Getting started

I very frequently answer the question "How do I get started with minidisc?" on Reddit, this will be a collected, comprehensive version of that answer.

The Minidisc Wiki has a version of this answer you may want to check out, however I do not fully endorse all of what they recommend, so, consider this your second opinion.

If you were linked here from elsewhere, you may also want to check out my MiniDisc Project/Info Hub page.

Page History notes:




If you haven't yet, read through my my MiniDisc Project/Info Hub page. It has a few pieces of base information about the Minidisc format.

With that in mind, the best minidisc machine is the one in your hand. If you're here because you have recently been given or bought an MD machine, congratulations, you are started!

Buy Domestically (at first)

This runs somewhat counter to what you may already have seen, which is that there are a few do-everything minidisc machines you can get super cheap in Japan. That's kind of true.

Many people's recommendations are for high end, late stage machines that do it all, the MZ-N910/920 in particular. These are fine machines and they get recommended for a good reasons, but because they're built for the Japanese market they're relatively slim and use some of Sony's semi-custom hardware such as "gumstick" batteries. In so doing, they're tougher to get started with unless you pay up for one thats had all the pieces collected, you'll need to bu yadditional accessories or other new hardware.

The most comman machines in North America and Europe are slightly thicker and lower end, but use more common batteries.

So my recommendation for a first machine is to buy domestically, and either aim for a low end machine that uses common batteries and doesn't require specialized hardware or adapters, or buy something that's complete, as a way to see if you even like the format. There's exceptions to that, such as if you're buying a pre-MDLP machine, the low end options in the form of the R35 and R37 are often more expensive and more difficult to find than the flagships in the form of the R50 and R55.

Different Experiences

Minidisc hardware was on sale internationally for the better part of 20 yeras, and globally for just shy of 30 years, and preferences for how to use the format varied some internationally, so there's different options and ways to use the various hardware, which can result in different experiences.

For example, the earliest MD hardware globally was primarily focused on recording from another source in real-time, you can listen while you record.

Or, if you look to te late 1990s, Sony worked on making minidiscs easier to record and manage by adding computer control to both it's minidisc and CD hardware, as well as features such as CD-TEXT transfer. So, if you have a compatible minidisc deck and CD player as well as the software, you can automate making a mixtape by dragging tracks from CDs in the changer into a list and then letting the computer manage the recording process.

The late 1990s also saw the introduction of fast-dubbers in various formats, which can copy audio from a CD to a minidisc one track at a time or all at once faster than real-time.

2000 added long play, which lets you choose a newer audio codec at lower bit rate options to record more audio onto the same discs

Or, if you look to the early 2000s, Sony added NetMD, which allowed burning (Sony used the word "downloading") a minidisc similar to how you'd burn a CD or fill the storage of a file player like a iPod. All NetMD hardware has the long play modes.

In 2004, Sony added HiMD, which is all that and new 1-gigabyte discs, whose vibe is much closer to that of an iPod Nano or an MP3 player.

The most commonly wanted option is NetMD,especially as there's modern software which bypasses almost all the restrictions Sony placed on the software.

Real-time dubbing and fast-dubbing directly from CDs were most common in Japan, and are how many Japanese people used the format through to today. NetMD hardware did exist in Japan, but it was often incidental.

NetMD was proportionally much more common in North America, with NA and/or the Americas at large receiving several models of NetMD only burner, positioned and priced to compete against cheap ~64-256-meg MP3 players, but with the flexibility of removable discs that were far cheaper than flash memory.

From a big-picture perspective, none of these experiences is better than any of the others, they're just different optons that are available because the format was under active development for like fifteen years.

If you're looking to pick a machine, consider why you're interested in minidiscs and what experiences might promote that. If, for example, you're primarily looking to get into listening to albums in their complete form, you may not need the LP mode. Or, if you have a CD collection your'e looking to get into, you may not need NetMD in order to make discs easily. Or if you like the idea of recording, as an action and activity, NetMD may not be needed.

How To Buy (North America)

This section will be tuned to North America because I live in the United States. If your'e in Canada and are used to buying from US eBay, this may match up. I don't personally know how this does or doesn't apply to Mexico. Primarily because it's the most populous country in the region, the US minidisc market mostly drives the whole North American minidisc market and on eBay at least, US and Canadian prices will typically be roughly in lockstep.

In USA/NA, almost all minidisc hardware ends up on eBay, and if it's not on eBay, it's often being sold for eBay pricing, because eBay is how almost everyone prices almost everything in used markets.

The upshot is that it's easy to find almost anything that existed here because it's on eBay. The downshot is that it looks like it costs a lot because Minidisc didn't sell as well here as it did in Japan or even Europe.

But you should be able to get started with a recorder and a couple discs for under $100 (as of 2024-06).

The most common brand of minidisc hardware is Sony, so I typically use these searches:

Local trade sites such as Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Offerup, Mercari USA, and local choices such as KSL may also have hardware available, I recommend checking as far afield as you're willing to travel periodically. I search my whole large western state once usually once every other week, whenever I'm actively looking for something.

What, Specifically, To Buy

I typically recommend getting started with one portable recorder ~5-20or so recordable discs, and any additional hardware you need as a source, for example, you can probably buy a DVD player that has an optical outpu for under $20 from a local thrift store, or a USB sound card with a digital optical output for somewhere in the $15-30 range.

At that point, my recommendation is to use what you've bought for a few weeks and wee whether or not you like the format, and what other experiences you might want to get into, or what might make the experience you're having better.

For example, if you have a home hifi system and you bought or are using your existing CD or DVD player for recording, you may consider a home hifi deck for recording and to play your recordings on your stereo.

The other most common next step is more discs. Depending on what and how you think you'll be collecting, you can buy more from US eBay, buy some from Location:Japan eBay (lots of discs are one of the best and most reliable deals from Japanese eBay resellers) or buy brand new discs in bulk.

The other thing you may consider if you ended up with an inexpensive US-market recorder is to look to Japan for either something specialized such as a business recorder or a dedicated player only unit. Japan's cheap player only units are often a little slimmer and lighter than recorders.

It's ultimately about how and for what you want to use the format. There were minidisc machines for nearly every audio function and form factor.