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Internal Vs. External CD Recorders
as used in the home recording process

CD burners...the best thing since sliced bread for a virtually non-destructive media for transporting and archiving music and data (more on this below). (this article which refers to "external" or "home" recorders applies to both CD-R and "Minidisk" CD burners. The concepts related here are the same on both CD's and "Minidisks")

I use both an internal and external CD burner for a variety of different tasks related to recording and presenting music, both on and off the web. They both have convenience in different areas for me and I thought I would share these areas with you so that maybe you will get a better idea of which is best for you.

Recording Songs

I have both a 4 Track and an 8 Track cassette multi-tracker. Both are by Tascam. In a previous article about "bouncing tracks" I mentioned that I sometimes record OUT to a CD recorder for a mixdown, and then back into my tape deck to simulate bouncing. I keep my external CD burner (a Phillips) wired to the line-out jacks of my tape decks.

When writing tracks that I will either send out to the CD burner for mix-down, or for a final product, I simply play the tape and record it to a CD-RW (rewriteable) CD track. The conversion from tape to CD, due to some nice DA converters in the CD recorder, seems to compress the signal just a bit, and the recorded version on the CD actually sounds a little better to me then the tracks it came from.

The Philips is a dual deck..there is a recorder and a player (see the picture). Using a graphic equalizer between my tape deck, and the CD burner, I can tailor or tweek the sound as I please AS it is recorded on the burner. This is a good tool to have if you are dealing with a tape that might be lacking some presence or if you wish to accentuate some particular part(s) of the sound spectrum. When I am done with the recording process on the burner, I can finalize the CD and do some additional things with it as I will explain later on. Personally, I find that having the external Phillips burner always in the chain of gear is a much better scenario (for me) then relying on an internal burner in my computer and here is why:

If I was going to record output from my decks to an internal PC-CD burner, I would have to:

1) Run a cable from the line-out of the tape deck, into the soundcard of my PC. One problem is, I usually have other things plugged in there, and it's a pain to crawl around and pop out a cable to put in the one from the tape deck.

2) In order to get the sound to a CD using the internal burner, I would have to create a .wav file 1st. The software that allows me to do this is available in many different formats, and which ever you like that works for you is cool. After the .wav file is made (and on a PC, this could be 50-60 mb's of data), then I would have to load up my CD burning software and utilize the program that let's me take the wav file and get it positioned in the que for burning to the CD.

3) Burn the CD on the computer, allow it to finalize, and retrieve it.

If I was going to record output from my decks to my external CD burner.

1) Hit record on the Burner
That 's it ! The final product is now on a CD-R, and available for sending BACK into the tape deck if I want to add additional tracks, or to be made into an MP3 file for the internet, or for adding additional tracks or songs to later.

In addition to the convenience, the CD-RW can be written over 1,000's of times should I decide to re-use it later on...which I certainly do !

Proprietary Format?

You may have heard or read that the "Home Recorders ", or external CD burners use a CD that can only be used to play back on a like player from the same manufacturer. This is kind of true.

I can only speak about Phillips products, so here's what I have realized.

A CD-RW is just that, and the Phillips recognizes CD-RW's designed for music. There are also CD-RW's for data, but that's a different animal, and I will get to that later. When the Phillips writes to a STANDARD CD-R, it writes in a format that only it recognizes...except if you buy the CD-R disks especially made FOR the Phillips to produce a CD that ANY cd player will recognize. These "special" CD's used to be roughly 3x the price of "regular" CD's, but the prices have come down quite a bit in the last year, and when you use them, the result is the same just as if you used any CD burner..you will be able to play your CD in a car, on your computer, or in any CD player.


But for this article, I am not so concerned with whether or not you can play these in your car...this article is intended to explain my perspective on the requirements related to the use of the internal Vs. external type CD burners. Obviously (you are saying), "What's the use of recording to a CD if you can't PLAY IT?"

What I am saying is that the ease of use for me in keeping a CD burner always in the signal chain is very convenient and well worth the lack of a hassle when it's time to burn the CD.

Remember...to record to a CD from your internal recorder, you need to 1st record it to a file, and then record it on the CD.

I also find that the external recorders have a great ease of use if you want to record from multiple sources like from another CD player, or from your old 8-Track player, or from your record player (just go from the outs of your home stereo into the burner's inputs and hit record).

Back to the subject !

Ok...AFTER I have recorded my tracks to my burner on the CD-RW, and I am happy with the results, it's time to make the CD that I want to share with another person, or use for making an MP3 file. Also having a burner in my PC, allows me to buy and use the least expensive CD-R's I can find. No Proprietary Format here ! Remember that on the External burners that you need to use CD-R's designed for that machine in order to have a CD that is playable anywhere...


After I make the CD-RW as explained above of songs or tracks from my tape Decks. I can finalize the CD-RW, and put it in the CD BURNER in my computer, and utilizing the software that came with the PC CD burner, I can copy the song to my PC's hard-drive, and then burn any old standard cheapo CD from my computer. What's the advantage in doing this? The advantage is that I can keep my external burner, hooked up to my equalizer, compressors, and tape decks, (that is the key for me) and use the same CD-RW over and over again to make a regular CD from my computer.

There's nothing more frustrating then having to re-wire all my devices over and over in order to achieve what I want. The computer can be used produce the final copy, and I can still use it AS a computer while I am recording if I want to. ALSO...I can (if I want to) record FROM my computer TO the external burner, as I do when working on midi songs people have e-mailed me.

Some people waill not be able to see the sense in having an external burner at their disposal, and I guess I can understand that, but for me, it's been a great tool to work with.

Buffer under-run is a problem that most internal PC-CD burners seem to experience. This is the result of the CD burner asking for data from the computer faster then the computer can provide it, and ultimately, the software that runs the CD burner will error out while waiting for the data to fill up the buffer. This is why people have learned to copy ENTIRE CD'S to their computers disk-drives, and then back to a CD-R. The common cure is to use what's called "Disk at Once" and copy to CD-R from your PC's Hard Drive. What I found is that the very best way to make sure that you will have absolutely NO errors on the CD you are preparing from another one is to copy one track at a time from the Burner to your PC, and then back, swapping in the "copy from" CD and then "copy to" CD. Other wise, there is some change you will miss the beginnings and or the ends of the previous songs. Sound a bit like the old days of Floppy Disks?

No such problems exist with an external burner...you simply hit the DUB button, and your CD is copied the 1st time with no errors or hassle, and you didn't have to copy it to your PC first.

MP3 Files

Creating an MP3 file from your CD, whether made on an inter or external burner is very simple, and is foolproof.

Insert the CD in your PC, fire up your PC MP3 software (Cdex, Real Jukebox, etc) select the track(s) you want and your PC and it's software will do it all for you. A file(s) ending in .mp3 will be created, and you are there ! Of course there are different requirememnts for the various MP3 sites and such, but that's another article...

One other thing...when you have a CD burner installed in your PC, you have the ability to store your PC's DATA on the CD-R's. This means you can BACK UP your data in a very easy and reliable fashion, and THAT is probably worth the entire reason of having an internal CD burner !!!