What a Crack-Up

You've got to give the audiophiles who post at the Audio Asylum online forum credit. Not only is AA one of the more informative and constructive audiophile communities, some of its members provide the audio industry much-needed feedback on how it's doing—for better or worse.

Last week, several AA regulars discovered a potential problem with some recent SACD releases—in particular the new hybrid SACD of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. Small cracks were discovered forming around the disc's center spindle hole, often increasing in number over time.

The cracks range in size from mere specks to about 1mm in length and extend from the center hole outward. Some AA members noted that, over time, as the number of cracks increased, some of the plastic around the center hole would flake off, leaving it rough to the touch. Both Stereophile editor John Atkinson and I checked our DSOTM discs and observed that, sure enough, they too were cracking—my disc has at least a dozen cracks, and the plastic is flaking away in places.

Other members, however, reported that their DSOTM discs did not display cracks. With a little sleuthing, it was determined that the discs with problems originated from the Crest National pressing plant in California. DSOTM discs found to be without problems, and sporting subtle differences on the packaging and disc label printing, were coming from Japan and Europe.

Although the cracking problem appears widespread according to the AA readers who have the California pressings (and indeed according to others I've talked to who have Crest discs), Crest's Robert Freedman says, "The issue appears to be limited to a very small number of discs of which we have only been able to obtain a few samples exhibiting such cracks." In contrast to some of the AA member findings, Freedman downplays the severity of the problem, saying, "We have examined the samples in our possession and the cracks are minute in size and purely cosmetic."

Only time will tell if the cracks are merely a cosmetic problem or something more serious. A Crest statement issued May 1 states, "We have performed accelerated aging tests on the cracked discs and verified that the cracks do not affect the life expectancy or playability of the discs. We have taken immediate steps to modify our process to effectively eliminate this issue for all discs produced going forward. We will be monitoring this closely to insure that our corrective actions are effective."

So what caused the cracking? According to Freedman, "The corrective measures taken internally [at Crest] involve changing some process parameters on the injection molding machines to reduce stress around the center hole. We also changed our print specification to be consistent with the other SACD manufacturing plants."

Readers interested in returning discs cracking around the spindle hole should check with their retailers about getting an exchange. Those looking for non-Crest discs will find instructions for identifying the Crest, Japanese, and European pressings from the packaging in an AA thread.

Freedman does say, however, "As an aside, we have been told by respected industry sources that the Crest National DSOTM is sonically the best sounding." Stereophile's review of a cracked Crest DSOTM pressing will appear in the June issue.