Andy McFadden's
CD-Recordable FAQ - Section 2

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Last-modified: 2010/01/09
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[2] CD Encoding
[2-1] How is the information physically stored?
[2-2] What is XA? CDPLUS? CD-i? MODE1 vs MODE2? Red/yellow/blue book?
[2-3] How do I know what format a disc is in?
[2-4] How does copy protection work?
[2-4-1] ...on a data CD-ROM?
[2-4-2] ...on an audio CD?
[2-4-3] ...on an audio CD (Macrovision - SafeAudio)
[2-4-4] ...on an audio CD (SunnComm - MediaCloQ and MediaMax CD3)
[2-4-5] ...on an audio CD (Midbar Tech - Cactus Data Shield)
[2-4-6] ...on an audio CD (Key2Audio / Sony DADC)
[2-4-7] ...on an audio CD (BayView Systems - Duolizer)
[2-4-8] ...on an audio CD (Sanyo)
[2-4-9] How does the Doc-Witness OpSecure CD-ROM work?
[2-4-10] What's the Sony BMG rootkit (First 4 Internet XCP)?
[2-5] What's a multisession disc?
[2-6] What are subcode channels?
[2-7] Are the CD Identifier fields widely used?
[2-8] How long does it take to burn a CD-R?
[2-9] What's the difference between disc-at-once and track-at-once?
[2-10] Differences between recording from an image and on-the-fly?
[2-11] How does an audio CD player know to skip data tracks?
[2-12] How does CD-RW compare to CD-R?
[2-13] Can DVD players read CD-Rs?
[2-14] Should I buy a DVD recorder instead?
[2-15] What are "jitter" and "jitter correction"?
[2-16] Where can I learn more about the history of CD and CD-R?
[2-17] Why don't audio CDs use error correction?
[2-18] How does CD-R compare to MiniDisc?
[2-19] What does finalizing (and closing and fixating) do?
[2-20] How are WAV/AIFF files converted into Red Book CD audio?
[2-21] What does MultiRead mean? MultiPlay?
[2-22] If recording fails, is the disc usable?
[2-23] Why do recorders insert "00" bytes at the start of audio tracks?
[2-24] How many tracks can I have? How many files?
[2-25] Will SCMS prevent me from making copies?
[2-26] Is a serial number placed on the disc by the recorder?
[2-27] What's a TOC? How does it differ from a directory?
[2-28] What's an ISO? A CIF? BIN and CUE? .DAT?
[2-29] Why was 74 minutes chosen as the standard length?
[2-30] Why is there a visibly unwritten strip near the CD-R hub?
[2-31] What is "BURN-Proof"? "JustLink"? "Waste-Proof"?
[2-32] Can playing CD-Rs in a DVD player hurt the discs?
[2-33] Who *really* made this CD-R blank?
[2-34] Can I make copies of DTS-encoded CDs?
[2-35] Why 44.1KHz? Why not 48KHz?
[2-36] What format are .CDA files in?
[2-37] What are DD-R and DD-RW?
[2-38] What's an ATIP?
[2-39] What are "ML" discs and devices?
[2-40] What's CD-MRW? Mount Rainier? EasyWrite?
[2-41] What's Audio Master Quality (AMQ) recording?
[2-42] Can I draw pictures on a disc with the recording laser?
[2-43] What are the gory details about how are 1s and 0s encoded?
[2-43-1] How does the laser read or write a disc?
[2-43-2] How do pits and lands turn into 1s and 0s? What's EFM?
[2-43-3] What's a frame? CIRC encoding? How does ECC work?
[2-43-4] What's in a sector?
[2-43-5] What's in a subcode channel?
[2-43-6] I want even more details
[2-44] Digital is better than analog, right?
[2-44-1] What is "digital" and "digitization", anyway?
[2-44-2] How does this relate to CD-DA?
[2-45] What's a CDR-ROM? CD-PROM?
[2-46] What's HD-BURN? GigaRec?
[2-47] What are C2 errors? What do they say about disc quality?
[2-48] What are CD+R and CD+RW?
[2-49] What's HighMAT?
[2-50] What's VariRec?
[2-51] Will my CDs work on players in other countries?
[2-52] Do CD-Rs have deeper pits? Are "shallow burns" bad?
[2-53] What's a stacking ring?

Subject: [2] CD Encoding

CD fundamentals.

Subject: [2-1] How is the information physically stored?

From _The Compact Disc Handbook, 2nd edition_ by Ken Pohlmann, 1992 (ISBN 0-89579-300-8):

"Write-once media is manufactured similarly to conventional playback-only discs. As with regular CDs, they employ a polycarbonate substrate, a reflective layer, and a protective top layer. Sandwiched between the substrate and reflective layer, however, is a recording layer composed of an organic dye. .... Unlike regular CDs, a pre-grooved spiral track is used to guide the recording laser along the spiral track; this greatly simplifies recorder hardware design and ensures disc compatibility."

Your basic CD-R is layered like this, from top to bottom:

[optional] label
[optional] scratch-resistant and/or printable coating
UV-cured lacquer
Reflective layer (24K gold or a silver alloy)
Organic polymer dye
Polycarbonate substrate (the clear plastic part)
Yes, it's real gold in "green" and "gold" CDs, but if you hold a CD-R up to a light source you'll notice that it's thin enough to see through (the gold layer is between 50 and 100nm thick). Something to bear in mind is that the data is closest to the label side of the CD, not the clear plastic side that the data is read from. If the CD-R doesn't have a hard top coating such as Kodak's "Infoguard", it's fairly easy to scratch the top surface and render the CD-R unusable.

A pressed CD has raised and lowered areas, referred to as "lands" and "pits", respectively. A laser in the CD recorder creates marks in the disc's dye layer that have the same reflective properties. The pattern of pits and lands on the disc encodes the information and allows it to be retrieved on an audio or computer CD player. See section (2-43) for specifics.

Discs are written from the inside of the disc outward. On a CD-R you can verify this by looking at the disc after you've written to it. The spiral track on a 74-minute disc makes 22,188 revolutions around the CD, with roughly 600 track revolutions per millimeter as you move outward from the lead-in (23mm from the center) to the outer edge at 58mm. If you "unwound" the spiral, it would be about 5700 meters (3.5 miles) long.

The construction of a CD-RW is different:

[optional] label
[optional] scratch-resistant and/or printable coating
UV-cured lacquer
Reflective layer (aluminum)
Upper dielectric layer
Recording layer (phase change film, i.e. the part that changes form)
Lower dielectric layer
Polycarbonate substrate (the clear plastic part)
See the net references section for pointers to more data (especially You can find some nice drawings at The various pages connected to have some computations on disc parameters.

The Philips document "Principles of Phase Change Recordings" at has some nice drawings and a very detailed explanation of how CD-RW works.

Subject: [2-2] What is XA? CDPLUS? CD-i? MODE1 vs MODE2? Red/yellow/blue book?

A quick summary of standards and commonly used identifiers:

Red Book
physical format for audio CDs (a/k/a CD-DA)
Yellow Book
physical format for data CDs
Green Book
physical format for CD-i
Orange Book
physical format for recordable CDs
Part I
CD-MO (Magneto-Optical)
Part II
CD-WO (Write-Once; includes "hybrid" spec for PhotoCD)
Part III
CD-RW (ReWritable; originally called CD-E)
White Book
format for VideoCD (often written "VCD")
Blue Book
CD Extra (occasionally used to refer to LaserDisc format)
CD Extra
a two-session CD, 1st is CD-DA, 2nd is data (a/k/a CD Plus)
standard 2048-byte Yellow Book sectors, with error correction
2336-byte sectors, usually used for CD-ROM/XA
eXtended Architecture; CD-ROM/XA MODE-2 defines two forms:
2048 bytes of data, with error correction, for data
2324 bytes of data, no ecc, for audio/video
file layout standard (evolved from High Sierra format)
Rock Ridge
extensions allowing long filenames and UNIX-style symlinks
Sony's incremental packet-writing filesystem
industry-standard incremental packet-writing filesystem
Philips' std for encoding disc and track data on audio CDs
CD-ROM/XA is an extension to the Yellow Book Mode 2 standard. It was intended as a bridge between CD-ROM and CD-i (Green Book).

See if you want to buy copies of the standards. They're not cheap! You can download some of them from ECMA-119 describes ISO-9660, and ECMA-130 sounds a lot like "yellow book" if you say it slowly.

For SVCD, see The discs are a modified White Book format, using a 2x player and variable bit rate MPEG-2 instead of MPEG-1 at 1x like VCD.

For HDCD, see The discs are in Red Book format, but the low bit of the audio has additional information encoded in it. They sound good on a standard CD player, and better on an HDCD player.

SACD isn't really a CD format. It can have a Red Book compliant layer that is read by standard CD players, but to get the high-fidelity benefits you need a special player.

Subject: [2-3] How do I know what format a disc is in?

You can usually tell by looking at the packaging and/or the disc itself:

VideoCD is different from CD-Video (a/k/a "Compact Disc Video", or CD-V). CD-V is an analog format, like LaserDisc, and the video can't be viewed with a CD-ROM drive.

There are a few references to Compact Disc MIDI, or CD-MIDI.

See (4-46) for some comments on High Speed CD-RW.

Subject: [2-4] How does copy protection work?

Copy protection (sometimes erroneously referred to as "copyright protection") is a feature of a product that increases the difficulty of making an exact duplicate. The goal is not to make it impossible to copy -- generally speaking, that can't be done -- but rather to discourage "casual copying" of software and music.

The goal is *not* to conceal information from prying eyes; see section (3-19) for information on encrypting data on a CD-ROM.

A separate but related issue is "counterfeit protection", where the publisher wants to make it easy to detect mass-produced duplicates. An example of this is Microsoft's placement of holograms on the hubs of their CD-ROMs. There are full CD pressing plants dedicated to creating counterfeit software (the worst offender being mainland China), so this is a serious concern for the larger software houses.

Copy protection on CD-ROMs used to be rare, but as the popularity of CD recorders grew, so did the popularity of copy protection. A large percentage of games released in the past few years have been protected.

A more recent innovation is copy protection for audio CDs, inspired by the rise of MP3 trading over the Internet. This is more difficult to do, because the protection must allow correct behavior on a CD player but altered playback when being read by a CD-ROM drive. The best that can be accomplished is to force the user to play the music in an analog format and then re-digitize it, resulting in an imperfect reproduction.

The article at is a nice introduction to the issues.

Some people have questioned whether copy protection is legal. In some countries it may not be. In the USA, the law allows "fair use" of copyrighted material, but does not require that the content provider make it easy for you to do so. So while making a copy of a song for your own private use may be legal, there is nothing in the law that requires the publisher to make the material available in an unprotected format. Copy protection has been around for many years -- some of the schemes employed on the Apple II were remarkably elaborate -- and has never been challenged on legal principle.

See for an article about why "fair use" is a legal right rather than a constitutional right in the USA, and what that means to you. The article also has some interesting quotes from the courts regarding the DMCA and DeCSS, notably this one: "We know of no authority for the proposition that fair use, as protected by the Copyright Act, much less the Constitution, guarantees copying by the optimum method or in the identical format of the original." In other words, arguing that "fair use" means the publisher must allow you to make a perfect digital copy (as opposed to a lower-quality digital or analog copy) is without merit.

The next sections discuss data and audio individually.

Subject: [2-4-1] ...on a data CD-ROM?

There are several approaches. An article with a good overview of some popular protection technologies can be found at Another source is the "CD Protections" articles on

For anyone interested in protecting their own discs: don't bother. Copy protection, on the whole, does not work. If you have a major application, such as a game or CAD package, you may want to consider one of the commercially licensed schemes listed later, or (heaven forbid) the use of a dongle. In general, though, if the disc can be read, then the contents can be copied. If you don't want somebody to make a copy of your stuff, then you'd better encrypt it (3-19).

A simple and commonly seen technique is to increase the length of several files on the CD so that they appear to be hundreds of megabytes long. This is accomplished by setting the file length in the disc image to be much larger than it really is. The file actually overlaps with many other files. So long as the application knows the true file length, the software will work fine. If the user tries to copy the files onto their hard drive, or do a file-by-file disc copy, the attempt will fail because the CD will appear to hold a few GB of data. (In practice this doesn't foil pirates, because they always do image copies. And, no, none of the standard software provides a way to create such discs.)

One possible implementation, given sufficient control over the reader and mastering software, is to write faulty data into the ECC portion of a data sector. Standard CD-ROM hardware will automatically correct the "errors", writing a different set of data onto the target disc. The reader then loads the entire sector as raw data, without doing error correction. If it can't find the original uncorrected data, it knows that it's reading a "corrected" duplicate. This is really only viable on systems like game consoles, where the drive mechanism and firmware are well defined. This can be defeated by doing "raw" reads.

A more sophisticated approach is to write special patterns of data to the disc. The stream of data that results, after EFM encoding, is difficult for some recorders to reproduce successfully, apparently because they don't choose correct values for the merging bits. This is often referred to on web sites as "writing regular EFM patterns" or "weak sectors". See section (2-43) for details on EFM.

A less sophisticated -- and no longer effective -- method is to press a silver CD with data out beyond where a 74-minute CD can write. Copying the disc used to require hard-to-find CD-R blanks, but now it's easy to use an overburned 80-minute disc (sections (3-8-1) and (3-8-3)).

The approach some PC software houses have taken is to use nonstandard gaps between audio tracks and leave index marks in unexpected places. These discs are uncopyable by most software, and it may be impossible to duplicate them on drives that don't support disc-at-once recording (see section (2-9)). With the right reader and software, though, this isn't much of a problem either.

A method that enjoyed some popularity was non-standard discs with a track shorter than 4 seconds. Most recording software, and in fact some recorders, will either refuse to copy a disc with such a track, or will attempt to do so and fail. A protected application would check for the presence and size of the track in question. Some recorders may succeed, however, so this isn't foolproof. (In one case, a recorder could write tracks that were slightly over three seconds, but refused to write tracks that were only one second. There may be a limit below which no recorder will write.) In such cases, the pirates need to remove the explicit check from the software itself.

Putting multiple data tracks interleaved with audio tracks on a CD will confuse some disc copiers. However, it's difficult to actually use the data on those additional tracks.

Sometimes the copy of a disc will have a different volume label. This usually only happens with file-by-file copies, not disc image copies, so checking the disc name is marginally useful but not very effective.

