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Audio CDs use a completely different format than the data CDs or DVDs you might use in your computer. As a result, they require a different approach to create.

Audio CDs confuse many people and Windows - trying to be helpful, of course - doesn't help.

The fact is that an audio CD is a very different beast from a data CD. Windows may try to make an audio CD "look like" a data CD by listing its contents as one .cda file per track, but in reality, it's just fooling you.

Those "files" aren't really there.

Many people think that if they could just convert their .mp3 or other audio files into that .cda file format, they can just write them to the disc and they'd have an audio CD disc that would play in any player.

It just doesn't work that way.

Audio versus data

A data CD is very much like a hard disk. It contains sectors and files and folders and directories and all the things that we're used to seeing on a hard disk. In fact, the CD is written very much like a set of concentric circles of data, just as hard disks are.

An audio CD has none of that.

"If your CD player can only play true audio CDs, however, you need to do things a little differently."

An audio CD is more similar to an old vinyl record; it's best thought of as a single spiral of data - in the reverse of that vinyl - starts in the center and slowly spirals outward. A single stream of bits.

While a data CD can contain music, it's often in the form of compressed .mp3 files or files of other audio formats. The result can be several hours of music in the roughly 700 megabytes that can be stored on a CD.

Not so for an audio CD. That single spiral of data can contain only one format: uncompressed 16-bit stereo audio at a sampling rate of 44 kilohertz. If you do the math (16 bits per sample times two stereo tracks times 44,000 samples per second, then divide that by 8 bits per byte), you find that an audio CD requires 176,000 bytes per second of audio and a 700-megabyte CD can hold approximately 69 minutes of audio1. That's it.

MP3 logo

What further confuses matters of course are audio CD players that can also play data CDs. These normally have an MP3 logo somewhere on them. For these players, you can simply burn your mp3 files to a data CD and enjoy hours of music.

If your CD player can only play true audio CDs, however, you need to do things a little differently.

Start with ImgBurn

I'm going to use my favorite free CD and DVD burning utility, ImgBurn, to burn an audio CD of one of my podcasts.

ImgBurn download link

Important: When visiting the ImgBurn site, ignore all of the recommended downloads or the "Before you download" statements that you see. Those are all advertisements and are not required. Click Download in the upper left of the site and then click on any of the listed mirror sites to download ImgBurn and only ImgBurn. And like any download, make sure to pay close attention to all options, taking the Advanced or Custom path and declining any additional toolbars or other offers.

It all starts with CUE

Run ImgBurn and select Write image file to disc:

ImgBurn Mode Picker

If you're not using the easy mode picker, simply click on Mode followed by Write.

Now click on the "Create CUE File..." button:

Create CUE File... button

In the resulting dialog, click on the Browse for a file... icon:

Browse for a file...

In the resulting dialog, locate and select the .mp3 files2 you want to write to your audio CD. Remember that the total time of the audio cannot exceed the capacity of an audio CD: a little over an hour.

Selecting files to include

In the example above, I've multi-selected (holding down the CTRL key as I clicked on each file) two of my recent answercasts in .mp3 format to be written to an audio CD.

Once you click Open, ImgBurn spends a couple of seconds analyzing the files.

Now, click on the "Session" line in the resulting list:

Editting Session Info

You can see that in the CD-TEXT section below, I've selected Custom and entered in information relating to the CD.

You can actually include CD-TEXT information for each track, if you like. If the original file had this information in it already, then ImgBurn may have pre-loaded these fields as well. Some audio CD players have the ability to display the CD-TEXT as the CD is played.

Click OK when you're done editing any CD-TEXT; you'll be prompted to save the ".cue" file. I'll save mine as "answercast_example.cue".

ImgBurn then returns to the "Write" display with that file ready to be written:

ImgBurn with .cue file ready to burn

Burning the disc

Insert your blank CD-R. I do not recommend CD-RW media and in fact, I recommend a good quality CD-R at that. Not all audio-CD players will play write-able material properly, even when written in the correct format. Using CD-R and quality media stacks the deck in favor of producing a CD that can be played in most players.

After you've inserted the media, the burn button un-grays:

The Burn Button

Click it.

ImgBurn burns the audio CD.

ImgBurn in progress

Once complete, you'll have a CD in audio format.

A CD that Windows once again will fool you into thinking contains files.

But now, you know better and can create your audio CDs the proper way.

1: Not only have I rounded to make the math just a little clearer, but the capacities of CDs can vary some as can the ability of CD writers and players to write full capacity. As a rough rule of thumb, it's safest to say that an audio CD can contain just over an hour of music. More or less.

2: ImgBurn will actually support a wide variety of file formats. Click on the All Supported Files drop-down in the selection dialog box for a convenient list.

