Origins: Despite numerous claims about the efficacy of "greening" CDs, there is no valid scientific reason to explain why marking CDs with green pens would improve sound quality, nor has anyone ever been able to consistently distinguish between marked and unmarked discs in a double blind comparison.
The most commonly offered explanation for the allegedly improved results produced by a "greened" CD is that the light from a CD player's laser reflects off the shiny inner rim and outer edge of the CD and enters the "eye" of the player, thereby altering the digital bit count and distorting the sound. Coating the edges of the CD with a colored marker supposedly reduces or eliminates the amount of stray light reflecting of the disc's edges, producing "better" or "cleaner" sound. (Green markers are used because the faithful believe that color most effectively "absorbs" the light from the laser's infrared beam.) As former Stereo Review and High Fidelity editor David Ranada pointed out, however, light travels so quickly that it would be reflected back to the laser from
The claim that coloring CDs could improve their sound originated in late 1989, was spread at the winter Consumer Electronics Show in
That this story was so enthusiastically embraced and believed is likely due to a number of factors, such as:
- The psychological power of persuasion: People believe coloring CDs improves sound quality merely because they've heard the claim repeated so often and so authoritatively. The details of compact disc technology are still largely a mystery to most of the general public, and so they readily accept the seemingly plausible explanation offered to explain the phenomenon, even though it has no demonstrable scientific basis. Since sound quality is largely subjective and unquantifiable, the "greening" claim is difficult to disprove. Not surprisingly, the results of comparison tests follow the pattern one would expect to see: people claim to hear a difference (often an astounding one) between marked and unmarked discs when they know which is which, but they cannot reliably distinguish between the two types of discs in double blind studies.
- The desire for control over technology: People want to maintain some level of control by believing that no technology is so complex or perfect that it can't be improved by a little good old know-how. As Sam Tellig, a writer for Stereophile magazine put it, "I get a great deal of satisfaction in showing that these tweaks take the 'perfect-sound-forever medium' and make it a little more perfect."
- The "something for nothing" syndrome: People are always readily willing to accept something that promises great returns for little or no investment. This concept is best summed up by early "greening" enthusiast Pete Howard (publisher of ICE and Rolling Stone CD columnist), who opined: "Even if there's a little bit of difference, it's amazing that you can improve billion-dollar technology with a two-buck marker."
- Snobbery: Digital audio technology has been denigrated since its introduction by a small but fervent group of audiophiles who insist that the sound it produces is "harsh," unlifelike, and generally inferior to that of analog recordings. The revelation that CD sound is imperfect was undoubtedly an appealing story for some of them to spread.
- Greed: There was money to be made selling objects of dubious worth (such as damping rings and CD markers) to a gullible public, and hence a financial interest for some people to promulgate stories touting their alleged effectiveness.
Considine, J.D. "The Greening of America, CD Style, Attracts Attention." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 19 April 1990 (p. E4). Fantel, Hans. "Brush Aside the Idea of Painting CD's." The New York Times. 3 June 1990 (p. B26). Goldstein, Patrick. "The Half-Amazing, Half-Crazy Greening of CD Sound." Los Angeles Times. 4 March 1990 (Calendar, p.73). Hamlin, Jessie. "'Greening' CDs: Is It Merely a Red Herring?" San Francisco Chronicle. 27 April 1990 (Calendar; p.13). Ranada, David. "Teetering on the Edge." inMusic. 15 May 1990. Schwartz, Bruce. "Felt-Tip Markers Stir a Hue and Cry Over CD Clarity." USA Today. 10 May 1990 (p. D4).