Burned CDs can sound better than the original?

I recently heard a rumor that some CD burners can actually produce a CD copy that sounds slighlty better than the original. As an Electrical Enginner, I was very skeptical about this claim, so I called some of my reviewer friends, along with some other "well informed" audiophiles, to verify this crazy claim. Guess what, they all said : "With some particilar burners, the copies do sound slightly better!" I did some investigation to why, after all, how can the copy sound better than the original? So far I've heard everything from "burned CD's are easier to read", to "the jitter is reduced during the buring process". Has anyone else experienced this unbeleivable situation? I'm also interested in other possible explanations to how this slight sonic improvement could be happening.
I guess this is the opposite theory to the one that says CDRs sound worse for one of a variety of reasons. I've never been able to get any sort of engineering reasoning as to why either would be the case. Given that it's easy to show that you have an identical copy of the original on the CDR (becuase, obviously, if you don't all bets are off), it's been hypothesized that CDRs sound worse because it's harder to read them reliably.

To give you the best answer to your question that I have, if you copied a CD that wasn't pristine to a CDR that is, you might be able to get an identical copy since the burner can retry reading the CD until it reads it successfully, whereas the CD player can't. Hence, the pristine CDR reads perfectly by the CD player for playback, while the original does not, and therefore sounds slightly better. I would think this wouldn't occur in the vast majority of cases, especially with most audiophiles' well kept CD collections. -Kirk

One way: I run my CAL Icon Mk2 CD player through a TDS Harmonic Recovery System before the preamp. In burning a CD, I can choose digital direct cable connection (CD player to burner) or analogue cable connection (CD player to HRS to preamp to burner). For a CD that is not particularly well recorded or produced, the sound of the CD-R burned through the analogue stream does actually sound better when played on other (non-HRS) systems than the original. A great sounding original disc does not seem to benefit noticeably from this method. And...not that anyone asked, but, burning a CD-R from LP via my VPI turntable usually produces CD sound superior to the standard (non-audiophile) CD. Although, to be fair, my comparisons have been primarily with 1980's CDs, before the new wave of remastering that the record labels have finally admitted was needed.
Hell Yes!
I've made a few copies from vinyls using ADC of Led Zeppelin -- Houses of the Holy, Pat Metheny -- Offramp and compared them to an originals...
It's possible that the software compresses the dynamics to make them sound "better". Since most people think that compresed dynamics sound better. (They bring out the material that a lot of equipment can't reproduce). Just look at the rave reviews of Blue Note's RVG remastering even though they had 90 - 95% of the dynamic range removed. With a few exceptions (HDCD, XRCD, DCC) it's just different flavors of distortion. This is really strange since CDs can give us perfect reproductions of music. So why are there so many different hardare and software mastering methods? I don't know and I've been an engineer in the digital audio / video field for over 10 years. Just marketing hype I guess.
I burn CD's on my computer, which sports a DVD drive; and I consider my rig to be fairly hi resolution. I've noted fairly consistently that on MOST main-stram labels, the sound quality increases with the burned copy; and with something like an XRCD and other hi-end recordings, it decreases some. With the XRCD's in particular, the literature talks about how they go thru all this trouble to reduce jitter in their final product. This suggest to me that it may well be a jitter thing, since most of the purist labels use higher quality converters (ADC's and DAC's). Of course, this is only speculation on my behalf.

In either case, the differences are not usually enormus, and in some cases a difference is very difficult to detect. I always end up with a copy that I'm happy with....I am not going to dubb my collection, and I'm not going to buy something that I can copy.

Also, when dubbing the more Hi-end labels; using Gold blanks closes the gap even more, sometimes making them indistinguishable. These have come down to under $3.00/pc
This is just an experience sharing. So far with three brands of CD recorders, we have not yet experienced better sound from the CD-Rs than the original recording CDs.

