Minidisc History

This page is adapted from an audio program I recorded for MDCon 2024.

If you'd like, check out my Minidisc Project/Info Hub page.

An audio version is here:



  1. Welcome

01. Welcome

Minidisc is a digital audio format, introduced in 1992, designed primarily by Sony, with several other companies ultimately also shipping their own equipment. Minidisc is called that because the discs, which are houesd in a protective plastic casing, are roughly 2.5-inches across, or roughly a quarter of the physical size of a CD, and a little smaller and slimmer than a compact cassette tape. The format was designed to be a portable, recordable counterpart to the compact disc.

Internationally, the format is having a revival. There's never been more interest, there's tons of available hardware and media, and there's an active hobbyist scene with people from around the globe on different social and discussion platforms.

As people look to reconnect with their music and take it back offline after a decade or more of streaming: CDs, tapes, and vinyl have retained in popularity. But vinyl isn't portable, CDs are only barely portable, and modern cassettes don't always sound great.

Minidisc is the digital missing link. It's sort of a "what if MP3 players?" but over a full decade before that was practical while retaining the qualities of a pre-computerized physical media format. The pitch, in the 1990s, was: CDs are great at home but they kind of suck to use on the go, and your absolute favorite songs are spread across a bunch of different discs, and cassettes sound bad and are difficult and annoying to record. What if you could get CD sound quality, cassette portability, and even better and easier recording?

You can, and as with so many other vintage tech hobbies, getting started has never been easier because there are many modern options for recording discs, including modern software to burn audio files to discs, similar to burning a CD.

The next few sections are historical and background information, and we'll have some more "modern getting started" info at the end.

02. The Background and The Environment

Starting in the 1970s, Sony and Philips were working together to build the Compact Disc, a consumer digital audio format as a successor to vinyl records. The format got a slow start but eventually became the permanent defacto physical audio format, especially for commercial releases.

The CD made a lot of sense for distribution and usage at home, but it had a few pretty obvious disadvantages for some use cases compared to compact cassettes, including that the machines weren't very portable and that it wasn't recordable.

In the 1980s, Sony started working on a new digital audio format with a focus on portability and recording.

In 1987, DAT or Digital Audio Tape launched. Sony's first few machines focused on both pro studio and home use cases, with a set-top recorder in the ES series, and a portable Walkman launching later in 1990.

The RIAA or Recording Industry Association of America lobbied heavily against the launch of DAT, especially as a consumer product, putting pieces in most American media about the dangers of *bit-perfect* copies, claiming the capability would result in massive piracy and the collapse of the entire industry. It's of course hilarious in retrospect to imagine teenagers casually using multiple thousands of dollars to collapse an industry, but.

The RIAA tried and failed a couple times to build a technical protection against the dystopic future of digital mixtapes and home-use copies. However, they failed to come up with anything on their own that didn't ruin the audio they were trying to protect.

It was Sony that built the solution to this problem in the form of Serial Copy Management System, or SCMS. SCMS is meant to be built into recorders and players of recordable media. It uses a secondary metadata channel in recordable media as well as SPDIF and TOSLINK connections to show whether something is an original or copy, and allow or disallow further digital copies respectively.

At a meeting in 1989 in Athens Greece, the RIAA itself agreed that Sony and other audio hardware companies could proceed with the development and sales of recordable digital media hardware, if SCMS was included in any consumer oriented equipment.

After this, songwriter Sammy Cahn sued anyway for presumptive damages from digital home recording, even with the SCMS technology. This lawsuit led to the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992, which in addition to legally codifying the deployment of SCMS in consumer digital audio hardware, added a tax on the sale of recorders and blank media, whose funds would in theory pay back out to artists impacted by this type of recording.

AHRA '92 was signed into law in October 1992, in time for the launch of Minidisc as well as the competitor format, Phillips' Digital Compact Cassette in November 1992.

Briefly: DCC is a competing home recording format also launched in 1992 backed by Philips aimed at capitalizing on the existing installed base of the analog compact cassette. DCC failed to generate much interest and Philips withdrew all DCC products by 1996, with all of its partners switching to MiniDisc shortly thereafter.

