Deteriorating CDs

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Murray

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Discs deteriorating

Peter Svensson
The Associated Press

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Dan Koster was unpacking some of his more than 2,000 CDs after a move when he noticed something strange. Some of the discs, which he always took good care of, wouldn't play properly.

CD-rot.jpg

Mark Irons holds out a damaged music CD in Corvallis, Ore. "CD rot" is a gradual deterioration of the data-carrying layer -- it's not known for sure how common the blight is but it's just one of a number of reasons that optical discs may be a lot less long-lived than first thought.
CREDIT: Associated Press


Koster, a Web and graphic designer for Queens University of Charlotte, N.C., took one that was skipping pretty badly and held it up to the light.

"I was kind of shocked to see a constellation of pinpricks, little points where the light was coming through the aluminum layer," he says.

His collection was suffering from "CD rot," a gradual deterioration of the data-carrying layer. It's not known for sure how common the blight is, but it's just one of a number of reasons that optical discs, including DVDs, may be a lot less long-lived than first thought.

"We were all told that CDs were well-nigh indestructible when they were introduced in the mid '80s," Koster says. "Companies used that in part to justify the higher price of CDs as well."

He went through his collection and found that 15 per cent to 20 per cent of the discs, most of which were produced in the 1980s, were to some extent rotten.

The rotting can be due to poor manufacturing, according to Jerry Hartke, who runs Media Sciences Inc., a Marlborough, Mass., laboratory that tests CDs.

The aluminum layer that reflects the light of the player's laser is separated from the CD label by a thin layer of lacquer. If the manufacturer applied the lacquer improperly, air can penetrate to oxidize the aluminum, eating it up much like iron rusts in air.

But in Hartke's view, it's more common that discs are rendered unreadable by poor handling by the owner.

"If people treat these discs rather harshly, or stack them, or allow them to rub against each other, this very fragile protective layer can be disturbed, allowing the atmosphere to interact with that aluminum," he says.

Part of the problem is that most people believe that it's the clear underside of the CD that is fragile, when in fact it's the side with the label. Scratches on the underside have to be fairly deep to cause skipping, while scratches on the top can easily penetrate to the aluminum layer. Even the pressure of a pen on the label side can dent the aluminum, rendering the CD unreadable.

Koster has taken to copying his CDs on his computer to extend the life of the recordings. Unfortunately, it's not easy to figure out how long those recordable CDs will work.

Fred Byers, an information technology specialist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, has looked at writeable CDs on behalf of government agencies, including the Library of Congress, that need to know how long their discs will last.

Manufacturers cite lifespans up to 100 years, but without a standardized test, it's very hard to evaluate their claims, Byers says. The worst part is that manufacturers frequently change the materials and manufacturing methods without notifying users.

"When you go to a store and buy a DVD-R, and this goes for CD-R as well, you really don't know what you're getting," he says. "If you buy a particular brand of disc, and then get the same disc and brand six months later, it can be very different."

This renders the frequently heard advice to buy name-brand discs for maximum longevity fairly moot, he says.

DVDs are a bit tougher than CDs in the sense that the data layer (or layers -- some discs have two) is sandwiched in the middle of the disc between two layers of plastic. But this structure causes problems of its own, especially in early DVDs. The glue that holds the layers together can lose its grip, making the disc unreadable at least in parts.

Users who bend a DVD to remove it from a hard-gripping case are practically begging for this problem, because flexing the disc puts strain on the glue.

Rewriteable CDs and DVDs, as opposed to write-once discs, should not be used for long-term storage because they contain a heat-sensitive layer that decays much faster than the metal layers of other discs.

For maximum longevity, discs should be stored vertically and only be handled by the edges. Don't stick labels on them, and in the case of write-once CDs, don't write on them with anything but soft water-based or alcohol-based markers.

Also, like wine, discs should be stored in a cool, dry place. Koster's friend Mark Irons, of Corvallis, Ore., stored his CD collection in a cabin heated by a wood-burning stove. The temperature would range between 4 C and 21 C in the space of a few hours. Now, the data layer of some of his CDs looks as if it's being eaten from the outside.

Irons is still pretty happy with CD technology, since it beats vinyl LPs and tape for longevity. Now that he's moved his discs to an apartment with a more stable temperature, he's noticed that the decay has slowed.

"I'm hoping they'll hold out till that next medium gets popular, and everyone gets to buy everything over again," he says.
 

alpertfan

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That explains why my CDRs are already showing signs of deterioration. I have the same problem. I have to load discs twice sometimes because my shelf system won't read them the first time. With "official" CDs, it's different, though.
 

