Audio CDs – what format should I use to burn my Audio CDs?

Audio CDs are different from data CDs. Typically, your burning software needs to know how to create audio CDs, and you need to explicitly tell it to do so.

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When I download music and then burn it to a CD, it comes out just fine. But, I cannot play the CD in my car’s CD player. The music is almost always MP3. Is there a way I can convert the MP3 to play in my car? And what format are store-bought CDs?

The CDs that you play on your computer and those that you listen to in a standard CD player, such as the one in your car, are formatted quite differently. And while you can play store-bought audio CDs in your computer, the CDs that you burn on your computer will usually not work in your car stereo or other audio CD player.

Why? Simply put, your car stereo is not a computer.

Let’s look at the two different formats first. Audio CDs are designed for one purpose: audio. They contain raw, uncompressed data, in a very fixed format: 44,000 samples per second, with each sample consisting of a 16-bit (2-byte) number for each of the right and left channels.

If you do the math, that’s 176,000 bytes per second, or 633,600,000 bytes for an entire hour of audio.

Audio CDs are designed for one purpose: audio. They contain raw, uncompressed data, in a very fixed format …

If you’ve ever seen blank, 70-minute CDs, these hold roughly 740 megabytes of data – enough for about 70 minutes of sound in audio CD format.

Data CDs, on the other hand, hold anything. They’re just another media on which you can store files from your computer. The format of a data CD is even similar to the format of your computer’s hard disk. It has a file system, directories, folders and files.

But your car stereo knows nothing about file systems, folders and the like. All it knows is how to stream that raw audio data off of an audio format CD. While your computer can do that it too, it’s also a general-purpose device that understands the format of a data CD.

But that’s not the only difference. Remember that I said that an audio CD is uncompressed. Every second takes up 176,000 bytes, regardless of whether that’s a second of a symphony, someone speaking, or just silence.

MP3 is a compressed format, like almost every other common audio format available for internet downloads and computer use. It uses compression technology to make the file much smaller. A second of silence, for example, is going to require less data than a second of complex sounds. When you play an MP3 file, the software you use decompresses the sound as it’s played. The problem is your car stereo probably doesn’t have a clue about compression or decompression.

So what do you do? If you want to create an audio CD that will work in regular CD players, you’ll need to use audio CD burning software. I happen to use Roxio’s Easy CD Creator. This automatically decompresses my MP3 files to the correct format for audio CDs. The trick is simply to select Roxio’s “Music Disc Creator” program and click the Audio CD option as the type of CD you want to create. Other CD burning software will have similar options.

The catch is that the audio CD is uncompressed. While you might have been able to put seven or eight hours of MP3s onto a single data CD before, you’re out of luck with an audio CD. These contain only about 70 minutes or so. It may take several audio CDs to hold what you might currently have on a single data CD.

The good news is that CD players are catching up. The ability to play MP3 files from data CDs has already appeared in car and home stereo CD players. And like a computer, these can play both audio and data CDs. Unfortunately, unless that functionality is built in, it’s not something that can be added later.

Personally, what I want is a “Line In” port on my car stereo so I can hook up my portable media player (any portable media player, not just the iPod) and listen to my music without ever having to burn a CD at all. Maybe some day.

There are 67 comments:

  1. Ken Reply

    Note that, even if your car doesn’t have a “line in” port, there are adapters that can play through your car’s cassette player (if it has one), or have a tiny FM transmitter that your car radio can receive.

    Or, when you’re buying a car, see if they have an MP3-compatible CD player available. (Given that portable CD players with MP3 ability are only about 10 dollars more than ones without, I can’t imagine that the car manufacturers won’t start including that ability soon.)

  2. Leo A. Notenboom Reply

    Actually, I use a cassette adapter, which works relatively well. I’ve been through about three FM transmitters and my experience was that they all pretty much suck. :-(

  3. elaine Reply

    I had the same problem. I dont know much about formats and I do not have Roxio. My solution was simple. I switched from the CD-W to a CD-R. Then the music i burned played on all my CD players, even the car

  4. Bob Reply

    When I record from my cassette player through my sound card it plays back through only one speaker. I’m using stereo jacks. What am I doing wrong?

