When you decide to manufacture CDs, especially short runs, you will face a choice between getting pressed CDS or burned CDs. What is the difference, and which one is the right choice for your music project?
First, some terminology. Pressed CDs are also sometimes referred to as replicated discs and burned CDs are also sometimes referred to as duplicated discs. When you see the difference between these two manufacturing methods, you'll see why those terms make sense.
Replicated discs - or pressed CDs - are what most people think of when they think of CDs. In fact, manufacturing is sometimes referred to as "pressing." With pressed CDs, the manufacturer will take the master disc you submit to them and create a glass master. That glass master is then used to create a nickel stamper and polycarbonate substrates that are metallized. This process produces an exact replication of your original master so that your final product sounds exactly like that master. You can think of this as "professional grade" - when you purchase a CD that has been released by a record label, it almost certainly is a pressed CD.
Duplicated CDs - or burned CDs - are what you might expect. The manufacturer uses music you've submitted on a CD-R and burns it onto additional CD-Rs for you. This process is much the same as what you do at home when you burn a CD for a friend or for your car, but manufacturers are able to complete the process on a larger scale more quickly than you could burning one disc at a time in your computer.
So, to burn or to press, that is the question. The answer depends on the size of your order, your budget, and what you hope to do with the product. CD duplication is a good choice for very short runs of CDs. With duplication, you can really order just as many as you need, so if you need 37 CDs, then you can get 37 CDs without the expense associated with setting up a glass master. If money is an issue, CD duplication is definitely the budget-friendly choice for small runs.
If you need bigger runs of product - several hundred or more - then replication is probably your best bet. Replication does produce a slightly better product, especially since some car CD player have trouble with CD-Rs, and when you get into larger product runs, the cost of setting up the master becomes more reasonable.
You also need to consider your goals for your project. There's nothing wrong with selling CD-Rs at your shows (price them accordingly) or using CD-Rs for promotional purposes. You can also sell them through your website and through many online retailers. However, some retail stores won't sell duplicated CDs. If you're looking for major retail distribution and hope to be on lots of store shelves, replication is likely to be your best bet. If this is your goal, the size of your order may dictate that you choose replication anyway, but if you're in the gray zone - say, you want 400 or 500 units - definitely opt for replication if you're hoping for a retail push with those units.
Both CD duplication and replication can be fine choices, so don't overspend to get replicated CDs on small runs just for the sake of appearance or for the sake of that one fan with an older car whose CD player can't handle the CD-R. Instead, choose the one that makes the most financial sense for your album and take it from there.