What Are MP3 CDs?

The MP3 format lets you store lots of music on one disc

Man inserting MP3 CD
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An MP3 CD is a compact disc (CD) with audio files (usually MP3s) stored on it. You might make an MP3 CD if you plan to listen to your music in a CD player, or if you want to back up your favorite music.

Audio files on an MP3 CD are stored like any other file on a regular CD-ROM, using the Yellow Book CD standard. This storage method differs from audio CDs, like ones you might buy in music stores, where the files are encoded in an uncompressed format using the Red Book CD standard. The quality of audio CDs is much higher than that of compressed MP3s.

Although MP3 CD suggests that only MP3 files can be stored to conform to this type of CD, that isn't the case. You can create compilations of audio files, songs, audiobooks, and podcasts that are mixes of different audio formats.

However, when you deviate from the MP3 format, there's no guarantee that CD and DVD consumer electronic devices, such as some CD players, can play all the audio formats stored on your custom disc. You can minimize this problem by making the MP3 CD with only MP3 and other well-supported formats, like WAV and AAC.

MP3 CD Advantages

The audio files on a normal audio CD isn't compressed, so the maximum playing time you can get out of one is approximately 80 minutes. An MP3 CD, on the other hand, lets you extend this maximum playing time significantly, and store many more songs.

Music stored in the MP3 format is encoded in a compressed format and takes up a lot less storage space than non-compressed files. With an MP3 CD, you can record 8–10 albums, or up to 150 songs, on one disc. The exact number, however, is dependent on the format, encoding method, and the bit rate used.

MP3 CD Disadvantages

MP3 CDs may offer the advantage of being able to store more music than a regular audio CD, but there are disadvantages.

The sound quality of an MP3 CD is inferior to the sound from a typical music CD. You might not be able to hear it, but it's technically true because MP3s are stored in a lossy format, whereas audio CDs contain uncompressed, lossless audio.

MP3 CDs are also less compatible with consumer electronic devices than purchased audio CDs are. Although many modern hardware devices like DVD and CD players support the MP3 format (along with WMA, AAC, and others), some hardware equipment only supports the playback of uncompressed audio CDs.

How to Create or Rip an MP3 CD

Building your own MP3 CD is as easy as burning the MP3 files to a disc, which you can do with a variety of software programs. You can also burn MP3s to a CD with software you probably already have on your computer, like Windows Media Player or iTunes.

Tip: If your music files aren't in the MP3 format, you can convert them with an audio file converter.

To do the opposite, and rip/copy music from a CD to your computer, you need a different program made specifically to do that. Some MP3 CD creators in that list above have the dual purpose of being a CD ripper, but dedicated music CD extractors work, too.