Modifying the TOC so that the disc appears to be larger than it really is will convince some copy programs that the source disc is too large.

Some of the fancier technologies use non-standard pit geometry that cause players to read the data differently on consecutive attempts. Sometimes the player sees a "1", sometimes a "0". If, when reading the track, the CD-ROM drive sees different data each time, the software knows that the disc is an original. A duplicate disc will return the same data reliably. (So too will some CD-ROM drives... this technology is not without problems.)

Some programs will examine the disc to try to determine if it's a CD-R. This doesn't work on all readers, and it's possible to disguise discs, so this isn't very effective.

CloneCD (section (6-1-49)) can copy many copy protected discs without trouble, given the right combination of reader and writer. Its main feature is "raw" reads and writes, which not all drives support.

The Laserlok system from claims to be able to prevent unauthorized disc duplication at a low cost. It can be copied by CloneCD.

An unrelated product called LaserLock, from MLS LaserLock International ( has similar features. It can be copied by CloneCD.

TTR Technology's DiscGuard ( or claims to be able to write a signature onto pressed CDs and CD-Rs that is detectable by all CD-ROM drives but isn't reproducible without special hardware. A program could use this for copy protection by checking for the presence of the signature, and refusing to run if it's not there.

Sony DADC is promoting a similar product called Securom. Some information is at

Yet another variant is C-Dilla's SafeDisc. They were bought by Macrovision ( Their more recent product, SafeDisc 2, was the first to feature "weak sectors".

Yet another variant is CD-Cops from Link Data Security (

Subject: [2-4-2] ...on an audio CD?

The challenge here is to create a disc that will play on a standard audio CD player but be difficult to copy or "rip" into an MP3. The techniques making headlines in mid-2001 were developed by Macrovision (2-4-3) and SunnComm (2-4-4).

The earliest form of audio CD copy protection was SCMS. This only works on recorders that support SCMS, specifically consumer-grade stand-alone audio CD recorders. "Professional" recorders, and recorders that attach to computers, do not support SCMS. See section (2-25).

Some CDs used a damaged TOC (Table of Contents -- see section (2-27)) that confused some CD-ROM drives and ripping software. More recent schemes attempt to modify the audio samples in ways that confuse CD-ROM drives into playing static. The next few sections describe these approaches in detail.

A web site at used to have a list of suspected copy-protected discs and some tips on what you can do to let the industry know that copy protection isn't appreciated. The web site appears to be gone, but you can see an archived copy of it here:

Many forms of copy protection violate the CD-DA standard, and so the discs aren't allowed to use the official CD logo art. However, many CDs don't have the logo anywhere, so its absence doesn't prove anything.

A paper entitled "Evaluating New Copy-Prevention Techniques for Audio CDs" by J.A. Halderman (available only in PostScript format) can be found at The paper was submitted to the 2002 ACM Workshop on Digital Rights Management (

Incidentally, if you're convinced that record companies and artists are raking in huge piles of cash from every CD they sell, you might want to take a look at an Electronic Musician article that talks about where the money comes from and where it goes. See: (You may need to use IE; Netscape 4.7 for Linux couldn't view the site.)

Interesting figures: only about 16% of CDs sold make enough money for the publishers to break even. The ones that do make enough money have to pay for the rest. For the recording artists, only about 3% sell enough music to get any royalties. With figures like these, it's not surprising that the industry is taking steps to combat piracy.

For more news & commentary, see:

For some messages about Sony's discs that can crash computers, see A later article in MacUser noted that the Celine Dion disc _A New Day Has Come_ will lock up iMacs and require physically disassembling parts of the machine to get the disc back out. The article is

Subject: [2-4-3] ...on an audio CD (Macrovision - SafeAudio)

In the first part of the year 2000, TTR Technologies announced a product called MusicGuard ( that claimed to prevent duplication of audio CDs. The product was withdrawn, but the technology has resurfaced in mid-2001 as a product called SafeAudio from Macrovision (

The basic idea is to create samples that sound like bursts of static, and scramble the ECC data around to make it look like an uncorrectable error. Audio CD players will interpolate the samples during playback, but CD-ROM drives doing digital audio extraction generally won't. The result is a disc that plays back correctly on a CD player, but won't "rip" or copy correctly on a CD-ROM drive.

Some relevant sites and news articles:

This approach relies on an anachronism of CD-ROM drive construction. There are two ways to play a CD on a computer, one analog, one digital. The analog path sends the audio across a cable connected from the CD-ROM drive to the sound card. Most of the CD player software available on computers works by telling the CD-ROM drive to start playing the CD through the analog cable. (This may not hold true for newer Macintoshes -- it appears Mac OS 9 uses an entirely digital approach. Some recent CD player applications for the PC also do this.)

The digital path requires reading the "raw" audio samples off of the disc, possibly modifying the data (e.g. changing the byte ordering) into something appropriate for the sound card, and then writing them to the sound device. Until a few years ago, most CD-ROM drives did this very poorly, in part because the analog and digital data paths were logically distinct in the designers' minds. Audio CDs used the audio path, data CD-ROMs used the digital path, and while you *could* send audio over the digital path there didn't seem to be much value in doing so. (See section (2-15) for some additional notes.)

What Macrovision appears to be exploiting is the different handling of uncorrectable errors in audio samples on the digital path vs the analog path. When playing an audio CD in a CD player or CD-ROM drive, the analog path is used. This path deals with uncorrectable (E32) errors by examining the samples that come before and after the error, and interpolating between them. On a scratched-up CD, this means that, while you may not be hearing the exact samples that were originally recorded, you won't notice any glitches because they're smoothed over. This feature is definitely not something you'd want on a data CD-ROM -- interpolating pieces of your spreadsheet is not going to help you.

In most CD-ROM drives, reading an audio sector with digital audio extraction is handled the same way that reading a data sector is: uncorrectable errors are left alone. Instead of getting interpolated samples, you get to hear the original, scratched-up audio. This is why some CDs will play back just fine on your computer, but will come out all scratched up when you extract them with the same drive. The errors are there either way, but when using a desktop CD player the errors have been smoothed over by the logic in the analog output path.

Some drives may use interpolation during DAE at lower speeds. If so, it should be possible to "rip" a track from a copy-protected disc by reducing the extraction speed to 1x.

Some people have suggested that software could be used to perform the interpolation on extracted music, stripping out the bits that the music companies added in. The trouble with this approach is that, once the data has been extracted, the CIRC encoding is no longer visible. It may not be easy to tell where the glitches are. For example, it should be possible to create a low-level but rhythmic distortion that will be noticeable, annoying, and difficult to identify automatically.

(It's possible that any software specializing in defeating the copy protection would run afoul of the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act), and the authors subject to fines and criminal prosecution. Come to think of it, the preceding discussion might be illegal. For more information about the DMCA, see

How can you get a "clean" copy of a protected disc? There are four basic approaches, in order of least to most desirable:

(1) Record directly from the analog outputs of the drive, feeding the sound into a sound card or outboard A/D converter. Some fidelity will be lost when converting from digital to analog and back again, which is what the industry is counting on.

(2) It should be possible to play the disc on a CD player with an S/PDIF connector, and get error-interpolated digital output. If played into a digital sound card or a CD recorder with an S/PDIF input, it should be possible to capture an exact copy of the original. Of course, it has to be done at 1x, and the track breaks may have to be added manually, making it a potentially tedious affair. This might be avoidable on a CD-R "dubbing deck", but inexpensive models will add SCMS to the set of things to worry about. Don't forget that generation loss is possible with CDs, especially if you record from CD-Rs (due to their higher BLER rate), so copying to CD-R and then extracting from CD-R requires some care. See section (3-18).

(3) Some drives support an extension described in recent versions of the ATA/ATAPI and SCSI MMC specifications. This extension to the "READ CD" command returns a set of flags indicating which bytes in an audio block were not corrected at the C2 level (section (2-17). An audio extraction application with access to this information could do its own interpolation across errors. Some applications already make some use of this feature; see The "drive check" feature of cdspeed (section (6-2-11)) reports on whether or not a drive is capable of returning "C2 pointers".

(4) A CD-ROM drive with logic that interpolates uncorrectable errors during DAE would allow copying and ripping with no additional effort required.

The success or failure of audio CD copy protection hinges upon two factors: how effective is it at preventing "casual copying", and what sort of problems do the legitimate owners of audio CDs encounter when playing their discs? Macrovision claims that their "golden ear" listeners were not able to tell the difference, though the test might be biased if the folks with the shiny lobes were using high-end CD players that did an especially good job of concealing uncorrectable errors.

A legitimate technical concern is that the copy protection reduces the effectiveness of the error correction. Because some percentage of ECC is now required for proper playback on a *clean* disc, the odds of scratches and fingerprints causing audible degradation are increased. In practice, if the "static" samples are relatively few and far between, the difference would be statistically insignificant.

One last piece of advice: do not assume that any disc that doesn't extract cleanly is copy-protected. There have been many, many postings on message boards from people who think they have found a protected disc, or how some specific piece of software can defeat the protection. Start with the more common reasons: the disc is dirty, the disc was poorly made, your CD-ROM drive is not that great at audio extraction, you're using software that isn't the best. There are many reasons why ripping an audio track might fail. People have been having trouble getting clean audio for years. See section (3-3) for some advice if you're having trouble.

Certain web sites (notably have been reporting that a replacement CDFS.VXD will fix everything. However, doing the audio extraction in a VXD instead of an EXE makes no difference. So far, none of the sites that have claimed victory list a single SafeAudio-protected disc that was copied, most likely because -- at the time this was written -- there weren't any discs known to use SafeAudio. (This phenomenon is not unheard-of; Sega's Dreamcast discs were widely reported to be copyable by a means that was quickly determined to be utterly ridiculous.) If the widely-touted CDFS.VXD is in fact a hijacked Plextor driver, then it may well use technique #3 mentioned above, but would only work on a drive that supported the extended READ CD feature.

Subject: [2-4-4] ...on an audio CD (SunnComm - MediaCloQ and MediaMax CD3)

SunnComm ( has a product called "MediaCloQ". It was used to protect the album _A Tribute to Jim Reeves_ by Charley Pride in mid-2001. The results were inconclusive: clean versions of the tracks appeared on the net, but SunnComm claimed they came from an unprotected disc released on Australia. Their plan was to alleviate "fair use" concerns by allowing users to download MP3 versions of the songs after they registered the original. Some articles:

Some early stories indicated that BMG Entertainment was considering the use of this product. Sony-BMG did eventually use SunnComm products on several CDs. See,4586,5094925,00.html.

The idea behind this protection is to make it hard for CD-ROM drives to identify the disc as being an audio CD. The disc is multisession, and uses a hacked TOC, so track rippers and disc copiers have trouble dealing with it. SunnComm hasn't publicly stated any details.

In August 2001, SunnComm announced v2.0 of their product, but didn't provide specific details.

In mid-2003, SunnComm announced "MediaMax CD3", a fancier implementation that allows computer users to play the CD through software supplied on the disc. The software installs a memory-resident driver that prevents CD ripping from working on protected CDs. The protection can be foiled on Windows PCs by simply holding down the shift key for several seconds while inserting the CD. See for a detailed analysis. SunnComm announced they were going to sue the Princeton researcher, but quickly backed off.

In December 2005, following the XCP disaster (see section (2-4-10)), a flaw was discovered in MediaMax v5 that could allow malicious software to gain control of an affected computer. has a "consumer advisory" regarding the problem, including a list of affected CDs and links to a patch and uninstaller on the web site. It was subsequently determined that the patch was flawed; see

Some personal notes on SunnComm's protection of the Charley Pride disc, including the steps I took to get a clean copy:

The packaging is labeled with the SunnComm logo, and states, "This audio CD is protected by SunnComm(tm) MediaCloQ(tm) Ver 1.0. It is designed to play in standard audio CD players only and is not intended for use in DVD players." However, my DVD player was able to play the disc after overcoming some initial confusion.

The disc itself has an unusual construction. There is a heavy band at about the point where the music stops, and thin bands between tracks. These appear to be purely decorative (and, I'm told, increasingly common on non-protected discs). Some images are available on

A computer running Win98SE with a Plextor 40max CD-ROM drive saw the disc as having two sessions and 16 data tracks. My CD player only saw 15 audio tracks. This feature alone makes the disc difficult to rip or copy, because the software doesn't see any audio tracks, and a CD-R copy would be full of tracks that even a CD player would see as data. Another machine, with a Plextor 12/20 and a slightly different set of software, seemed to have a lot of trouble figuring out what the disc was. It eventually sorted things out, but I get the sense the disc has been tweaked in ways that confuse the drive firmware.

I tried using "Session Selector" to select the first session and then access the tracks. This resulted in a Plextor 8/20 CD recorder becoming unusable until a reboot. I'd guess the firmware got confused.

The next thing I tried was to crank up CDRWIN v3.7a (section (6-1-7)), and extract some tracks using my Plextor 12/20. No dice -- the display showed 15 unselectable tracks and 1 MODE-2 data track.

Next, I tried the "Extract Disc/Tracks/Sectors" function, selected "Extract Sectors", chose "Audio-CDDA (2352)" for the data type, and entered a nice range (0 to 300000, where each audio sector is 1/75th of a second). This choked when trying to read starting at block 173394, so I tried again stopping at 173390. This resulted in a rather large WAV file, which I opened with Cool Edit -- revealing the entire contents of the disc, plain and clear. Playback revealed no audible defects.

I believe this worked because the sector extraction function ignores track and session boundaries, and just pulls the blocks straight off. Losing the track markers is annoying, but it's easy to add them back with something like CDWave (section (6-2-16)).

(FWIW, this same approach did *not* work for the _My Private War_ disc with the damaged TOC, described in (2-4-2). It would probably not be of help with a SafeAudio disc either.)

"zEEwEE" came up with a complicated but enlightening scheme for side-stepping the protection on discs with damaged second TOCs. It has the advantage of allowing you to use standard tools, such as Exact Audio Copy (section (6-2-12)), which keeps the track breaks and can do fancy tricks to get the best extraction quality. The method involves making the outer rim of the disc unreadable to the CD-ROM drive by drawing on it with a dry-erase marker or adding an adhesive sticker. This method, first posted in August of 2001, resulted in a flurry of media attention in May of 2002.

