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CD Mastering

Monday, March 1st, 2010

CD Mastering is complicated but worth doing for a high quality CD

CD mastering is the process of taking a song or audio file, editing out the bad bits and increasing the quality of the good bits! It is generally done by professional editors as it is a very complicated and technically advanced process involving editing each individual layer of the song. Mastering a CD can make a good song into a great one, giving you a final master CD that is ready to be sent off for duplication!

Generally, CD mastering takes place in three main stages:

Assembly Editing – This is the stage at which the layers of the track are aligned with one another. The technician will place proper spacing between the cuts and ensure that the song plays through with perfect timing. The places where you tend to get most noises, pops and clicks, the beginning and end of each cut, are generally faded so that the flaws cannot be heard, and any other unintentional sounds are also removed. The different layers can also be cross-faded, to create a marvelous disc ready for printing.

Sweetening – In this stage, the layers of the track are enhanced with special effects. You can apply echo, reverb, and many other effects to the song to make it sound just that bit better. This improving of sound, making the song sound more perfect than perhaps it really was, is known as ‘sweetening’. Many famous pop artists have been criticised for the degree to which the ‘sweeten’ their songs until their voices don’t actually sound like their real voices, but generally technicians only sweeten to a sensible level.

Output – Depending here on whether you are duplicating or replicating, this final process involves two different things. If duplicating, the technician produces a final CD-ROM copy of the disc which can then be played on a normal CD player. However, if replicating, a glass master disc must be created, which can be used on the replication machines almost as a stencil for further copies. The final mastered version of the song if usually ‘auditioned’ for the client to ensure they approve of the sound created.

Because of the high levels of technical knowledge involved in mastering a CD, it is generally advisable to get a professional company to do it for you. However, many disc duplication companies provide mastering as a part of their service, so you can master and duplicate all at the same time!

Home CD and DVD Burners – what has been their effect?

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Get creative - burn your own CD!

Since the advent in the early noughties of the home CD Burner, their progress in technological importance has been astounding: From starting out as a simple replacement for floppy discs, being used mainly in the workplace to store data, they have become an intrinsic part of our technological lives. It used to be that they were a luxury for office men with a lot of money to spend on their computer to a regular feature in our laptops, desktops and even our CD players themselves! In fact, it would be very rare to find a computer which didn’t have a CD burning drive at all!

But what has the consequence been on, firstly commerce, and secondly, our own creativity?

In terms of business, the main issue that has arisen with the advent of the CD burner is that of copyright: We started out simply making each other mix-CDs but people quickly cottoned onto the fact that music could be illegally ripped and burnt from existing CDs and so started to share music this way! The music business has met the trend with full on force and often law suites are now heard of where people are sued enormous sums of money for illegally copying music. Even the film business is feeling the effect of home disc burners as, with the wider distribution of DVD burners, films are also being illegally copied and shared. However, the legal CD survives, first through a sense of honour and second because you will never get the same finish on a disc as you would with a professionally produced copy. The artwork and packaging can never have the same high quality finish as they do when you buy a professionally produced disc rather than using your home CD burner.

However, in this instance the pros far outweigh the cons of home CD burning: To start, CDs are just better than floppy discs for sharing information. CDs are more reliable, store more data and are slimmer. Aside from this, they have expanded creative opportunity for artists world-wide: You can now record and burn your own album at home or produce an amateur film! The opportunities presented to us on a musical and film-making front are now almost limitless! And we can create personal gifts with mix-CDs. I even know someone who keeps a diary through burning a CD each month of the music they were listening to to sum up the mood!

But don’t forget that sometimes in all this creativity that if you want many copies of a disc it is still often more economically viable to get someone to professionally burn your discs in bulk for you. And you will be guaranteed to get a professional finish which would be nearly impossible to create in your own home without great personal expense!

Have you ever wondered how a CD is made?

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Duplicating CDs is a complicated process

Compact Disc’s have become an intrinsic part of modern life.  They’re everywhere:  They carry our music, our work files, school projects, they come through our letterbox with adverts and hold the software for our computer programs.  In short, while twenty years ago they were a luxury, now we would be lost without them.