03: What Is MiniDisc

But let's back up a minute: What *is* Minidisc, anyway?

Minidisc is a portable, recordable, digital, customizable audio format. It's best thought of as a 1990s successor to the analog compact cassette. It's a portability-first "second format" answer to compact discs, which had launched a decade earlier in 1982.

In the 1960, '70s, and beyond, people would record their records, either in whole or as part of mixtapes, onto cassette for various reasons including on-the-go usage, In 1992, portable CD players existed, but only just technically. A recurring marketing point was: "CDs are great at home but they kind of suck to use on the go".

It's also important, here, to mention: Sony never claimed Minidiscs would *replace* CDs. Even as the format improved and hobbyists started claiming a minidisc recording could sound better than a CD one, Sony's stance remained that CDs were for distribution and home usage and minidiscs are for personal copies, portability, and mixtapes.

Above and beyond recording copies of CDs, Minidisc is also suitably capable of anything else compact cassette could do, and there was purpose-built hardware for any number of use cases, such as voice memos and meetings, interviews, field recording, customizing audio for use in stage performance, meeting-rooms, radio broadcast, and any other scenario where audio needs to be recorded and then later played back.

Physically, you may have seen it or be holding a disc or a machine right now but just in case, minidiscs are a small magneto-optical format encased in a plastic cartridge with a shutter for protection against the elements. The underlying technology is magneto optical, which matured for computer and data usage in the 1980s and 90s.

The discs are roughly 2.5 inches across, roughly a quarter of the size of a CD and a bit smaller than a compact cassette tape, and over the course of Minidisc's active development life, player-only portable recorders ultimately shrunk to "just barely over the thickness of two of the discs" - under half an inch thick.

Minidisc achieves its goal of fitting a CD's worth of audio on a disc a fifth the size of a CD using audio compression, a relatively new idea in the early 1990s. Sony developed a new codec called ATRAC, which stands for Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding. The codec is a lossy audio codec, which means the lower data rate is achieved by throwing away some audio data entirely. Sony's efforts with the codec meant in theory the data being thrown away represented sound human ears can't hear.

The audio compression and a handful of other factors are why minidiscs did not replace DAT in the pro market, but not all pro use cases are identical and things like field recording interviews or customizing audio for events and broadcast ended up on the format while in-studio usage relied more on DAT.

Digital recording and editing features mean minidiscs are, like CDs, non-linear, and unlike CDs, editable. A table of contents stores information about where each track starts, so you can change their running order or add and remove track markers, or delete tracks entirely. Tracks can also be fragmented, so you don't need to worry about finding a big enough space for a new track you want to add.

Sony specified up front all minidisc hardware must have a memory buffer. This is an important part of minidisc's portability, between compression, the RAM buffer, and the much smaller size of the discs themselves, minidiscs were very well equipped for usage on the go. The unit reads ahead and memory buffer keeps audio playing when the laser loses focus on the disc itself, and also helps smooth any interruptions that may otherwise have been caused by playing tracks in a different order than they physically are on the disc, or tracks that are fragmented to different areas.

The ATRAC codec itself improved and changed a few times over the course of the format's life, and there were some other evolutions, more on that later.

The non-linear, and editable nature of minidisc, the memory buffer, and the improvements over time to the ATRAC codec are Minidisc's main advantages over Digital Compact Cassette and after just two or three generations of hardware Philips quietly stopped selling DCC equipment in late 1996.

There were also pressed commercial releases, these put the minidisc table of contents structure and ATRAC encoded audio on a pressed CD shaped and encased to fit in a minidisc machine. Pressed releases were available globally from 1992 through to the early 2000s but these are less common due to their high cost, perceived lower quality, and low buy-in from record labels other than Sony itself.

The real core of the format, globally, is recording, whether a full CD or album directly, or one track at a time to build a mixtape.

04: The Japanese Environment

Compared to the United States, Japan has a very favorable legal ecosystem for personal recordings and Minidisc slotted right in after DAT and compact cassette.

DAT was slightly more successful in the Japanese consumer market and Sony's consumer catalogs featured it until the end of the format in 2005, but Minidisc took off in Japan much faster than anywhere else.