One of the reasons that we guess is the signal pick up rate from the CD-Rs, which is around 95% of the original CDs. Therefore, we can not be sure that the result is caused by jitter reduction. Instead, we noticed some dynamics and resolution losses. However, this sometimes makes harsh CDs sound smoother.
First off, CD-Rs, when done at 1X speed are certainly as good as the originals, IMO. And early on, I was convinced that some of my CD copies actually sounded more "crisp", or very slightly more "live" than the originals. I have no explanation for this, and I would not be willing to be blind tested on it. I am very pleased, amazed even, at the quality of CD copies. I use a Pioneer 739 CD dubbing recorder, so there are no external ICs. Cheers. Craig
I can make a provably bit-perfect copy from an XRCD with my computer-based CD copier, and I can make a provably bit-perfect copy of a CDR with same, so I'd be at a loss to explain why an XRCD sounds worse when a mainstream mastering sounds better. I'd also be at a loss to explain why a CDR can't be read better than 95% reliably in a audio CD player when it can be read perfectly in a computer CD drive.

At the physical copying level, assuming computer-based, bit-for-bit copying, the same thing is going on regardless of the source (XRCD, mainstream mastering, or CDR). There's no ADC or DAC going on and it's not clear to me how jitter could be involved in any way. The only potential thing left is something to do with how an audio CD transport reads a CDR vs. a "normal" CD, something that makes it deficient to a computer CD drive. -Kirk

You hit the nail on the head. Many people think that LESS resolution and LESS dynamics sounds better. If you listen on a reference system, the difference will blow you away. CD-R machines like the Pioneer produce a more accurate copy than computer CD burners. The accuracy of a copy is ALWAYS <= the original. Stuck with those darn laws of physics and the really poor Red-Book standard for CDs. The beauty of digital is that you can compare recordings without listening to them. You can look at 2 recordings next to each other and compare dynamics, highs, accuracy of reproduction, transients etc. Why don't recordings sound like live performance: less dynamics, that's it. Our playback media and equipment can't handle the dynamics that you'd need for sounding live. It's even more evident with CDs over LPs and with SS instead of tubes. Of course if your equipment could handle it, where would you find a room that could handle it?
In my system - absolutely yes - but read on (I find it's mostly a mechanical thing (jitter and pit burning):

It's not about compression or anything "added" in the process. More like a stripping out and re-aligning kind of thing. And, if a cd is well produced (and especially, I find, pressed) you may not hear much of a difference. But for about 90% of the commercial cd's pressed as dreck out there, I find I get extremely pleasing results, a more natural sound, jitter reduction, etc.

Years ago, when CD-Burners first appeared at the high-end of the consumer market some articles were written regarding the following (this was before CD burners came down to today's prices, so, from what i've seen in most rags, this info was apparently forgotten - the same question gets asked reviewers over and over - with amazingly new and apparently speculative/un-researched answers - shameful reporting here lately).

In about 1996-97, as a then member of my local audio society, I was lucky to hear a demonstration from our regional (probably national) Meridian rep (now, sadly deceased) of their new high-end CD-R. He had us all bring our cd's that we brought for his demo up to the burner and he copied tracks to a master cd.

He played back all tracks of the various categories of music on a high-end system; first the regular cd, then the burned track. It was pretty easy to hear the difference - smoother, more musical, more detail, yada yada, - a better recording on the burned track - and even better on the SECOND copy he burned from the first (it was neat to hear this difference on a recording of a rainstick someone had within a song)! But this is seemingly impossible to the mind!(especially for those of us who have meticulously made copies LP/CD onto tape and suffer the slow degradation of these precious tapes over the years - I still cry out in my sleep).

Un-thinkable that a recording could sound better than the "orig." until one considers the media one is actually working with and has the facts:

1. Many CD's are pressed with inherent jitter built in and a good CD-R chain will re-clock for the better - up to 2 re-clockings improve the situation, then rapidly diminishing returns. So, we're removing something - jitter.
I think it was Paul McGowan (when of Genesis Tech) said he used to burn cd's, removing jitter, et al, and use the CD-R's to show off his systems in their demos - obtaining superior sound (with the CD-R tracks he played as his secret weapon).

