How Long Do CDs Last? Not as Long as You Think

When we were first introduced to CDs in December 1982, we were promised that they’d deliver perfect sounds forever.  They were indestructible, we were told, and there were many demonstrations of how a CD would continue to play perfectly even though it was dirty or scratched.

We now know that was all a lie.  Dirt, smudges and scratches can all prevent a CD from playing properly–or at all.  And it turns out that CDs don’t last forever.  Not even close.  From NPR:

Back in the 1990s, historical societies, museums and symphonies across the country began transferring all kinds of information onto what was thought to be a very durable medium: the compact disc.

Now, preservationists are worried that a lot of key information stored on CDs — from sound recordings to public records — is going to disappear. Some of those little silver discs are degrading, and researchers at the Library of Congress are trying to figure out why.

In a basement lab at the library, Fenella France opens up the door to what looks like a large wine cooler. Instead, it’s filled with CDs. France, head of the Preservation, Research and Testing Division here, says the box is a place where, using temperature controls, a CD’s aging process can be sped up.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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