Books on CD – a self-help guide
I don’t have any specific books to review for you this time, so I thought I’d make this a preventive maintenance article. Specifically, I want to address some things you road warriors and books-on-tape or CD guys can do to make your audio book experience a little more rewarding. Travel books and audio materials are flying out of the libraries as many of you try to get in that last road trip before the “real season” starts.One of the jobs I help the Summit County librarians with is audio repair. I’d say about 10 percent of the audio materials checked out from the libraries are returned to us as inoperable – tape or disc defective, won’t play, skips and so on.Since many of you have been trading in your old tape players for CD equipment, the librarians have been purchasing many of the newer audio materials in CD format, to the point where we now have several hundred of the most current titles on CD. So I’ll concentrate on this format.
First of all, 50 percent of the so-called defective CDs aren’t; when I test them on my test machine in the library, they run just fine. So what’s the difference between my machine and yours? I clean the lens on the test machine about every 10-20 hours of use. When was the last time you cleaned the laser lens in your player? I spent a couple of bucks on a laser lens cleaner system from the people who make Discwasher products, and I use it periodically on my home CD player, as well as on the players in my cars. I quote from the package instructions: “A digital disc player laser lens should be cleaned once a month or every 10 hours of play; more often if the environment is smoky or dusty.” If I were going on a road trip in my Jeep to, say, Moab, Utah, and was planning on CDs for entertainment along the road, I believe the five minutes or so to clean the player in the car before departing might be a good investment. Given the dusty environment, it probably wouldn’t hurt to clean it when I got home as well.Of course, if the discs are dirty to start with, that’s another story. I bet for those of you old enough to remember LPs, this is starting to sound familiar. In the old vinyl record days, we used to have to clean records and needles religiously, because very little dust at the intersection of the two could cause major skipping. And the chicks were always so turned off if a record skipped in the middle of a Barry White rendition of a serious love song.
Well, CDs are as perishable and as sensitive to crud as LPs ever were. They need to be handled by the edges, the same as records were. Needless to say, kids and roommates should be taught how to handle CDs and CD-ROMs at an early age or not allowed to handle them at all. And dogs should never be allowed to play fetch with CDs. And you, the serious audiophile, can’t let the fingerprint oils, dust and PB&J droppings build up on them. The first thing I do when repairing a CD is hold it up to the light and slant the recorded surface to see if the damage is visual. On a really damaged disc, I can usually see the cut or bite marks or flaking surface that’s causing the problem, and I know immediately we have to replace the disc. But, again, roughly half the time, the disc needs serious cleaning before I can even see the surface clearly. And yes, I have had to clean crusted peanut butter – at least I hope it was peanut butter – off “defective” discs on more than one occasion.
So, before departing on the road trip with audio materials, you might want to clean your CDs. I bought a disc cleaning system from the local Radio Shack, which was relatively cheap and works fine.Now what about tapes? Tapes don’t travel well without TLC. If you leave them in a hot car, they warp. They can’t swim very well. If you drop one, the tape can get off-track and it won’t play on anyone’s player. The players, and tapes for that manner, have too many moving parts that can go bad. Tape can stretch and break and twist with rough handling. And then, as tapes are playing, they always leave particles of the recording surface on your read heads, which can build up to the point where your player can’t read the magnetic imprints on the surface of the tape any longer. Then, the problem is not the tape but rather your player, and you need to clean it after about every 10-20 hours of use. I have an audio head cleaner that I bought at a local record store for $1.98 last year. It works fine, but I’m really moving away from audio tapes as my medium of choice. There’s no way that I know of to clean dirty tapes. CDs are hardier and travel better.I hope this is of some use to you. It’s unfortunate when someone misses out on a good mile-eating story because their audio materials or equipment fail them. As the old saying goes, “A little prior planning can prevent (all kinds of mishaps).”
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