Rudy

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news article said:
"I was kind of shocked to see a constellation of pinpricks, little points where the light was coming through the aluminum layer," he says.

Ummm...that's quite common in CDs, and is NOT laser rot. Even some brand new CDs have this, and due to CD's error correction, the pinpoints do NOT affect playback. Discoloration around the sides...THAT is laser rot. CDs have been around for over two decades and this person is shocked when he finally looks at a CD through light? :rolleyes:
 

jfiedler17

Active Member
alpertfan said:
That explains why my CDRs are already showing signs of deterioration. I have the same problem. I have to load discs twice sometimes because my shelf system won't read them the first time.

I've always wondered MYSELF why my CD-Rs deteriorate so easily when I handle them so carefully. Nice to know I'm not alone!

Jeff F.
NP: Chris DeBurgh "Don't Pay the Ferryman"
 

Rudy

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My CD-Rs have held up rather well, considering. With some upcoming work I'm doing, though, I am probably going to spend more than 25 cents a disc. :wink: Probably Mitsumi Golds, or Quantegy...something of archival quality. Some of my work is going onto DVD blanks as well (high-res DVD-Audio).

CD-R blanks are very dependent on which company manufactures them. Most of what you see in stores (TDK, Fuji, Memorex, Maxell, Verbatim, etc.) are just "branded" discs. There are some CD-R websites out there that have a lot of information as to which companies make which discs, in which countries, using certain types of dyes (some are better and last longer), etc.

Still, 25 cents is cheap insurance. I won't carry my irreplaceable CDs in the car anymore. I'll burn a copy, maybe throw two albums on one CD so I don't have to swap discs so often. (Or in one of my cars, I can throw MP3 discs in changer.)
 

Rudy

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Actually, when you listen to his CDs, your EARS rot! :D
 

Bruno

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The man on the picture seems to care more for his Cds than for his own looks. Perhaps he should visit a barber soon? :rolleyes:

Bruno
 

Harry

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I've yet to see a single instance of any kind of rot in any form of digital storage media. I have many laserdiscs, CDs and CD-Rs, with no sign of any deterioration on any of them - at least none that I'm aware of. I don't check each disc on any kind of regular schedule though, so who knows?

Harry
...not aware of rot, online...
 

Rudy

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I'll admit the same as Harry: none of my CDs, DVDs or LDs show any signs of rot. The only flaws I've seen (other than the occasional CD with tiny pinholes in them) are cracks. My original CD pressing of Phil Collins' Face Value (on Virgin) has a couple of cracks, one running dangerously close to the data area. It hasn't spread, though, since I discovered the cracks several years ago.

Also, some earlier SACD hybrids manufactured at a company called Crest are notorious for cracking. I only have one of those: Peter Gabriel's newest, "Up". These are only the hybrids, since they have dual layers. Can't determine if any of my other hybrids are from Crest--no others are cracking.
 

Harry

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The only defective CD I've ever run across is that one I gave you, Rudy, that original soundtrack to Vertigo on Mercury. It had a tiny hole on the label side which didn't play well on my car player. Fortunately I found another one and passed that one along to you (a fan of the film).

Harry
...with many flaws (just not digital ones), online...
 

Rudy

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It has played fine on my Pioneer universal player as well as my CD changer, so I'm a happy camper there. :wink: What I'll sometimes do is run a backup of the CD onto a CD-R if it is questionable.

One of my girls cracked a DVD last night. Fortunately it is only about $5 to replace, but I'm chalking this one up to 30% impatience and 70% the stupid plastic DVD hubs that hold on too tight even if used properly.
 

Mike Blakesley

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I'm with you guys on this. I started buying CDs not very long after they came out, because our store sells them. My first one was GENESIS by Genesis, followed shortly by RUMOURS by Fleetwood Mac and a Japanese import of DARK SIDE OF THE MOON by Pink Floyd. I still have all these disks today and they are all fine.

I've never had a case of CD-R rot either. The first CD-R I ever got came from our own Mr. Neyhart about 5 years ago (I think), and it still plays fine as well.

I have a feeling this whole "rot" thing has a lot more to do with environment and storage than anything else. Maybe a real humid or salty environment hastens the damage. But here, things are pretty dry most of the time. Heck, all the old 8-tracks I have still play fine too, if you replace the splice tape.
 

TonyCurrie

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I have some 1980s pressings that won't play because the ink used to print the labels has caused rot - this has happened with a handful of my discs.

I remember some publicity for this problem a few years back - apparently some manufacturers were unaware that certain types of printing ink would cause a detrimental slow chemical reaction until it was too late!
 

