The discs for computer drives are cheaper than those for stand-alone decks because data discs are produced in much greater quantity than those intended for music and because they come free of the royalty on audio discs that's paid to record companies, performing artists, songwriters, and music publishers. Both kinds of discs are identical except that audio discs - labeled "For Digital Audio," "For Music Use," or "For Consumer" - have a special code burned into them to signify payment of the royalty. But don't even think about trying to sneak a data disc onto a stand-alone deck. It will detect the lack of the royalty code and reject the disc as unrecordable.
All current stand-alone burners and computer drives record both CD-Rs and CD-RWs. While CD-Rs will play on virtually all CD players and many recent DVD players, CD-RWs play on most DVD players and many newer CD players. But CD-RWs don't have quite the same flexibility as tape when it comes to erasing and rerecording. Depending on your recorder's facilities, you can erase the last track you recorded or the entire disc, but you can't erase or record over selected tracks.
The burning question (so to speak) boils down to whether you should record your CDs on a stand-alone deck or in your computer. To give each method equal footing, we chose some of the most advanced products in each category. Representing stand-alone recorders is the Harman Kardon CDR 30, a dual-tray deck ($699); representing computer burners is TDK's Velo CD 241040 CD-R/RW drive ($300), nestled in a Pentium 933 PC running Windows 98SE.
The Harman Kardon deck copies CDs, CD-Rs, and CD-RWs at 4x normal speed. It can play MP3-encoded CDs, but if you try to copy one, it will record it as a standard audio CD. The TDK VeloCD drive can record a CD-R at up to 24x and a CD-RW at up to 10x. Unlike the Harman Kardon, which delivers its full capabilities no matter where or how you use it, the Velo CD's precise capabilities depend on the configuration of your computer and software. But TDK does supply a complete, versatile software pack age (see "Soft Advice" on the facing page).
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