But haven’t you ever wondered how CD manufacturing works?  How are these discs put together and what are the resources that go into them?

The answer is not as complex as you might imagine:  There are five main layers to a CD.  However, because in the process of CD manufacturing, each layer must be produced separately so the manufacturing process has many stages and is quite detailed.

The first layer on a CD is thick and manufactured from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), a soft, clear polycarbonate plastic.  Interestingly, this layer makes up 99% of the CD the other four layers making up only 1% of it!  Thus, this layer is very important, serving two purposes:  First, it protects the data layer from scratches and secondly, like the lenses in spectacles, it helps the laser beam to focus on the data itself.  This layer of the CD is manufactured by feeding small granules of PVC into a hydraulic press where they are heated until they melt.  The molten plastic is then forced by a screw into a mould cavity and it takes on the round, CD shape.  The plastic is then allowed to cool and harden and a robotic metal arm removes it and stamps the hole into the middle.  This is called the ‘stacking ring’.

Next comes the ‘data layer’, perhaps the most complicated part of CD manufacturing.  The data on a CD consists of many pits and lands, bumps which go up and down and represent either a one or a zero.  They work in a way very similarly to binary on a computer or simple on and off switches in a light.  These pits and lands spiral out from the centre of the CD and are read and interpreted by a laser.  Unlike the vinyl, however, the data is read from the inside to the outside on a CD and not the other way around.  To place these very important pits and lands on the CD during the manufacturing process, a glass master copy of the data is made in the image of how the CD will look, using a powerful laser and something akin to a CD writer.  The glass master is then pressed against a metal disc to create a negative image of the CD, making a mould, or ‘press’.  (Hence the term ‘to press a CD’, or ‘CD pressing‘.)  Once the press has been made, the clear PVC disc is pushed against it, so that the data is imprinted on the surface of the disk itself.

This part of the process of CD manufacturing is a little different if the CD is a recordable one.  In this instance instead of a data layer, a photosensitive dye is applied.  This dye, when exposed to certain light which can be emitted from the lasers in CD writers, creates the impression of a pit.  Similarly, a re-recordable disk uses a dye, but a slightly different one which allows the laser to polarize the layer back and forth between a pit and a land.

The next stage in CD manufacturing is to place a thin layer of metal onto the PVC disc.  The metal is usually silver or aluminium but it can also be made from gold or other metals.  It is applied to the PVC disc on top of the data using a process called sputtering, which means that a surface, here the disk, is bombarded with small atoms of a substance, in this case the metal.  This makes the CD act as a mirror, reflecting the CD player’s laser back to the reader.  It’s also this that gives the underside of a CD its shiny appearance.

The CD manufacturing process is nearly done now and the last major physical change to the disc takes place:  A thin coating of lacquer applied in a ring around the centre of the CD and spread out to the edges by spinning the disk very fast.  The edges are also coated with lacquer.  This coating ensures the safety of the data and the foil, which are the most important parts of the CD to protect.

All the other parts of the CD manufacturing process are almost purely cosmetic, including the final layer, the application of the label which contains information about what is on the disk, who made it and possibly a few graphics, especially if it is a music CD or a film.

The disk is now ready to be printed and packed and it is only after this that we, the consumers, see the disk!  It is very rare that we actually appreciate the time and energy that goes into manufacturing a CD.  But now, next time you use one (which these days will probably be very soon) you can look at it and know exactly how it was made!

A History of the CD

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

The history of the CD is fascinating and complex

In 1978, two of the greatest technological giants, Sony and Philips, were poised on the edge of a technological development war, both locked in a race to be the first to develop the CD (Compact Disc).

But to understand how this race began, we must look some years back in CD history, to 1957, when the digital video experiments of the Italian Antonio Rubbiani inspired a new generation of scientists to think about digital technology and the possibilities behind it.  CD history was in its infancy, but it had begun.  Twelve years later, in 1969, the experiments began in earnest and in 1970 Philips began to work on ALP (Audio Long Play), a new concept using digital audio as opposed to analogue to make longer playing discs in less space than a vinyl took up.

