Buying a CD Burner
I’m ready to purchase a CD drive for burning music CDs. I already have fifty CD-R disks that apparently are not as good as CD-RW, but I don’t foresee needing to overwrite these. So, what things do I look for? I have a Blue & White G3, so I think I have a FireWire port but I don’t know for sure.
I don’t understand what those 4x4x12 numbers really mean in the real world. I just want to be able to combine some of my favorite songs from separate CDs onto a few good ones, for traveling music or whatever. Advice welcome. Thanks.
For burning music CDs you need CD-R disks. (They don’t have to be special audio CD-R disks—any good quality CD-R disks will work.) CD-RW disks mostly are used for computer data. Audio CD players can’t read CD-RW disks even when they contain only CD audio tracks. I use CD-RW disks for backups. To get the equipment that best meets your needs, you should consider all the following items:
First, you should decide whether you want both CD-R and CD-RW capabilities. If all you want to do is create music CDs, only CD-R is necessary. However, if you don’t already have a good, high-capacity backup system (like a DAT tape drive), then I recommend you get a CD-R/CD-RW drive.
Second, you should decide whether you want an internal or external drive. The external drives cost a bit more and take up more space, but they have two advantages: you can use them with a different computer (like an iMac), and you don’t have to bring in or disassemble your tower if they need service. Also, there aren’t many Mac-compatible internal CD-R/CD-RW drives.
Third, you need to decide which is more important to you: higher speed or lower cost. You’ll pay a premium for getting faster drives. The three speed numbers represent how fast a drive (1) records CD-R disks, (2) records CD-RW disks, and (3) plays CD-ROM disks. Today, a low-end drive would have speed ratings of 4x4x12. What does that mean? Well, a full CD of music lasts 74 minutes. A 4x CD-R drive could record all that music in less than 19 minutes. (A 4x CD-RW could write the equivalent amount of data in the same time.) So what about getting a really fast drive like a 16x12x32? Well, for music recording it turns out that you can’t reliably use speeds greater than 4x. (The technical reason for this is that at high rotation speeds there’s not enough time for the CD burner’s laser burst to create good microscopic bubbles on the disk.) I generally burn my music CDs at 2x. At 4x I end up with CD-sized coasters about one time in five.
Fourth, if you decide to buy an internal CD-R/CD-RW drive, you won’t need to worry about FireWire versus USB. The connection will be SCSI or IDE. (Note from Evan Trent: The newer G4 towers contain internal FireWire connections, so you can install an internal FireWire CD burner.) If you go with an external drive, you actually have three choices: SCSI, FireWire, or USB. I would avoid USB drives because the USB connection is slow. Since the Blue & White G3 towers don’t have a SCSI port (unless they contain a PCI SCSI card), you should opt for a FireWire drive.
Fifth, you should try to get a drive that includes good software for recording. I use Adaptec Toast Deluxe. Many drives come with Adaptec Toast. I recommend paying to upgrade to the Deluxe version. It includes CD Spin Doctor, a good program for recording and cleaning up music from phonographs or tapes. The main Toast program has a feature you will like: Toast’s Greatest Hits. Suppose you want to put selected tracks from four CDs onto a single audio CD. You load each CD into your Macintosh and drag the desired tracks onto Toast’s window. You can arrange the tracks in any order. When you start recording, Toast will tell you when to insert each CD and will record the tracks in the order you picked. Neat, huh? If you’ll be using your drive to make backups, you’ll need good software that works with CD-R and CD-RW media. Toast can do backups, but dedicated programs make backups easier. I recommend Retrospect Express (see my ATPM review).
For my beige G3 tower I selected an external 4x4x16 ClubMac (with a Yamaha-built drive). The Yamaha- and Plextor-built drives perform well and generally receive good reviews. I’m not as familiar with the Sony or LaCie CD-RW drives.
You can download a specification sheet for a FireWire Yamaha drive. FireWiremax and allFireWire sell FireWire drives, including CD-R/CD-RW. You can also try the usual mail-order and Web stores. MacReviewZone features CD burner reviews and links.
I’ll end by listing a few CD recording tips:
I strongly recommend creating at least one 700-800 MB hard drive partition that you can use for files you will transfer to CD-ROM or for creating a CD image file. For example, when I convert phonograph records to audio CDs, I first record the phonograph music onto my special partition using CD Spin Doctor. Once the CD is burned, I erase the partition to get it ready for the next time. Erasing the partition prevents disk and file fragmentation that can slow down data transfer.
I also recommend giving your CD recording application plenty of RAM. Finally, make sure that you don’t have background tasks running when burning a CD. Turn off your screen savers, e-mail programs (that might check for mail on a schedule), and reminders. I wrecked one CD because Toast didn’t like my screen saver, and another when my Now Up-to-Date program decided to remind me about a relative’s birthday in the middle of a CD burning session.
—Gregory Tetrault, Contributing Editor/Reviews
Thanks for all the suggestions and advice. I ordered a 4x4x32 EZQuest from your sponsor Small Dog. Now I just gotta figure out which port is the FireWire. Probably the one with nothing plugged into it. :-)
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