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Creating CDs

Creating Your Own CDs

An easy, legal way to create audio files is to make them from songs on an audio CD that you already own. This process is called “ripping.” The opposite endeavor, placing music from your hard drive onto a CD using a CD recordable device, is called “burning.”. Some software, such as RealJukebox,
Nomad Jukebox, and MusicMatch Jukebox do both. Both can record songs in MP3 format.

NOTE: The most popular music file format today is MP3, thanks primarily to Napster, a file-sharing software program that arrived on the scene in 1999, and soon was ground zero for a firestorm of litigation. Thought Napster is gone, its ground-breaking concepts linger on. Napster's users logged on to a server, which tracked all the MP3 files users made available to the service, then would search the server’s database. When a user found a song he wanted, he would be linked to another user to download it. So Napster didn't hold any music on its own servers, it simply permitted people seeking music to connect with people who had the music they wanted. Great concept – were it not for the litigation.

The name MP3 is a shortened form of “MPEG 1, Audio Layer 3,” a format developed by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG, pronounced EM-peg). How’s that for minutia? And make no mistake about it, when it comes to minutia, think “Mr. Modem!”

Okay, continuing on: Another way to get audio files is to download them from Web sites such as dmusic, EEMusic, and a host of others. You can't always expect to find music by your favorite artists available for free, though. Many sites offer the best songs one track at a time for approximately $1 each.

CD-R versus CD-RW: What’s the Difference?

If you want to burn your own CDs for music or digital photographs, you’ll discover that there are two primary types of drives available, CD-R and CD-RW. Understanding the difference between the two is important.

CD-R is short for Compact Disk-Recordable drive, a type of disk drive that enables you to keep adding data to a CD-ROM over time -- but only once. You can't write over previously recorded material, you can only add to it. CD-R drives are less expensive than CD-RW drives. CD-RW (rewriteable) drives, on the other hand, do permit you to add data and/or overwrite existing material.

My recommendation for anything other than audio recording, is a CD-RW or ReWritable drive. With this drive you can add data in multiple sessions and write over existing data, giving you the ability to reuse your CDs.

NOTE: Though CD-RW (rewriteable) disks can be erased and reused, most compact disk players do not play the CD-RW format, so use the CD-R format for audio recordings.

CD-RW drives have speed ratings. At the time of publication, a 12/10/32 is an excellent choice. The first number indicates the drive will burn CDs as fast as 12x speed -- 12 times faster than the 150Kbps rate at which an audio CD plays. The 10 refers to 10x speed for “rewriting” over existing data. The 32 refers to the rate up to which the drive can read data.

When shopping for drive with which to create your CDs, make sure it has BURN-Proof technology. This technology helps ensure that you create CDs without blank areas, something that can occur as a result of “buffer underrun” errors. Translating that into English, it means that when you’re burning a CD, the CD rotates at a constant speed. If your computer doesn’t send data to the drive fast enough, blank areas can result. Without BURN-Proof technology, you’ll have to try a number of test burns to determine the correct write speed for your drive and computer to work harmoniously.

You can expect to pay anywhere up to $300 for a good CD-RW internal drive. If you do purchase an internal drive, have a professional install it. Blank disks cost as little as 29 cents each when purchased in packs of 50 or 100.

Blank CDs for CD-RW or CD-R drives hold 650MB (megabytes) of data, or 74 minutes of audio. If you save audio files in MP3 format, which compresses a minute of music into a 1MB file, you can record more than 600 minutes (10 hours) of audio on a single CD.

Recommended CD-RW drives include Plextor and Creative CD-RW Blaster.

For CD-burning software, take a look at the MusicMatch Jukebox Plus and Roxio’s Easy CD Creator.

Care and Handling

Though infinitely more durable than records or tapes, CDs nevertheless do require special care.

CDs should be held by the edge or by sticking one finger through the hole in the center. You don’t want the oil from your hands getting onto the playing surface.

To clean a CD, use a very soft, dry cloth and wipe from the center outward. Never move the cloth in a circular direction. If the dirt or sticky stuff won’t budge, try moistening the cloth slightly with water, but don’t use any commercial solvents or related cleaning products. If the goop still won’t disappear, visit any good computer or audio store. There you will find some commercial CD-cleaning products.

CDs are not immune to scratches. If you have some scratched CDs, you can listen to them again courtesy of the Skip Doctor ( This is a device that grinds down the disk’s surface, thereby erasing the scratches. It works on music CDs as well as DVDs. You can repair up to 50 CDs before you need to get more fluid or a new polishing wheel. And that’s a whole lotta scratches. The Skip Doctor retails for approximately $35.

