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CD and Tape Care

Care and Maintenance

Here we have listed a few tips and pointers to taking care of tapes and optical discs such as CD, SACD and DVD discs. We spend so much time on looking after the main equipment, making sure it sounds just right; we often forget the smaller things.

Cassette Tapes
While certainly not as popular as they once were, cassette are still quite common. Cassette tapes are easily damaged and soiled by dirt. The tape on the inside is fragile and should be treated with care. Cassette tapes should never be left in the sun, particularly in cars or in front of heaters, as warping of the plastic "shell" containing the tape can occur. Also the tape becomes brittle causing the magnetic coating to flake off.  Using tapes damaged in such a way can result in poor reproduction and possible damage to the tape player.

Warped cassette "shells" and uneven winding of the tape will cause uneven running. Fully fast forwarding, then rewinding the tape can remedy this. High quality tapes are recommended, as poor quality tapes only compound troubles. It is also advisable to play the tapes at least once a year to avoid magnetic imprinting, “print-through”, where the signal transfers a copy of itself to the layer of tape below.
The cassette must be protected from dirt and grime. Fingerprints or other dirt on the tape surface can cause the sound to "dropout" and also cause the head to collect dirt. This results in degradation of sound quality over time.  We recommend the use of a good quality head cleaning tape available from most good hifi stores.
Finally, never insert any objects into the cassette mechanism as damage can easily occur to the delicate parts inside. It is important to keep the mechanism clean and demagnetised. Special cleaning tapes are available and should be used as soon as any dirt is visible on the heads. Use a cleaning tape that will also clean the pinch rollers and capstans. If the head (and other parts such as the pinch rollers or capstans) needs a really good clean, it is advisable to seek the assistance of a technician. Special head demagnetisers are also available and these can be used if the sound starts becoming slightly muffled. The sensitivity of the heads is reduced as they become magnetised over time due the constant contact with the magnetic tape.

Compact, SACD and DVD Discs
These discs are not as indestructible as was widely promoted when CD’s were first released. The data surface is on the opposite side of the printed label in most cases except some DVD’s where the data is stored on both sides. They have a precision optical coating that enables the laser beam to accurately focus and read the data from the disc. Any scratches, fingerprints, dust, dirt or grease on this surface disrupts the player from reproducing the high quality sound. The result is a much greater chance for the disc to mistrack or insert error correction data. If the disc is very badly soiled or scratched, the player can skip sections of music, not play certain tracks or not play the disc at all. To prevent damage and soiling of the discs, follow the recommendations set out below -:

  • Always store the discs in their original cases when not in use.
  • Only handle discs by the edges and the centre hole.
  • Keep out of direct sunlight and hot locations (window sills, near heaters etc.)
  • Use clean hands when handling the discs.

If a disc does become dirty, it can be cleaned in the following manner -:

  • Fingerprints - Lightly rub the surface with a soft cloth.
  • Grease or oil - Clean with a soft cloth dampened with special optical disc cleaning fluid (from your local hifi store), then wipe dry. Do not use record cleaner!
  • Dust or dirt - Blow lightly on the disc and wipe the dirt off with a soft cloth, or clean the dirt with a damp, soft cloth and then wipe dry.
  • When wiping discs, always wipe from the centre to the outside edge (radially).
  • Never use sprays or liquids intended for records, as these can damage the surface of the disc.
  • Only clean discs when mistracking is evident, or when dirt is clearly visible.
  • Mechanical disc cleaners are available and are recommended.

If any warping of the disc occurs, just put it on a flat, smooth surface. Put some heavy books on it for a few days, that should straighten it out. If the warping is really bad, start slowing with small books so it doesn’t crack. Make sure it can't get scratched in the process.

The player itself also needs maintenance. Keep the front, rear and top panel clean and free of dust by wiping with a soft cloth or brushing with a soft, clean brush, taking care not to scratch the display. Also ensure the loading tray is kept clean in the same way. We recommend that occasionally (every few years) the player is sent in for a service to clean the laser lens and to check for dirt / dust build-up in the mechanism.

Recordable discs are quite common now. The way these work is by using a laser to "burn" into a dye layer in the disc, leaving pits and bumps like a normal disc. The problem is that this dye layer is not as reflective as the usual aluminium layer found in normal discs. This makes it harder for the laser to read the information; hence problems with playing burnt discs may occur. This problem is further compounded by the fact that recordable disc brands are different in construction, meaning different brands or types exhibit different characteristics. It is basically a matter of trial to see which ones are the best for your unit.

Written by Leon Gross, originally published in Audio & Video Lifestyle magazine.