How to recover files from old CD/DVD-R?

How to recover files from old CD/DVD R?
I have a decent number of 10+ year old CD-Rs and DVD-Rs, and a few of them have started to go south. I’d like to pull off as much of the data as possible, even if it means an audio glitch or a corrupted bit of an image here and there. (Where at the moment, the OS X Finder just gives up and I don’t get any part of the damaged file at all.) Is there an app or technique you would suggest for this purpose?

I realize similar questions have been asked before, but as the last one was in 2008, I’m hoping there might have been some improvements in recovery tech in the last seven years.

I have tried multiple different optical drives, including some old ones. Surprisingly, my most recent Samsung BD-R drive has been the best at reading everything. The issue isn’t really scratches or anything I can polish out, but seems to be a failure of either the dye or reflective layer on the recordable media. (Maxell is the biggest culprit on the latter, with the reflective layer delaminating and just peeling away.)

Data Rescue, my go-to for recovering data from hard drives, has specifically told me that it won’t work on optical drives, so that’s out. It seems that most of the other popular Mac data utilities have the same restriction.

This data isn’t important enough to spend $$$ at some data recovery company, but if I can increase my chances of recovery before trashing these old discs, that would be keen.

posted bymboszkotoComputers & Internet(10 answers total)8 users marked this as a favorite


cdparanoia (linux only).
posted by andrewcooke at 10:28 AM on January 4, 2016

A live linux distrubution (e.g., ubuntu desktop on a usb key) with both cdparanoia and ddrescue may be worth a try. I’ve had great luck reading audio discs that couldn’t be accessed any other way.
posted by eotvos at 10:30 AM on January 4, 2016

If memory serves, PhotoRec was the go-to for this kind of thing. (It is not photo-specific, despite the name.)
posted by mrg at 10:32 AM on January 4, 2016

I’ve used IsoBuster for extracting data from bad optical disks.
posted by zsazsa at 11:54 AM on January 4, 2016

Thanks for the recommendations, everyone. I’m going to try PhotoRec first, since that runs on Mac OS X natively and will require the least amount of alternate-OS jiggery-pokery, but I’m glad to have multiple options!
posted by mboszko at 3:05 PM on January 4, 2016

BungaDunga, I’m not sure I understand how ripping with cdparanoia would help — from the docs on its website, it seems like it’s geared only toward ripping audio CDs? Maybe I misunderstand how it works.
posted by mboszko at 9:20 PM on January 4, 2016

You are right; it looks like it is for audio CDs only.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:32 PM on January 4, 2016

oh, i thought the CDs were, well, CDs. sorry.
posted by andrewcooke at 2:57 AM on January 5, 2016

All sorts of data on these. Some audio CDs. Some VCDs. Some full of MP3s, pictures or other files. They’re just on CD-R because DVD-R didn’t exist yet (or was more expensive per MB, once it did). Some of them are close to 20 years old. Of course I’ve got a ton of DVD-Rs too, but I’m going through them roughly chronologically, and not sure how those have held up yet.
posted by mboszko at 7:47 AM on January 5, 2016

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