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Hints for Burning a CD  (April 2019)


In the article Hints for Ripping a CD, I offered several reasons why someone might want to rip and then burn a CD and then discussed the ripping procedure and software.  In this article, I focus on audio CD burning.  Since these articles contain several technical terms, I’ll repeat the list of references to other postings that introduce and discuss those terms, should you wish to refer to them.



Workflow for Burning a CD

The steps for burning a CD, as well as for testing burning software that you’re considering downloading or purchasing, are presented below.  I recommend using a rewritable CD-RW if you’re going to run more than a couple burning tests, since you’d end up throwing away most of the “write-once” test CD-Rs.  As before, I followed these steps using a CD presented to me by a customer of her mother playing piano, and I captured images to illustrate the steps.


  1. Launch a CD burning program capable of writing CD-Text to the CD.

    • If the burning program provides the opportunity to enter the CD’s title and artist, go to Step 3.

    • If not, go to Step 2.

  2. Find and launch a different burning program, one that allows you to enter album title and artist information and will burn that information onto the CD.

  3. Enter or edit the album title, album artist, and track titles if necessary or desired.

  4. Ensure the burn speed and intertrack gap parameters are set to appropriate values.

  5. Burn the CD.

  6. Launch a CD ripping program capable of reading CD-Text to ensure that the album and track information is present on the burned CD, or play it in a CD player capable of displaying album and track information to confirm that this information is present.


Burning a CD

The basic procedure for burning a CD is easy:  Insert a blank CD-R or CD-RW into your optical drive, open your burning software (Step 1 or 2), load the audio files you want to appear on the CD into the burning program’s display (pretty much any format will do, but best to start with lossless audio files like WAV or AIFF), and click “Burn” or “Start” or “Go” or whatever (Step 5).  Then, pop your newly burned CD into your player, press Play (Step 6), and watch as your player dutifully announces “Track 01” by Unknown Artist from the album Unknown Album.


One should be able to do better, so let’s explore what to do to ensure relevant information is written onto the CD in addition to the audio tracks.  The album title, album artist, track titles, genre, and year information is collected into a file known as CD-Text.  Depending on the burning software, this file is burned onto the CD in addition to the audio tracks, and depending on the CD player or player software, this file is read so that the information can be displayed during playing.  The burning program should provide the opportunity to edit the information to be included in CD-Text or to enter it if it isn’t present.


If the burning program’s display of album and track information resembles what appears in Figure 1, then it’s likely that the tracks were created by ripping a CD where that CD does not have a CD-Text file, that the ripping software was incapable of reading that file, or the ripping software was unable to find the CD in an on-line look-up service.  Or all of the above.  Unless this absence of information is rectified before burning a new CD, the absence of meaningful information will be perpetuated.

1 Ready to burn - No CD or track metadat

Figure 1.  Audio file display lacking album and track information.


Track Titles (Step 3):  After loading the audio files and before clicking “Burn,” make sure that the track titles are displayed the way you want them to be burned onto the CD, as in Figure 2.  If what you see resembles Figure 1, you’ll have to type in the information from scratch.  And even if the information is present, it may not be to your liking, in which case you’ll want to edit it.

2 Ready to burn - Track metadata retriev

Figure 2.  Track titles appearing in the burning software display.


Note that there is an entry for artist associated with each of the tracks.  Unfortunately, that part of the display is misleading.  Audio CDs were designed to represent a single artist’s album rather than a compilation from several artists.  A CD player will display only an album artist rather than several track artists.  If there are multiple artists, the convention is to use “Various Artists” as the album artist.  (Where to enter the album artist is discussed below.)


Intertrack Gap (Step 4):  I’m going to jump ahead to Step 4 for a moment because of the appearance of the column labeled “Pre-Gap” in Figure 2.  This may also be termed “Intertrack Gap” or simply “Gap,” and it indicates how many seconds of silence are to be inserted between tracks.  Audio tracks normally have some number of seconds of silence incorporated as lead-in and lead-out, and specifying 0 seconds prevents unnecessarily increasing the gap between tracks.  More importantly, using 0 seconds is mandatory for “gapless play” where there is no break in the music as one track transitions into its successor.  With burning software other than the one used in Figure 2, you may have to hunt for where the intertrack gap is specified.  Some packages use a default of 1 or 2 seconds, and depending on the nature of your audio files, you’ll probably want to set that value to 0.  (The 2 second gap at the start of the first track is standard and should be left in place; this allows sufficient time for the CD player to “find its place” before the music starts in the track.)


