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Make Your Own Audio CDs: Tips And Tricks

Washington (dpa) – Computer-savvy music fans are having a lot of fun these days. That’s because if you love music, and if computers are your hobby, there’s really nothing more satisfying than being able to use your PC to create digitally perfect audio CDs.

Once created, these CDs can be played anywhere – in your car, in your home stereo, in a walkman. It’s enough to make a computer geek seem “cool.”

Using your PC to record – or “burn” – audio CDs is not, unfortunately, as simple as it should be. One problem is that the burning process is unforgiving: If you make just one small mistake while recording, you’ll ruin a blank CD. Ruining CDs is so common, in fact, that there’s even a tongue-in-cheek term for it: creating coasters.

If you’re just beginning to think about burning your own audio CDs, the first thing you need to consider is your computer. Creating CDs takes horsepower, so get a speedy machine – at least 400 MHz, with a large hard drive (10 gigabytes is not too much), and plenty of memory (RAM): consider 64 megabytes (MB) of RAM a minimum.

If you’re buying a new PC, have the dealer install the drive that burns CDs. These are called either CD-R or CD-RW drives, or CD burners for short. Both types of drives will create audio CDs. CD-RW drives have the added advantage of being able to use CD-RW disks, which can be written to more than once (erased).

If you’re getting a CD burner for an existing machine, you’ll face a range of perplexing questions. IDE or SCSI? 4X or 6X? Name brand or no-name?

Here are the easy answers: IDE CD-R drives, for all practical purposes, perform as well as SCSI drives and are easier to set up. IDE and SCSI, by the way, refer to the type of connector – or interface – the drive has with your PC. Most hard drives sold for consumer PCs today have an IDE interface. Several years ago, when CD burner technology just hit the market, SCSI was thought to be the better interface because it offers superior throughput and multitasking capabilities. Today, the differences are negligible.

You can buy CD-R and CD-RW drives today that can burn audio CDs at 4x and 6x speeds – 4 or 6 times the normal speed at which an audio CD spins. Typically, faster is better. But remember: Blank CD disks also come with speed ratings, referring to the maximum speed at which you can burn audio data onto them. You won’t want to burn data at 6x to a disk rated for a maximum speed of 4x.

If you have a choice of which CD burner drive to buy, stick with name brands, such as Hewlett-Packard, Yamaha, Ricoh, or Sony. Similarly, when burning audio to CDs is your goal, it pays to be somewhat choosy about which type of blank CD-R disks to buy.

Audiophiles consider those with a “gold” coating to have better properties for recording audio. Note, too, that if you wish to use stick-on labels for your CDs, you may wish to buy “unbranded” or “unlabeled” blank CDs – those without any pre-printed manufacturer markings.

Once you get a system set up with a CD-R or CD-RW drive, you’ll need software that allows you to burn music tracks onto blank CDs. These days, most people consider Adaptec’s Easy CD Creator Deluxe to be the industry’s easiest to use and best all-around package.

The good news is that this software is delivered, in some form, with many name-brand drives on the market, or it’s available directly from Adaptec (www.adaptec.com).

Other good CD recording software packages that you can download and try for free are AudioCatalyst 2.1 (www.xingtech.com/mp3/audiocatalyst) and MusicMatch 5.0 (www.musicmatch.com).

Once you get your hardware and software set up, keep these tips in mind when creating your audio CDs.

– Use a high frequency range when “ripping” tracks from your audio CDs. Ripping refers to the process of converting the tracks on your audio CDs into digital files, such as MP3 files, for storing on your hard drive. When you rip songs using the best software, such as AudioCatalyst, you can choose to create MP3 files with the full audible frequency range, from 20 Hz to 20 KHz. This makes your MP3 files virtually indistinguishable from CD-quality audio.

– Normalize tracks before you burn them. If you have a set of songs from various sources, and you put all of those songs on one CD, you’ll quickly discover when you play the CD that the tracks do not have a consistent volume level. “Normalizing” refers to a process that software uses to adjust the average volume of those songs so that they will all sound about equal.

Audiograbber, a free download, is known for extracting tracks from audio CDs but can also be used to normalize files in batches. You can download AudioGrabber from www.audiograbber.com- us.net/download.html.

– Pre-write songs to your audio CD before you actually burn the disk. Pre-writing amounts to asking your software to perform a trial run of the burning process. Most CD recording software allows you to pre-write. That way, if any errors are encountered that would result in a coaster – a ruined CD – you’ll know about them beforehand.

– Dedicate your PC to the burning process. Even if you have the hottest, dual-processor, multi-gigabyte machine on the market, you could end up with an unusable audio CD if you try to do too many things while your CD is burning. If you insist on “multi-tasking” while burning your audio CDs, see if your machine can handle the load first by doing several things at once while pre-writing to a CD.

– Learn more. For most computer users, working with audio, while exciting, is also a good bit of work. There’s an entirely new vocabulary to learn, new procedures, and new software. So it pays to keep reading about digital audio. A good resource in four languages (English, Italian, French, and Chinese) is the CD Recordable FAQ, at http://www.fadden.com/cdrfaq.

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