  5. Oliver Reply

    I have burned CD-Rs that will play in my personal car’s cd player and computer but won’t play in an Acura’s Boise 1998 system. What format should I use to burn CD-Rs or what media should I use to burn audio disks for the Boise?

  6. Joan Reply

    Hi, I downloaded music on iTunes and want to burn a CD for the car. I have tryed CD-r, audio format 4 x speed with 3 sec between but can’t get the car to see it. I am using the default format of iTunes to download the music. My old computer had Roxio but this computers burn software doesn’t see the songs I downloaded. I am frustrated!!! What do I do. Thanks for ANY help. Joan

  7. Steve Reply

    My car will play the cd-r that I record in audio format, but as the disc continues, the quality gets worse until it skips and cannot be understood at all. This happens progressively, beginning at about 25 minutes in. Any clues for me would be very welcome. I am burning with NTI CD Maker Gold on verbatim cd-r blanks on a dvd writer that says compact re-writable ultra speed + (system says it is a Sony CD-RW crx320e)

  8. hank daniel Reply

    I have read this artikel and I have to say, Leo is talking around the soupbowl. Look at the extensions of the song files of a Cd which you bought in a store. You’ll see .cda. If you use any burning software, no matter which one, if it can burn audio cd’s, you will see the same extension. Why didn’t Leo explain that? By the way, there are many free audio burning softwares out their. Look in Major Geek or Freedownloads you’ll find pleny. And yes, you do have to use CD-R. Also, depending what CD drive you have, you have to finish that cd. If you open the drive before the cd is full, it will ‘close’ that cd and you wont be able to write more songs on it.

  9. Farhan Reply

    Hi My question is that i don’t know exactly that at which speed i should burn audio c.d for my car c.d changer i am using Nero C.d Burner software
    please help me out

  10. Leo A. Notenboom Reply

    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
    Hash: SHA1

    Any speed your burner is capable of should work just fine if
    you use reasonably good blank media.

    Leo

    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)

    iD8DBQFHpMbSCMEe9B/8oqERAiA0AJ0XnhDzoEKrhiiIT3+WWjUBrFKdBwCfado1
    8j8kP2q9JqAKrFIt9OGDoKA=
    =YNmG
    —–END PGP SIGNATURE—–

  11. ploy Reply

    I read this and it explained nothing, I had better luck googleing my question

  12. kreak Reply

    I’m a little let down after spending such time reading this whole page of information. As I was merely looking for what type of format to use while trying to burn an audio cd for my car, I think this went FAR into too much detail. As they say in the military: K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m sure all of the detailed information is helpful to someone, I on the other hand will continue my search for what info I was looking for

  13. Steve Reply

    Commercial audio CD’s are in .cda format. Uncompressed, and as noted above, takes up a whole lot more space on a disc, but with the highest quality reproduction. Older cd players like those in many cars or home stereo systems will only recognise this format.
    most downloads from the net are in .mp3 format. uses about 1/10th the disc space, but will also have lower reproduction quality. It’s the price you pay for saving space. Many new car and home systems now will play almost any format, whether it’s .cda .mp3 .wma .wav or other common ones. it will be a case of finding out what format your car player will handle. But it will most definitely take the .cda format.
    Burning speed? thats really all it is. the speed at which burner lays the data onto your disc. it wont affect how it is played back, only how fast you can burn the disc. So its usually best to use 1 setting below the maximum for either the burner, or the disc you are burning to (whichever is lowest).

  14. Byron Reply

    When using Frostwire or Limewire, how do I change the format so that my cds will play on a regular cd player. I use to have no problem. I do not know what I did wrong. Thanks.

  15. Candace Reply

    This was EXACTLY the type of information I was seeking — trying to learn more about the difference between the formats. Thanks!

  16. Eon Reply

    I see in the comments already posted that many, probably knowledgable, people talk about cd players being able to play music with a .cda extension. Well my understanding is that .cda is merely a shortcut and contains indexing information and no audio at all. You can easily prove that by hovering over the file and seeing that it tells you there are only a few bytes on it, typically 44.
    But what I’m finding is that even a cd burnt on Windows Media Player (which will also all have this .cda extension) will not play on an older cd machine or car cd player IF it has any mp3 tracks on it. I can’t currently prove my theory by changing the format from mp3 to wma because my expensive (

  17. Eon Reply

    Just a quick update on the post I made yesterday: I tried what others have said about only using CD-R discs and it worked for me too. So that disproved my theory about having mp3 tracks on material to be recorded/played back.
    CD-RW discs wouldn’t play in the player that was available for the fashion show my wife was in. So that got me out of a hole! Still got to sort out the Nero problem though. (I tried posting this yesterday but after having Nero running I couldn’t even load web pages. And I had to turn the power off, again, to do a reboot!)