Album Title and Album Artist (Step 3):  In addition to track titles, the album title and artist are incorporated into the CD-Text file.  Entering the information is easy (see Figure 3), but finding out where to enter it may be a bit challenging.  Consult the software’s help function of just hunt around until you discover where to enter it.  You might find a button, a pull-down menu, a section in the CD’s or tracks’ Properties dialogue box, a separate prompt, or (best of all) something built into the program’s display into which you can enter the album information.

3 Ready to burn - Adding Album metadata.

Figure 3.  Entering album title and artist (performer) for the CD-Text file.


You will note a composer field in Figure 3.  Like the album title and artist fields, the composer field is intended to apply to the entire CD.  I haven’t found many players that display composer information, and so I generally ignore this field.  The UPC field is for the Universal Product Code of a CD offered for sale, and I typically ignore this as well.


If you’re trying out a burning program, be forewarned that some programs limit the number of characters that can be entered in the album title and artist fields.  Try copying the title of the Pink Floyd song “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict” into the album title and album artist fields (and just for fun, one of the track titles as well).  If these fields can accommodate all 91 characters, you shouldn’t run into a character limit during normal use.  Alternatively, you could enter the 10-character string “1234567890” repeatedly until you exhaust the number of characters available or get tired of typing.  (Then restore these fields to what you really want to be burned.)  In my test of the software used in Figure 3, I stopped typing after 200 characters, figuring that the probability of encountering a longer title is extremely small.  Maybe some day I’ll go back and ascertain what the limit is.           


Burn Speed (Step 4):  While you can let the burning software use its default value for the burn speed, I recommend against this.  The default is often the fastest speed that your drive and media are capable of, but using a much slower speed will minimize the number of errors that crop up in the burning process.  (Players or player software can generally correct for errors, unless they’re egregious or numerous; some error correction algorithms are better than others.)  I recommend using the slowest speed that you can select, such as 8X or 10X (Figure 4).  It will take longer to burn a CD, but it’s worth the wait.

4 Ready to burn - Set CD burn speed.jpg

Figure 4:  Setting the burn speed.


Once you’ve specified the album title, album artist, track titles, intertrack gap(s), and burn speed, you’re ready to burn your CD (Step 5).  After burning the tracks for Mother’s Greatest Hits onto a CD, I opened a ripping program that I know can read CD-Text information (Step 6).  The information retrieved from the newly burned CD appears in Figure 5, and this is the information that I’d want displayed on my CD player.  Note again that there’s only one artist that can be specified on an audio CD.  If you followed all the steps and still get something that looks like Figure 1, your ripping software may be incapable of reading the CD-Text file, or your burning software may be incapable of writing the CD-Text file.  Finding new ripping and/or burning software would be in order.

5 Post burn - Ready to rip with metadata

Figure 5.  Ripping program display of CD-Text information read from a burned CD.


After you’ve burned a CD that you want to keep, you’ll want to label it.  What you write on it is up to you, but what you use to label the CD is important.  Stick-on labels may pose a risk:  Unless they’re precisely centered on the CD, the CD will become unbalanced and will stress your optical drive.  Instead, write on the label side of the CD with a water-based marker.  Solvent-based markers can lead to degeneration of the CD’s layers.  One last thing is to let the ink dry thoroughly before inserting the CD into a drive.  Otherwise, droplets will streak radially toward the edge of the CD, and although this produces an interesting graphic effect on the top of the CD, the splatter can accumulate inside your drive.  Droplets can also transfer to the jewel case’s insert, so I generally leave the CD in an open case for at least 15 minutes (probably overkill, but I want to be absolutely safe).


