Burning Choices Page 4

The VeloCD drive might step down to 16x if you don't use blanks labeled for 24x copying. To make a super-fast copy from a CD, you'll also need a second, speedy CD-ROM drive. Otherwise, you have to record the CD to your hard drive from the Velo CD - which it can do at up to 40x - and then burn it from the hard drive to a blank CD. By the time you go through all the necessary maneuvers, that's not much fast er than the Harman Kardon's 4x copy. But burning can be lightning fast if the music is already on the hard drive.

Let's call speed a near draw. Although the computer drive burns much faster, most us ers will have to go through a lot more to supply the audio to the laser. I can burn a good part of a CD using a component deck in about the time it takes just to boot my PC.

Turning Up the Heat But computers win a technical knockout when it comes to versatility. Microsoft provides basic CD-burning capability with its new Windows XP operating system. The software supplied by TDK (and most other manufacturers of CD-R/RW drives) allows you to burn any digital data onto a disc. More advanced software puts a complete recording studio at your fingertips.

Stand-alone decks are best for people who want to transfer CDs, LPs, and tapes to CD. You can create compilation CDs as you would compilation tapes by stopping and starting the recording, but if you make a mistake while using a CD-R, you have to either live with it or use the ruined disc as a coaster. With a computer, you can arrange everything the way you want it on the hard drive, then burn the CD.

Once you begin recording with a stand-alone deck, unless you interfere, you end up with a playable CD. Until recently, some com puters couldn't stream data rapidly enough to the CD burn er, resulting in "buf fer under-run" (BURN) errors that left you with spoiled, unplayable discs. But most new drives, including the TDK, use BURN-Proof technology that pauses the laser if the data flow is interrupted and restarts it in the right place when the drive's buffer refills so the disc finishes unblemished.

And then there's copy protection. Stand-alone decks comply with the Serial Copy Management System (SCMS), which prevents you from making digital copies of cop ies - although the Harman Kardon and many other decks default to analog transfer when you attempt to make a copy of a copy. Computers work on the libertarian philosophy that anything goes, but that could change as the record companies figure out ways to make it difficult to copy CDs from a CD-ROM drive.

While a deck can snuggle right up to your audio system, connecting your computer to it can be a logistical nightmare, especially if they're in different rooms. The only alternative is to buy a decent amp and speakers for your computer.