Mr Bill

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Montana Mike said:
I still have all these disks today and they are all fine... I've never had a case of CD-R rot either....about 5 years ago...it still plays fine as well.

...this whole "rot" thing has a lot more to do with environment and storage than anything else.

I agree. If the guy in that picture pays as much attention to the care of his music as he (obviously) does to his grooming no wonder he has CD rot! :wink:

--Mr Bill
suspecting we'd likely find other sorts of rot in this guy's home and, um, body :freak:
 

Dave

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I would suspect most people who's CD's tend to deteroriate are those who store them in those cases that mount on a car's sunvisor, as opposed to their original cases. Exposure to the sun and other weather elements can promote a lot of wear and tear. The playability and portability of CD's is sometimes taken too much for granted! Store them in their original cases, as you would vinyl!

Mr Bill said:
If the guy in that picture pays as much attention to the care of his music as he (obviously) does to his grooming no wonder he has CD rot!

Now, now think of how many of us WISH we could grow our hair THAT LONG!! At least I would keep it (and Myself!) NEAT! :twitchy:


Dave

Gioccho Adesso: David Axlerod: Earth Rot
 

Rudy

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Mike Blakesley said:
I have a feeling this whole "rot" thing has a lot more to do with environment and storage than anything else. Maybe a real humid or salty environment hastens the damage. But here, things are pretty dry most of the time. Heck, all the old 8-tracks I have still play fine too, if you replace the splice tape.

And the foam pressure pad--most of the 8-tracks I own have a deteriorated pressure pad. :sad: Supposedly an easy fix though--a certain brand of foam weatherstripping I've read about seems to be a perfect replacement.

One thing that surprised me was that some users are saying that we should NOT use adhesive stickers on our CD-Rs. Apparently the adhesive has some kind of reaction with the dyes in the disc. I haven't had a problem with that, but why take chances?
 

Mike Blakesley

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I have never used the stickers (even though well-meaning family members have given me about three of the sticker-making kits for Christmas) mostly because I worry about the edges peeling up and getting stuck in my vehicle's player. In car heat, I would think if peeling did occur, you'd have a lot of sticky gunk that would attract a ton of dust and dirt and eventually be unplayable. I could be totally wrong on this, but I'm just fine with writing on the disk with a Sharpie and saving the elaborate "artwork" for the booklet.
 

Rudy

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Some manufacturers even recommend against using CD labels, just for that reason--they can get stuck inside the player. In fact, I'd had that happen with a couple of cassettes over the years.

Wish I could get one of those CD printers...but hey, a pack of Sharpies goes a long way. :)
 

Brasil_Nut

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Mike Blakesley said:
I'm with you guys on this. I started buying CDs not very long after they came out...I still have all these disks today and they are all fine.

Me too. I have my original discs from the early '80s, all in excellent condition.

Mike Blakesley said:
I have a feeling this whole "rot" thing has a lot more to do with environment and storage than anything else. Maybe a real humid or salty environment hastens the damage. But here, things are pretty dry most of the time. Heck, all the old 8-tracks I have still play fine too, if you replace the splice tape.

Agreed. Heck, when I moved to Florida in the early '90s, my original CDs handled the transfer just fine. Now, I'm back in California and they're still in good condition. As for handling, I've always held them by the edge and followed instructions for cleaning and/or wiping them off.

Funny you should mention tapes...my Father's beloved reel-to-reel collection is in tip-top shape, even after all these years. All a matter of proper maintenance, storage and care.

Jon
 

raz42289

Active Member
There is a full page article on this in the current ROLLING STONE. The lady( I think) said that only with extreme humidity and temperatures would CDs ever rot. She bakes them in 150 degree humidity.

But she says that if you take good care of them and keep in the case, they should last for a century.
 

Rudy

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Mike Blakesley said:
I have a feeling this whole "rot" thing has a lot more to do with environment and storage than anything else. Maybe a real humid or salty environment hastens the damage.

Actually going back a few years, it was some Laserdiscs that showed rot first, not CDs. My only problem currently is that I have one irreplaceable CD cracking around the hub(one of the first half dozen I bought), and my Peter Gabriel Up SACD hybrid is cracking in the same area, as it's a dual-layer disc and the manufacturing plant (Crest :mad: ) did not seal off the edges of the spindle hole.

Rot theoretically can happen if a disc isn't properly "sealed" on its edges, especially if it's an aluminum-based CD (like most are). As gold doesn't tarnish like that, the gold CDs would be more immune to it, I'd think.
 
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