Vol. 25 Issue 4 Reviews
Bob Starrett and Josh McDaniel: The Little Audio CD Book
Peachpit Press, 2000, softcover, ISBN 0-201-70897-3, US$ 19.99, 271 pages, illustrated, appendices, glossary, index; Peachpit Press, 1249 Eighth Street, Berkeley, California 94710, USA; telephone (+1) 800-283-9444; fax (+1) 510-524-2221; World Wide Web www.peachpit.com/

Reviewed by Eric Strother
Lexington, Kentucky, USA

The Little Audio CD Book is designed as an easy to understand introduction to recording compact discs at home. Bob Starrett and Josh McDaniel take a casual approach to explaining the processes which makes this a good resource for people who are just learning to burn their own discs.

The authors are thorough in their coverage of the subject; this includes the hardware and software required to burn discs as well as sources for audio content. Unlike other instruction books on this topic, they discuss computer-specific hardware (CD-Recorder drives, hard drive requirements, and sound cards) and non-computer hardware (cassette players, phonograph styli, preamplifiers, and standalone CD-Recorders). Since a primary focus of the book is helping people transfer their LP and cassette collections to compact disc, these non-computer hardware components are important to consider. They also try to address both Windows-based (PC) and Macintosh platforms, with preference for the PC.

There are two negative aspects to this book. First, it suffers from the same problem that plagues the vast majority of technology books in that much of the information is becoming outdated already. Despite this, though, the basic content of the book remains quite reliable and useful. The second problem is the formal structure of the publication, which seems somewhat scattered. In their efforts to completely cover the subject they have chosen a good macro-level organizational scheme, but within that scheme they are prone to digressions which can be distracting to the reader. The authors frequently dwell on side issues used to illustrate the main points, such as the frequent references to the process of LP restoration in the hardware section. This seems to be a result of the casual nature of the writing and, while distracting, fits the tone of the book. One large-scale organizational oddity is the separation of non-computer-based CD recorders from the other hardware chapters.

One feature readers might expect is a CD-ROM containing some of the software featured in the text. This was initially disappointing to me, but I think their solution is a good one. Rather than adding a CD of outdated software to raise the price of the book, the authors point the reader to the book’s Web site (www.peachpit.com/littleaudio/), which has links to a site where the software can be downloaded.

The book is clearly for people with little to very little knowledge of the technology and processes involved in burning a CD, and the authors give an excellent overview of many of the issues involved. The first chapter explains the differences between digital and analog, the differences among colored discs, what the “X” means in “4X,” and how the “X” speed translates into real time. While some would argue that people do not need to know these things in order to make their own CDs, these are topics which lead to confusion and are often misrepresented. The clarifications are useful.

The second chapter discusses where to find music on the Internet. This, of course, raises the issue of legal and illegal downloads. At the time of writing the courts had not yet ruled in the Napster case; the authors make a point to mention that while Napster (and other programs like it) enables users to illegally download music, they believe there are legitimate uses for the program so that it should not be ignored. They do give an overview of a few legal Web sites for audio download, both free and for-a-fee.

After presenting the hardware and software concerns, the authors discuss the process of restoring and recording LPs and cassettes. These chapters are extremely well done. The authors walk through the process, from setting up the necessary equipment to performing noise reduction techniques and splitting the tracks to burning the songs onto disc. The chapters on copying CDs and MP3 files presents the potential problems with these seemingly straight-forward processes. Chapters 11 and 12 discuss the slightly more complex processes of creating compilation CDs and Enhanced CDs

The final chapter presents an overview of the legal issues surrounding home audio recording. The authors present the legal issues in a conservative way, erring on the side of protecting the reader from copyright infringement. They also make a point to emphasize that the legal issues are constantly being refined.

The Little Audio CD Book is a wealth of information that I, as a CD-burning neophyte, thoroughly enjoyed. The technical terminology is explained in terms which should have meaning for the readers and the processes are described in detail. Advanced CD makers will likely find little use for it, but the majority of readers will find a great deal of useful information.