Article C5918 - October 14, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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20 Comments
Yeppers
October 14, 2012 5:25 PM

Leo, if we ignore the situation where some CD players can play only an audio CD, is there any other reason why a user “should” burn an audio CD instead of a data CD (since a data CD can hold much more music)? Thanks…

The only case I'm aware of is if you want the disc to play on a device that can only handle audio CDs. Everywhere else I'd use data.
Leo
15-Oct-2012

Kevin Sheedon
October 15, 2012 2:25 PM

I used to use ImgBurn myself (And still do for 'image' work), but for my Audio burning requirements, I use (and recommend):

Ashampoo Burning Studio Free. (Currently up to version 6.81).

The menu options are quite self-explanatory without jumping through ImgBurn's tiny-icon hoops. Far more user-friendly for Audio requirements!

Anonymous
October 16, 2012 8:37 AM

I've had good luck converting audio CDs to audio files to my HDD using EAC (Exact Audio Copy). Works perfectly every time with just a few clicks, and it's free. Google 'Exact Audio Copy'.

I find Ask Leo Newsletter to be very educational. Thank you!

That's the reverse of what this article is about, but seems like a good approach. Copying a CD to hard disk is typically referred to as "ripping". I use CDex to make mp3 files out of my CDs, though it can do the "exact" copy as well (my ears would never notice the difference. Smile
Leo
16-Oct-2012

ken fogarty
October 16, 2012 10:20 AM

Can't Windows media player do the same thing? I've burned youtube audio with no problems.
Thanks, Ken

Mike Wilhelm
October 16, 2012 10:50 AM

Leo, or any other music enthusiast out there, is there any loss of music quality when burning mp3s as a data cd as opposed to burning music as an audio cd?

There should not be. The limiting factor is the quality of the mp3 you begin with. Since mp3 is a compressed format it's possible for it to be created with a lower quality than the original recording.
Leo
16-Oct-2012
Maarten
October 16, 2012 11:16 AM

@Mike Wilhelm, yes there is, significantly, however there are a few lossless audio codecs such as .flac (which stands for First Lossless Audio Codec) which no CD-player (to my knowledge) knows how to decode back to audible music, and of course, the files are much bigger than MP3's. That said, there are audiophiles that pick up the difference between an MP3 and an audio CD... Most of us won't invest in the music equipment needed to detect those differences.

The difference is in the bitrate too, an MP3 file with a bitrate of 320kbps will invariably sound better than one of 64kbps, unless the recording is substandard, again if you have the music equipment to pick up on that.

I understood the question being that given an mp3 is it better quality to write that mp3 to CD as data, or as audio? My take is that there is no difference, since writing it directly to CD, or uncompressing and writing it as audio would not affect the underlying quality of the original.
Leo
16-Oct-2012

Rita
October 16, 2012 11:51 AM

I appreciate the information from everyone! I am not vert "techy", and count on folks like you to keep me on the straight and narrow!! (Did anyone answer whether or not Windows Media Player could do this?)

Brad L.
October 16, 2012 12:21 PM

I realize this is not a discussion forum, but I'll give this a go anyway.

I have yet to find any burning program that will NOT separate tracks from an audio CD. I recall trying FLAC thinking 'lossless' meant 'the same as'..but it didn't work that way.

Take any audio CD that blends one track to another..Pink Floyd, say...Moody Blues..lots of audio CDs segue from one track to another.

I've not researched this issue exhaustively, but, IS there software that will actually record the same track-to-track segues onto a CD (or player..I have a Fuze) that are on the 'original'?

Thanks!

I did note that the CUE editor used by ImgBurn lets you define inter-track spacing, and allows you to set it to zero - perhaps that is what you need?
Leo
16-Oct-2012

BobS
October 16, 2012 12:38 PM

I've found CDBurnerXP to be simple to use and gives good results, (dont be fooled- it runs on Win7). It supports gapless audio CD's too. ImgBurn is better for some high end techie things, but CDBurnerXP is so convenient , the drag n' drop interface makes life easy. And it's free & nag free too. Oh, & also, I use Iwisoft for audio (& video) conversions, also free & nag free. No connection - just a happy user!

Gord Campbell
October 16, 2012 1:22 PM

I use a simpler approach: convert the MP3 files to .WAV format, then use Brasero (Linux program) to burn an "audio project."

ZenCitizen
October 16, 2012 1:57 PM

I own several vinyl records that play from the center out. It's said that playing records that way they will never wear out. One of them is Lincoln Mayorga's recording of early Beatle songs using a full orchestra. The vinyl is a single press record using red vinyl as its base. After twenty five + plus years it sounds as new as the day I bought it.

ZenCitizen
October 16, 2012 1:57 PM

I own several vinyl records that play from the center out. It's said that playing records that way they will never wear out. One of them is Lincoln Mayorga's recording of early Beatle songs using a full orchestra. The vinyl is a single press record using red vinyl as its base. After twenty five + plus years it sounds as new as the day I bought it.