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How to transfer your favorite record, cassette and compact disk tunes to recordable compact disks (CD-Rs)

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive from readers who have a recordable CD is how to copy music onto it from some other media, like a tape cassette or a vinyl record. Let’s first review the equipment necessary, then we’ll go through the step-by-step instructions.

For the purposes of this example I’ll be using the MusicMatch Jukebox Plus CD-burning software available.

Here’s a check list of the six primary techno-goodies you’ll need to create CDs of your favorite songs:

1. A computer with a sound card. You can tell if your PC has a sound card if your computer has a jack where you can plug in external speakers and a microphone.

2. A compact disk recordable CD (CD-R) drive. External and internal CD-R drives are available in prices ranging from $100 to $400.

REMINDER: Though CD-RW (rewriteable) disks can be erased and reused, many compact disk players do not play the CD-RW format, so use the CD-R format for recording your tunes.

3. Blank CD-R disks. Buy in bulk to save money. Disks can cost $2 if purchased individually. Purchased in bulk from a retailer such as BestBuy, a 50-pack sells for $25 or less, which equates to .50 per disk.

4. RCA-to-headphone cable. You can find this item at any RadioShack, Wal-Mart or other consumer electronics store for approximately $2. This is the cable that connects your record or cassette player to your computer.

5. CD-burning software, previously mentioned.

6. A stereo receiver to amplify music transmitted to your computer.

Once you have the above items assembled, follow these steps:

1. Launch MusicMatch or whatever CD-burning software is available to you on your computer.

2. Attach your cassette, record player or other device to your PC through your stereo receiver using an RCA-to-headphone cable. The cable attaches to your stereo’s line-out jack and, not surprisingly, your computer’s line-in jack. Some record players can hook directly into the PC’s in-line jack without the necessity of a stereo receiver.

3. Click the Record button on your recording software. MusicMatch will automatically set the correct record levels, which determines the volume and sound quality of the burned CD. Unless you think you’re Quincy Jones, don’t do any fine-tuning. Let the software work its magic without the benefit of your creative input. It’s recommended by the pros that cassettes and records be recorded at 128 kilobytes per second with 16-bit stereo at 44.1 kilohertz --whatever that means. (That’s the minimal setting for a good quality audio CD.) The software will automatically record the music as an MP3 file.

Hint: After each song stops playing, listen to the recorded track to check quality and volume label. You never can be too sure.

4. Your MusicMatch (or other) software will create a library of the songs you record. When you’re ready to burn the songs onto a CD, insert the blank disk into your CD-R drive.

5. Press the CD-R Record button to let the good times burn. The software will convert the song to the digital format used to record songs on audio CDs. CD-Rs usually hold 74 minutes of music. Remember that CD-R drives record at different speeds. A 1x burner requires 74 minutes to record a full CD, while a 4x burner requires about 17 minutes.

6. When the software prompts you, remove the recorded CD from the CD-R drive. At this point you can pop it in any CD player and enjoy the benefits of your musical handiwork.

How to copy a CD with a CD-R drive

If you want to copy material that you currently have on CD on to a recordable CD, follow these steps:

1. Launch MusicMatch or whatever CD-burning software is available to you on your computer.

2. Insert the CD to be copied and transfer the individual tracks (or all the songs) to your computer’s hard drive using MusicMatch or other CD-burning software. Your PC will need at least 650MB (megabytes) of free space to store a 74-minute CD. Better to be safe than sorry, so my best advice is to allocate up to 1GB (gigabyte) because the CD copying process creates a lot of temporary files which can gobble up additional hard drive space.

3. When the tracks are finished copying, remove the CD and insert a blank CD-R disk.

4. Load tracks to be burned onto the CD-R into a play list (in other words, organize them in the order you would like them to appear on the CD), and click the Record button.

5. When the burning has completed and the smoke has cleared, remove the CD from the CD-R drive and you’re ready to play it in any CD player.

The Future Is Here: DVD

The ability to create your own CDs is a reality today, as is the ability to create your own DVDs. A single DVD can hold eight gigabytes (billion bytes) of data. That’s enough to hold a three-hour video movie or a stack of double-spaced, typewritten pages the height of the Empire State Building. A single DVD can hold every song you’ve ever heard or photograph you have ever taken or appeared in. A lifetime of family photos can easily fit on a DVD disk with room for short home videos to spare. Pity the neighbors on "home movie" night.

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