While CDs can survive minor damage far better than the vinyl records they replaced, they are still vulnerable to scratches. DVDs are even more vulnerable, since they store more data in the same space.
Since the 1980s, various devices have been marketed to repair scratched CDs, many of them completely worthless. In this review, weâ€™ll take a look at some modern contenders and see if they live up to their hypeâ€“and their price tags.
Anatomy of a CD Scratch
Before we begin, here are some basic facts about scratches on CDs. DVDs work the same way, so this applies to them as well.
- The data is stored just under the label. Scratches on the label side are irreparable. Fortunately, most scratches happen on the shiny side, and thereâ€™s a millimeter of clear plastic between the surface and the data. These scratches can often be fixed.
- The data is arranged in concentric circles on the disc. Scratches that follow this pattern (often produced by defective CD or DVD players) are the worst kind. Perpendicular scratches are often harmless due to the redundant data stored on a CD or DVD.
- You should start with a clean CD before attempting to remove scratches. Use an electronics cleaner, isopropyl alcohol, or distilled water and a paper towel. Avoid following a circular pattern when you clean.
- Make sure your CD repair device is clean as well. One large particle in the wrong place can compound the damage rather than fixing it.
Memorex Optifix Plus
The first device we tested was the OptiFix Plus by Memorex. At under $10.00, it seemed like a good low-end solution to CD and DVD scratches.
The OptiFix is a simple clamshell arrangement. You snap the CD into place shiny side up, place two or three drops of the included cleaning solution on the surface, close the case, then turn the knob to polish the CD surface. The cleaning solution is a thick abrasive made of aluminum oxide.
It takes a simple motion to operate the device, and if you place it on a table it can be done with one hand. After polishing, you can use the included felt pad to remove the solution and any remaining moisture and dust.
Unfortunately, we were unimpressed with the results of the OptiFix. After using it on a damaged DVD, it was even less playable on the DVD player. Examining it closely, the Optifix had etched a pattern of overlapping circles over the surface.
We tried it on a scratch CD and got the same results. While the scratches Optifix produces are faint and probably wonâ€™t do much damage, we were reluctant to try it on other CDs and DVDs.
Digital Innovations Skip Doctor
Disappointed by the Optifix but still optimistic, we next tried the Skip Doctor from Digital Innovations. This is a more expensive unitâ€“between $20 and $30â€“and looks like a space-age ray gun. Digital Innovations sells several different versions (Data Dr., Game Dr., DVD Dr.) that differ only in their packaging. All of them claim to work with audio CDs, game CDs, data CDs, and DVDs.
To use the Skip Doctor, you snap the CD onto a large gear, shiny side out, then snap that into the unit. Wet the CD with the included Resurfacing Fluid, then snap the unitâ€™s jaws shut. You then turn the handle to polish the CD.
This device will give you quite a workout. It takes a shockingly large number of turns of the handle to rotate the CD through its entire surface, and in fact it isnâ€™t obvious at first that the CD is rotating. After one revolution, the instructions recommend you flip the switch to reverse the CD rotation. You then keep turning the handle in the same direction and wait for the CD to turn all the way around again.
After you finish polishing, you can use the included buffing pad and towel to do some final polishing and drying, then repeat the whole process again if necessary.
We immediately noticed some advantages over the OptiFix. Rather than polish in circles, the Doctorâ€™s flywheel conforms to the CD surface and polishes in a perfect center-to-outside radial pattern.
The results confirmed our first impression. On the first test with our damaged DVD, it not only made some progress on the major scratchâ€“it also removed all of the scratches the OptiFix had added. Unfortunately, while the DVD was more playable in the DVD player, it still had some errors.
We then tried the Skip Doctor on two of our ancient audio CDs, two abused audio CDs from the local library, and a completely unplayable DVD from the library. They all came out shiny and beautiful, and more importantly, all of the errors were fixed.
The only downside is the effort involved. Some CDs and DVDs required several repetitions, which is the work of an hour or so and leads to sore wrists. Digital Innovations makes a motorized version, and while it costs three times as much, itâ€™s probably a wise investment if you plan on making frequent repairs.
Being a more professional device, the Skip Doctor actually allows you to replace the one critical partâ€“the flywheel with its abrasive surface. This is available in a kit with extra towels and Resurfacing Fluid for about half the cost of another entire package.
Incidentally, if you read the manual carefully, it mentions that the Resurfacing Fluid is nothing more than distilled water. This is basically a wet sanding processâ€“the abrasive is in the flywheel pad. Itâ€™s very important to keep the CD wet during the entire process to avoid making new scratches.
The Memorex Optifix Plus looked good at first, but in the end it gave us flashbacks to the snake-oil CD repair devices of the 80s. Fortunately, the Skip Doctor actually lives up to its name, successfully repairing 5 out of 6 CDs and DVDs we tried. If you have at least one CD, DVD, or CD-ROM that is too scratched to use, the Skip Doctor will quickly pay for itself.