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The best tradeoff between coding and spreading in a single-cell direct-sequence code division multiple access (DS-CDMA) system is investigated. The best code rate in terms of the system spectral efficiency for a single-class system and the optimal power allocation for a multi-class system is analyzed by applying both a matched filter (MF) receiver and a minimum mean square error (MMSE) receiver. It is shown that for the MF receiver, the coding-spreading tradeoff favors a code rate reduction. In the case of the MMSE receiver, the spectral efficiency vs. code rate curve is convex, so there is a best code rate corresponding to a given Eb/N0 specification. Numerical results show that the best code rate is a function of the system load, the required bit error rate, and the steepness of the required SIR vs. the code rate curve, i.e., the error correction capability of the applied coding codes. The best code rate to maximize the spectral efficiency is further related to the system design parameter Eb/N0.