2. On most industrially pressed cd's the pits are not laid out in the perfect spiral that your player's laser servos would love to have! The dot projection of the spiral is all over the place. And - wait for it - generally, the better CD-R blanks are perfectly "pre-grooved", so when you copy, it's puttin' dem pits down in a better spiral = 1. your tracking mechanisms in your player aren't missing as much (and less digital musical error correction is applied by the player), and 2. player laser servos aren't firing their micro-blasters to keep up as much, and as some mfr's have recently said laser servo noise was a big problem, so the less they are called on to help over-track, etc. the better your sound, unless ya got their brand of expensive transport, etc. When the grooves are in line, the sound is, well, groovy-baby!

3. On most CD's, the aluminum reflection layer is actually pressed into the pits already laid in the plastic (or something like that), with drop outs occurring where the aluminum doesn't go down into the pits in places. With a good burner burning on good media, you are hopefully avoiding these kinds of pressing errors.

Alright - how I make CD copies at home (up to now, I do it on my PC, without using the new stereo component type of CD-R burner players):

A few years ago, at the same audio society's meeting, I realize I put my foot in my big mouth, telling an older newbie (whom stated he had a computer literate son whom pressed CD-R's and got less than satisfactory results) that his son must have done something wrong during burns. I stated that I only knew of getting better results after I burned CD's. Though I invited him to my house, we never got together to understand the slightly different ways we burned cd's.

I now realize I was wrong - all copies ain't that great and that his son must have been using an ATAPI CD-Rom to feed his CD burner (don't do this if you want improved copies). ATAPI did not, in those days, transfer CD-track data in an all digital domain (no reclocking, etc).

When after a brief experiment a couple of months ago, I burned a cd going from PC ATAPI CD-ROM to SCSI burner. The copy was WORSE than the orig. - as if the burner had re-recorded the music tracks in an analog fashion, instead of keeping an all digital pathway (I d'unno, but that's how awful it sounded)! Thankfully, years ago, burners were generally always SCSI and would not recognize a direct feed from any ATAPI CD-Roms. I've made many great cd's, without realizing the extra (and I mean extra) I paid for SCSI really did pay off here.

Sooo, I find the safest, best way is to use an all digital SCSI chain. I use a Plextor burner and writer - both SCSI. The data gets reclocked upon burning (i now use 3rd party software to rip/re-clock to my hard-drive then burn).

What I use:

A Plextor ULTRAPlex CD-ROM is recommended for reading for the convenience of burning "on-the-fly" in the all digital domain(at today's available speeds, CD-ROM speed is not really important here)

Plextor Plexwriter 12/10/32 SCSI Burner(I think the TDK burner - popular now - uses the same burner hardware). Most Plextor SCSI burners over the years (and my trusty old Philips CDD-2000) will perform exceptionally well.

For software, I use the error-correction enabled Plextor ripper (or any 3rd party ripper with jitter correction) that comes with the Plexwriter.

For burning, I use - Ahead's "Nero Burning Rom" burning using the Audio wizard.

I now rip tracks to my hard-drive, order them as I want, burn them to CD-RW disc, then repeat the process for the 2nd copy to permanent CD-R. I use Verbatim "Datalife" CD-R blanks (with me, it's always been Verbatim). Imation, and Sony, and some others, make great blanks as well.

My result - I can even hear the copied cd's superiority, naturalness in my car (and A/B'ing for non-audiophile friends has ended up in them picking the copy).

Anyway, my 4 1/2 cents worth

Take Care
The burner's and the software have come a long way in the past couple of years. Before all reading was done real-time which has to degenerate the signal and there was no reclocking available. I'll have to completely upgrade my hardware and software and try this out. What are Ahead's "Nero Burning Rom" and Audio wizard.
Hi Bluesman -

Nero Burning ROM is a software package - I think, the best consumer level ($50.00 or so) out there. The company that makes it is called "Ahead". Can be found - and downloaded from the WEB. See their site for compatibility. The "Audio" wizard is simply the icon to use from the series of options they give you as icons withing these software packages. i.e. click the "Create Audio CD" icon, etc. Sorry for the confusion, I stated this because in some pkgs, you can duplicate a CD as bit for bit data, but you won't get any jitter reduction, but instead be transferring all the original garbage as bit for bit copies instead of getting any reclocking.

