Burning music files to a CD

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This page provides an overview of how to burn an audio CD.

Audacity does not burn CDs directly but audio files created with Audacity can be used with a CD burning program to create an audio CD.

Audio CDs

There are two main types of CDs that you can create with CD burning software: audio CDs and data CDs.

  • To ensure that you create a CD that will play anywhere it is important to choose the option to burn an "Audio CD" or "Music CD" and not a "Data CD". A data CD containing for example MP3 or WAV files will play happily on your computer but is unlikely to play in a standalone CD player or in-car CD player (note that some modern CD players will play data CDs). An audio CD will play on any standalone or in-car CD player and in your computer and in modern DVD players.
Audio CDs don't have files or a file system like data CDs and other computer storage media, but consist essentially of a stream of bits on the disk in a single spiral "track" with a TOC (Table of Contents) index.
  • Audio CDs are generally limited to 74 minutes playing time on a 650 MB disc ("Red Book Standard") or 80 minutes on a 700 MB disc.
  • When buying blank CDs for burning, it is strongly recommended that you purchase good quality CD-Rs (that can be burnt just once) and not the rewritable CD-RWs.

Audacity setup

Audio CDs always contain uncompressed PCM stereo audio at 44100 Hz sample rate, 16-bit sample format. So to burn an audio CD, export the file(s) you want to burn as a 44100 Hz 16-bit stereo WAV or AIFF file.

To configure Audacity for this:

  1. At the bottom left of the Audacity window, set the Project Rate to 44100 Hz.
  2. Some CD burning software require you to have a stereo track. If your Project does not already contain a stereo track, click Tracks > Add New > Stereo Track. It does not matter that this track is empty, its purpose is just to make Audacity export your recording as a stereo file. This step is not needed if you are burning to CD with iTunes or Toast.
  3. Click File > Export and choose "WAV (Microsoft) signed 16 bit PCM" in the "Save as type" box.

It may be possible to use other formats if your CD-burning software supports them, but they may not give the best quality or they may not be playable on all CD players.

If you experience clicks at the start or end in the resulting CD tracks, this may because your CD burning drive or software does not correct for track splits made outside CD frame boundaries. To enable splits at CD frames, right-click or use the context key when over any of the three fields in Selection Toolbar, then choose one of the selection formats for CDDA frames. This may also be required if burning gapless CDs.

Multiple songs

If you are exporting a long Audacity track that contains multiple songs, please see "Splitting a recording into separate tracks" for how to export multiple files for each of the songs by using labels to identify songs for the Export Multiple command to operate on.

An alternative method is to use Cue Sheets to define individual songs.

Burning software

In order to burn an audio CD you will need a CD burning program. Most computers already come with media player software that can burn CDs. For example, you can use Windows Media Player built into Windows or iTunes built into Macs. In either of these programs, drag the files you want to burn from the location you exported them to into a "playlist" ready for burning.

Ensure in either Windows Media Player or iTunes that you select the option for burning a "Music CD" and not a "Data CD" as mentioned above.

Warning icon Windows Media Player 11 will not accept WAV files for burning if they are dragged straight into a burn list without having previously been played in Media Player. You will see a red symbol and a "length of file cannot be determined" error. To solve this problem, drag the file into the Media Player Library or into a playlist, then from there into a burn list. Windows Media Player 12 does not have this problem.
  • Also, neither Windows Media Player 11 or 12 can burn AIFF files, so you must export from Audacity as WAV.

You can also use a standalone Windows burning program like CDBurnerXP, Deep Burner or Nero (or Burn or Toast for Mac OS X) to burn your exported files. Most Linux distributions include Brasero or K3B for CD burning. When using standalone burning programs, open the files from within that software, do not drag and drop them from your file manager. Once again don't forget to select the setting to burn an "Audio CD" or "Music CD" as explained above.

Common Pitfalls
  • Wrong sample rate: Most CD burning software expects all files to be at 44100 Hz.
  • Unsupported formats: Some CD burning software does not support compressed formats such as MP3, Ogg, or M4A/AAC.

Gapless burning

By default, many CD burning programs add a two-second gap between CD tracks as part of the standard for audio CDs. So be aware of CD track gaps when placing labels between album tracks for Export Multiple and consider deleting excess silences between tracks.

However most CD burning programs have an option to burn the CD with no gaps between tracks. This is useful for recordings such as live concerts, allowing the CD to play continuously if the player supports gapless playback while still permitting skipping to individual CD tracks. If burning a gapless CD, you will need to place the Audacity labels exactly where you intend the burner to mark the track splits. Some CD burning programs (for example, older versions of Windows Media Player) have no option to burn without gaps. Gapless burning is also only available if the optical drive supports Disc-At-Once (DAO).

Additionally, make sure you don't export MP3 files for burning to your gapless CD, even if you're burning a "data CD", because MP3s have inherent silence padding due to a restriction of the MP3 format.

Note you may still hear the most momentary gaps between tracks even on DAO burned CDs, unless the CD player supports true gapless playback. Many CD players do not support gapless playback properly because the hardware simply doesn't buffer the audio data properly. However quite a few computer-based media players can use DSP effects when playing back audio to give proper gapless playback, even of CDs not burned with DAO. An example of such a player is Apple's iTunes.

Cue Sheets

An alternative solution is to not split the track up at all in Audacity. The best way to get apparently gapless playback of a live concert recording or live album is to burn as one WAV file with with DAO and a "cue sheet" that marks the starting times of each CD track. Cue sheets can be created as simple plain text files.

Each track in a Cue Sheet is of this format:

  • TRACK (number) AUDIO
  • TITLE "(name)"
  • PERFORMER "(name)"
  • INDEX 01 (start time) in the format minutes:seconds:frames with the first track always being 00:00:00

Audacity cannot currently export Cue Sheets but it is possible to use the File > Export Labels command to export a text file representing the label positions, then on Windows and Linux use label2cue to convert the minutes and seconds data in the text file to minutes, seconds and frames data laid out in cue sheet format.

You can read more about cue sheets on Wikipedia here.

Burning longer recordings to disc

As stated above audio CDs are generally limited to either 74 or 80 minutes, however it is sometimes possible to achive longer times by using Overburning. Alternatively, for longer recordings, you may be able to use data discs provided your player will support and play these. (A data CD will not normally play on older standalone CD players. It will play on computers, most DVD players and in MP3 CD players).

Links

<  Back to: Splitting a recording into separate tracks

|< Tutorial - Copying tapes, LPs or MiniDiscs to CD

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