Subject: [2-4-5] ...on an audio CD (Midbar Tech - Cactus Data Shield)

Midbar Tech Ltd ( appears to have two different schemes under the "Cactus Data Shield" brand. (The web site shows three now: CDS100, CDS200, and CDS300.) The first uses a non-standard TOC. The position of the lead-out and the length of the last track were tweaked, resulting in a disc that appears to be only 28 seconds long. The alterations didn't confuse all CD-ROM drives, and it has been reported that some Philips CD players couldn't play the discs. BMG Entertainment reportedly tried it and abandoned it.

In late 2001, Midbar Tech announced a different approach. A US patent ( describes the invention.

The approach appears to involve inserting frames of bogus control information into a relatively constant part of the CD audio stream. During playback, the extra frames are skipped. A disc copy or digital stream on an S/PDIF output will include the bogus frames, and when written to CD-R the extra control information won't be included. The result is bad samples that only appear in copies.

News articles:

The difficulty in copying such a disc depends on how the stream of audio samples appears. In news articles the company claims that the scheme can defeat method #2 described in section (2-4-3), in which the S/PDIF connector of a CD player is used to get an error-interpolated digital stream. That suggests that the bogus data doesn't appear as uncorrected data, but rather as valid data that is suppressed on the analog outputs. This would seem to make digital copying difficult, but it would also make any form of digital playback impossible.

No specific disc titles have been announced, but Sony has reportedly released a few titles in eastern Europe that use this.

Some personal notes on the early version (CDS100?) of the Cactus Data Shield: I bought a copy of _My Private War_, by Phillip Boa & The Voodoo Club, from an online retailer. The disc is labeled "Kopiergeschützte CD - nicht am pc abspielbar" which translates literally to "copy-protected CD - not at the PC playable". Supposedly this is one of the BMG discs that was protected with Midbar's first product.

The Plextor Plextools utility saw it as a single-session audio CD with 13 tracks, but when I asked it to play the disc it only saw the first 28 seconds of the first track, and stopped after playing just that much. My Panasonic CD "boom box" also thought the disc was only 28 seconds long, but it happily played past that point, and would let me select any track.

The page at has an analysis of the CD _White Lilies Island_ by Natalie Imbruglia. has a very thorough examination of a CDS200 disc. Recommended reading.

Subject: [2-4-6] ...on an audio CD (Key2Audio / Sony DADC)

This was used to protect promotional copies of the Michael Jackson single "You Rock My World". See for product information.

News articles:

The technology is designed to make the discs unrecognizeable to CD-ROM drives. According to the web pages, the product is licensed through Sony DADC.

Subject: [2-4-7] ...on an audio CD (BayView Systems - Duolizer)

The "Duolizer" system splits music into two pieces. The bulk of the music is on the CD, but a small but essential piece is streamed from a secure server over the Internet. The idea is to allow music publishers to distribute songs to the media and retail outlets ahead of scheduled releases. This was a response to songs appearing in MP3 form on the Internet before the CDs went into distribution.

See for product info.

News articles:

This scheme can't be used for general CD protection, because if the music can be played on a computer at all, it can be captured with a program like Total Recorder ( It will be reasonably effective for promotional copies of songs, though, where the goal is to prevent people from walking away with copies of the discs.

As an added bonus, because the music is streamed from a central location, it could have a digital watermark added. If (say) somebody at a radio station made an MP3 copy, it might be possible to trace the source of the MP3 file back to the source. There is nothing on the product pages to suggest that such a scheme is currently in place.

Subject: [2-4-8] ...on an audio CD (Sanyo)

Sanyo has joined the growing list of companies to announce CD copy protection. It's not clear if this is their own scheme or one licensed from another company.

News articles:

Subject: [2-4-9] How does the Doc-Witness OpSecure CD-ROM work?

The disc has an embedded secure micro (like a smart card) that is activated when the laser light strikes a photodetector. The light is converted to electrical impulses, the impulses drive the chip, and if all goes well the results are presented to the drive via an embedded light-emitting diode.

Making an exact duplicate of the disc would be very difficult. It's unclear whether this technology actually makes it harder to get a working copy of the contents. The scheme seems to essentially be a combination of an "uncopyable" disc and a hardware dongle, both of which have been around for years (neither of which have brought an end to piracy).

The company's web site is

News articles:

Subject: [2-4-10] What's the Sony BMG rootkit (First 4 Internet XCP)?

A "rootkit" is a bit of software that changes the way your system works, usually for malicious purposes. Sony BMG included one with some audio CDs released in late 2005.

The software in question is "XCP Content Management" from First 4 Internet Ltd ( It uses a combined audio CD and CD-ROM format. When placed in a CD-ROM drive on a Windows system, it uses the autorun feature to install itself. XCP includes anti-piracy technology that acts to prevent you from copying it, and cloaking technology to prevent you from seeing it. If you manage to find it, and try to remove it, it disables your CD-ROM drive.

(As with other technologies of this type, disabling autorun or holding down the shift key while loading a CD will prevent the copy protection from loading. Because this protection is difficult to remove you must be very careful when handling Sony music CDs on your computer.)

This produced a tremendous backlash against Sony BMG. Besides the usual objections to this sort of thing -- installing software that prevents your system from functioning normally -- the rootkit could be used by other bits of adware/spyware to conceal themselves. (It was used by enterprising game cheats to circumvent World of Warcraft's elaborate anti-cheating system, and a couple of viruses were using it to conceal themselves.)

After news of XCP became widely known, Sony BMG began offering a software download on its site that would identify affected systems by removing the cloaking, but wouldn't remove the rootkit entirely. You could get the patch by filling out a marketing survey that -- according to Sony's privacy policy -- could lead to having your e-mail address added to their mailing lists.

Sony BMG eventually made an uninstaller available, but only if you made some educated guesses on their web site and jumped through some ridiculous hoops:

It turned out the web-based uninstaller created security vulnerabilities, causing yet more problems. Some notes here:

There is some network activity associated with the rootkit. It appears to be connecting to a Sony web site to look for updated content. There is some speculation that this could be used for tracking purposes, though Sony denies that they are doing so.

A class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of residents of the state of California (USA) in November 2005, and similar actions were planned elsewhere.

Use of the technology was suspended in November 2005 in response to public pressure. Later that month, after the various security problems became prominent, Sony BMG elected to recall all XCP-protected CDs.

News articles:

Nice summary of the whole debacle:

List of affected CDs:

Technical info:

Subject: [2-5] What's a multisession disc?

A session is a recorded segment that may contain one or more tracks of any type. The CD recorder doesn't have to write the entire session at once -- you can write a single track, and come back later and write another -- but the session must be "closed" before a standard audio CD or CD-ROM player will be able to use it. Additional sessions can be added until the *disc* is closed or there's no space left.

This provides a simple and fairly reliable way to write some data to a disc now and still be able to add more later. The trouble with using multiple sessions is that, every time you write a chunk of data, you incur a fairly substantial amount of overhead: 23MB after the first session, and 14MB for every subsequent session. This overhead lead to the development of "packet writing", which allows drag-and-drop recording, but works in an entirely different way (see section (6-3)).

Multisession writing was first used on PhotoCD discs, to allow additional pictures to be appended to existing discs. Today it's most often used with "linked" multisession discs, and occasionally for CD-Extra discs. These require a bit more explanation.

When you put a data CD into your CD-ROM drive, the OS finds the last closed session on the disc and reads the directory from it. (Well, that's how it's supposed to work. On some older operating systems and CD-ROM drives, you may get different results.) If the CD was written in ISO-9660 format -- most store-bought CD-ROMs are -- the directory entries can point at any file on the CD, no matter which session it was written in.

Most of the popular CD creation programs allow you to "link" one or more earlier sessions to the session currently being burned. This allows the files from the previous sessions to appear in the last session without taking up any additional space on the CD (except for the directory entry). You can also "remove" or "replace" files, by putting a newer version into the last session, and by not including a link to the older version.

In contrast, when you put an audio CD into a typical CD player, it only looks at the first session. For this reason, multisession writes don't work for audio CDs, but as it happens this limitation can be turned into an advantage. See section (3-14) for details. This limitation does *not* mean you have to write an entire audio CD all at once; see section (2-9) for an overview of track-at-once writing.

(Some audio CD players do seem to be able to recognize all of the tracks on a multisession audio disc. Most do not. The only way to know for sure is to try and see. If you are planning to give an audio CD you create to others, it would be wise to write it in a single session.)

Note that mixing MODE-1 (CD-ROM) and MODE-2 (CD-ROM/XA) sessions on a single disc isn't allowed. You could create such a thing, but many CD-ROM drives will have a hard time recognizing it.

See also, which goes into more depth.

On a Macintosh, discs written in HFS or HFS+ format cannot link files back to earlier sessions. Adding a new session will cause the previous session to disappear.

Quick recap: if you want to write some data to a CD-ROM now, and some more later, you write a single data track in multiple sessions (or with packet writing). If you want to write some audio tracks to a CD now, and some more later, you write multiple audio tracks in a single session.

Subject: [2-6] What are subcode channels?

There are eight subcode channels (P,Q,R,S,T,U,V,W). The exact method of encoding is discussed in section (2-43), but it's really only important to note the data is distributed uniformly across the entire CD, and each channel can hold a total of about 4MB.

The P subcode channel identifies the start of a track, but is usually ignored in favor of the Q channel.

The Q subcode channel includes useful information, which can be read and written on many recorders. The user data area contains three types of subcode-Q data: position information, media catalog number (MCN), and ISRC code. Other forms are found in the lead-in, and are used to enable multisession and describe the disc TOC (table of contents).

The position information is used by audio CD players to display the current time, and has track/index information. This can be controlled when doing Disc-At-Once recording.

The ISRC (International Standard Recording Code) is used by the recording industry. It states the country of origin, owner, year of issue, and serial number of tracks, and may be different for each track. It's optional; many CDs don't use this. The media catalog number is similar, but is constant per disc. Note these are different from the UPC codes.

The R-W subcode channels are used for text and graphics in certain applications, such as CD+G (CD w/graphics, supported by SegaCD among others). A new use has been devised by Philips, called ITTS. It enables properly equipped players to display text and graphics on Red Book audio discs. The most recent result of this technology is "CD-Text", which provides a way to embed disc and track data on a standard audio CD.

Subject: [2-7] Are the CD Identifier fields widely used?

Not many publishers use them, and not all devices can read all of the fields.

Programs that identify audio CDs automatically don't rely on an embedded serial number. Instead, they compute an ID based on the quantity and positions of the audio tracks, measured down to 1/75th of a second. has a collection of CD information.

Subject: [2-8] How long does it take to burn a CD-R?

It depends on how much data you're going to burn, and how fast your drive is. Burning 650MB of data takes about 74 minutes at 1x, 37 minutes at 2x, and 19 minutes at 4x, but you have to add a minute or two for "finalizing" the disc. Remember that single speed for CD-ROMs is 150KB/sec, double speed is 300KB/sec, and so on.

If you have half the data, it will finish in (about) half the time. If you record the same thing twice as fast, it will finish in (about) half the time.

Most CD recording speeds are linear, i.e. recording at 12x is twice as fast as recording at 6x. If the drive uses a PCAV mechanism (see section (5-22)) the speed varies depending on which part of the disc you're recording. If a "20x" drive uses PCAV to get 12x at the start of the disc and 20x near the outside, you know that burning 60 minutes of audio will take somewhere between about 5 minutes and about 3 minutes.

Subject: [2-9] What's the difference between disc-at-once and track-at-once?

There are two basic ways of writing to a CD-R. Disc-at-once (DAO) writes the entire CD in one pass, possibly writing multiple tracks. The entire burn must complete without interruption, and no further information may be added.

Track-at-once (TAO) allows the writes to be done in multiple passes. There is a minimum track length of 300 blocks (600K for typical data CDs), and a maximum of 99 tracks per disc, as well as a slight additional overhead associated with stopping and restarting the laser.

Because the laser is turned off and on for every track, the recorder leaves a couple of blocks between tracks, called run-out and run-in blocks. If done correctly, the blocks will be silent and usually unnoticeable. CDs with tracks that run together will have a barely noticeable "hiccup". Some combinations of software and hardware may leave junk in the gap, resulting in a slight but annoying click between tracks. Some drives and/or software packages may not let you control the size of the gap between audio tracks when recording in track-at-once mode, leaving you with 2-second gaps even if the original didn't have them.

Many recorders, starting with the venerable Philips CDD2000, allow "session-at-once" (SAO) recording. This gives you disc-at-once control over the gaps between tracks, but allows you to leave the disc open. This can be handy when writing CD Extra discs (see section (3-14)).

There are some cases where disc-at-once recording is required. For example, it may be difficult or impossible to make identical backup copies of some kinds of discs without using disc-at-once mode (e.g. copy-protected PC games). Also, some CD mastering plants may not accept discs recorded in track-at-once mode, because the gaps between tracks will show up as uncorrectable errors.

The bottom line is that disc-at-once recording gives you more control over disc creation, especially for audio CDs, but isn't always appropriate or necessary. It's a good idea to get a recorder that supports both disc-at-once and track-at-once recording.

Subject: [2-10] Differences between recording from an image and on-the-fly?

Many CD-R creation packages will give you a choice between creating a complete image of the CD on disk and doing what's called "on-the-fly" writing. Each method has its advantages.

Disc image files are sometimes called virtual CDs or VCDs (not to be confused with VideoCD). These are complete copies of the data as it will appear on the CD, and so require that you have enough hard drive space to hold the complete CD. This could be as much as 650MB for CD-ROM or 747MB for an audio disc when using 74-minute blanks. If you have both audio and data tracks on your CD, there would be an ISO-9660 filesystem image for the data track and one or more 16-bit 44.1KHz stereo sound images for the audio tracks.

(On the Mac, you might instead use an HFS filesystem for the data track. You can create the image with Mac CD recording software, or create it as a DiskCopy image file and then burn the data fork under a different OS.)

On-the-fly recording often uses a "virtual image", in which the complete set of files is examined and laid out, but only the file characteristics are stored, not the data. The contents of the files are read while the CD is being written. This method requires less available hard drive space and may save time, but increases the risk of buffer underruns (see (4-1)). With most software this also gives greater flexibility, since it's easier to add, remove, and shuffle files in a virtual image than a physical one.

A CD created from an image file would be identical to one created with on-the-fly recording, assuming that both would put the same files in the same places. The choice of which to use depends on user preference and hardware capability.

