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Ask the audiophile

Overburning, MP3 editing, and other matters

Q: Why do some of my homemade CD-Rs have trouble playing in my car’s CD player, or in my portable CD player when they play fine on my home stereo?

A: The issue most likely has to do with both the software and the hardware you (and almost all consumers) use to make CDs. First, the lasers used to burn CDs from your computer aren’t as powerful as those used in the professional manufacture of CDs. That causes the digital information on the CDs you make to be slightly less stable than that on store-bought CDs, and therefore less likely to play perfectly on all players.

Another variable is the dye used to coat the playing surface of the CD-R. This is important because the dye is the organic layer of the disc that actually records the data. In general, discs dyed blue or green (with cyanine dye) are the least stable, while those dyed gold or silver (with phthalocyanine) hold up the best.

Finally, there’s the unfortunate possibility that your burner, discs, and software just aren’t compatible with each other. Experiment with different brands of discs and, if possible, a different burner, until you get satisfactory results.

Q: Is there a program that will allow me to edit MP3 files? Many of mine have gaps of silence at the beginning that I’d like to get rid of.

A: There are such programs, but whether they’re necessary or practical is open to debate. Several programs (such as MP3 Splitter & Joiner) let you manipulate MP3s in the way you’ve described, but none we’ve seen do anything that a basic WAV file editor can’t do as well or better.

Many WAV programs will open an MP3 file into a graphic window that lets you tweak it, then re-save it in MP3 format or as a WAV file, according to your wishes.

Q: Is it possible to make a permanent recording of a streaming audio file?

A: It might take a bit of monkeying around, since streaming audio (via such programs as RealPlayer) sounds weren’t meant to be captured. But it can be done.

First, if you don’t have a recording program, find one that suits your operating system. The program you use should have a way for you to dictate the source of the sound being recorded. If you check internal modem (or some other internal recorder), sounds played via a streaming audio program should automatically be captured to your hard drive.

If that doesn’t work (as is the case on some Macs), get a stereo 1/8-inch audio plug from your local electronics store and run it directly from your computer’s mic jack to its headphone jack. Then make sure that the sound input source is set at microphone, and you should be set to go.

Q: My CD burning software offers the option of overburning, or squeezing more than 80 minutes of audio on an 80-minute CD-R disc. Is this a good idea?

A: The option wouldn’t be offered if it were a recipe for disaster, but overburning should be avoided if possible.

We’ve heard of some folks with top-of-the-line burners who have crammed 90 minutes-plus onto an 80-minute blank. If you’re going to try that, though, be sure to burn at a low speed (1x or 2x)–and to prepare for the possibility that you’ll end up with a small pile of coasters for every successful disc you get. That’s because all that extra musical data needs to fit on the outer edge of the disc, and precise control of the burning laser is absolutely crucial in order for overburning to work; high writing speeds tend to destabilize the laser a bit, making failed discs much more likely.

In any case, overburned discs can make finicky players even more so, even if the disc is only a minute or two over. If you can, find a way to make what you have fit: Delete one track, reduce the gaps between the songs, manually edit one or more of the tracks, or just bite the bullet and put your project on two discs.

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