Regarding other software - I did, however, get very good results from the older Adaptec Easy CD creator v3.5 - before ROXIO - using the SCSI chain. I can't comment on the ROXIO version).

But Nero Burning ROM is FASTER and keeps up with a fast burner. I can assemble complilations in 15 minutes on my hard disk and burn them in 5 mins with my 12/10/32 SCSI drive.

Take Care
More on CD burning:

It seems that most of us want two functions:

1. Transfer of music LP, etc to the CD medium - we dream about high quality copies. Stereo component player/burners seem to do this the best.

2. CD to CD copying - compilations, or just reburning to get better sound ( I found with my old CD ref player, if it would not read, or skip on the commercial CD, I could burn a copy of the CD and it would both sound better and actually play. Computer burners/software seem to excel at this.

So, it's important, if you want to do both of the above and if you want all the convenience in one component - either a stereo system component player/burner, or at your PC - sit down and make out a budget at the quality level you can afford. (PC = soundcard, SCSI burner and/or reader)

For most of us that don't have $500.00 computer sound cards, not to mention the inconvenience of trying to record into your noisy PC, a stereo component CD-R/CD-RW such as Marantz, etc., is better at copying various sources to a CD than it actually is at CD to CD transfer (it may sound same, but won't necessarily re-clock and improve a cd over the orig. - many recent reviews of these player recorders seem to confirm this).

And the PC CD chain, for me, at least, almost always creates an improved copy going CD to CD if the right SCSI component and software chain is used - markedly so, but even with a soundblaster "Live" card, a PC's copying capabilities from various sources - LP, etc then to CD is limited and not very appealing for the effort.

So for now, we can always solve both issues for the highest quality by adding more components we're not sure we really want!!! Spend Spend Spend - the audiophile quagmire until some genius puts it all in one easy package that's affordable (I'm in the market for the Marantz DR-17 to accomplish all my goals, but that ain't exactly what i consider affordable).

Take Care
Regarding item #2 of my previous post - regarding imperfect pit spiral/alignment on factory CDs. Note: this covers either the case where the hole of the plactic cd is off-center, though the spiral is perfect, or the case where the cd is centered correctly, but the spiral is laid down poorly.

If you want to know how much your cd player is working overtime: I just read an article in Stereophile - Sept 2001 - ref. pg79-80, where Jonathan Scull reviews a $25,000.00 CD transport called the 47 Labs 4704 PiTracer, and, as an aside, is able to note the incredible work the transport mechanism is going through to simply read the cd!

I can imagine that a degradation in sound happens when most cd players mechanically track - I'd love to see him compare a good CD-R's tracking to a factory CD's on this machine!!

In my systems, a properly reclocked/burned cd can equal the effects of a major component upgrade.

Take Care
About 8 or so years ago, I did a test of CD player / Transports and their ability to accurately retrieve what was on the disk. At the time I hadd access to a $40K real-time analyzer and I was trying to prove that all transports were the same and that transport tweaks were useless. Boy was wrong on both occasions. First the CD Red Book standard is not very robust. Second Most CDs don't even meet the minimum standard. Third Even the best transports had read errors, 25 - 40% of the samples on premium transports to more than 95% on mass produced models. I nver thought that the errors could be due to poor track path, but that makes good sense. I'm going to get a new CD burner and Software and do a comparison of burned CDs with stamped ones.
Blues_Man - that's really interesting - I've wanted to hear somebody's experience performing the tests you describe and would be interested in any more detail you might have. A similar test that would be interesting to perform would be somehow analyzing what the transport in a computer CD drive is doing - how many re-reads does it actually have to perform to get the bytes exactly right. It would be interesting to see a histogram of how many times a given track was read - you'd expect a the most at once and a reduced number as the attempts went up. Then it would be interesting to know how many of those read errors could be corrected by the checksums, etc.