Subject: [2-11] How does an audio CD player know to skip data tracks?

There are subcode flags in the Q channel for each track:

If set, the track contains data; if not, the track contains audio.
Digital Copy Permitted
Used by SCMS. Set to allow copies, clear to prevent them.
Four-Channel Audio
The Red Book standard allows four-channel audio, though very few discs have ever been made that use it.
Set if the audio was recorded with pre-emphasis.
The last two are rarely used.

Subject: [2-12] How does CD-RW compare to CD-R?

CD-RW is short for CD-Rewritable. It used to be called CD-Erasable (CD-E), but some marketing folks changed it so it wouldn't sound like your important data gets erased on a whim. The difference between CD-RW and CD-R is that CD-RW discs can be erased and rewritten, while CD-R discs are write-once. Other than that, they are used just like CD-R discs.

Let me emphasize that: they are used just like CD-R discs. You can use packet writing on both CD-R and CD-RW, and you can use disc-at-once audio recording on both CD-R and CD-RW. Some software may handle CD-RW in a slightly different way, because you can do things like erase individual files, but the recorder technology is nearly identical.

CD-RW drives use phase-change technology. Instead of creating "bubbles" and deformations in the recording dye layer, the state of material in the recording layer changes from crystalline to amorphous form. The different states have different refractive indices, and so can be optically distinguished.

These discs are not writable by standard CD-R drives, nor readable by most older CD readers (the reflectivity of CD-RW is far below CD and CD-R, so an Automatic Gain Control circuit is needed to compensate). Most new CD-ROM drives do support CD-RW media, but not all them will read CD-RW discs at full speed.

A few older audio CD players and many new ones can handle CD-RW discs, but many can't. If you want to create audio CDs on CD-RW media, make sure that your player can handle them.

All CD-RW recorders can write to CD-R media, so the only reason not to buy a CD-RW recorder is price. Some Internet sites like to put the devices in completely separate categories, calling them "CD recorders" and "CD ReWriters", but the differences between them don't really merit such a distinction. Think of a "CD ReWriter" as a CD recorder that can also make use of CD-RW media.

Oddly enough, it may be easier for a DVD drive to read CD-RW discs than CD-R discs, because of the way the media is constructed.

CD-RW media is more expensive than CD-R, but recent price reductions have narrowed the gap considerably. There is a limit to the number of times an area of the disc can be rewritten, but that number is relatively high (the Orange Book requires 1000, but some manufacturers have claimed as much as 100,000). Of course, this is under laboratory conditions. If you don't handle the disc carefully, you will add scratches, dirt, fingerprints, and other obstacles that make the disc harder for the drive to read.

It appears that CD-RW discs have speed ratings encoded on them, so discs that are only certified for 2x recording can't be written to at 4x (or, for that matter, 1x). To make things more complicated, different media is required for high-speed CD-RW drives (those that exceed 4x).

If you're trying to decide if you want a drive that supports CD-RW, see section (5-16).

Subject: [2-13] Can DVD players read CD-Rs?

The only discs that a DVD player is guaranteed to read are DVD discs. Support for CD-ROM, CD-R, and CD-RW may be included, but is by no means guaranteed.

CD-R was designed to be read by an infrared 780nm laser. DVD uses a visible red 635nm or 650nm laser, which aren't reflected sufficiently by the organic dye polymers used in CD-R media. As a result, many DVD players can't read CD-R media. Some DVD players come with two lasers so that they can read CD-R. For a technical discussion, see and (web archive:

CD-RW discs have a different formulation, and may work even on players that can't handle CD-R media. If CD-R media doesn't work, try copying the disc to CD-RW instead (assuming your recorder supports CD-RW).

Some DVD-ROM drives may be unable to read multisession discs. In general, though, DVD-ROM drives (as opposed to DVD players) are able to read CD-R media.

If the box doesn't say that something is supported, assume that the feature isn't. Look for the MultiRead or MultiPlay logos, which indicate that the DVD player or DVD-ROM drive can read CD-R and CD-RW.

See also "Is XXX compatible with DVD" in the DVD FAQ:

Subject: [2-14] Should I buy a DVD recorder instead?

Your best bet is to get a "combo" drive that records on CDs as well. With recent cost reductions to DVD hardware, there's no real reason to buy a drive that only handles CDs or only handles DVDs (and in fact they're increasingly difficult to find).

CDs are quickly surpassing the venerable 3.5" floppy disk as the most universal physical media. DVD-ROM drives and DVD players weren't as successful initially as some in the industry had hoped -- near the end of 2000, one of the major computer sellers was offering an "upgrade" on their systems from DVD-ROM drives to CD recorders. These days it's hard to buy a computer that doesn't support all formats.

DVD-R recorders and media were initially very expensive, but eventually came down to consumer levels. An example: was, as of early February '98, selling a Pioneer CDVR-S101 DVD-Recordable Drive for US$18000. In June '99, the same site had a Pioneer CDVR-S201 for US$5100. In October 2001 the Pioneer DVR-A03PK was on sale for $699, and the price of media had fallen from $50 to $15 per disc.

As mentioned in section (0-2), this FAQ will not be expanding to cover DVD recorders. See instead.

Subject: [2-15] What are "jitter" and "jitter correction"?

The first thing to know is that there are two kinds of jitter that relate to audio CDs. The usual meaning of "jitter" refers to a time-base error when digital samples are converted back to an analog signal; see the jitter article on for an explanation. The other form of "jitter" is used in the context of digital audio extraction from CDs. This kind of "jitter" causes extracted audio samples to be doubled-up or skipped entirely. (Some people will correctly point out that the latter usage is an abuse of the term "jitter", but we seem to be stuck with it.)

"Jitter correction", in both senses of the word, is the process of compensating for jitter and restoring the audio to its intended form. This section is concerned with the (incorrect use of) "jitter" in the context of digital audio extraction.

The problem occurs because the Philips CD specification doesn't require block-accurate addressing. While the audio data is being fed into a buffer (a FIFO whose high- and low-water marks control the spindle speed), the address information for audio blocks is pulled out of the subcode channel and fed into a different part of the controller. Because the data and address information are disconnected, the CD player is unable to identify the exact start of each block. The inaccuracy is small, but if the system doing the extraction has to stop, write data to disk, and then go back to where it left off, it won't be able to seek to the exact same position. As a result, the extraction process will restart a few samples early or late, resulting in doubled or omitted samples. These glitches often sound like tiny repeating clicks during playback.

On a CD-ROM, the blocks have a 12-byte sync pattern in the header, as well as a copy of the block's address. It's possible to identify the start of a block and get the block's address by watching the data FIFO alone. This is why it's so much easier to pull single blocks off of a CD-ROM.

With most CD-ROM drives that support digital audio extraction, you can get jitter-free audio by using a program that extracts the entire track all at once. The problem with this method is that if the hard drive being written to can't keep up, some of the samples will be dropped. (This is similar to a CD-R buffer underrun, but since the output buffer used during DAE is much smaller than a CD-R's input buffer, the problem is magnified.)

Most newer drives (as well as nearly every model Plextor ever made) are based on an architecture that enables them to accurately detect the start of a block.

An approach that has produced good results is to do jitter correction in software. This involves performing overlapping reads, and then sliding the data around to find overlaps at the edges. Most DAE programs will perform jitter correction.

Subject: [2-16] Where can I learn more about the history of CD and CD-R?

Some information about "the goode olde days" can be found in Robert Starrett's "The History of CD-R" article, currently available from

The first CD player was available in Japanese stores on October 1, 1982. CD-Recordable technology wasn't introduced until 1988. For a timeline, see

Back in the late 1980s, CD recorders cost thousands of dollars, and were part of systems the size of a washing machine. Disks cost US$100.00 each.

Things started to get better in 1995, when Yamaha released the CDR100 (the first 4x recorder) for a mere US$5000.00. In September of 1995, HP released the 4020i (a 2x recorder based on the Philips CDD2000) for just under US$1000.00. Media was down to about US$8.00, though 80-minute discs were extremely rare and expensive (US$40.00 each, if you could find them at all).

Subject: [2-17] Why don't audio CDs use error correction?

Actually, they do. It is true that audio CDs use all 2352 bytes per block for sound samples, while CD-ROMs use only 2048 bytes per block, with most of the rest going to ECC (Error Correcting Code) data. The error correction that keeps your CDs sounding the way they're supposed to, even when scratched or dirty, is applied at a lower level. So while there isn't as much protection on an audio CD as there is on a CD-ROM, there's still enough to provide perfect or near-perfect sound quality under adverse conditions.

All of the data written to a CD uses CIRC (Cross-Interleaved Reed-Solomon Code) encoding. Every CD has two layers of error correction, called C1 and C2. C1 corrects bit errors at the lowest level, C2 applies to bytes in a frame (24 bytes per frame, 98 frames per sector). In addition, the data is interleaved and spread over a large arc. (This is why you should always clean CDs from the center out, not in a circular motion. A circular scratch causes multiple errors within a frame, while a radial scratch distributes the errors across multiple frames.)

If there are too many errors, the CD player will interpolate samples to get a reasonable value. This way you don't get nasty clicks and pops in your music, even if the CD is dirty and the errors are uncorrectable. Interpolating adjacent data bytes on a CD-ROM wouldn't work very well, so the data is returned without the interpolation. The second level of ECC and EDC (Error Detection Codes) works to make sure your CD-ROM stays readable with even more errors.

It should be noted that not all CD players are created equal. There are different strategies for decoding CIRC, some better than others.

Some CD-ROM drives can report the number of uncorrected C2 errors back to the application. This allows an audio extraction application to guarantee that the extracted audio matches the original.

See for an overview of error correction from the perspective of media testing. If you really want to get into the gory technical details, there used to be a good page at

Subject: [2-18] How does CD-R compare to MiniDisc?

MiniDiscs, or MDs, are small (64mm) discs that hold about 140MB of data or 160MB of audio. By using sophisticated compression techniques they are able to compress audio by a 5:1 ratio, allowing a capacity of 74 minutes with little or no audible difference in quality. As with CD recorders, there are MD recorders that connect to your computer and MD recorders that connect to your stereo.

There are stamped MDs that are similar to CDs in construction, and rewritable MDs that use magneto-optical technology. Audio MD recorders are generally more convenient than stand-alone audio CD recorders, because the playback mechanism allows a more flexible layout of audio data, so it's possible to delete a track from the middle of the MD and then write a longer one that is recorded in different places across the disc. The current generation of MD technology is unlikely to replace CD-R or DAT, however, because the lossy compression employed is disdained by audio purists. MD is more often positioned as a replacement for analog cassette tape, which it matches in portability and recordability, and surpasses in durability and its ability to perform random accesses.

Computer-based MD recorders can write data, but may not be able to record audio. Check the specifications carefully.

A wealth of information is available from If you want to transfer CD to MD or MD to CD-R, check there for more information. (It used to be item #37 in the FAQ, but doesn't seem to be now.)

Subject: [2-19] What does finalizing (and closing and fixating) do?

A disc that you can add data to is "open". All data is written into the current session. When you have finished writing, you close the session. If you want to make a multisession disc, you open a new session at the same time. If you don't open a new session then, you can't open one later, which means that it's impossible to add more data to the CD-R. The entire disc is considered "closed".

The process of changing a session from "open" to "closed" is called "finalizing", "fixating", or just plain "closing" the session. When you close the last session, you have finalized, fixated, or closed the disc.

A single-session disc has three basic regions: the lead-in, which has the Table of Contents (or TOC); the program area, with the data and/or audio tracks; and the lead-out, which is filled with zeroes and provides padding at the end of the disc. An "open" single-session disc doesn't yet have the lead-in or lead-out written.

If you write data to a disc and leave the session open, the TOC -- which tells the CD player or CD-ROM drive where the tracks are -- is written into a separate area called the Program Memory Area, or PMA. CD recorders are the only devices that know to look at the PMA, which is why you can't see data in an open session on a standard playback device. CD players won't find any audio tracks, and CD-ROM drives won't see a data track. When the session is finalized, the TOC is written in the lead-in area, enabling other devices to recognize the disc.

(Something to try: write an audio track to a blank CD, and leave the session open. Put the disc in a CD player. Some players will deny the existence of the disc, some will spin the disc up to an incredible speed and won't even brake the spindle when you eject the disc, others will perform equally random acts. The TOC is important!)

If you close the current session and open a new one, the lead-in and lead-out of the current session will be written. A TOC will be written in the current lead-in that points to the eventual TOC of the next session. This process is repeated for every closed session, resulting in a chain of links from one lead-in area to the next. Typical audio CD players don't know about chasing TOC links, so they can only see tracks in the first session. Your CD-ROM drive, unless it's broken or fairly prehistoric, will know about multisession discs and will happily return the first session, last session, or one somewhere in between, depending on what the OS tells it and what it is capable of.

Some CD-ROM drives, notably certain early NEC models, are finicky about open sessions, and will gag when they try to read the lead-in from a still-open session. They follow the chain of links in the lead-ins of each session, but when they get to the last, they can't find a valid TOC and become confused. Even though these drives support multi-session, they require that the last session be closed before they will read the disc successfully. Fortunately, most drives don't behave this way.

If you use disc-at-once (DAO) recording, the lead-in is written at the very start of the process, because the contents of the TOC are known ahead of time. With most recorders there is no way to specify that more than one session should be created in DAO mode, so creating a multisession disc with DAO recording isn't generally possible. Such discs must be created with track-at-once (TAO) or session-at-once (SAO) recording.

If you're using certain versions of Windows, the Auto Insert Notification feature will "discover" the CD-R as soon as the TOC is written. This can cause the write process to fail, which is why Windows software automatically enables and disables AIN as needed. Otherwise, if recording in track-at-once mode, it will fail during finalization; in disc-at-once mode, it will fail near the beginning of the write process. In both cases, test writes will succeed, because the TOC doesn't get written during a test pass.

Packet-written discs follow the same rules with regard to open and closed sessions, which is why they have to be finalized before they can be read on a CD-ROM drive. The "Packet Writing - Intermediate" document in the primer at goes into a little more detail on this subject. (Some people like to refer to packet writing as "PAO", for packet-at-once.)

There are gory details beyond what is written here. For example, the lead-in on a CD-R actually has a pre-recorded TOC that specifies physical parameters of the recording layer, such as required laser recording power, and information about the disc, like how many blocks can be written (the "ATIP" discussed in section (2-38)). You don't usually need to worry about such things though.