Japan's 1980s and 1990s industrial and tech boom saw many Japanese people having a decent disposable income, however buying Music in Japan was and is very expensive. Imagine if it cost $30 to buy a CD.

Instead of buying music, renting it was legal and CD rental stores were a common sight across the country. The industry gets set up this way with the explicit expectation people will record what they rent.

The use case, then, becomes pretty clear: Buy a minidisc recorder and then rent a couple CDs for a couple nights at a couple dollars apiece and record them onto minidisc media.

Until about 2001 or so Sony sold all the same hardware internationally, although in the '90s there are a few pieces of ecosystem they either did not sell outside Japan, or made explicit in Japan but not internationally. Sony's Japanese portable minidisc catalogs featured diagrams showing what cables were needed to, say, connect a CD Walkman with digital output to an MD walkman with a digital input, a configuration that made it possible to copy a CD to a minidisc in just two or three touches. These pieces all existed in the US, but they were made more explicit in Japan.

Because a minidisc copy might be a person or family's only copy of a given piece of music, Japanese minidisc users often bought several different pieces of an overall ecosystem, such as a hi-fi component recorder, player-only portable units, and tabletop or bookshelf stereos featuring multiple formats for dubbing or cross recording.

In 1999, Sony announced its first fast-dubbers, in the form of the a CD/MD hifi component as well as a few bookshelf stereos. These could do CD to MD copies four times faster than real-time, meaning a 60-minute CD would copy in fifteen minutes. The other hardware vendors followed quickly and these units appear to have sold very well in the Japanese ecosystem, even as other digital audio options such as CD, hard disk, and flash-based file players became available.

Japan has very strong tech inertia so much of what this early success meant is the Japanese market didn't respond much when Sony made other advancements to the format. While American marketing may focus on advances such as computer connectivity or the long-play formats, the Japanese marketing focused on improvements in portability or advancements to other hardware in the machines, such as the audio amplifiers, and most Japanese computer-connected bookshelf systems doubled as CD fast-dubbers.

05: The Relaunch in 1998

As the 1990s wore on, outside of Japan, Minidisc was reported as having trouble gaining adoption. Portable CD players were themselves rapidly improving, becoming smaller, adding memory buffers and on-the-fly audio compression to improve skip protection, CD recorders were on the horizon to allow home copying for mixtapes, and travel copies, and technologies like MP3 and Sony's own Memory Stick with the newer, more efficient ATRAC3 codec threatened to make minidisc obsolete before it got started.

In 1998, Sony went on its biggest ever North American and internationl marketing push, talking to news outlets about the success it had had in Japan and making promises to spend money and effort "Making Minidisc Happen" in North America and the United States.

They didn't not do that, but it also didn't move the dial as much as people wish it did.

The direct results of Sony's 1998 efforts are:

This is all reasonably timed, as most people consider Sony's fourth and fifth generations of minidisc hardware, shipping in 1998, as the moment when minidisc as a format fully matured.

But Peak Minidisc outside of Japan was a few years off yet.

06: MDLP and NetMD: Feeding North America's Desires

In 2001 the hot new minidisc feature was MDLP. MDLP stands for Mini Disc Long Play.

Long Play hardware adds two new recording modes: LP2 and LP4, which are implemented by using some of the features of standard stereo ATRAC frames to force older machines to interpret the newer data as silence. Within the remaining capacity, the new modes use an entirely new codec called ATRAC3, at lower bit-rates, to achieve longer run-times.

Sony's advertising of this feature, globally, talked up LP2 sounding as good as SP, and that in the LP4 mode you can put up to four or five CDs worth of audio on an 80-minute minidisc.

To drive home the point, one of the launch products was a fast-dubber home hifi deck featuring an internal 5-CD changer, which can dub in LP mode from a CD to a minidisc at 2x of real-time.

MDLP includes the trend started in 1998: Outside of Japan, the product stack included two lower end product lines. The midrange model continues with a microphone input but no real-time-clock, and the low end model features only a line-level input, and also doesn't support an inline remote control. The new low end all-plastic model launched at a new record low of $150.