  18. WK Reply

    if my songs are in other formats like WMA, will the program automatically convert it into audio cd formats?

    my pc is installed with the nero…

  19. John Manitta Reply

    LEO , CAN I USE “REAL PLAYER” TO BURN THE SONGS I HAVE STORED IN THE “REAL LIBRARY” ?
    THANK YOU J.M

  20. mark Reply

    Hi,

    Can anyone tell me what format (apart from the.cda) my 2003 honder crv LX cd player was made to play?

  21. Zam94guy Reply

    I’m a Linux enthusiast and have been dual-booting Windows/Linux since about 1995, so I am very familiar with the concept of the “file system.” FINALLY, I understand the difference between audio and data CDs. Thanks Leo!

  22. Ralph Gilbert Reply

    I have the opposite going on with CD’s that I record, I am recording cassettes and old 8 track tapes, I use audacity and media monkey for doing this, the problem I am having now is the CD WILL play on my computer and car stero but not on my home stero system, I am using a Sony CDP 235 Cd player for listening…any ideas on what may be the problem?

  23. Nathalie Reply

    Very clear and easy to follow explanation. Am now burning an “audio cd” on my WMP safe in the knowledge it will work this time. Have bookmarked your page. Thanks a lot :)

  24. Graham Dainty Reply

    On your advise I downloaded Roxio’s CD creator, to try and convert mp3/WAV music formats into an Audio disc. Unfortunately only my car and Bose CD player recognise the resultant CD, and my ordinary players (over 5 years old) do not ‘see’ anything on the CD.Any ideas what may be wrong?

  25. Gungistoker Reply

    Reply to: “And yes, you do have to use CD-R.”

    Not neccesarily. My 2004 Nissan Maxima with a Bose system plays CDA audio flawlessly from a CD-RW. I listen to mostly podcasts and couldn’t justify spending money on CD-Rs for a one-time use. I use the cheap Staples brand CD-RW discs and burn them using Nero 9′s Audio CD option with default settings. Don’t assume you can’t use a CD-RW, give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised.

    Explaining how CDA files work is somewhat complicated. The URL below gives a good explanation on how they work.

    http://www.techsupportalert.com/how_to_work_with_audio_cd_cda_files.htm

  26. Lorraine Reply

    I am so bummed. It looks like from what I am reading that I am unable to burn CD’s for use in my car or CD player that are over80 m,inutes.

    I need to listen to teleconferec nes I havem issed and cannot sit at the Pc all the time to listen.

    I cannot find any CDR or CDRW that are over 80 minutes so I wouldn’t be able to do that.

    I have kinlde and tried to dwonload onto that but I cannot transfer over 16mb and they are 35mb and up.

    Please ehlp? what do you suggest. There has got to be a better way.

    Thanks for any support you can give me.
    Lorraine in NJ

    You are correct, in that audio CD format is only ~72 minutes maximum. You might try multiple CDs. Many newer cars and CD players also support data CDs with MP3 files on them, in which case you can easily put hours of audio onto a single CD, but only if the player supports it. Sounds like your Kindle is full – you might see if you need to make room on it. It shouldn’t crap out at 16Meg. Finally: get an MP3 player – I use my blackberry as an MP3 player, and have a cassette adapter that allows me to play it through my 10 year old car stereo.

    - Leo
    21-Jul-2009
  27. PHIL Reply

    I was really hoping the guys original question as to car audio CD format was going to be answered with a file type that we are expected to select from a drop down menu in most recorders.
    Like AIFF, AAC, FLAC, and so forth.
    The results of choosing doesn’t give you, THIS is best for Standard CD Car Audio setting.

    That’s because a plain audio CD doesn’t really use any file formats. In a sense it’s a completely different way of writing the CD using raw data. The burning tool you use has to understand this, and can often convert from a variety of different formats.

