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12 December, 2003

Nurture your CD-Rs

It seems 'mainstream' CD-R users are finally catching on to info long known by those of us who trade concert recordings on CD-Rs: that CD-Rs aren't remotely 'permanent' and need careful treatment. The claims of manufacturers (10 years lifespan, even 100 years) aren't realistic; artificial aging tests don't seem to simulate typical use & storage conditions adequately. Three points highlighted by recent online press articles are fundamental to audio trading:

Use decent discs - 'known brand' discs from reputable manufacturers are better than bargain-basement, no-name discs. Cheap discs are a waste of money and could cost you valuable data within even just 2 years. 'Own-brand' discs from supermarkets and high-street electrical retailers are similarly inadequate, generally.
Best of all are discs from known CD-R manufacturers. That's manufacturers, not retail brand names - companies like TDK are distributors who don't actually manufacture discs. The most reputable CD-R manufacturer is Taiyo Yuden, of Japan but distributed globally. I buy them in the UK from CD-R Media; 27p each (mail-order, sold in multiples of 100) for top-quality discs compares well to 17p each (high-street, sold in multiples of 100) for own-brand discs from Dixons (major UK electrical retailer).

Secondly, don't apply adhesive labels, as the adhesive can react with the data-containing dye layer of the disc itself.
Fred Langa at InformationWeek found this had caused appreciable deterioration of his archived CD-Rs.

Thirdly, don't write on CD-Rs. Surprisingly, Fred Langa didn't find problems with discs he'd previously labeled with marker pens, but his experience seems to be the exception; it's a known problem, reported as 'news' yesterday by The Guardian (I don't think that page is permanently archived, so the item might vanish). In the same way as label adhesives, chemicals in marker inks can react with the dye layer of a disc, destroying data. Markers specifically for writing on CD-Rs exist, but different CD-R manufacturers use different dyes, so I doubt the pens have been tested with the full range of disc dyes. Far safer, and simply better practice, is to write only in the clear area at the hub of the disc - it's just clear plastic, so there's no dye layer to destroy.

Quick disclaimer: trading unofficial recordings, like-for-like, strictly for no profit, amongst those who already have all the official releases of the traded artist, is very different to commercial bootlegging (selling/buying unofficial recordings) or piracy (distributing copies of official releases).

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