Japan's launch focused more on the home decks and the the launch of a record-breakingly thin portable player, while the North American launch saw Sony framing the "PC" bundle minidisc recorders as an inexpensive competitor to MP3 players, especially with the long play modes and as by this time the US cost of an 80-minute minidisc had fallen to $2 apiece.

By this time, almost all minidisc hardware was getting at minimum 20 hours of playback time on their internal batteries, with high end machine allowing for dual batteries for more than double. Models that could use standard AA batteries either as their primary or secondary battery also meant being able to source additional power inexpensively wherever you were, or carry multiple rechargeable batteries.

English-language communities and some reviews happened during this time and they praised the higher capacity and sound quality that remained high, but panned the fact recording from a computer could generally only happen in real time.

One or two sources that were aware of this development mentioned and praised the fast-dubber decks, but Sony didn't work very hard to bridge this specific gap outside of Japan.

This would be fixed over the course of 2001 and 2002 as Sony launched NetMD as a feature on some new MiniDisc recorders which featured USB connectivity. The recorders would connect to Sony's OpenMG software on a computer for transferring audio from the computer to the minidisc in faster than realtime. The software itself could be used for ripping CDs or importing MP3 and WMA files and converting them to ATRAC3 for burning onto a minidisc.

OpenMG is the name of Sony's computerized, file-oriented music ecosystem, originating in 1999 alongside the "Network Walkman" - a digital audio player that plays ATRAC3 from a MemoryStick flash reader.

Starting with NetMD in particular, Sony very heavily emphasized the long play formats. They framed the standard play format as legacy, and went out of their way to talk up LP2, which lets you record twice the amount of audio per disc, as the default format for minidisc and NetMD usage, saying it sounded as good as SP audio. Sony believed so completely in this that its own NetMD software authors SP using LP2 audio.

Most people claim LP2 sounds "Good enough" at minimum, although reactions to the LP4 formats vary more widely, as at 66 kilobits per second, LP4 audio offers a much more severe compression which will be more noticeable with most people's hearing and with good headphones and speakers.

From a practical perspective, it's just additional flexibility, and each recording option has a potential purpose and its own fans. For me, LP2 does in general sound as good as SP, especially as in NetMD, encoding LP audio happens on the computer and because that encoding doesn't need to be real-time, can happen to a higher quality standard.

In 2003, as part of the second-generation NetMD refresh, Sony made the next logical step for the North American market and introduced the NetMD 4-series, a NetMD-only minidisc burner on sale at Walmart for about $100 and at club stores packaged with some discs and an armband for about $130. That machine was repackaged, repainted, and renamed a couple times.

In 2004, Sony announced they had managed to sell 300,000 minidisc machines into the United States during 2003.

That's pretty good for something they hadn't marketed for five years. The primary selling point in this moment appears to have been that Minidisc hardware was a viable competitor to MP3 players. You could get the hardware for well under $150, hook it to your computer, and fill $2-a-piece 170-megabyte discs in a couple minutes. In 2002-03, 128-256 megabyte flash memory cards were roughly $100 or so apiece.

We didn't get detail on what, specifically, the breakdown of what they sold was, because that announcement came as part of of the biggest improvement to Minidisc sony had made since they'd launched the format in 1992.

07: HiMD: Fixing it, Only to Break it Again

That announcement in 2004 was for HiMD. HiMD as a format, along with a couple revisions to Sony's OpenMG and SonicStage software, fixed nearly every single complaint anyone had ever had about minidisc:

  1. The new format massively increased flexibility by way of several more available bit-rates in both ATRAC3 and the new ATRAC3plus formats
  2. An uncompressed CD-quality Linear PCM recording was added
  3. Old 60, 74, and 80-minute minidiscs could be re-formatted into HiMD mode for better capacity and runtime, by this time 80-minute MDs were still selling for roughly $2 each
  4. A new 1-gigabyte disc was available for roughly $7 each, in a moment when 1-gigabyte flash memory cards were $70-100 or more a piece
  5. HiMD mode adds the unicode characterset for metadata, and some of the machines have high-resolution displays that can show unicode and kanji characters
  6. HiMD mode adds separate Artist and Album fields, and adds options to navigate and play based on those properties
  7. HiMD-mode recordings can be transferred from any HiMD mode disc to a computer
    1. After RIAA vs. Diamond Multimedia, Sony puts no restrictions on files recorded this way, even digitally, considering all of its own machines to be computer peripherals
  8. 9. In 2005, Sony added Mac transfer software, although this option was very limited compared to SonicStage and it was primarily for using an MD recorder as a pro field recorder in a Mac oriented studio
    1. In 2005, Sony also discontinued sales of new DAT recorders, with market-specific versions of the portable HiMD recorders taking the low end of that task, alongside a file-based high resolution PCM field recorder using memory stick flash media
  9. The HiMD disc format is the FAT filesystem, so although you can not transfer audio this way, you can use HiMD-formatted discs for generic computer data storage