    Leo
    24-Aug-2009

  28. Ryan Reply

    First I would like to thank you on this guide. I was able to make a cd for my Audi, however I am encountering one problem. Some songs that play have an odd electronic noise to them that isn’t supposed to be there, while some others don’t. I used Roxio Easy CD creator 5 to burn the disk. I also recorded songs with recording software. I noticed that some songs (no matter the bit rate) will still make that electronic sound. Any ideas on what could be wrong?

  29. Mamdouh Masoud Hanna Reply

    hi leo, its nice to find someone with this kinda knowledge, my question is…y when i buy an audio CD, even if its not original, it has up to 27 tracks, and when i burn an audio CD, it gives me max 16 0r 17….does it depend on the original file size?do i have to decode the files b4 i burn them? what can give me more tracks..changing mp3s to audio?or changing wma to audio? do cars cd players read wma? why cant we burn with cda format?or the output of burning is cda?also original audio cds have many different formats…can u explain?…thx for listening

  30. Frank Reply

    I have a CD about 10 years old that originally played fine. Now we don’t seem to be able to get it to play on any cd player, my PC, etc.. Can’t figure out what I need to do to get it to work. CD condition is good. Any help would be GREATLY appreciated!!

    Frank

  31. Lea-Ann Reply

    I found when I burned a cd for a car audio(5 years old and older)that I had to make sure that songs were wav files format before I burned them. And make sure you finalized the disc — and it has to be a CD -R.

  32. farid Reply

    i did what you suggested and used nero to burn the cd changing the format to be audio cd but still does not work in my car cd which is kenwood dpx410 till now i do not know what is wrong it plays fine in my computer

  33. Tim Marnie Reply

    This was very helpful but I still need to know why my auto player(Infinity)in my Hyundai Sonata that has Mp3 written on it, will play certain Mp3 tracts, but not others that have been burned on my MacBook Pro. They all play in the computer.

  34. nelmer Reply

    thanks man..this really helped..i couldnt burn a cd because all my music’s format is mp3 and it didnt work on most cars and on my stereo….i used roxio wich was on my computer and i had never used it before and it worked

  35. Juan Reply

    If you use Roxy or another program, and it still doesn’t work you need to convert to .WAV format; this will most likely happen for older units (car and home). I used Tunebite, and it works great, on some songs you will hear a click every now and then, but it is because of the compressed (MP3/AAC/MP4, etc) to uncompressed conversion.

  36. Gungistoker Reply

    Reply to: “In my Hyundai Sonata that has Mp3 written on it, will play certain Mp3 tracks, but not others that have been burned on my MacBook Pro. They all play in the computer.”

    It could be a DRM issue.

  37. Dianne McCabe Reply

    I’m trying unzip a file to save on a CD to put into my blue-ray DVD player to update the software (my blue-rays won’t play). When I try to save the unzipped file, I get an error message “disk is incorrect format”. What does this mean? What size should I be using? Thank you.

  38. Lori Cook Reply

    Hi!I read the article and it did help me understand somewhat, but I have some of my husband’s music he played on an SD card saved in .wav format. I burned it to cd and it plays on my computer, but it will not play in an older “boombox” cd player, which plays store bought cds. How can I make it play on there? We want to take them along when we go camping, etc.. and I am still learning this stuff. Please help!!

  39. john bennett Reply

    I am producing a demo audio disc for a musician friend, it has to be able to play on the greatest number of devices, I am using a jvc camcorder and saving the audio only, output is WAV, is this the best ?

  40. Vivek Reply

    Thanks for your article, converted my mp3 to wma audio cds and not data cds; now these work on my friends old aiwa system. This really helped me.

  41. Bob Haas Reply

    Great article Leo. A good source for other audio converters is CNET’s downloads.com A couple years ago I bought a car stereo/CD player with a Line In port like you mentioned at Walmart. It was for my boat, and the Line In worked great at playing smoothly while underway, and with the less than $100 price I didn’t worry as much about salt air exposure or theft shortening its life. I mounted it in the cabin to reduce exposure.

  42. avalove2003 Reply

    How did my friend make a audio music cd holding way over 100 songs?

