRW. Most recent recorders support both CDR and CDRW. CDRW is economical if you need to routinely save and delete large chunks of data. But if the data is important enough to back up, then you probably want to keep it for a while. Also remember that older CD-ROM readers will not recognize CDRW discs. So in general, CDR is the best choice.

A blank CD will cost you anywhere from 50 cents to two bucks depending on the brand and whether the jewel case is included. To get the best pricing you should buy CDs in bulk, usually in quantities of 50 or more. I buy blanks on spindles of 100 each, then buy cases separately as needed. I also watch the online vendors for specials on the brands I like. Among my favorite vendors are MediaStore (www.mediastore.com), Media Supply (www.mediasupply.com), and Americal (www.americal.com), but there a many others.

A standard CD will store 650 MB of data, 74 minutes of music, or a combination of the two. If you pack a CD with MP3 files, you can burn about 12 hours worth of music on a single disc. 80-minute CDs are also available, but for safety you should stick to 74 minute discs. With 80 minute discs, the extra 6 minutes or 50 MBs are stolen from the lead-in and lead-out, and by tightening the track pitch. Some older readers have a real problem with the 80 minute table of contents.

Many of the “big name” media manufacturers don’t actually make their own media. Instead, they buy from other manufacturers and stamp their logo on the discs. Generally speaking, this isn’t a bad thing, because the discs were certified good enough that the Big Brand was willing to put the company name behind the product.

So how do you tell who really made a piece of media? The short answer is you don’t. Your best bet is to find a brand that works for you and stick with it. I’ve had consistently good results with discs made by Mitsui and Taiyo Yuden in both Plextor and Yamaha burners. I’ve had mixed results with most CDs available from Office Depot, including Verbatim and Maxell, and I’ll use those only in an emergency. Caveat emptor.

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