Can "Commercial" CD Player Handle "Computer" CDs?


This is an issue I've scouted around to answer and still don't feel that I understand it.

I vaguely recall that the mechanical process of making AUDIO "commercial" CDs (the kind that can be played on a stand-alone CD player, home or car) physically cuts grooves differently than what happens when we "cut" a CD on our Mac. I guess, the first question: is that correct?

Second, this may be redundant: speaking in general, is it possible to burn an audio CD on a Mac that will be playable on "commercial" players?

Finally, if all is well so far: which codec/encoding format would I have to use to make my Mac-burned audio CD playable on these other machines (or, at least, would maximize my chances among the machines out there)? Would I have any choices about going compressed vs. non-compressed?

Thank you if you can help to lead me to enlightenment.

There are definite differences in professionally-mastered CDs and home-burned CD-Rs and CD-RWs. However, any modern (say, past 5 years, and many even older) CD Player should have no trouble reading CD-Rs or CD-RWs. So yes, you can burn audio CDs playable in standard CD players (99% of them, anyway) with no trouble.

As for which format, that would be "audio CD". Audio CDs use no compression. They're basically just AIFF files laid out properly. Use a CD-burning app like iTunes or Toast to the necessary conversion (if any) and formatting for your CD.

If you have a more modern CD player, though, it's possible it can play mp3 CDs. These are like regular CDs, only they use (you guessed it) mp3s, so you can fit like 5-10x the number of songs on each CD. iTunes can burn mp3 CDs as well. Check your CD player's manual to see if it supports this format.
Some older CD drives (in cars, stereos, etc.) had problems with any recordable (CD-R or -RW) discs, and would not play.

Most new ones play CD-Rs. Some play -RWs, but not nearly as many. However with the prices of CD-Rs currently, CD-RWs can't have much longevity left in them.

As for your mechanical question, you're right (mostly). Commercial CD production is pressed into a reflective metal (pushing out troughs of equal depth). Being digital, a CD's troughs and "flats" represent zeroes and ones - binary digits. Over the reflective metal lies plastic (for protection) and on top goes the label (on more plastic).

A "burned" CD is read in the same way but produced very differently. Instead of pressing the information into the CD (which is very accurate but requires a large machine), the CD is made with a layer of specially treated "liquid". This liquid has special properties - you can burn sections of it with very minimal stippling or bleeding out, and in the case of CD-RWs, you can "refresh" the liquid. "Un-burn" it.

The laser burns miniscule dots onto the liquid which work exactly the same way as a pressed CD (the burned dots don't reflect the reading-laser, and the parts left unburned do, just like troughs don't reflect the light and "flats" do).

The problem initially was to do with the position of the laser and how it read the CD (manufacturers exploited the disc-pressing process in an alternate way, so their readers weren't prepared for alternate disc writing methods).