    Either they were very short songs totaling less than 70 minutes, it wasn’t an audio CD but a data CD that held MP3 files, or it was a DVD of some sort.

    Leo
    04-May-2010

  43. rICHARD Reply

    My car cd player says it can play mps cds. I burn as a data cd and finalize it. However when trying to play in my cd player it will read the track info and count along as if tracking and playing but I never get audio. Plays fine in computer. I use cd-r. Am I missing a step? I also use Iso/Joliet setting in burner software. Have tried Nero and couple others all same result. WAZZUP?? Thanks!

  44. Arturas Reply

    *.wma. if you have *.mp3 then you can convert to the *.wma. Converter you can find in a google. Just enter: free converter mp3 wma and download converter what do you like.

    Better decission is a buy a new CD player and better with flash.

  45. Tom Reply

    Cyberguys has a interface that plugs into your cigarette lighter socket that has a line in, SD card, and flash drive port. It turns them into radio waves that your car radio and tune into. Works on all radios that pick up FM.

  46. Razzledazle Reply

    I added a “Line In” to my car stereo, now I can use what ever I want to play music in my car. :)

  47. Jerry Reply

    Dose Nero have a similar program pick, I tried it and it did not decompress my CD. It would not work in my 1999 Jeep factory player. Down loads for Roxio’s easy CD creator are $42.00.

  48. Rob Reply

    My burning program nicely converts mp3 into cda format, but still my car radio gives an error (where it does play commercial audio cds).
    Might there be a problem with the long file names of the mp3 files? Commercial cds often have a file name like track01.cda, the converted cds often have the song name as file name.

  49. MissleMist Reply

    In that whole statement he makes about car stereo’s aren’t computers not once does he answer the flipping question.. It’s really simple.. What Format.. We know standard audio isnt MP3

  50. Dan Reply

    My car stereo instructions say it will play DVD Audio…………..I am unable to find any burner that will burn anything other than CD audio. Is there such a program or a way to “trick” a program into writing to a 4.7 GB DVD?

    I’ve not heard of such a thing – at least not for consumer use. Could it be simply that they mean DVD data discs with mp3s?

    Leo
    10-Oct-2010

  51. dave Reply

    You didn’t answer the question. You just plugged Roxio’s software and ipods, what format does the software output the data in?

    On the contrary: the article clearly states that audio CDs are not the same as data CDs. “File format” doesn’t apply, since on audio CDs there are no “files”. It’s raw data: uncompressed 16 bit stereo at 44khz sampling rate. That’s not a file format. In order to read or write that raw data to or from a properly formatted audio CD, you need software that knows how do that.

    Leo
    09-Nov-2010

  52. Shan Reply

    My simple car radio also did not have a line-in for MP3 players and other auxiliary. That is: I thought so. In reality the radio happened to have a line-in at the back of the device. This was not revealed by the Users Manual. I discovered the existence of the line-in after downloading the Installation Manual. After buying two special metal strips I was able to take out the radio and connect a cable to the mini-jack entrance at the back. Now I connect not only an MP3 player to it, but also a small Shortwave World Receiver. Why are we users not allowed to know these possibilities?
    Shan

  53. mannie Reply

    For the simple unanswered question. Car and store bought cd players are always and only compatible with WAV (.wav / WAVE) format unless otherwise specified.

    That’s incorrect. You can’t just copy a .wav file to a CD and expect it to work.

    Leo
    18-Nov-2010

  54. M Franco Reply

    Leo,

    I have .WMA music files on my hard drive. How do I copy to a music CD in MP3 format?

  55. bill Reply

    I think the confusion is that your answer is not quite complete.

    There are files on a CD (easily seen by exploring it in the computer).
    The files are basically WAV files.

    There is additional information that is not saved as files your computer can see that are specified by the standards for CDs. The standard states that a CD player must recognize this information and play the data files per the information in it.

    After MP3s and other music formats came out, some CD player makers decided to give them the intelligence to recognize data CDs and play the files. This is in addition to their ability to play CDs that were made to the music CD standards.

  56. Bruce Ogden Reply

    I enjoyed the article and the comments, they were very informative as far as pointing me in the right direction for further investigation.

