Helpdesk Challenge – how to burn a CD

CDs are a dying breed, but that doesn’t mean they are extinct. In fact, I recently burnt several CDs ahead of a long drive, as the car I’d hired didn’t have the option to connect to my MP3 player. The very same CDs came in handy at the hotel too as my room sadly lacked a speaker dock.

Burning a CD isn’t always as straightforward as you might think though, so here’s our guide to the best free CD burning programs – and what to do if your computer is of a new breed built without a DVD drive.

CD burner programs

iTunes (PC/Mac, £free)


If you own a Mac then iTunes comes pre-installed, while on a PC it’s available as a free download. If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch then there’s a good chance you already use this to manage your music. If not, then drag your music collection from wherever you keep it into iTunes to add your tracks.

My preferred way is to create a New Playlist and drag tracks into there. When you’re ready to burn a disc, insert a blank CD, right-click on the Playlist and select Burn playlist to Disc.

iTunes will then work out if you have enough space – most CDs store around 80 minutes of tracks – and, assuming you don’t have to remove any music – click Burn. Just make sure you have the Disc Format set to Audio CD.

Windows Media Player (PC, £free)

Windows Media Player

If you have Windows then you have a copy of Windows Media Player (WMP). While not quite as pretty as iTunes, using it does mean you need not install any new software onto your PC. As with iTunes, if you’re music isn’t already there you can just drag it in from your Music folder.

One advantage WMP has over iTunes is that you can right-click on songs and select Add to burn list rather than creating a permanent list. This appears at the side and is easy to keep track of your tracks. Then simply pop in your CD and click on Start burn.

My computer doesn’t have a CD or DVD drive

My Apple Mac mini lacks a CD drive, as do many of the latest streamlined laptops and all-in-one PCs.

So what to do? I tried copying my playlist, built from a mix of ripped CDs, Amazon, iTunes and Google Play downloads, to an older Mac mini that had a CD drive; but Apple clearly knows best as it prevented me from successfully transferring every file – presumably due to copyright issues.

Instead I found the solution lay in buying an external DVD drive. You can pick up an external USB DVD writer from as little as £16 online. Simply plugging the new drive into my Mac mini gave me the ability to burn through iTunes in exactly the same way as I’ve described above – success!

More on this

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6 replies

  1. The 80 minute limit applies to CDs formatted under the original 1980 Digital Audio standard.

    If your target CD player is not totally ancient it will probably also play MP3 CDs – in which case you can get a lot more than 80 minutes of music onto a single CD.

    MP3 files use a “lossy” form of data compression so any MP3 tracks on a CD won’t give the same sound quality as any tracks that have been ripped from original audio CDs and stored in a loss-less format.

    1. Hi Derek,

      That’s true that some players will play MP3s, this is largely based on my experience but I’ve found when I’m in a situation where only CDs will play they usually solely take 80 minutes ‘regular’ CDs.

      And yes, if you want to keep the original either take the CD or rip it in lossless, a PC music collection is likely to based on MP3 or similar lossy formats to save space.



  2. I folowed the steps above to burn music to a CD via Wimdows Media Player. It worked but why does the CD only play on my PC? I cannot play the CD on my car stereo or midi player.

    1. possibly you only “copied” the files to the cd. you have to burn an “audio cd” and the easiest way is real player or nero…..

  3. MP3 is a hopeless format, I remember the first time someone played a track I knew well on an MP3 player to me , and I wondered where on earth the rest of the sound was. A generation is growing up not knowing what music actually sounds like.
    The sooner MP3 is replaced by a better standard algorithm the better.

    1. At least for portable players, MP3 effectively killed off both the Compact Cassette and the CD. From that perspective, MP3 was a great step forward from the cassette. Also, RAM used to cost a lot of money, so the ability to compress music tracks into only a few Mbytes each was useful.

      More advanced “lossless” digital audio file formats now exit, e.g. FLAC. As an experiment I recently ripped a couple of gramaphone records to FLAC (via an intermediate audio CD). The file compression using FLAC seems to only require about 40% of the storage needed for the CD audio files themselves.

      Not all players currently recognise FLAC file formats though…

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