Software for Burning

As with ripping software, burning software is widely available, one or more programs may have come installed on your computer, many are free, and several of the ones you must pay for offer limited time trial periods.  The comments and caveats mentioned for ripping software also apply to burning software, especially the admonition about unwanted adware that can accompany free programs.  Here are what I consider to be the requirements for a burning program:


  • Creates audio CDs using 700 MB CD-Rs, 700 MB CD-RWs, and 650 MB CD-Rs (the last is optional if your CD player is younger than 30 years, but since I’ve had customers with very old CD players, it’s a requirement for me).

  • Permits rearrangement of the track order in the event the tracks are loaded into the program in the wrong order (like alphabetically by track title), or if you deliberately want to change the order on the burned CD.

  • Allows input and editing of information to be included in the CD-Text file; album title, album artist, and track titles are mandatory.

  • Writes the CD-Text information onto the CD (and that can be verified with appropriate ripping software or a CD player).

  • Allows for 0 seconds between tracks (to enable gapless play).

  • Permits selection of a slow burn speed to minimize errors (e.g., 8X or 10X).

  • Saves selected intertrack gap and burn speed values as the new defaults for the next time the program is opened.


While I can get around ripping software shortcomings with additional typing, there isn’t any such latitude when it comes to burning software.  Some of my experiences might prove useful in knowing what to look for and what to avoid.


Software that came on my computers:  I started out using the program that came installed on my computer, but I deemed it unacceptable when I discovered that it couldn’t write CD-Text information.  Consequently, I began searching for other programs, starting with free software.


Free software:  I found a well-known free package and used it for a couple of years.  Inexplicably it stopped writing CD-Text information to CDs and eventually crashed while burning a CD.  Reinstalling and updating the program provided only temporary reprieve, and so I resumed my exploration of other free programs.  For the most part, what I found was disheartening.  Here are some of the issues I encountered.


  • Bundled with known malware.

  • Failure to import track titles, thereby requiring them to be typed in.

  • Failure to support gapless play (intertrack gap of 0 seconds).

  • Failure to burn at any rate other than the CD’s and drive’s maximum.

  • Unreasonable limitation on the number of characters allowed in the album title and artist.

  • Failure to burn the CD-Text information onto the CD.


I kept one of the free programs I had looked at, and it has worked well.  It was only recently that I discovered its ridiculous 32-character limit in the album title and artist, but I have retained this program as a back-up burner.


Trial software (and eventual purchase):  By this time in my hunt for a fully functional and reliable burning program, I decided that I’d be better off purchasing one.  At least I’d have some support from the vendor in case I ran into problems.  I downloaded and tested three packages that offered a trial period, and while the results were better overall than those of the free software, there were still issues.


  • Two of the three programs limited the number of characters in the album title and artist fields to 70 or 80 characters.While better than 32, I remained uneasy about having such a limit.

  • One of the three failed to burn the CD-Text information onto the CD.

  • One of the three reset the burn speed option to the fastest speed every time the program was opened.

  • I stumbled upon a serious problem with two of the programs when burning adjacent tracks for gapless play.  Inexplicably, both programs discarded 9 milliseconds from the end of the leading file, and since the waveforms in the two tracks no longer aligned, an obnoxious digital click was introduced.


The net result of my testing was that I had managed to eliminate all three of the free-trial programs under consideration.  Rather than starting all over, I decided to purchase a highly rated program sight unseen; it did not offer a trial version but did come with a money-back guarantee.  It has performed admirably with several dozen burns.  Unfortunately, it exhibited the same digital click problem described in the last bullet above.  (This suggests that several vendors are using the same underlying burn “engine.”)  The vendor has replicated the problem in their own tests and escalated it to their programmers.  I remain hopeful that I’ll receive an update that has fixed this bug.  Fortunately, the program has handled other instances of gapless play just fine (go figure!).  Meanwhile, I can revert to the free program I retained if the need arises.  That program did not exhibit the digital click problem described above.


With this background, you should be well prepared to select a fully capable program and to burn audio CDs with the information and track order you’ll be satisfied with.  Good luck!


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