Subject: [2-20] How are WAV/AIFF files converted into Red Book CD audio?

There is absolutely nothing special about the audio data encoded on a CD. The only difference between a "raw" 44.1KHz 16-bit stereo WAV file and CD audio is the byte ordering.

It isn't necessary to convert a WAV or AIFF file to a special format to write to a CD, unless you're using a format that your recording software doesn't recognize. For example, some software won't record from MP3 files, or from WAV files that aren't at the correct sampling rate. Similarly, you don't have to do anything special to audio extracted from a CD. It's already in a format that just about anything can understand.

Just put your audio into the correct format -- uncompressed 44.1KHz, 16-bit, stereo, PCM -- and the software you use to write CDs will do the rest. All of the fancy error correction and track indexing stuff happens at a lower level.

Don't get confused by programs (such as Win95 Explorer) that show ".CDA" files. This is just a convenient way to display the audio tracks, not a file format unto itself. See section (2-36).

Subject: [2-21] What does MultiRead mean? MultiPlay?

The MultiRead logo indicates that a CD or DVD drive can read all existing CD formats, including CD-ROM, CD-DA, CD-R and CD-RW. See the description at The presence of this logo on a CD-ROM drive does *not* mean that the drive can read DVD.

MultiPlay does essentially the same thing, but is meant for consumer CD and DVD players. See

Subject: [2-22] If recording fails, is the disc usable?

That depends on what was being recorded, how it was being recorded, and how far along in the process things were.

If it failed while writing the lead-in, before any data was written, the disc probably isn't usable. Some drives, notably certain Sony models, have a "repair disc" option that forcefully closes the current session. This would allow you to add extra data in a second session on the disc, but anything written in the first session will be unavailable.

Failures when finalizing the disc may be correctable. Sometimes the TOC gets written before the failure, and the disc can be used as-is. Sometimes you can use a "finalize disc" option from a program menu that will do the trick. Other times the recorder will refuse to deal with a partially-finalized disc, and you're stuck.

Failures in the middle of writing result in a CD-ROM that probably isn't worth trusting. Some of the data will be there, some won't. The directory for the disc may show more files than are actually present, and you won't know which are actually there until you try to read them.

Audio CDs recorded in disc-at-once mode are a special case. Because the TOC is written up front, the disc is readable in a standard CD player even if the write process doesn't finish. You will be able to play the tracks up to the point where the recording failed.

If you were using a packet writing program like DirectCD, the experiences of people on Usenet suggest that you are either 100% okay or 100% screwed. The ScanDisk utility included with DirectCD 2.5 may help though.

Subject: [2-23] Why do recorders insert "00" bytes at the start of audio tracks?

This phenomenon is familiar to users who have attempted to extract digital audio from a CD-R. Very often the result of copying an audio CD is an exact copy of the original audio data, but with a few hundred zero bytes inserted at the front (and a corresponding number lost off the end). Since this represents the addition of perhaps 1/100th of a second of silence at the start of the disc, it's not really noticeable.

The actual number of bytes inserted may very slightly from disc to disc, but a given recorder usually inserts about the same number. It's usually less than one sector (2352 bytes).

According to a message from a Yamaha engineer, the cause of the problem is the lack of synchronization between the audio data and the subcode channels, much like the "jitter" described in section (2-15). The same data flow problems that make it hard to find the start of a block when reading also make it hard to write the data and identifying information in sync. According to the engineer, no changes to the firmware or drive electronics can fix the problem.

Making copies of copies of audio CDs would result in a progressively larger gap, but it's likely to be unnoticeable even after several generations.

Subject: [2-24] How many tracks can I have? How many files?

You can have up to 99 tracks. Because the track number is stored as a two-digit decimal number starting with "01" (BCD encoded, in case you were wondering), it's not possible to exceed this.

Tracks must be at least 4 seconds long, according to the standard. In practice, CD recorders have different notions of how short a track can be, but most recorders will refuse to write a track shorter than one second.

The maximum number of files depends on the filesystem you're using. For ISO-9660, you can (in theory) have as many as you want. In practice, DOS or Windows will treat the disc internally as a FAT16 filesystem, so you are limited to about 65,000 files if you want broad compatibility.

Subject: [2-25] Will SCMS prevent me from making copies?

SCMS is the Serial Copy Management System. The goal is to allow consumers to make a copy of an original, but not a copy of a copy. Analog recording media, such as audio cassettes and VHS video tape, degrades rather quickly with each successive copy. Digital media doesn't suffer from the same degree of generation loss, so the recording industry added a feature that has the same net effect.

SCMS will affect you if you use consumer-grade audio equipment. Professional-grade equipment and recorders that connect to your computer aren't restricted. See section (5-12) for more about the differences between these types of devices.

The system works by encoding whether or not the material is protected, and whether or not the disc is an original. The encoding is done with a single bit that is either on, off, or alternating on/off every five frames. The value is handled as follows:

There are hardware "SCMS strippers", primarily used in conjunction with a DAT deck, that strip the SCMS bits out of an S/PDIF connection. Some of these reportedly introduce unacceptable artifacts into the audio. It's possible to "wash" the audio by converting it to and from analog format, but again the quality will suffer.

If you're using a consumer audio CD recorder, SCMS will prevent you from making copies of copies of protected material. It will not prevent you from making a copy of an original disc you have purchased, and it won't stop you from copying unprotected discs.

Related sites:

Subject: [2-26] Is a serial number placed on the disc by the recorder?

In general, no, but it appears that some stand-alone consumer audio CD recorders write one. The Recorder Unique Identifier (RID) is a 97-bit code recorded every 100 sectors. It is composed of a brand name identifier, a type number, and a drive serial number. Recorders such as the Philips CDR870 write the RID to discourage distribution of copyrighted material.

Windows will show something like "Volume Serial Number is 4365-0FED". There does not appear to be any way to control this. Some have suggested that the serial number is generated based on data found on the disc, similar to the way that audio CDs can (mostly) be uniquely identified by the number and durations of the tracks.

On floppy disks and hard drives, the "serial number" is generated based on the date and time when the disk is formatted. The four bytes are:

  1. month + seconds
  2. day + hundredths of a second
  3. high byte of the year + hours
  4. low byte of the year + minutes
(From, which no longer exists.)

Subject: [2-27] What's a TOC? How does it differ from a directory?

The TOC (Table Of Contents) identifies the start position and length of the tracks on a disc. The TOC is present on all CDs. If it weren't, the disc would be unreadable on a CD player or CD-ROM drive. CD recorders write the TOC as part of "finalizing the disc. (Section (2-19) has some more details about finalizing discs.)

A "directory" is a list of files. If you're a Mac user, you're probably used to the term "folder". It's part of a filesystem, such as the ISO-9660 or HFS filesystem present on most CD-ROMs. Audio tracks don't have files, so they don't have directories either.

There's nothing stopping you from writing a FAT16 or Linux ext2 filesystem directly onto a CD-ROM. Whether or not you can read such a disc is a different matter. (The Linux "mount" command should allow you to mount just about anything read-only, but Windows may not be so willing.) The CD specification defines the TOC, and there are well-defined standards for certain filesystems, but [AFAIK] nothing in the CD spec requires that you fill a data track with a certain kind of data.

Subject: [2-28] What's an ISO? A CIF? BIN and CUE? .DAT?

In common use, an "ISO" is a file that contains the complete image of a disc. Such files are often used when transferring CD-ROM images over the Internet. Depending on who you're talking to, "ISO" may refer to all disc image files or only certain kinds.

Going by the more restrictive definition, an "ISO" is created by copying an entire disc, from sector 0 to the end, into a file. Because the image file contains "cooked" 2048-byte sectors and nothing else, it isn't possible to store anything but a single data track in this fashion. Audio tracks, mixed-mode discs, CD+G, multisession, and other fancy formats can't be represented.

To work around this deficiency, software companies developed their own formats that *could* store diverse formats. Corel developed CIF, which is still in use by Roxio's Easy CD Creator. (What does CIF mean? Nobody knows, though "Corel Image Format" is as good a definition as any.) Jeff Arnold's CDRWIN created them as "BIN" files, with a separate "cue sheet" that described the contents. You can unpack a BIN/CUE combo with "binchunker", which is now integrated into Fireburner (section (6-1-50)).

A ".DAT" file could be most anything, but usually it's a video file pulled off of a VideoCD. A program at can convert .DAT to .MPG, and recording programs like Nero can record them directly.

A ".ISO" file that contains an image of an ISO-9660 filesystem can be manipulated in a number of ways: it can be written to a CD-ROM; mounted as a device with the Linux "loopback" filesystem (e.g. "mount ./cdimg.iso /mnt/test -t iso9660 -o loop"); copied to a hard drive partition and mounted under UNIX; or viewed with WinImage (section (6-2-2)). There is no guarantee, however, that a ".ISO" file contains ISO-9660 filesystem data. And it is quite common to hear people refer to things as "ISO" which aren't.

A ".SUB" file appears to contain subchannel data. Some programs pass these around in addition to one of the above formats.

We now have many different file extensions, including ISO, BIN, IMG, CIF, FCD, NRG, GCD, PO1, C2D, CUE, CIF, CD, and GI. Smart Projects' IsoBuster, from, can open and manipulate just about any disc image format.

(The rest of this section is a philosophical rant, and can safely be skipped. This is intended to be more illustrative than factual, and any relation to actual events is strictly coincidental.)

The term "ISO" is ostensibly an abbreviation of "ISO-9660 disc image", which is itself somewhat suspect. ISO-9660 is a standard that defines the filesystem most often used on CD-ROM. It does not define a disc image format. "ISO-9660 filesystem image" would be more appropriate.

When you capture or generate a CD-ROM image, you have to call it something. When a CD-ROM was generated from a collection of files into an ISO-9660 filesystem image, it was written into a file with an extension of ".ISO". This image file could then be written to a CD-ROM. As it happens, the generated image files were no different in structure from the images that could be extracted from other CD-ROMs, so to keep things simple the extracted disc images were also called ".ISO".

(Some programs used the more appropriate ".IMG", but unfortunately that was less common.)

This meant that, whether you extracted a data track from a disc written with the HFS filesystem or the ISO-9660 filesystem, it was labeled ".ISO". This makes as much sense as formatting a 1.4MB PC floppy for HFS, creating an image, and calling it a "FAT12 disk image" because such floppies are usually formatted with FAT. It didn't really matter though, because no matter what was in the file, the software used the same procedure to write it to CD-R.

As a result of this filename extension convention, any file that contained a sector-by-sector CD-ROM image was referred to as an "ISO file". When CD recorders hit The Big Time and many people started swapping image files around, the newcomers didn't know that there was a distinction between one type of disc image and another, and started referring to *any* sort of disc image as an "ISO".

These days it's not altogether uncommon to see messages about "making an ISO" of an audio CD, which makes no sense at all.

More trivia: "ISO" refers to the International Organization for Standardization. Because the organization's name would have different abbreviations in different languages ("IOS" in English, "OIN" in French), they used a word derived from the Greek "isos", meaning "equal". See

Subject: [2-29] Why was 74 minutes chosen as the standard length?

The general belief is that it was chosen because the CD designers wanted to have a format that could hold Beethoven's ninth symphony. They were trying to figure out what dimensions to use, and the length of certain performances settled it.

There are several different versions of the story. Some say a Polygram (then part of Philips) artist named Herbert von Karajan wanted his favorite piece to fit on one disc. Another claims the wife of the Sony chairman wanted it to hold her favorite symphony. An interview in the July 1992 issue of _CD-ROM Professional_ reports a Mr. Oga at Sony made the defining request. (This is almost certainly Norio Ohga, who became President and COO of Sony in 1982 and has been a high-level executive ever since.)

The relationship of Beethoven's ninth to the length is noted "believed true" in the alt.folklore.urban FAQ listing, but no particular variant is endorsed. An entry can also be found on Snopes, at

Searching the net will reveal any number of "very reliable sources" with sundry variations on the theme.

Subject: [2-30] Why is there a visibly unwritten strip near the CD-R hub?

You haven't closed the session yet. The lead-in area, which includes the TOC (section (2-27)), isn't written until the session is closed. A space is left for it that is large enough to see. Read section (2-19) for more details on what happens when you close a disc.

You will see the narrow unwritten strip if you:

In some cases it's perfectly normal to see this space; it's where the lead-in area will be written when the session is closed. It's not necessarily a sign of failure.

If you use disc-at-once recording, the lead-in area is written right away, so after a failure you won't see the gap.

Subject: [2-31] What is "BURN-Proof"? "JustLink"? "Waste-Proof"?

BURN-Proof (or BurnProof) is an unfortunate abbreviation of "Buffer-Under-RuN Proof". The technology allows you to avoid buffer underruns by suspending and restarting the write process when the recorder's buffer is about to empty. (See section (4-1) if you're not familiar with buffer underruns.)

Ideally, the results of interrupted and uninterrupted writes would be identical. In practice, there may be a small glitch at the point where writing was suspended. Sanyo recommends 4X or higher speed CD-ROM drives and audio equipment made in 1995 or later for playback.

The general consensus is that these technologies are effective and do not result in noticeable glitches.

There are several different, competing technologies. Here's a sample of what's out there (note that many of the names are trademarked):

BURN-Proof (Sanyo)
Buffer-Under-RuN Proof. The first. Can restart the laser after a buffer underrun. For details, see
JustLink (Ricoh)
Can restart the laser after a buffer underrun. Data gap length is less than two microns. See
Just Link (AOpen)
Can restart recording after a buffer underrun. Data gaps are less than 2 microns. Same as Ricoh's JustLink?
ExacLink (Oak Technology)
Can restart the laser after a buffer underrun. See
ExactLink (Mitsui)
Appears to be the same as ExacLink. Mitsui's pages refer to "Oak Technology's ExactLink(tm)".
Smart Monitoring & Adapting Recording Technology for BURNing. Can restart the laser after a buffer underrun, and will reduce the recording speed if it thinks the media can't be written safely at the requested speed. See
Waste-Proof (Yamaha)
Waste-Proof Write Strategy. Does some extra work to prevent the buffer underrun from happening in the first place, but won't save you if one actually happens.
SafeBurn (Yamaha)
Can restart the laser after a buffer underrun, and will reduce the recording speed it if thinks the media can't be written safely at the requested speed. Data gap length is less than one micron. See
Seamless Link (BenQ, Philips)
Another one.
SafeLink (Waitec)
Another one (no details available?).
Power Burn (Sony)
And another one.
FlextraLink (ASUS)
Yet another one.
All of these are for situations where your computer is unable to send data to the drive quickly enough to keep the buffer full. They will not help you if your computer loses power, your software crashes, your media is of poor quality, or you smack the drive hard enough to disrupt the recording process.