Will Latin
October 16, 2012 3:41 PM

Here's a good one- You say that "
What further confuses matters of course are audio CD players that can also play data CDs. These normally have an MP3 logo somewhere on them. For these players, you can simply burn your mp3 files to a data CD and enjoy hours of music."
It seems that it ALSO isn't quite that easy...

My laptop has DVD-RW (as most) and Vista (ick) and it seems when I burn mp3s to CD-R discs it uses UDF and likely a (higher) version than my Subaru oem mp3-compatible player can recognize. Foiled again!

I suppose this is another teachable moment?

Mike Wilhelm
October 16, 2012 5:30 PM

Leo understood my question exactly. All of my music is encoded with the Lame encoder at 320 kbps - cbr. i.e. mp3 format. My question was If I burn the mp3 files (320 kbps - cbr) as an "audio CD" and then burn those same music files as an "mp3 CD" i.e. as data files would there be any "Quality" difference between the two formats. And Leo's answer: The should be no quality difference between those two formats. The limiting quality would be the original format, in this case the Lame encoded mp3 files encoded at 320 kbps - cbr.

Darren D.
October 16, 2012 5:35 PM

I have been using Ashampoo Burning studio 6 for a year right after my Nero went Kaput. I do wish I would have seen and would have read this before I created my audio collection from the Limewire of old... Leo and all of his pearls of wisdom wisdom is always a great read, and one of the best sites for answers. I am now checking Imgburn as per his advise. I will soon use it to complete all the Tracks I have collected to burn and will also use a better quality CD-RW as Leo also suggested. That was probably my problem as some of the tracks would skip and /or not play well. Saving a few cents and using a cheap low grade CD did not cut it... If you are reading this post Leo : Thanks, and way to go...
Darren D.

Alfred Frend
October 16, 2012 5:51 PM

I tried to add titles to music on an Imation (0r Disc Power) CD-RW, but was refused as the files were "Read-Only". I tried adding the titles by way of Open Document Text - Open Office - and when I tried to "Write Files To Disk", I succeeded in erasing all the music. And the ODT dialogue didn't write to disc either. I didn't know the difference between data and audio disks then. The disk had been playing the music on my stereo. How should I have gone about this.

MARIAN - Perth, Western Australia
October 16, 2012 7:53 PM

I have been using the ITUNES method for a while now, without any problems:
Open ITUNES.
Click FILE/NEW PLAYLIST.
Name the playlist and click OK.
Double click on playlist name to open it.
Drag and Drop .mp3 files into playlist window.
Click FILE/BURN PLAYLIST TO DISC.
Under BURN SETTINGS make sure Disc Format "Audio CD" is selected.
Insert Disc.
Click BURN.
Thanks for a great newsletter, Leo.

I personally find iTunes an incredibly frustrating and difficult to use (or, rather, difficult to control) program. However for all its faults I agree this aspect of the program is very simple.
Leo
17-Oct-2012

Priscilla
October 17, 2012 7:09 AM

Great topic, one I am dealing with. I appreciate knowing what a good program is to burn the cd's, I'm always struggling with RealPlayer and it is difficult to use! I'll use ImgBurn from now on. I can't wait to get home and try it, as I burn a lot of audio cd's of podcasts, recordings, etc.
Thank you very much!

Sean Nick
October 17, 2012 9:00 AM

Nice article!

Regarding audio loss, MP3 uses a lossy compressed file format, and there will be audio degradation. However, if the listener is older or the playback equipment is not hi-fidelity, this loss may not even be noticeable.

As far as burning music, one suggestion is to make sure to burn audio at the slowest speed your device supports in order to make it the most compatible with older playback equipment. I personally choose 4x, but 8x is likely sufficiently slow enough for this compatibility.

Glyn406
November 20, 2012 2:05 PM

Well, I don't know, it seems to me there's more to this business of track titles than meets the eye.

I have a vinyl disc of a song recital which I bought when it was first issued in 1963; the company that produced it has long since bitten the dust. In 1996 it was reissued as an audio CD (which I also bought) by another company which had licensed the recording from the copyright holders; they too have long since disappeared.

I've recently tried to make a copy of this CD for a friend who is particularly interested in the music on the disc. Using Windows Media Player I ripped the tracks from the CD in lossless (.wav) format without any difficulty. However, they were unnamed - presumably the online search facility doesn't work for such old material - so I then manually entered the artist details, and composer and title of each track. Then I burned the material to disc using Image Burn and following Leo's instructions.

The music transferred without any problem; the disc plays in my CD player indistinguishably (to my ears anyway) from the original CD, and the track numbers are displayed - my player does not display track titles. However when I put the burned disc in a computer, none of the information I entered appears; the tracks are just shown as numbers from 1 to 17.

I was going to write for advice when I read Marian's comment regarding using iTunes. What I found was that though iTunes insisted on reordering the sequence by composer's name, which affects the 'balance' of the programme, the entered information still did not transfer over.

Any suggestions?

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