How Long Will CDs Actually Last?

Once upon a time, CDs were a shiny new technology with a promise of lasting (nearly) forever. In those halcyon days of the 1990s, museums and symphonies began transferring their archives to CDs—a decision that in retrospect may not have been so wise. The catch is that some CDs are durable and others are not; we just had no way of knowing back then.

On NPR's All Things Considered, Laura Sydell peeks inside the Library of Congress, where archivists are actively researching how long a CD can last. Since the first CD was only made about 30 years ago, the answer is not so easy to figure out. To hasten up the aging process, CDs can be stored in warm and humid boxes, where conditions speed up the chemical reactions that contribute to the CDs' breakdown.

One thing the archivists have noted is that CDs can be of varying quality. Manufacturing standards differ depending on when and by whom a CD was produced. Take the phenomenon of bronzing, for example, which is when a CD's coating breaks down. Michele Youket, a Library of Congress preservation specialist, tells NPR:

"This phenomenon of bronzing was particular to only discs that were manufactured at one particular plant in Blackburn, Lancashire, in England," and only between 1988 and 1993, Youket explains.

"Everyone always wants to know the answer to the same question, 'How long do CDs last? What's the average age?' " Youket says. But "there is no average, because there is no average disc."

But if you want to keep your vintage Britney Spears* CDs from going to rot, storing them in a cool dry place is a good start. Head over to NPR to learn more about CD preservation. [NPR]

* ...Baby One More Time is the first album I remember listening to on CD, just so you know.

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