For a long time, however, the research was slow, and in 1978 Philips failed on its experiments with video disc technology.  Thus, to make up for this loss, it launched the new Compact Disc Project.  The idea behind the Compact Disc was that it would replace the previous vinyl analogue equipment which had dominated the market, and also replace the Compact Cassette Tape which had successfully been running alongside the vinyl for some years.  The name Compact Disc had been decided upon the year before (when Philips had begun to take more note of its digital audio research department), based on the idea that it would remind people of the Compact Cassette and it’s own success.

However Philips, though far ahead on the physical design of the CD to the point at which they had already developed commercial Laserdisc Players, simply did not have the electronic digital audio recording experience necessary to develop the technology any further.  At this time, Sony was also working on the development of the Compact Disc, but was having the opposite problem in that it had just over a decade of digital recording experience under its belt but not the physical understanding to make the CD possible.  So, at a meeting in Japan in 1979, Philips and Sony shocked the world and made a striking development in CD history by coming together to develop the Compact Disc in a joint effort.  The ceasefire was called on the developmental war and for a couple of years, the two companies worked together.  Philips was the primary designer of the disc itself; the pits and lands on the disc’s surface which are read by a laser, with no physical contact required.  On the other hand, Sony was responsible for the digital to analogue circuitry, especially the digital encoding an the error-correction code design.

In 1980, the pair brought out what is now referred to as the ‘Red Book’ format (because of the first publishment’s cover being red), which gave the standards for CDs, including specifications about recording, sampling and the size of the disc itself, which is still the same today.  At 120mm in diameter, the Compact Disc was a more portable, convenient size than the larger vinyl and could also hold more data than either vinyl or cassette tape.  The size, so legend has it, was decided on because Sony insisted that the Compact Disc must be able to hold all of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony without interruption.

However, once the CD had been developed, Sony and Philips began their race again, both rushing to be the first company to release a commercial CD audio-drive.  In the end, Sony beat Philips by just one month.  So it was that on October 1st, 1982, Sony brought out the CDP-101 Compact Disc Player, a landmark event in CD history.  It was released first in Japan, then Europe but, surprisingly, did not make it to the USA until early 1983.  This new CD player was soon followed up in 1984 by Sony making the first portable CD player, again beating Philips to making CD history.

The first CD to be pressed was The Visitors by ABBA and the first album to be produced was Billy Joel’s 52nd Street Album.  In fact, despite many music label’s initial concerns, CD’s took off very well, with over one thousand different single’s and albums being brought out in the first year alone.

Although Sony and Philips had raced again in terms of technology, the still collaborated on standard for some years to come and in 1983 released the ‘Yellow Book’ standard (that’s right, this cover was yellow!) which revealed the idea of the CD-R (Compact Disc-Recordable) which allowed, by modifying the de-coding electronics of the CD, for one to be able to store data on a disc which could be read by a computer.  This was  very exciting development in CD history and the implications for technology were astounding:  CD-‘s were more reliable than the previous floppy-disc technology and they could also store a lot more data for their size.  They were also faster.  However they weren’t developed to the standard of general public use until 1990.

After this, the next massive leapt forward came in 1995, when Sony pioneered a nine company investigation in standardising DVDs, a development which had been in the pipeline for a while.  DVDs (Digital Versatile Discs) were aimed not only at replacing the analogue form of video storage, video cassettes, but could also be used in place of CD-ROMs and CD-Rs to store data for computers.  Though to this day they are not wholly standardised (we still have both DVD-R and DVD+R on the market) the conglomerate Sony put together did ensure the accessibility of DVDs to all sectors of the public.

CDs have remained popular now for many years, being used as they were initially intended, replacing vinyls and cassette tapes, but also for many more things, for instance the storage of computer data.  The technological leaps which have come out of Compact Disc history are astounding, including the advent of DVD’s and digital video recording.  A simple disc had had such an impact on our technology, and it looks as if it isn’t done yet:  Blu-Ray discs have recently been brought onto the market, increasing the high definition standards of our films, and goodness knows what else in in the pipeline as an offshoot of the Compact Disc!

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