In response to my general query, a helpful reader has given me a helpfully non-technical rundown on how CDRs differ from CDs, from the machine’s point of view. To avoid hearing from the lawyers of Sony, Verbatim, and Maxell, he wishes to remain anonymous, but his detailed account is much appreciated:
…[A]s it’s been explained to me (by people who probably refer to me as a mouth-breather in the technology arena), while real CDs transmit the 0s and 1s to the computer by physical pits in the surface of the medium, CD-Rs do a fake version of that chemically…. When the player’s laser encounters a pit, it registers a 0 or 1, and when it encounters no pit, it registers whatever the other one didn’t …. CD-Rs mimic the level of shininess, or whatever, to the laser. Some media do that better than others, and some CD players – especially older ones, and especially especially older high-quality ones – seem to be calibrated so sensitively that the fake pits on CD-Rs simply are not “seen” by their lasers. I’ve seen many newer CD players on sale at Best Buy that now specifically say “reads CD-Rs and CD-RWs”, meaning, I suppose, that their laser scanners are calibrated so as to expect the kind of surfaces that are encountered on most CD-Rs. Obviously that specification would not be on the specs page if the same problem you are having were not fairly common….
My experience is anecdotal, and goes like this: CD-R surfaces tend to be yellow, green, blue, or black (only Memorex has the black surface, and I had great luck on everything except one car CD player with them). I have read that the yellow surface ones have the longest life expectancy, though the yellow ones seem to have the most problems being read by any players. Green and blue ones seem to be the best ones, but they are not universally the best. The black ones, as I said, have been good on everything except one car (Toyota, alas) CD player.
Still, no hard and fast rules have emerged, and I have had to go by personal experience for the brands of CD-Rs I recommend. If I have sent an important professional CD to someone who calls to say he/she can’t play it, then I’ve dropped that brand from my list. So at this point, I do not buy: store brand CD-Rs, Sony, Imation, Verbatim, or Maxell. I have had some problems with Memorex CD-Rs, but not the ones I’ve sent out, yet. So far, no problems with TDK and Fuji. My go-to brand is thus TDK when they are Staples, and Fuji when they are at BJ’s. I also think the Memorex black ones are just COOOOOOL looking, so I get them when I can, and when I know I won’t be listening to them in the car. I do NOT buy CD-RWs, which seem to be unreadable in at least 75 percent of all players manufactured. Other people may have exactly the OPPOSITE experience from me. Which is what makes the whole thing so frustrating.
The tech guy here says any really important CD should not be burned at any speed faster than 1x. I don’t have time for that speed.