RedBook Compliant Discs

Based on excerpts Taken from the RecTech Article - “One Book, Two Book, Red Book...” by John Scrip - ©1999 Davidson Publications, Inc.
2003 NOTE:  Although many modern (post 2001) CD players will play nearly any disc you throw at it, RedBook is still the standard in which CD-DA audio is written to a disc.  If your project is to be professionally replicated, you must present a RedBook PMCD as the production master.

What is a RedBook CD?  This is a source of much confusion to be sure.  Without getting into detail, “RedBook” is a standard of the way audio is written to a disc.  Every music CD you buy in a store represents a RedBook disc.

A RedBook CD-R (a.k.a. PMCD) is the final “pre-master” that a “glass-master” is written from before replication onto standard aluminum & plastic CD’s.  A RedBook CD-R should play on ANY CD player.  Even really, really, old ones.  Why?  CD players are made to read the RedBook standard discs.

Here's WHERE IT GETS IMPORTANT - Some CD players, especially PRO CD decks, will ONLY read RedBook discs.  Some CD players run “fast and loose” - Most computer CD-ROM drives will read almost ANY CD-DA (Compact Disc - Digital Audio) disc.  But, when it gets into consumer and professional gear, you’d better make sure that your discs are RedBook compliant if they’re going to be used for replication or performance.

REAL LIFE SITUATION:  I work a lot of hours in performing arts centers.  I’ve done my share of dance shows behind the board.  I CAN’T TELL YOU HOW MANY TIMES I was given a disc that WOULDN’T PLAY - No matter what, it won’t play.  I asked “where did you get this mastered?” (silly me) - They said “***’s dad burned the disc on his PC” or something similar.  This brings me to a very important point - MANY CONSUMER PROGRAMS MAY NOT BURN A REDBOOK DISC.  In case you didn’t quite get that, MANY CONSUMER PROGRAMS MAY NOT BURN A REDBOOK DISC.  If you want to find out the hard way, burn an audio disc using the program that came with your CD writer and bring it to a professional theatre for a dance show.  Hit play when the dancers are all lined up on opening night.  See if it starts.  It might.  It might not.  Some non-RedBook discs will play part of a track and then jump to another one for no reason.  I did a reproduction job for a band once that brought in their own “master”.  I asked “Is this a PMCD?  Is it RedBook?”  They said “Yes” and several thousand dollars later, they had to return and reprint several thousand CD’s. 

What happened was this:  The band didn’t want to send in their only disc (smart), so they wanted to make a safety copy (smart).  They loaded up “CD Creator” or something similar to make the copy (in theory, it should copy the disc just fine).  THE PROBLEM WAS that they copied the TRACKS and not the DISC.  What’s the difference?  It’s all in the TOC (Table of Contents) code in the disc.  A RedBook disc has a particular TOC that is always located in the same data area on every disc.  Once they tried to copy the TRACKS, the TOC on the original disc was ignored, and a new, NON-RedBook compliant TOC was written to the new disc.  Luckily, they found out about this before the discs were actually stocked into the stores.  But still, thousands of CD’s had to be opened by hand and destroyed, then replaced and re-shrink wrapped. 

So, here’s a few interesting RedBook tips for reference...  ALL REDBOOK DISCS are written in DAO (Disc At Once) mode - But NOT EVERY DAO disc is a RedBook disc!  A TAO (Track At Once) disc CAN NOT be a RedBook disc.  A “stand-alone” CD writer (that you record onto like a tape deck) will NOT create a RedBook disc.  Even in a pro studio, when you record your mixes to a CD writer and “Finalize” it at the end, that disc IS NOT RedBook compliant.  ONLY SPECIALIZED REDBOOK AUDIO CD-WRITING PROGRAMS will create an actual RedBook PMCD.  If you get a disc from a studio that is not accompanied by a “PQ Sheet” you probably do NOT have a RedBook compliant disc.