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Your Old CD Collection Is Dying 329

Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Adrienne LaFrance reports at the Atlantic that if you've tried listening to any of the old CDs lately from your carefully assembled collection from the 1980's or 1990's you may have noticed that many of them won't play. 'While most of the studio-manufactured albums I bought still play, there's really no telling how much longer they will. My once-treasured CD collection — so carefully assembled over the course of about a decade beginning in 1994 — isn't just aging; it's dying. And so is yours.'

Fenella France, chief of preservation research and testing at the Library of Congress is trying to figure out how CDs age so that we can better understand how to save them. But it's a tricky business, in large part because manufacturers have changed their processes over the years and even CDs made by the same company in the same year and wrapped in identical packaging might have totally different lifespans. 'We're trying to predict, in terms of collections, which of the types of CDs are the discs most at risk,' says France. 'The problem is, different manufacturers have different formulations so it's quite complex in trying to figure out what exactly is happening because they've changed the formulation along the way and it's proprietary information.' There are all kinds of forces that accelerate CD aging in real time. Eventually, many discs show signs of edge rot, which happens as oxygen seeps through a disc's layers. Some CDs begin a deterioration process called bronzing, which is corrosion that worsens with exposure to various pollutants. The lasers in devices used to burn or even play a CD can also affect its longevity. 'The ubiquity of a once dominant media is again receding. Like most of the technology we leave behind, CDs are are being forgotten slowly,' concludes LaFrance. 'We stop using old formats little by little. They stop working. We stop replacing them. And, before long, they're gone.'"
You can donate CDs to be tested for aging characteristics by emailing the Center for the Library's Analytical Science Samples. I haven't had much trouble ripping discs that were pressed in the 80s (and acquired from used CD stores with who knows how many previous owners), but I'm starting to get nervous about not having flac rips of most of my discs.
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Your Old CD Collection Is Dying

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  • by Cito ( 1725214 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @11:29AM (#46999433)

    Vinyl is still fairly superior for physical archiving

  • by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @11:30AM (#46999455) Journal

    10 years ago I ripped my collection to FLAC, set the read-only bit and never looked back.
    Now when my MP3s get fucked*, I just resample from the FLAC version.

    * Technical term. There was a ulitility called "unfuck" that would repair the MP3

  • Re:Grammar (Score:5, Insightful)

    by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @11:40AM (#46999583)

    Oxidation will eventually render them useless. Rust never sleeps.

  • by entrigant ( 233266 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @12:13PM (#46999955)

    That's not the point. MP3 represents a generational loss. If a new favored format appears on the scene you'd suffer a second generational loss performing the transcoding. For archival masters why would you not use lossless compression?

  • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @05:00PM (#47003343) Journal

    Semi-agreed, for one reason: it may be because he has a turntable with a cheap or worn-out needle on it (that is, it's either way too dull overall, or way too sharp at the tip. The former will wear out the sides of the groove, while the latter will slowly gouge out the center of it). That or the armature itself is too damned heavy, the armature spring is bearing down too hard, etc etc etc.

    Lots of variables to consider when you compare this stuff. :)

    Mind you, I used to restore vintage record players and radios - as in 1920's-1950's - stuff that was old enough to use tubes. My biggest problem wasn't the electronics (even tubes aren't too tough to get if you know where to look.) My biggest problem was with needles that were worn way down, and finding a box of replacement needles that fit at a flea market was like finding pure gold. My next biggest problem was in restoring the armature (springs and hinges were usually shot, rusted, or worse). After that it was all the ancillary crap nobody thinks of (speakers, belts, motors, the battered wood finish and grilles, etc).

    OTOH, even with brand-new turntables, there's a lot of things that have to happen correctly in both design and execution before you get a solid turntable that will play good vinyl over the long term without tearing the crap out of it.

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