In Praise of the MiniDisc

August 22nd, 2007

I don’t know why I’m so attracted to obsolete technology. Maybe it’s ingrained in my American DNA to root for the underdog. And what a glorious underdog the MiniDisc (MD) is. Introduced in 1992 by Sony, it was a digital alternative to the more expensive DAT format. But Sony has a history of poor marketing when it comes to new media formats (Betamax, Hi-8, etc.) and the MD was no exception. Sony tried to market the MD as a replacement for the CD, but it would have made more sense to sell it as a replacement for the cassette tape, something Philips had tried unsuccessfully with the Digital Compact Cassette (DCC) format.

MD limped along for the rest of the ‘90s before finding its niche, which was affordable digital recording. Because MD cartridges are so small, about 2 inches across, the player/recorders are also small – especially compared to DAT. In 2000, Sony upgraded the MD format to fit more data on a disc using digital compression, allowing more recording time. But Sony totally dropped the ball when the iPod was released by Apple in October of 2001. Instead of allowing the option of playing back MP3s like on the iPod, Sony forced MD users to encode their music files in their proprietary ATRAC format. Finally in 2004, Sony introduced Hi-MD which offered MP3 compatibility and uncompressed audio recording, but they still didn’t have anything like iTunes for users to download music easily (SonicStage=crap!).

I still use my MD player/recorder for a couple of reasons. First, it runs on a single AA battery. If you’re traveling overseas, having something that takes a standard battery and doesn’t need recharging is a plus. Second, the MD is an unobtrusive recording device. I’ve used it for wild sound when filming super 8 and it works great for that. Third, MD player/recorders are cheap. I paid $150.00 new for mine. If I lost my MD, it would be easy and cheap to replace. Would I ever pick my iPod over MD? Well, not until iPods become cheaper and offer easy digital recording. For now, I’ll stick with MD.

Entry Filed under: Obsolete Technology, Low End


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