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Q: Why is one channel always higher in level than the other?
If you record multitrack audio on a computer, then your software will almost certainly have a 'bounce to disk' function.
Oddly named, because in conventional recording practice, bouncing is something quite different to mixing. But when computer people first got involved in audio, they didn't understand this. So bouncing now means mixing.
So when you consider that your track is finished (while remembering that a work of art is never finished, it is merely abandoned), you can click the 'bounce to disk' function and the software will write a stereo file for you that is identical to what you have been listening to through your monitor loudspeakers.
But is it identical? The perfect mix in your monitors might not sound quite the same when bounced to a stereo file. I know this because in an earlier version of Pro Tools, complex mix automation sometimes didn't work properly during a bounce.
If anyone has similar experiences with current-version software, I'd love to know.
I would have thought though that by now you could pretty much rely on a bounce being accurate. The next step is to burn it to a CD.
If you use software that is sold to audio professionals for CD burning, such as Roxio Toast or Sony CD Architect, then you can create a Red Book CD.
What's a Red Book CD? Answer - it's a CD, like a CD is supposed to be. Non-Red Book discs are not CDs. They just look like CDs and play audio.
You can send a Red Book CD to a CD factory and have copies bulk manufactured. You can't do that with a non-Red Book CD.
I find myself perfectly content with this process. I can mix and master on my computer, bounce to disk, make a Red Book CD and have copies bulk manufactured.
Now... the standalone CD recorder...
I remember these from the early days. Revox made one that cost the earth and it was a dog. A hound with its tongue hanging out of its mouth, saliva dribbling onto the floor. And that was when blank discs cost $20 apiece. Most would come out coasters.
Then various other manufacturers had a go at making them. Then the record companies somehow persuaded manufacturers that these gadgets should only be usable with special 'audio' blanks that cost more. Supposedly the extra cost went to artists and copyright owners - funny how I've never seen any of that money.
The whole affair was shambolic. The result was that CD recorders never really got off the ground in the way that they should have done.
Some, such as the Alesis ML9600 can indeed make Red Book CDs, but most can't. And compared to the ease-of-use of computer software, they are fiddly and awkward. (Sound quality-wise, if they are fed with a digital input, there should be no degradation at all.)
Although I wouldn't deny that CD recorders have their uses for quick copies, and perhaps some people might prefer them, personally I would go the computer route every time.