    I think it would be helpful if you could update your response to this question with more information:

    1. You provide a good description of the type of raw, uncompressed music data on commercial CDs. When you open a commercial music CD, it lists track numbers as .cda files of 1 KB size (hovering over a file shows there’s only 44 bytes per .cda file). You could explain that these .cda files are merely indexing that provides access to the music tracks; the .cda file is not the actual music.

    2. Some commenters have suggested that tracks on commercial music CDs are in .wav format; as you have explained in the comments, this is not the case. All of the “formats” are for using digital audio files on a computer-type device, and none of these are used on commercial music CDs.

    3. What formats can be interconverted, what speed of burning can be used, which type of disk you can burn to (CD-R, CD-RW, DVD +-R, DVD+-R-DL, DVD-RW, etc.), and whether or not you can burn your files in Audio CD data so that it can be played on even old CD players, is determined by your audio file conversion and burning software, what function features are available with your disk burner hardware (i.e. what speeds it can burn or play and what types of disk media it can read/write to). The hardware, software and disk media have to be compatible before you can burn a CD that will play on any CD player.

    4. The different audio formats might be discussed as well, including the pros and cons of the different “lossless” formats where there is little or no loss of music data in the ripping from music CD but you end up with very large music files, to the various compressed formats that may lose some of the music data (with a small but corresponding loss of music quality that depends on the Bit Rate selected), but ends up about 1/10 the file size of a lossless format or as audio CD data.

    5. How much music you can put on a disk depends on whether or not the the music files are compressed, and the selection of a disk media that is compatible with your hardware/software. For example, you might be able to find commercial music CDs with around 20 songs (70-80 minutes of play) recorded as digital Audio CD data with associated .cda indexing files. With the proper harware and software, you can burn about the same amount of music in a lossless computer audio format. If you burn a compressed audio format file (i.e. MP3 at 192 Bit Rate which is high quality but not as good as lossless, where average song size is 5 MB) with a standard CD-R (700 MB), you can burn up to 140 songs. Burning the same MP3 files to DVD+-R DL disk media, you can theoretically record up to 1580 songs on a single disk.

    6. The advantages of compressed music files seem to outweigh their disadvantages, and recommend upgrading your home and car audio systems to play CDs/DVDs with these files (i.e. MP3), or secure adapters for portable MP3 players to your various home and auto audio systems.

  57. Rob Anderson Reply

    All this technical stuff gives me a headache. All I need to know is which audio file format will play on a cd player and a car player.
    The audio files formats that are currently on my hard drive are:- MP3, Windows media audio file (presumably WMA), MPEG-4 Movie, and WMA.
    What’s the go? Which audio file formats should I have on the CDs after burning the hard disk files.
    I note your comments about letting the burning software do the job. I use Nero.

  58. george black Reply

    I produced audio CDs for my car as above but still NoGo. Used Nero7premium, set for audio, created “.cda” files. Does CD-R, CD+R play any role? Is maybe ROXIO going to make a difference?

  59. Frank Reply

    All comments avoided the specific question which was “What format (not what conversion program) should I use to burn my Audio CDs?” I know at least one format that you could select and that is “.cda”. How about “.flac” or perhaps there are other formats that will play???

  60. Leo Reply
    Closing comments on this article because people continue to clearly miss the point that there is no format in the sense that people keep on asking. Audio CDs are not like Data CDs, and don’t have files. It’s a raw datastream of 16 bit uncompressed 44kz stereo. Things like “cda” format are Windows simply making it look like there are files, when there are not. To record an audio CD you must use use software that knows how, and it will convert from the formats that it understands to the raw format used on audio CDs.

    Leo
    02-Jan-2011
  61. William Noyes Reply

    My interest was converting vinyl to cd.
    I used an ION turntable and a free conversion program from ION which converts
    automatically to .wav format and places the converted files on your hard drive. The wav format would not play on the home cd player or the car cd player. I then used a converter that converted, almost instantly, the .wav to .cda format. It was also free and called, WavePad Sound Editor Masters Edition from NCH software (non commercial use only).
    This worked although I needed to increase the volume level in the car CD player. So simple even I can do it. The confusion is thinking/understanding format not files.
    Thanks Leo………

  62. William Reply

    When converting vinyl to .wav then converting .wav to .cda, why is the original sequence of songs/music never kept?

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