Burning MP3 discs for your Harley

Thrown together as a stream of thought and hardly edited properly - Hope to modify this and lean it out at some point soon.

We all understand that burning a disc of MP3’s for your Harley Davidson shouldn’t be rocket surgery - But somehow, it can be a very troublesome thing for some. As a guy who authors audio CD’s for a living, I’ve noticed a pattern here and there when burning basic mp3 data discs for certain stereo systems - HD’s Harmon Kardon system being one of them...

Before you read any further -- Not all HD radios will even play MP3 discs. Most after a certain year (2007?) will -- But check your owner's manual if you're not sure. Otherwise, this isn't going to matter anyway.

First things first - When you’re burning a MP3 disc, the point is to simply burn DATA. This is NOT an AUDIO CD... Audio CD’s consist of 44.1kHz, 16-bit PCM data written in specific manner in relation to the TOC of the disc (but I digress). This limits the disc to approximately 75 minutes of audio - or somewhere under 700MB.

The other first thing first -- When you buy songs from *some* online sources (iTunes), you may very well NOT be buying a MP3 file, but instead a M4V or other proprietary file type with layers of DRM (Digital Rights Management) in the data. There aren’t going to work on your MP3 disc... Personally? I buy from Amazon.com -- Decent resolution, basically the same price, without all the goofy DRM - so no issue when burning (except the occasional nasty ID3v2 tags glossed over below).

MP3 discs are SIMPLE DATA discs - You’re dragging a bunch of files on to the disc as data - just as you would drag JPG images or text documents.

Occasional issue: When you attempt to burn MP3’s to a disc, the authoring program assumes you want to create an AUDIO CD. You have to make sure this doesn’t happen. iTunes is a common culprit. The burning program that came with your drive (could be Nero, CDMaker, could simply be Windows Explorer) is going to make this easier than trying to use a “music” program.

In any case, if you drag 500MB of MP3’s into the burn queue, it should show 500MB of MP3’s in the burn queue. If it shows 20 files and tells you that there isn’t enough room, you’re burning the wrong type of disc. While it will play, it’ll hold 75 minutes (as opposed to 6-10 hours of music - which is why you were trying to burn a MP3 disc in the first place).

UBER-TIP: I have several GB of MP3’s - but not boatloads like some. What I do is copy the MP3’s I want to use to a folder called “MP3CD” or something similar. That way, when I make modifications to the collection that I want on the bike, I just burn the contents of that folder again. And if I make modifications to the ID tags (covered in a minute), the original files are left intact. It only takes up 6-700MB of space on the hard drive and makes burning new discs simple. Also isolates that particular collection so you can delete any other goofy support files (.m3u, .jpg, etc.) that might otherwise mess up your disc.

Tip: If you have a choice between ISO9660 and UDF (Universal Disc Format), choose ISO9660 or “mixed” (ISO/UDF) with a Joliet naming convention. Why? Same thing. Deductive reasoning over time. It shouldn’t make a difference in most stereos - But in HD’s, it can and occasionally does. ISO9660 is actually ideal, if your burning software give you the option. The HK head unit will not recognize UDF anyway.

Tip: ID Tags - MP3’s have meta data tags showing the artist, album, title, even the album artwork. Sometimes, this meta data will make a particular track “disappear” when it’s played in your HD/HK stereo. the v1 (ID3v1) tags seem to be fine. The trouble can start with v2 (ID3v2) tags and album art. Easy enough to get rid of these tags when the track is playing in almost any player (WinAMP is a favorite). UPDATE: Try this -- http://www.mp3tag.de/en -- It's a tag editor. You can set it to delete all the tags except the ID3v1 from all your MP3 files - Or at least the ones in your "MP3CD" folder… Right-click Windows plug as well. Very handy stuff.

Burning Speed: This is a source of some of the more misleading BS on the internet... Let’s cut through some of that -- The slowest burn speed is NOT the best. It will also NOT affect sound quality. As an audio mastering engineer, it’s my job to create the highest quality discs possible - that includes the most ideal burning speed. My studies, along with others, have found a “sweet spot” typically between 20-33% of a drive’s top rated speed. If you’re using a 48-52x drive, 12-16x is ideal. Slower speeds can lead to much higher block error rates (BLER), as can much higher speeds. It only takes a few minutes to burn 600MB of data on to a CD-R at 16x.

Media: Any quality Japanese MFG disc -- Tayio Yuden (now branded as JVC), Maxell, Sony, Verbatim, etc. Avoid the “cheapies” and the Chinese MFG discs - Ritek, Ritadata, any of the “buy 100 for $20 and get a $20 rebate” house brands. They’re junk. And if you think that won’t make a difference, you’ll find out for yourself sooner or later.

CD-R -- Not CD-RW, not DVD-R or what not. CD-RW will not play in most stereos.

Summing it up: DATA format (not audio). MP3 files (nothing else). ISO or ISO/UDF format with Joliet naming conventions (Straight UDF may screw things up). Work on copies if you can (keep the original files safe an intact). Delete ID3v2 tags if convenient/necessary - album art also (this is another reason you want to work on copies if you can). Burn at 12-16x (assuming you’re on a modern 48-52x drive) using a data-burning program (not iTunes or WMP).