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AUDIOPHILE AUDITION - web magazine for music, audio & home theater

July 14, 2004

Another Type of CD Rot - An Associated Press writer recently did a story on optical discs of all sorts not being quite as immortal as we thought. These problems differ from the CD rot warning of several years ago, which was a bronzing effect that afflicted only certain, mostly classical CDs pressed at some plants in Italy and the UK. I personally had many bronzed discs replaced by the UK pressing plant where the problem occurred, although some were no longer available. The new warnings cover several different possible ways to lose all or part of the music on your CDs. One is a deterioration in which the glue holding the various layers of plaster on a disc loses its grip and the data on the disc becomes unreadable at least in portions. This is often caused by poor storage and handling of the discs, such as leaving them out in the sun, cold or in places of high humidity. One collector found about 20% of his CDs stored in a cabin near a wood stove - where temperatures ranged from 30F to 70F - were afflicted similar to the photo above. No wonder.

A separate deterioration is the appearance of tiny pinprick holes in the data region of discs - rather than at the edges as with the beginning layer separation. While some of this could be caused by pressing plant problems, it is more likely just poor handling by owners - allowing discs to rub against one another, etc. The fact is the label side of discs is much more vulnerable to damage than the recorded side. Scratches on the top can easily go down to the aluminum layer where the data pits are. And one should never write with a ball-point on the disc. CD-Rs are considered more permanent than CD-RWs and their various re-recordable ilk, but even record-once discs are more subject to damage than standard commercial CDs.

Manufacturers frequently make changes in their materials and methods of manufacture so you don’t really know what you are getting when you purchase blank CDs or DVDs. The situation is not unlike that years ago with audio tape: The original Scotch 111 open reel tape has stood up terrifically, and recordings made on it from 50 years ago are being reissued today on hi-res discs and vinyl with amazing fidelity. However, after a few years tape makers began to experiment with “better” oxides and adhesives and many later analog recordings are now unplayable due to the oxide falling off or becoming sticky. Baking the tapes in a special oven before making a quick dub to digital has rescued some masters but not all.

FCC Threatens Freedom of Expression - The Federal Communications Commission last week proposed new regulations requiring radio and TV broadcasters to make and keep recordings of all their programming for up to three months from air date. The alleged purpose is to aid FCC investigations into indecency complaints. The agency has stepped up enforcement of indecency standards after Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl ”wardrobe malfunction” and complaints against Howard Stern. The House of Representatives has supported upping the fine for indecency to $500,000 per incident.

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