If you are not sure of your CD drive's capabilities, EAC offers automated settings. This comes in handy when your drive is not listed in the EAC database pre-installed with the program. Now place an audio CD into your CD reader/writer drive and make sure that the CD is of good quality like a Chesky pressing. Click the Detect Read Features button in the Options window. After a few minutes, click apply (not OK!). The program will now ask you to support the EAC community by submitting the drive settings as displayed to the EAC website so that this data may be included in the growing database for future users. After this, return to the Drive Options tab and make sure that Secure Mode is still enabled. Finally go to the Drive tab and click the Auto Detect Read command. This concludes the basic setup.

More elaborate settings are in order for older drives. With the current prices for CD writers, a modern SCSI drive will not rip you off too much (pun intended). Modern drives include a feature called Accurate Stream. This means that if the TOC tells your player that is has to go to block 10000 on the disc, it really does go to 10000 and not 9998 or 10005. Without Accurate Stream, there can be discrepancies between players. For that reason, Andre Wiethoff determined the offset of his own preferred drive. From that and a list of known CDs with their relative offsets, EAC can calibrate your drive for exact offsets. Use several of the CDs published on the list to determine the best correction setting.

Now you are ready to make your first Exact Audio copy. Put a CD in your drive, run EAC and observe all your CD's tracks displayed in the window. Select one or more to copy. From the EAC tab select your preferred copy -- selected or all -- and that a cue sheet is to be made. Next select the folder where you want to store the data. Remember that a dedicated, freshly initialized disc is the best to use, not one emptied by just deleting all old files and folders. Now EAC starts its noble job. It results in either a selection of tracks in .WAV form or one big .WAV file containing all tracks while a separate cue sheet is being formed. When you are done reading the CD to your hard drive, you can begin the burning session. For this you can use any CD burning software like Nero or EAC, which features a pre-installed and very decent CD burner under the Tools tab. This program is self-explanatory and uses the cue sheet as a base. Do not expect all CD copies to be better than the original. Only those originals that are mechanically challenged in one way or another are improved. Sublime CDs are just copied in all their original glory and unchanged as they are. However, in most cases, a copied CD sounds better than the original even if it is only true for certain tracks. A freshly burned CD-R has often far better articulated pits than a pressed one. Just like with vinyl pressings, the stampers wear out and the record company is not always willing or finacially able to replace them every x-number of CDs. Worse, many times CDs are re-issued using old worn stampers. Freshly cut CDs nearly always contain less jitter than mass-duplicated commercial versions.

However - what CD-R blank to burn your precious ripped copy to? Audio or Data CD-R? Gold, silver, red or black? There are many more variants of CD-R blanks than of pressed CDs and there is a basic difference. To start with, a blank CD-R is not completely blank but contains a prefabricated wobble groove to guide the burning laser from the inside of the CD-R to the outside. At –35 second before the first actual audio, the writing process burns certain additional data. The music starts at 0 seconds. The pre-music data contains track information. In the finalizing process, this data is transferred to the TOC. The area at –13 seconds on the CD-R is used by the laser burner to establish the intensity setting to determine what kind of CD-R it is about to burn to. A recording is finalized only when all data in the lead-in area is completed, the TOC has been established and the final lead-out following the user data written.

Just like a pressed CD, a CD-R consists of a 1.2mm thick polycarbonate disc, albeit with an intermediate recording layer formed by organic dye. Above that, you'll find a layer of reflective silver or gold and -- again a very thin -- protective lacquer top coat. When viewed from the recording side, a CD-R can be green or blue in color depending on the type of dye used. Green indicates blue cyanine dye with a refractive layer of gold. Blue points at a reflective layer of silver. Yellow hues arise from phthalocyanine. Another common dye is azo. They all have their pros and cons mostly with regard to longevity, which is very important for archival computer storage.

The pre-groove is a wobbled 22.05kHz sinus groove of 0,6 micrometer width and modulated just like an FM carrier with a 1KHz signal to create a clock signal. During writing,
the laser heats up the dye and turns it more opaque, making the spot less reflective to create the usual pit and flat pattern. For our purposes, we want a CD-R that is durable while providing the best audio quality. That does not mean that we have to use audio-branded CD-Rs, which are especially produced for dedicated audio disc writers. In most countries, audio discs impose an extra tax that should benefit the music industry. However, we can just as well use ordinary data CD-Rs. Not long ago, Kodak gold blanks were a good choice since they were made for long-lasting storage use with their edges sealed. Do not circumcise a non-gold CD. You might expose the reflective layer to oxidation. Also, Kodak's reflective gold layer did not suffer any pin holes.

Then black CD-Rs entered the market. Those are made of colored polycarbonate with a reflective layer of silver. These were at first intended for the video game market. Sony's Play Station games arrived on black CDs and were considered cool. Soon music lovers started to use black CD-Rs and next to the notably improved musicality of expertly ripped and burned CDs, it appeared that black blanks added even further performance gains though a bit-by-bit comparison does not show any differences.

There is something special about this kind of CD-R. What though? One plausible theory claims that the black polycarbonate substrate has better translucency and creates improved dye absorption for a pit that's better defined. A better-defined pit means less jitter and more music!

A disintegrated CD

Black isn't black by the way. A lot of black CDs are reddish-black, others bluish-black. We just picked up a few French carbon CD-Rs made by MPO. They claim better UV resistance so you can leave them in your car exposed to sun. When used for normal audio use, they sound great. All this makes it worthwhile to plan for an upcoming (black) CD-R shoot-out. We'll use the summer to start a collection of blank CD-Rs.

Fellow moonie Jules is more at home with this subject of the law though we personally believe that it is (still) our right to make a copy of a CD we purchased for personal use. Moreover, it is also justifiable to make a copy of an out-of-print CD and give that to a friend. As long as there are no financial gains, this should be okay. Making compilations is a fascinating way to share new music with others. Make a compilation CD of your favorite music pieces and give it to a friend. It is very personal and challenging and when the recording quality is very good, it's even more rewarding.

The industry has other ideas and wants to protect 'their' music with everything they can think of - copy protection, law suits, SACD (or was there another reason?)... you name it. Of course gross commercial piracy should be stopped. But what if you cannot make a legal copy of a CD you bought for a substantial amount of money? A little googling presents you with various tools like WinDac to overcome copy protection but the quality isn't the same as with EAC.

To wrap up, you merely need a few things to make great copies of your CDs. Nothing more is required for the best quality. Any system with better specifications like external FireWire DVD/CD writer, Titanium processor etc. merely speeds things up but doesn't make them better. The minimum requirements are:

  • a simple PC with a SCSI card and Windows XP, even an old Pentium 1 will do
  • an external SCSI CD reader/writer, vibration-isolated
  • a dedicated hard disc for intermediate storage
  • Exact Audio Copy licensed via postcard
  • wnaspi32.dll
  • high quality CD-R (gold or black)
  • a little patience
  • something to get that smile off your face
  • and of course great music to start with.