Back in the 1970s the cassette ruled supreme. Tape recordings were the name of the game and nifty work with the pause control was required to keep the gaps between tracks to a minimum. Even then, the results were generally riddled with hiss and unexpected glitches.
In the 1980s the CD bounded on to the scene. In the early days it was not possible to record onto one of these discs. The first CD writers cost thousands of pounds and blank discs were the wrong side of a tenner.
Times have changed, however. Now you can use your own PC to create CDs with professional sound quality and impressive labels for as little as £1 a time. Not only can you record compilations from the CDs, tapes and LPs that you already own, but thanks to the internet there's also a vast array of other music available for use online.
Recordable CD drive
First you will need to fit a recordable CD drive to your PC. Unfortunately, the CD drive already fitted to your PC probably is not recordable, although some new PCs now come with recordable CD drives built in. If you're about to buy a PC you can ask for the CDRom drive to be upgraded to a CD-Rewritable (CD-RW) writer. It should cost about £100 extra. Or from around £150 you can add a CD writer to your existing PC.
Make sure the CD writer you purchase is CD-RW compatible - all new ones should be.
Be careful to buy one with the correct interface. The CDRom drives fitted to most PCs have IDE interfaces. You should be able to install a second drive alongside your existing one. CD-RW drives are also available with more expensive SCSI interfaces.
The easiest CD-RWs of all to install are the external ones. If you have a newish PC you may already be using a USB cable to connect your printer.
It is then a simple matter to connect your CD-RW drive in the same way and install the software. It also means you can move the drive from one PC to another. If you don't have a USB socket on your computer there are also drives that connect using a standard parallel port printer cable. However, external CD-RW drives are slower than internal IDE or SCSI ones.
Don't forget to check out the software package included with the drive. Lots of drives are sold with a cut-down version of WinOnCD authoring software, which is one of the packages we'll discuss in this feature.
Disc goes here
There are two types of CD recordable disc. They are CD-Recordable (CD-R) and CD-RW.
CD-R discs can be read by just about any CDRom drive or CD player. This is the disc to use if you want to listen to a CD in your car or on your hi-fi. CD-R is also the best media to use for permanently saving large data files. Discs cost about £1 each or less if you buy them in bulk.
CD-RWs can only be used in CD-Rewritable drives or newer multi-read CDRom drives. CD-RW discs will not play in most home or car stereo CD players.
The beauty of CD-RW is that the data is rewritable, which means you can keep reusing the disc just like a floppy disk. CD-RW discs are ideal for weekly back-ups of your data, costing about £3.50 each.
Once you have the CD writer and some blank discs, all you need is a source of music and some CD-authoring software. You don't need to know the technicalities of how CDs work, but sound is recorded on them in the Wav format. The music you want to record may be in a variety of formats, but this should not cause
MP3s and Wav
Many people will have heard of the MP3 format, which stores music in a highly compressed form, making it practical to transmit music over the internet. You might want to download MP3 music from the internet and then record it on the CDs you create. When you do this, your software should automatically convert it from the MP3 format to the Wav format, a process known as decoding. However, if you want to experiment with converting music to and from MP3 format, a variety of software for this is available at www.mp3.com
For turning Wav files into MP3 files (rather than converting MP3s into Wav) try Musicmatch software, which can be downloaded from www.musicmatch.com
It is worth bearing in mind that the more MP3 files are compressed, the worse the sound quality. If you are recording onto a CD, you may want to go for CD-quality MP3 files. These have not been heavily compressed and are usually between 3Mb and 5Mb in size per track. So even with a 56K modem, such tracks can take more than 15 minutes to download.
Once you have saved your music onto your hard disk, you can move onto recording. The exact process depends on the CD authoring software you decide to use. This may be the program that came with your CD writer, but serious users may buy different software.
The four main contenders worth looking at if you decide to go down this route are Easy CD Creator, Digital CD Recording Studio, Music CD Writer and WinOnCD.
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