Do you remember the first CD you ever bought? Mine was either Paul Simon’s “Graceland” or the soundtrack to “Back to the Future.” I was 18 years old, a budding audio/videophile, and I still remember listening to those discs in a state of awe, marveling over the purity of sound coming out of my Polk speakers. Gone was the snap and crackle of the LP, absent was the hiss and warble of the cassette tape, and in their place was extreme clarity, digital convenience, and lightning-fast playback. Yes, we can have the fidelity debate, but not today. Today, I want to talk about longevity.

Last week, I dug out a long-time favorite CD—the Cocteau Twins album “Blue Bell Knoll,” if you must know—and plunked it into my old, reliable Sony player. As the crescendos of “Carolyn’s Fingers” began crashing, the disc began to skip alarmingly. Experiencing a spurt of adrenaline, I examined the disc, but found nothing wrong. I tried it again: same result. When I tried it on a different player, it played fine. So I chalked up the problem to a fading player, although that player was having no trouble with other discs. The experience left a bad taste in my mouth. Was this the first sign that my rather large CD collection could be failing?

For a long time, I assumed my CD library would remain pristine indefinitely, or at least until I kicked. I read articles about how CDs are manufactured, and came away satisfied. We’re talking about a hard-plastic polycarbonate layer above a metallic layer that stores all the data, and finally a protective coating. It all added up to peace of mind for this audiophile. The truth is disc manufacturers, way back at the beginning of the CD revolution, were feeling their way toward longevity. Their minds were arguably more on mass production than on extreme durability and reliability. Who really knows how long these discs—particularly the older ones—might last?

(Read the rest at Residential AV Presents: Connected Home.)