Nearly all CD recorders announced in or after 2001 featured some variation of buffer underrun protection.

Some related technologies:

Just Speed (AOpen)
Reduces the record speed if it doesn't think the media can handle it. See Probably implies running OPC (section (5-11)). Combined with Just Link.
Smart Speed (BenQ)
See above; combined with Seamless Link.
FlextraSpeed (ASUS)
See above; combined with FlextraLink.
There are usually lots of trademarked names on the specifications, touting the benefits of SMART-X for audio extraction or the VAS Vibration Absorber System. It's unclear whether one manufacturer's implementation is really any better than the others, or in many cases what they even do.

Subject: [2-32] Can playing CD-Rs in a DVD player hurt the discs?

There appear to be three kinds of DVD players:

  1. Those that can play CD-Rs.
  2. Those that can't play CD-Rs.
  3. Those that damage the discs.
Kind #2 is the most common. Kind #3 comes with a warning in the manual (you do read product manuals, right?) that tells you not to play CD-R discs. It is possible that some players in category #2 are actually in #3 and just aren't labeled as such, and it may be the case that players in #3 will only damage CD-Rs with specific formulations.

If playing CD-R discs in your DVD player is important, make sure the player can handle them before you buy a player. See section (2-13).

It's a little unclear what the player is doing to damage the CD-R media. The playback laser would have to be operated at a wavelength and intensity that caused a change in the recording dye layer.

There are no known instances of DVD-ROM drives that damage discs.

Subject: [2-33] Who *really* made this CD-R blank?

Many of the "big name" media manufacturers don't actually make their own media. Instead, they buy from other manufacturers and stamp their logo on the discs. Generally speaking, this isn't a bad thing, because the discs were certified good enough that the Big Brand was willing to put the company name behind the product.

If you have a picky recorder or player, though, it helps to be able to try several different pieces of media. If you buy several different brands, and they're all coming from the same manufacturer, chances are they'll all behave the same way, and your time and money will be wasted.

So... how do you tell who really made a piece of media? The short answer is: you don't.

It's tempting to believe that CD-R media identifier applications (e.g. section (6-2-9)) will give you the answer you need. Unfortunately, the data you get is unreliable at best. Charles Palmer, from, had this to say about the manufacturer identification:

"Two components that many users of these programs always take as gospel are Media Manufacturer and Dye Data. These two readings are next to worthless.

The reason for this is that many CD-R manufacturers (like CD- purchase their stampers (the nickel die that all CD-R substrates are molded from) from 3rd party sources. These 3rd party sources (either other disc manufacturers, or mastering houses) encode the data that these 'Identification' programs read, at the time that the original glass master is encoded. The 'Manufacturer' information that is encoded is usually the name of the company that made the master. Since stampers made from that master will be sold to disc manufacturers the world over, all of discs that those manufacturers produce from those stampers will contain the same 'Manufacturer' information. Information which is obviously quite erroneous and irrelevant. Very seldom will the 'manufacturer' information encoded on a CD-R actually tell you anything other than who made the original master. [...]

The second piece of data (the dye type) is also dubious. Because most master/stamper configurations are designed to be matched to specific dye types (Phthalocyanine, Cyanine, Azo, Etc), the 'Dye' information that is encoded when the master is produced indicates the type of dye that the master was designed for. This of course, does not assure that the manufacturer that buys and uses this stamper will be using it with the dye that it has been designed for. It is quite possible that a stamper/dye combination is used by a CD-R manufacturer that contradicts the 'dye' information encoded on the master. Therefore that information becomes as potentially misleading as the 'Manufacturer' data discussed earlier."

The only reliable piece of information in the "ATIP" region is the disc length. See section (2-38) for further remarks.

Subject: [2-34] Can I make copies of DTS-encoded CDs?

Yes. CDs encoded with DTS (Digital Theater Sound) follow the Red Book standard for the most part. The chief difference is that the audio is encoded with DTS rather than 44.1KHz 16-bit stereo PCM. If you put one into an audio CD player, it will recognize the tracks and try to play them, resulting in a hissing noise.

You can copy DTS CDs the way you would any other audio CD. Attempting to convert them to MP3 is a bad idea though -- they're already in a compressed format.

A common way to play DTS-encoded CDs is with a DVD player connected to a DTS-capable receiver. The DVD player passes multichannel audio to the receiver over an S/PDIF connection. Many DTS CDs are encoded in 5.1 surround sound, which is kinda neat.

Subject: [2-35] Why 44.1KHz? Why not 48KHz?

The "Red Book" specification for audio CDs chose 44100 samples per second, where each sample is 16-bit stereo PCM. PCM is a fine choice for encoding audio, stereo is widely recognized and supported, and it's very easy to manipulate data in 16-bit quantities with existing hardware and software.

Why 44100? Why not make it a round decimal value like 44000, or a round binary quantity like 44032? Why not 32KHz or 48KHz?

In general, the human ear can hear tones out to about 20KHz. According to a smart fellow named Nyquist, you have to sample at twice that rate to avoid "aliasing". Because of imperfections in filtering, you actually want to be a little above 40KHz.

According to John Watkinson's _The Art of Digital Audio_, 2nd edition, page 104, the choice of frequency is an artifact of the equipment used during early digital audio research. Storing digital audio on a hard drive was impractical, because the capacity needed for significant amounts of 1 Mbps audio was expensive. Instead, they used video recorders, storing samples as black and white levels. If you take the number of 16-bit stereo samples you can get on a line, and multiply it by the number of recorded lines in a field and the number of fields per second, you get the sampling rate. It turned out that both NTSC and PAL formats (the video standards used in US/Japan and Europe, respectively) could handle a rate of 44100 samples per second. This rate was carried over into the definition of the compact disc.

The sampling rate for "professional" audio, 48KHz, was chosen because it's an easy multiple of frequencies used for other common formats, e.g. 8KHz for telephones. It also happens to be fairly difficult to do a good conversion from 48KHz to 44.1KHz, which makes it harder to, say, copy an audio CD with a "consumer" DAT deck. (Well, okay, some consumer DAT decks can do 44.1KHz now, but initially only "professional" decks could handle the lower frequency.)

There is relatively little difference in audible quality between 44.1KHz and 48KHz, since the slight increase in frequency response is outside the range of human hearing. Some inaudible tones produce "beats" with audible tones and thus have a noticeable impact, but the improvement from 44.1 to 48 is marginal at best.

Subject: [2-36] What format are .CDA files in?

Actually, .CDA files aren't really files at all. Windows shows the tracks on an audio CD as ".CDA" files for convenience. For example, you can create a file association for ".CDA" and invoke an audio CD player when you double-click on a track.

The tracks themselves are in a format almost identical to a common WAV or AIFF file. See section (2-20).

Subject: [2-37] What are DD-R and DD-RW?

DD-R and DD-RW are Sony standards for "double-density" recordable and rewritable discs. The discs hold 1.3GB of data, and are relatively inexpensive, but aren't compatible with current CD or DVD players. You can only read the discs in a DD-R/DD-RW drive.

The recorders form a middle ground between CD-R and DVD-R in terms of storage capacity and price, but the lack of compatibility reduces their usefulness. On the bright side, the drives are expected to be able to record on CD-R and CD-RW media.

Subject: [2-38] What's an ATIP?

ATIP is an acronym for Absolute Time In Pregroove. All CD-R and CD-RW discs have a pre-cut spiral groove that wobbles slightly. The groove keeps the write head tracking properly, and the wobble (sinusoidal with a frequency of 22.05KHz) provides timing information to the recorder. The wobble is frequency-modulated with a +/-1KHz signal, which creates an absolute time clocking signal, known as the Absolute Time In Pregroove (ATIP).

In the lead-in area, which is at the start of the disc, the ATIP signal can be read to get some information about the disc. The only really useful bit of information is the number of blocks on the disc, which is determined by the length of the pre-formed groove.

The ATIP signal also holds some information about the disc's construction and manufacturer, but see section (2-33) for some comments about their usefulness. used to have ATIP information, but the "Disc Identification Method" link is now password-protected.

Subject: [2-39] What are "ML" discs and devices?

"ML" is short for "MultiLevel". Devices and media constructed by Calimetrics ( boast 3x the storage capacity and 3x the recording speed of conventional CD-R and CD-RW media.

CD technology works by measuring the light reflected from the surface of the disc. Traditional discs only have two levels ("pit" and "land"), ML discs have more than one. By increasing the effective bit density of the media, you can write 3x as much data in one revolution of the disc, improving both the storage capacity and the recording speed.

The technology requires minor changes to existing hardware, and requires discs optimized for ML recording. Discs written with ML devices will not be compatible with existing CD players and CD-ROM drives. However, ML recorders are expected to be able to record on CD-R/CD-RW media as well, so ML support could be a low-cost bonus feature on new drives.

[ Announced in early 2002, this never really materialized as a consumer CD technology. ]

Subject: [2-40] What's CD-MRW? Mount Rainier? EasyWrite?

CD-MRW is the working name for a CD-RW storage format developed by the Mount Rainier Working Group ( The Mount Rainier group has creating specifications for native OS support of CD-RW and DVD+RW, with the eventual goal of replacing floppies and similar formats (e.g. Zip disks).

EasyWrite is a marketing logo for Mount Rainier compliant drives. Drives may be sold with the logo if they pass compliance and robustness tests.

This standard is being promoted by Compaq, Microsoft, Philips, and Sony. The web site claims support by "over 40 industry leaders", including OS vendors and PC OEMs.

What this means to you: 500+MB of reasonably fast storage that doesn't require long formatting delays or the installation of special software. Discs created with Mount Rainier appear to organize the data slightly differently from other UDF solutions, so some compatibility problems exist.

Subject: [2-41] What's Audio Master Quality (AMQ) recording?

Yamaha developed Audio Master Quality Recording to compensate for higher "jitter" in recorded CDs. This is not the kind of jitter addressed by "jitter correction" in CD rippers (2-15). This is the "jitter" that people selling fancy stereo equipment talk about.

Jitter is time-base error. It's not a corruption of the digital '1's and '0's, it's a distortion of the timing in which the '1's and '0's arrive at their destination. This doesn't affect extraction of audio, so you don't need to worry about this kind of jitter when reading a CD or ripping to MP3. You do need to worry about it when listening to a CD.

The digital signal is read from a CD via an analog process: bouncing a laser off of "pits" and "lands" on a CD. Various factors can prevent the signals from arriving at the right place at exactly the right time. High-end CD players can correct these anomalies, but many don't.

AMQ extends the length of the pits and lands on the CD in an attempt to produce a more stable signal. This reduces the recordable length of the CD -- a 74-minute disc only holds 63 -- but produces noticeably improved audio (says Yamaha). The process works because CD players automatically adjust the rotation speed.

Yamaha's explanation:

See also section (4-18-2).

Subject: [2-42] Can I draw pictures on a disc with the recording laser?

If you've ever looked at a recorded CD-R, you've probably noticed that the recorded and unrecorded areas have a different appearance. This is usually visible as a slight change in color. By controlling the write laser it's possible to mark the disc in a way that is meaningful to the human eye rather than to a CD player. Unfortunately, the level of control required to do this isn't achievable without firmware support.

In mid-2002, Yamaha announced "DiscT@2" (disc tattoo). This allows moderate-resolution (approx. 250dpi) graphics to be drawn in the parts of the disc that weren't recorded. Yamaha claims to get 256 shades of color (green, blue, or whatever color the disc happens to be), though it works best on dark blue azo discs. For more details and some pictures, see:

Yamaha left the consumer CD recording market in February 2003, and the technology quietly disappeared.

In March 2004, HP announced a different idea: flip the disc over, and burn a design on the label side. This requires a modified drive and special media, but offers the possibility of high-resolution labeling without ink or adhesive labels. The technology, dubbed "LightScribe", is described on

Subject: [2-43] What are the gory details about how are 1s and 0s encoded?

This section is for people who really want to know what's going on inside. You absolutely do not need to understand any of this to successfully record a CD. You will come away with a greater appreciation for CD players, and also may better understand how some forms of copy protection function.

The sections are written from the perspective of reading a disc. Generally speaking, the process is simply reversed when writing.

I tried to find a balance between not presenting enough information and presenting too much detail. My hope is that, when you are done reading this, you will have a broad understanding of how a CD player turns a lumpy piece of plastic into music, and will know exactly where to look if you need further details. If you want the kind of detail found in a textbook, there are some good ones listed in section (2-43-6).

Subject: [2-43-1] How does the laser read or write a disc?

CD players use a near-infrared 780nm laser. The visible light spectrum is generally considered to be 400nm to 700nm; few people can see light past 720nm. (DVD, by contrast, uses a visible red 635nm or 650nm laser.)

The drive shines a laser through the polycarbonate (plastic) on the "bottom" of the disc. This bounces off the reflective layer, passes back through the polycarbonate, and is read by a photosensor in the drive head. The index of refraction for polycarbonate is about 1.55, so laser light bends when it enters, allowing a much finer focus for the laser (from 800um at the bottom of the polycarbonate down to about 1.7um at the metal surface). This minimizes the effects of dust and scratches, because the effects of any surface gunk are reduced as the laser's focus width is reduced. A 400um-wide piece of dust on the surface of a CD would completely block a laser focused down to 200um at the surface, but has little effect on a CD player.

If the photosensor sees a strong beam -- the CD standard requires the signal strength to be at least 70% when fully reflected -- it knows it's traveling over a "land". If it sees a weaker response, it's traveling over a "pit". Technically, it's traveling "under" a pit or land, so from its perspective a "pit" is actually a bump. The height of the bump is 1/4 of the laser's wavelength when traveling in polycarbonate, so that light reflected from the bump has a phase difference of one-half wavelength. The light reflected from the pit and from the surrounding land thus cancel each other out. (The geometries are actually such that a "pit" reflects about 25% of the intensity rather than 0%. For example, pits are 0.5um wide, or about 1/3 of the focused width of the laser.)