I have done comparisons of CDs copied on a computer CD burner and get perfect copies (when it works - occassionally the process fails and spits out the wasted CDR). It's pretty easy to do with the program Audiograbber, available for free. -Kirk

copies give a rolled off sound which many people perfer because their systems are too bright!But in fact there is a loss of some detail and micro-dynamics,thus some say this softer sound is more analog-like.I say given a class" A" system the orig. is FAR better.
Mr Ttathomp you may be absolutely correct. I wanted to try this out first before I said the same thing. I have noticed that many so called "remasterings" are just reducing the dynamics and rolling off the highs. This makes them sound better on systems that can't handle the dynamics or the highs. I was really angered at Blue Note a few years ago put out these RVG remastrings simply trying to cash in on the RVG name with CDs that were already currently available, and to boot at a premium price. These CDs had 90 - 95% of the dynamics removed (measured by one of my technicians using a software analyzer) and severely rolled off highs. To take it one step further, StereoShill praised these recordings, yet in the next issue blatsed all the remastering of rock records with greatly reduced dynamics. When I have time, I'll make some CD-R copies and have them analyzed by one of my techs.
Greg Davis's answer pretty well sums up the potential reasons why a given CD original may sound worse than a CD-R copy: (1) inherent time based error in the data stream, (2) angle deviation causing the reflected laser beam to deviate from its return path through the objective lens, (3) disc eccentricity, in terms of both deviation from circularity of the pit track and and positioning of the center hole, and (4) variation in pit depth, form, or volume.
Everything you mentioned could happen in a burned CD also. I'm open to the possibility, but I want to do tests both on audibilty and measured differences in the data stream. Then I'll be willing to agree that the burned CDs may be better.
I know how to get an image of a CD on a hard drive and then burn from that image, but what exactly do you mean by reclocking and and what software do you use for reclocking? Could I use Nero for reclocking?
Blues man, your experiments are extremely interesting, thanks for sharing! Any way to (artificially) enhance dynamics ?
Indeed, Gregdavis, how do you do the reclocking?

I've played around with imaging, then analysing, "cleaning" and trying to enhance dynamics. The process is painstaking to say the least; as to artificially enhancing dynamics -- forget it. But then, I'm just a user with no (re)mastering knowledge...
The work it would take to do a single copy isn't worth the effort. You really do need the source tapes to do this.
Remember, if you can't hear the difference, don't pay it (-Peter McWilliams). I have an extremely accurate system and am fortunate that I can compare SACD playback and air-bearing turntable front-ends in my system to my CD chain. In response to an un-informed (typical internet)posting "Copies give a rolled off sound..."; if i couldn't assemble a system that was not bright or "rolled off" with these kind of components, i wouldn't waste time posting to an audiophile site (or burning CD-R's - a wonderful time waster, when i could be wrestling the cat).

Ok, answers to questions:

[Please note - I am not aware of exactly how much jitter correction actually occurs using the software specified below! Is one software better than another?, etc. Maybe Bluesman can help us with this by measurement.]

First, I'm working in the all digital domain using a SCSI chain with, in this case - as described earlier - all Plextor SCSI components - allowing digital error correction - on the fly - when ripping. I'm not sure if an ATAPI chain will allow this (it may now, but didn't used to). Yes, copying CD's with a PC could add issues (risky with cheap CD readers and burners) - why I don't buy the cheap components to copy with and still prefer SCSI over ATAPI.

I'm never interested in making an image of the CD on the hard drive as much as i'm interested in a song by song copying/ripping process with error correction as i take each song track to the hard drive. I'm not sure if Nero handles this - but there's excellent freeware;

To rip, i use -

1. Plextor's software app. that comes with the burner called MVP2000. easy and quick for a song at a time.

2. Terrific freeware option (a Festivus for the non-Plextor rest of ya's) - there is an excellent app for ripping with error correction - EAC.exe. Go to the site below - read the sites contents for great info about comparing wave files, sample error correction, jitter correction, etc. Rips all songs on a cd to HD in a session, one at a time.

Great site/great ripper by Andre Wiethoff of Germany that gives error data feedback track by track.


Once files are ripped to the hard drive using either of the above, I use Nero to burn them to disc.

Good luck and happy burning.