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What is the Red Book standard? Do I need to use it? Why?

An RP visitor asks about the Red Book. There are books of all kinds of colors, but why is this one so important?

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Even in the age of digital downloads, the CD is still surprisingly popular. Some would say that you haven't 'arrived' until you have produced a CD, manufactured by injection molding, bearing a barcode, shrink-wrapped and in the shops.

To have a CD manufactured from your music, you need a master in a suitable format. There are a variety of formats that CD pressing plants will accept, but the easiest one to work with in the home or small studio is in fact...

A CD!

Yes, the master for a CD is itself a CD, but this time one that you burn yourself.

There are however some important rules that you must play by...

Firstly and foremostly, if foremostly is a word, is that the CD you burn must be exactly that - a compact disc. There are many round objects, shiny and 12 cm in diameter, that are not CD's. A CD-ROM is not a CD. Also, any disc that deviates from the official CD standard is not a CD and is therefore unsuitable as a master for manufacturing.

And the standard to which a CD-Audio disc should conform is laid down in what is called the 'Red Book'.

The Red Book dates back to the early 1980's when the CD format was first standardized. It specifies every feature a disc must possess to be able to call itself a CD-Audio disc.

Initially, CD's could only be made by complex and expensive manufacturing processes. But in the 1990's it became possible to burn one's own CD-Audio discs.

CD-Audio discs burned in a CD writer are not identical to manufactured CD's. But as long as they don't flout any of the Red Book standards, then they are indeed CD's.

So if you want to make a CD that is suitable as a master for manufacturing, you must make sure that your software is capable of working to the Red Book standard, otherwise you will produce a CD-Not-Quite, rather than the required CD-Audio disc.

More tips...

Firstly, use a reputable brand of blank disc that is sold into the pro audio industry. Office and no-name brands will produce errors, and if there are too many errors the factory will send your master back (but probably not all of your money!).

Secondly, treat this disc VERY carefully. Play it once all the way through and concentrate on every moment of music to make sure there are no clicks, glitches or dropouts. Then put it in a proper jewel case and don't open that case again until manufacturing is complete. Make another and do the same, for back up.

As I said earlier, there are books of all colours for the various different disc formats, but the Red Book is the original, and the one you need to stick to for audio.

Want to read the Red Book? Got $199 to spare? Here...

By David Mellor Monday June 26, 2006
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