There are a lot of optical tricks involving polarization of light and the action of diffraction gratings going on. For example, the read head uses a three-beam auto-focus system that keeps the laser properly aligned on the spiral track and at the correct distance from the bottom of the disc. (Side note: if adjacent loops of the spiral are too close together -- the "track pitch" is too small -- the laser tracking can fail. This is why 90- and 99-minute discs are harder to write and read.) It's also worth mentioning that, because light travels more slowly in polycarbonate, the wavelength of the laser inside the CD is closer to 500nm.

CD-R and CD-RW discs do not have pits and lands. On CD-R media, the write laser heats the organic dye to approximately 250 degrees Celsius, causing it to melt and/or chemically decompose to form a depression or mark in the recording layer. The marks create the decreased reflectivity required by the read laser. On CD-RW media, the write laser changes the material between crystalline (25% reflectivity) and amorphous (15% reflectivity) states. This is done by either heating it above its melting point (500C to 700C) and letting it cool rapidly to convert it to amorphous form, or heating it to its transition point (200C) and letting it cool slowly to return it to the more stable crystalline state. The lower reflectivity of CD-RW makes the discs unreadable on most older players.

The rest of this discussion refers to "pits" and "lands", but applies equally to pressed CDs, CD-Rs, and CD-RWs.

Subject: [2-43-2] How do pits and lands turn into 1s and 0s? What's EFM?

The pits and lands on a CD do not directly correspond to 1s and 0s. The start and end of a pit (i.e. the pit edges) each correspond to 1s, and all other areas -- both in pits and on lands -- correspond to 0s. The number of zeroes between pit edges is determined through careful timing. This is an efficient approach that produces an easy to handle electrical signal (it's NRZI -- NonReturn to Zero Inverted -- which converts easily to NRZ where 1s are high voltage and 0s are low voltage).

The careful timing is possible because CDs are essentially self-clocking. Suppose you have a clock that ticks once per second. Plug your ears and count seconds to yourself, trying to keep the same pace as the clock. After ten seconds, unplug your ears. If you've drifted slightly, you can readjust to the clock without worrying that you've too far off. You might be missing the beat by a quarter of a second, but you can adjust forward or backward a fraction of a second and still be sure that both you and the clock got to 10 seconds at about the same time. Now try the same experiment for 10 minutes. When you unplug your ears you can get back in sync with the clock's timing, but unless you have a very good internal timer it's unlikely you will reach 10 minutes on the same tick. With your ears plugged for so long, you are likely to be off by several seconds.

CDs work the same way. Every pit edge represents an audible clock tick, while the insides of pits and lands represent inaudible ticks. If a pit or land is too long, the drive's clock will drift too far and possibly get out of sync. (This is why "blank" recordable discs aren't entirely blank: they have a pre-cut spiral groove with a "wobble" that the recorder can use as a timing signal. A clock accurate enough to produce a stable, reliable signal at these frequencies is too expensive to incorporate into a cheap consumer product. The 22.05KHz wobble is frequency-modulated by +/-1KHz to create the ATIP signal that, in the lead-in area, holds some bits of information about the disc.)

To guarantee pits of specific lengths, the CD standard requires that there are at least 2 and at most 10 zeroes between every 1. This is achieved by converting every 8-bit byte into a 14-bit value, a process called Eight to Fourteen Modulation (EFM).

The shortest possible pit (or land) thus represents 3 EFM bits (100), and the longest 11 EFM bits (10000000000). If a single bit requires time T to pass under the read head, then pits of these lengths can be referred to as 3T pits and 11T pits. If after seeking to a new location, the drive sees a pit shorter than 3T or longer than 11T, then it immediately knows that the disc is not spinning at the rate it was expecting, and can make appropriate adjustments.

Between each 14-bit EFM word there are 3 "merging bits". Because CDs aren't allowed to have runs shorter than 3T or longer than 11T, it is sometimes necessary to follow an EFM code with a 1 or 0. Suppose, for example, that an EFM code ending in 1 were immediately followed by an EFM code starting with 1. The merging bits also serve to prevent the frame synchronization pattern from appearing where it isn't supposed to (see next section).

If there is more than one possible arrangement of merging bits that satisfy the restrictions for run length and sync pattern, then a pattern is chosen that minimizes the low-frequency components of the signal. This is done by minimizing the Digital Sum Value (DSV), computed by adding one to a counter for every T after a transition to a land, and subtracting one for every T after a transition to a pit. Adding a 1 to the merging bits inverts the signal by causing a transition from a pit to a land or vice-versa. Minimizing the DSV is important because low-frequency signals can interfere with the operation of tracking and focusing servos.

With EFM there are more bits to encode, but the highest frequency possible in the output signal is decreased. The ratio of the number of bits transmitted to the number of transitions on the medium is high, making this an efficient way to store the data while still being able to recover the clock. It's also worth noting that a 3T pit is 0.833um long, while the laser spot is just over twice that length at 1.7um. If 2T or 1T pits were allowed, the laser would have a hard time detecting them. This is why it's important that transitions not occur too frequently: the laser is good at computing the time between transitions, but isn't so good at noticing transitions if they follow each other too quickly. Making the transitions more obvious requires making the pits and lands longer, which reduces the amount of data that will fit on the disc. (See the description of AMQ in section (2-41).)

Subject: [2-43-3] What's a frame? CIRC encoding? How does ECC work?

EFM encoding is applied to a series of bytes called a "frame". Some sources -- including the SCSI-3 MMC specification -- refer to a CD sector as a "frame", but that's incorrect usage. A frame holds 24 bytes of user data, 1 byte of subcode data, and 8 bytes of parity (error correction), for a total of 33 bytes.

When read from the disc, each frame is preceded by a 24-bit synchronization pattern and 3 merging bits. The sync data has a unique pattern not found elsewhere on the disc, and it ensures the read head correctly finds the start of the frame. (The pattern is 100000000001000000000010, three transitions separated by 11T, which can't occur otherwise because the merging bits are specifically chosen to prevent it.) If you don't understand why having a sync field is important, remember that every time the read head seeks to a new part of the disc or is confused by a scratch, it has to start reading in the middle of a stream of 1s and 0s and try to make sense of what it's reading. Until it sees a synchronization pattern, it has no idea if it's reading the start or middle of a frame, or even if it's at the start or middle of an EFM word.

The rest of the 33-byte frame is read as 14-bit EFM values followed by 3 merging bits. This means there are 588 (24 + 3 + (14+3)*33) "channel bits" in a frame. This 588-bit structure is called a "Channel Frame".

Once EFM is decoded and the merging bits discarded, we are left with an "F3 Frame". The subcode byte is removed, and the remaining data (now an "F2 Frame") is passed into the CIRC (Cross-Interleave Reed-Solomon) decoder. The decoder is an important part of the reason why CDs and CD-ROMs work.

The raw error rate from a CD is around 1 error per 100K to 1 million bits. That's pretty good, but at 4 million bits per second (588 channel bits per frame x 98 frames per sector x 75 sectors per second = 4.3218Mbps), the errors add up quickly. CIRC encoding takes the 192 bits (24 bytes) of data and 64 bits (8 bytes) of parity, shuffles it around, and performs some weird math involving Galois Fields. The bits are processed by two error correction stages, referred to as C1 and C2. The efficacy of the results can be expressed as a set of error counts.

Errors are noted with a two-digit number that indicates the number of errors with the first digit and the CIRC decoder stage with the second digit. The E11 count indicates the number of single-symbol (correctable) errors in the C1 decoder. E21 indicates double-symbol (correctable) errors in C1, and E31 indicates triple-symbol (uncorrectable at C1) errors in C1. The sum of these counts is the Block Error Rate (BLER), a measure of correctable and uncorrectable errors. The CD standard sets the acceptable limit to 220 BLER errors per second, averaged over a 10-second stretch.

The E12 count indicates the number of single-symbol (correctable) errors in the C2 decoder. Because the data is interleaved after the C1 pass, one E31 error can generate up to 30 E12 errors, so a high error count here is not problematic. E22 counts double-symbol (correctable) errors, which are a bad sign. The sum of E21 and E22 form a burst error count (BST), which can be used to identify physical defects on a disc.

Any E32 errors, representing triple-symbol (uncorrectable) errors in the C2 decoder, result in damaged data. For an audio CD interpolation is performed, for a CD-ROM the damaged data must be repaired at a higher level. (This, incidentally, explains how some forms of audio CD copy protection work. The CD author introduces deliberate uncorrectable errors to the CD. An audio player will inaudibly interpolate across them, but a CD-ROM performing digital audio extraction will simply return the bad bits.) Some software, e.g. Plextor's PlexTools, refer to E32 errors as "CU errors".

With CIRC, the bit error rate is reduced to one in 10 to 100 billion. The 24 bytes that comes out of the CIRC decoder are referred to as an "F1 Frame".

It's worth noting that the subcode channels are not CIRC-encoded, and hence are the least-reliable storage directly accessible to the user. The EFM encoding provides some protection against single-bit errors, because only 256 of the 16,384 possible combinations are valid, but without any parity bits the best the drive can do is tell you that it failed to read the data correctly. The Q subcode channel, which can hold vital information about the disc, has a 16-bit CRC.

Subject: [2-43-4] What's in a sector?

98 frames of 24 bytes are combined to form a 2352-byte sector and 98 bytes of subcode data. The sector is assembled from F1 Frames, which are byte-swapped, shuffled, and run through a descrambler. The purpose of the scrambler is to reduce the likelihood that regular bit patterns will induce a large digital sum value.

It should be pointed out that the 2352-byte sector is the smallest unit most CD-ROM drives will allow software to manipulate. It's only after all of the above that low-level CD-ROM operations, like "RAW DAO-96" reads and writes, begin. This is why making a "bit-for-bit" copy of a disc is tricky.

A sector on an audio CD holds 2352 bytes of data. 16-bit stereo samples require 4 bytes per sample, so there's 2352/4 = 588 samples per sector. At 75 sectors per second, that's 44100 samples per second (44.1KHz). At this point, the processing for an audio CD is essentially complete. CD players feed the samples through a DAC (or S/PDIF connector) and eventually out to the speakers, and send the subcode data to the front panel controller so it can update the HH:MM counter and track number.

A sector on a CD-ROM holds 2048 bytes of user data, leaving 304 bytes for other purposes. Every data sector begins with a 16-byte header:

The sync field and address are important because early CD-ROM drives weren't able to accurately determine the start of a sector. The drives were based on CD players, which just shoved the decoded frames into one FIFO and the subcode data into another. The CD-ROM firmware was presented with a stream of bytes, and expected to make sense of it. This situation is also responsible for audio extraction "jitter", discussed at length in section (2-15).

The mode byte determines what the remaining 2336 bytes in the sector looks like:

The Mode 1 CD-ROM ECC is independent of and in addition to the CIRC encoding. It uses a Reed-Solomon Product Code (RSPC) to achieve a combined error rate of 1 error per 1e15 (quadrillion) bits.

CD-ROM/XA (eXtended Architecture) Mode 2 extends the definition of a Mode 2 CD-ROM. Form 1 looks like a slight rearrangement of a Mode 1 sector, with the 8 bytes of space moved ahead of the user data and filled with a sub-header. Form 2, intended for compressed audio/video data, has the 8-byte sub-header, 2324 bytes of data, and an optional 4-byte EDC code. The sub-header contains some channel and data type flags.

A CD session must be written in a single mode, but the XA spec allows the form to change. Using CD-ROM/XA Mode 2 allows you to choose between extended error correction and increased data capacity, and also change your mind several times in a single track.

Subject: [2-43-5] What's in a subcode channel?

There are 8 subcode channels, labeled P,Q,R,S,T,U,V,W, or sometimes "P-W" for short. (The ECMA-130 standard refers to subcode bytes as "Control bytes".) Every frame contains one byte of subcode data, and each byte holds 1 bit of P, 1 of Q, and so on. The bytes from 98 consecutive frames are combined to form a subcode "section". The first two bits in each channel are used for synchronization, leaving 96 bits of useful data per channel (which is where RAW DAO-96 gets its name).

The P and Q channels are defined by the CD audio standard. (They are unrelated to the P and Q parity fields.) The P channel can be used to find the start of a track, but in practice most devices use the more sophisticated Q channel. Q contains four chunks of information: control (4 bits), address (4 bits), Q data (72 bits), and an EDC (16-bit CRC).

The control bits determine whether the track holds audio or data, the number of audio channels (stereo or quadraphonic), and specifies the Digital Copy Permitted and Pre-emphasis flags. The address bits determine the format of the Q data section. Address mode 1 holds information about tracks, mode 2 holds a catalog number (such as a UPC code, constant for an entire disc), and mode 3 contains the ISRC (International Standard Recording Code, constant for a given track but may change with each track).

A disc has three main regions: the lead-in area, the program area, and the lead-out area. Subcode Q mode 1 data in the lead-in is used to hold the table of contents (TOC) for the disc. The TOC is repeated continuously in the lead-in area in case of damage (remember, no CIRC encoding on subcode channels). In the program and lead-out area, mode 1 contains track numbers, index numbers, time within the current track, and absolute time. Index 0 marks the start of a pregap (pause) before the audio in a track begins, index 1 marks the start of the music, and indexes 2 through 99 are usually not set but can be added if desired.

The ability to specify track and index markers when writing a Red Book audio CD is often referred to as "PQ editing" because that information is contained in the P and Q subcodes.

Subcode channels R through W are not defined by the CD standard, except to say that they should be set entirely to zero if not used. They're currently used for CD+G (e.g. Karaoke) discs, CD-Text, and some forms of copy protection.

It is interesting to note that, while bytes from 98 consecutive frames are used to create a subcode "section", those frames don't have to be from a single sector. It's possible for a subcode section to start in one sector and end in the next.

Subject: [2-43-6] I want even more details


An excellent reference for is Ken Pohlmann's mammoth _Principles of Digital Audio, 4th edition_ (ISBN 0-07-134819-0), especially chapter 9 (on compact discs) and chapter 5 (on error correction). If you want something a little slimmer, try his older _The Compact Disc Handbook, 2nd edition_, 1992 (ISBN 0-89579-300-8).

Another good book is _The Art of Digital Audio_, 2nd edition, by John Watkinson, Focal Press, 1994 (ISBN 0-240-51320-7).

Prof. Kelin J Kuhn used to have some very good information on the University of Washington web site, but it's gone now, and they're not available on For historical reference, the original info: has a number of interesting pages. In particular, there's a good page about CIRC on, and has a nice explanation of disc construction and optics, especially the three-beam autofocus.

The page at provides some background information on sampling, aliasing, dither, DACs, and other relevant topics.

You can get a copy of ECMA-130 from This document describes the format of a CD-ROM, including physical dimensions and optical characteristics, as well as sector formats and Q-channel specs. It also features some interesting annexes:

Standards documents, as a rule, are terse and difficult to understand. ECMA-130 is actually quite readable, and if you understood the preceding sections you should have no trouble sorting it out.

If you want source code for the CIRC, RSPC, EDC, and scramble functions, look for Heiko Eissfeldt's edc_ecc.c (and related files). The code is part of Mode2CDMaker, CDRDAO, and possibly others.

If you want an explanation of DSV and the problems associated with it, read the Philips patent on the sector scrambler (US4603413), or one of the associated patents on removal of DC content from a digital signal. The full text of the patent can be found at In brief:

"[...] If the frequency of such oscillation is comparatively high, during the read operation the decision level for detection of the channel bit signals may be rendered inaccurate. As a result, read-out of the information will be disturbed to such an extent that even the error-correction measures cannot prevent errors. Moreover, the tracking system for controlling the read laser which reads the channel bits may become incapable of keeping the laser beam accurately positioned on the track."
It appears that, when the DC offset in the signal becomes too large, the read head has trouble "seeing" the disc. The voltage level in the photodetector has pegged, so the difference between a pit and a land is unnoticeable.

An article at examines why one specific file failed to record properly. It turns out that, after passing through the scrambler, a piece of the file has a section that matches the sector header sync pattern.

For some technical information on how CD-Rs are constructed, look through the site for relevant patents. For example, US5348841 describes "Organic dye-in-polymer (DIP) medium for write-once-read-many (WORM) optical discs".

Subject: [2-44] Digital is better than analog, right?

Not always.

Digital audio CDs are superior to audio cassettes and 8-track tapes, and digital video DVDs are superior VHS videotapes. However, the analog film shown in a movie theater is superior to DVD, and the analog studio master tape is better than an audio CD. The sounds that an Apple II makes are generated digitally, but you wouldn't want to play your CDs that way.

Some formats are better than others. The low-cost consumer digital formats are generally superior to low-cost consumer analog formats (except perhaps for 35mm film, though that's changing). This does not mean that "digital" is better than "analog", though many people have that impression because the consumer electronics companies are marketing products that way.

Digital has some advantages over analog. The most significant is the ability to apply various algorithms to reproduce the original digital signal. With most forms of analog transmission, reconstructing the original signal without noise and distortions is difficult. The flip side is that, with too much interference, the digital signal becomes unusable. NTSC televisions (the kind used in North America and Japan) can display a transmission with a negative S/N ratio, i.e. there's more noise than signal. (If you're not part of the "cable TV" generation, think about a picture that was heavily snowed, but still decipherable. It was probably a sporting event.)

Digital also has disadvantages, although many of them can be minimized through careful system design. The most fundamental problem is the need to convert the digital signal back to analog. Human senses are analog, so audio has to be converted to voltages that drive speakers, and video needs to be turned into pixels on a screen. The human eye is pretty easy to fool -- update the image quickly enough and the brain will believe the motion is smooth -- but the ear is more discerning. Slight changes in frequency and timing, especially in a stereo signal, can be detected.

Many digital formats are compressed with "lossy" techniques. Algorithms like MPEG-2, MP3, DTS, and SDDS remove parts of the music to reduce the storage size. The parts removed are usually inaudible, though that depends on how much is removed and how good your ears are.

The upshot of all this is that it's wise to pay attention to what you're getting. Don't assume that a digital format is better just because it's digital.

Subject: [2-44-1] What is "digital" and "digitization", anyway?

Computers store things in "bits", which can be either 0 or 1. To store something in a computer, it must be converted to a series of bits. The process is called "digitizing".

You've probably seen an egg slicer. If you haven't, picture a device that looks like a book resting flat on table. Instead of pages it has an egg-shaped depression, and instead of a front cover it has a frame with thin wires stretched across it vertically at regular intervals. You raise the lid, insert the egg, and when you press the lid down the wires cut the egg into thin, round slices.

It usually helps to hard-boil the egg first.

Suppose we want to digitize an egg so we can make a nifty 3D model and display it on a computer. Our slicer has 9 wires, so we could end up with as many as 10 pieces. We place the egg into the device and slice it. Now we measure the height of each piece in centimeters (assume the pieces are perfectly round), measuring the diameter with calipers and rounding it to the nearest centimeter. Each slice could go from 0cm (the egg was short, so there was no slice) to 5cm (the width of our slicer).

When we're done, we spit out something that looks like this:

  1. 1cm
  2. 2cm
  3. 2cm
  4. 2cm
  5. 3cm
  6. 3cm
  7. 3cm
  8. 2cm
  9. 2cm
  10. 1cm
Your eggs may vary. Storing a number from 0 to 5 requires 3 digital bits, so if we know that measurements are always in centimeters, we can store the height of each slice in 3 bits. We have ten numbers to store, so we can hold our egg in a mere 30 bits!

When we try to display our digitized egg on a computer screen, however, we discover a problem. The image doesn't look like a smooth egg. Instead, it looks like a bunch of stair steps in a vaguely egg-shaped pattern. The sizes aren't right either: our original egg was actually 3.4cm at its widest point, but we had to round it down to 3cm.

Suppose we improve our measurements down to the nearest millimeter. Now, when we have to round off the measurements, the round-off error is much smaller. The results look much better, but holding a value from 0 to 50 requires 6 digital bits instead of 3, so we've doubled our storage requirements to 60 bits. What's more, the image still looks stair-steppy.

The stairs happen because each slice has a single height value. When we go from slice #7 to slice #8, we abruptly jump from 3cm to 2cm. The reason our recreated egg doesn't look smooth is because we didn't really capture the original, in which each slice varied in height from one edge to the other. Our digitization could only capture the average height of each slice.

There are a couple of ways to improve this. The first is to guess at the shape of the original egg, and draw smooth curves based on the data we have. This is called "interpolation". The other approach is to buy a new egg slicer with wires that are closer together, so we have more slices, reducing the size of the jump from one slice to the next. This is called "increasing the sampling rate". If you double the number of slices, you double the number of bits required to hold the digital version.

If you slice the egg finely and measure it accurately, you can get a nearly perfect representation of the original. For example, if we create slices that are one molecule apart, and measure the height to the nearest molecule, we will have an extremely accurate picture, not to mention a seriously huge digital representation. The tricky part about digitizing something is to choose the height and thickness of the slices such that the likeness is very good but the digital size is small.

Subject: [2-44-2] How does this relate to CD-DA?

An audio CD cuts a one-second "egg" of sound into 44100 slices, and measures the "height" of each slice from 0 to 65535 (16 bits). It does this independently for the left and right stereo channels, using a format called Pulse-Code Modulation, or PCM. The technical shorthand, which you may have seen in a sound editor, is "44.1KHz 16-bit stereo PCM".

Measuring the "height" of each slice is called quantizing. The round-off error in the measurements is called quantization error. The problems associated with the error can be reduced by applying "dither" (low-level noise).

The reason for the number 44100 is explained in section (2-35). The choice of 16 bits is also fairly arbitrary, but extremely convenient on a computer.

There are other problems when digitizing (e.g. aliasing) and when converting back to analog form (e.g. jitter). See for an introduction.

Newer audio formats, such as Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio, offer different sampling rates (up to 96000), quantization (up to 24 bits), and numbers of channels (e.g. 5.1 surround-sound).

Subject: [2-45] What's a CDR-ROM? CD-PROM?

The term "CDR-ROM" was coined by Optical Disc Corporation in a February 2003 press release, and refers to a disc with writable and non-writable components. Some possible uses include burning a unique serial number on a full CD-ROM, or providing recordable discs with marketing content (e.g. a few tracks of audio to which more music can be added). More information can be found at

Eastman Kodak had a similar product, called the "CD-PROM", a few years earlier. According to their web site, marketing and sales of the CD-PROM was discontinued in October 2002. See the notice on

Subject: [2-46] What's HD-BURN? GigaRec?

In April 2003, a few companies began announcing technologies that allow you to store larger quantities of data on standard CD-R media. Unlike DD-R and "ML" technology, special discs aren't required. The capacity and compatibility is different for each.

GigaRec (Plextor)
Increases storage capacity by 40%, allowing up to 1GB on a 700MB disc. The discs can be read on some unmodified CD-ROM drives.
HD-BURN (Sanyo)
Doubles disc capacity of an 80-minute disc from 700MB to 1.4GB. A firmware change is required before a drive can read the discs. Support for extended-length CD-RW media is planned.
Does it make sense to use these? The extra capacity is handy, but data is only useful if you're able to read it. Check the compatibility of the hardware you're going to use to read the discs.

Subject: [2-47] What are C2 errors? What do they say about disc quality?

When people talk about "C2 errors" they are usually referring to the rate of uncorrectable errors found on a CD. For an overview of error correction, see section (2-17). For a more detailed look, see section (2-43-3). These values are returned by "surface scan" tools.

There are two flavors of C2 errors, and not all drives are capable of reporting both. Uncorrectable C2 errors indicate data that has been lost. On an audio CD the missing sound samples will be smoothed over, and on a CD-ROM the errors may be corrected by an additional level of error correction, so the flaws may not be noticeable. Correctable C2 errors indicate data that is whole but will be lost if the disc degrades any futher. Some applications now differentiate between the two by referring to uncorrectable C2 as "CU error".

The fewer errors of either kind, the better. The results you get are the combination of the writer and the media, and in some cases may be influenced by the quality of the device used to read the CD. If performing the same set of operations on two different brands of discs results in consistently lower error rates on one brand than the other, you will probably be better off with the lower-error-rate brand. It is entirely possible that a different writer would yield the opposite results, so it's not reasonable to say that brand X is better than brand Y without performing a rigorous test with a variety of different recorders.

Some discs are poorly constructed, and may deteriorate faster than others. For long-term archiving, it may be useful to re-examine discs periodically, especially if you buy "cheap" discs in bulk. Having fewer errors today means little if the disc is unreadable in six weeks.

Performing these tests on a disc recorded with track-at-once recording or packet writing can result in unexpectedly high error counts, because the gaps between tracks and packets look like damaged areas.

For drives capable of reporting the errors, you can use Nero CD Speed ( to evaluate the error rate. For a more thorough examination, you can buy "CD Inspector", which comes with software and a slightly modified CD-ROM drive (

Subject: [2-48] What are CD+R and CD+RW?

Simply put, they aren't.

There is no such thing as CD+R or CD+RW. There are a number of different DVD formats, including DVD+R and DVD+RW, but so far CDs only have -R and -RW. CD formats with a '+' in them (except for CD+G, which only defines the subcode channels of an audio CD) are usually typographical errors.

Subject: [2-49] What's HighMAT?

HighMAT stands for High Performance Media Access Technology. Co-developed and supported by Microsoft and Matsushita (Panasonic), it was first announced in October 2002. HighMAT defines formats for storing digital media (music, photos, videos) on CD-R/RW discs and (eventually) writable DVD formats.

While many DVD players now recognize MP3 and JPG files on ISO-9660 discs, they don't all do things the same way, and may not support all formats. A HighMAT-compliant player would be able to handle all files on discs created in HighMAT format. The end result is that you would be able to record a disc full of music or pictures in HighMAT format and send it to anybody with a HighMAT player and know that it will work.

This format has not yet been adopted by most consumer electronics companies, so it remains to be seen whether this will become a significant feature.

For details, see

Subject: [2-50] What's VariRec?

VariRec ("Variable Recording") is a Plextor feature intended to let users modify the laser power when recording audio CDs. It only works for audio CDs recorded at 4x. The theory is that adjusting the laser power up or down slightly may result in better-sounding discs for a particular combination of writer and media.

VariRec II increases the write speed to 8x and allows manual selection of the "write strategy" as well.

In theory there is no need for such a feature, because drives contain tables of power levels for known brands of media, and can automatically determine the correct setting for others. However, some discs use the wrong media type information, so manual adjustments can be helpful in some cases.

See section (4-18-2) for information about audio CD quality, and (3-31) for some notes on recording speeds and power levels.

Subject: [2-51] Will my CDs work on players in other countries?

Yes. Videos sold on DVD usually have region coding that prevents them from working on players in other countries. No such restriction is possible in CD formats. Audio CDs, CD-ROMs, and VideoCDs will work equally well in any part of the world.

Subject: [2-52] Do CD-Rs have deeper pits? Are "shallow burns" bad?

CD-Rs and CD-RWs don't have "pits" in the same sense as pressed CDs. If the material were burned away, you'd get a distinct odor from your CD recorder as the combustion by-products escaped. If the burned material were trapped in the CD, it would probably rupture the lacquer coat (converting solid matter to gaseous form rapidly is commonly known as "exploding").

It's not accurate to describe a recorded CD as having "deep" or "shallow" pits, because it doesn't have pits at all. The organic dye or phase-change film changes state in a way that affects how light is reflected. The result in a CD player is the same, though the peak reflectivity may be different. You will get different results from different read heads though, e.g. DVD players have trouble reading CD-Rs, but rarely have problems with CD-RWs and pressed CDs.

Incidentally, it's not desirable to have "deeper" pits in a pressed CD. The depth of the pit is chosen to cause a 1/2 phase difference in the reflected light. If the pit were shallower or deeper, the effect would be lost.

See section (2-43-1) for more information about the physics of reading a CD.

Subject: [2-53] What's a stacking ring?

The term is used to describe a slight ridge near the hub of standard CD-R media. This provides a small amount of separation between discs stacked on a spindle. You can tell if your discs have stacking rings by piling them up and then pressing down on the outside edge. If the stack compresses slightly, they have the ring; if they're solid, they don't.

The ring is helpful when feeding discs into automated recorders because it keeps the discs from sticking to each other. It can interfere with hub labels or with printing near the disc hub, so you can often order the same media with or without the ring.

There may be some benefit to using discs with the ring even if you're just burning the occasional disc and using standard labels. The ridge is on the bottom of the disc, which means if you put the disc down on a table, most of the bottom surface won't be in direct contact. This could help avoid scratches.

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FAQ Copyright © 2010 by Andy McFadden. All Rights Reserved.