Disclaimer: Much of this functionality revolves around Sony's computer software ecosystem which changed over the years, so some of these things became possibly one or more years after the initial HiMD launch in 2004. As an example, ripping HiMD-mode recordings was *possible* in 2004 but it was in 2005's software update that those recordings could then be exported from OpenMG-SonicStage.

Sony ultimately removed the check-out limit from SonicStage, a hold-over from the pre-Diamond environment of 1999 when OpenMG first launched, but that may have been as late as 2007.

Unfortunately, HiMD is a day late and a dollar short. The prices on hard disk and flash-based media players had fallen, battery life on everything else was increasing and HiMD hardware cedes much of the battery life advancements minidisc had gained since 1998, and cost-cutting meant new HiMD hardware was built worse than predecessors., or more and more high end features were removed out of machines sold as high end or even pro machines.

In 2005, Sony discontinued sales of new DAT recorders, replacing it jointly with flash based recorders at the high end, and HiMD recorders at the low end. However, the machines Sony picked for this role had originally been designed as consumer music players and both had an interface aimed more at navigating through music files, similar to an MP3 player, and didn't have many affordances for field recording. Features from previous high end MD recorders, such as speed control, line-level output, and time-stamps are missing from most HiMD machines, including several of the ones sold to pro markets.

Sony never biult its own HiMD separate components of any kind, a proper replacement to it's Minidisc-based voice and meeting recorders, or more than two models of bookshelf stereo.

Sony did almost make an attempt at diversifying the HiMD market. In 2004 alongside or just after the HiMD launch, they produced a portable recorder without the typical audio and user interface, meant purely as a computer drive, as well as a memory card reader, meant for transferring the contents of a camera memory card onto a HiMD-format disc.

The manuals for all Sony's HiMD recorders proudly proclaim that in addition to audio, you can use your computer's file browser to put normal data on it. They do say "archival" but the sell here seems to be, before flash drives got cheap and after the fall of the Iomega Zip format, using your music player as a convenient way to carry incidental data around. Apple allowed something similar with the iPod and almost all other file-based players expose a filesystem that can be used this way.

But, you still can't sell what you're not advertising or marketing and Sony produced almost zero North American marketing for HiMD as a concept or any particular machines, other than putting them on it's web site, or datasheets for pro resellers for certain models.

08: File Orientation

Briefly: NetMD and HiMD are emblematic of an important shift in how people were managing their music, and how Sony was providing tools for using that music on the go.

NetMD, as mentioned, was added to the format at the end of 2001. The base format remained the same, NetMD as a technology is only a new way to record discs, but in using NetMD as a technology, at the time, you were committing your music to Sony's software ecosystem, using OpenMG software such as OpenMG JukeBox, SonicStage, or other tools from different hardware manufacturers, such as BeatJam, third party software shipped by Sharp in Japan.

In this model, you would import WAVs, WMAs, or MP3s into SonicStage, or use it to rip your CD library directly, and then transfer the ripped files to any of Sony's OpenMG-compatible hardware products, which included the NetMD recorders, CD-R/RW discs for file-enabled portable CD players, Memory-Stick and built-in Flash based Network Walkmans, and Network Walkmans with hard disks.

Conceptually, this is very similar to the iPod and iTunes, although because Sony started doing this before the Diamond Multimdia lawsuit in 1999, and also because Sony is itself a record label, it started with a few limitations.

The primary limitations from when NetMD shipped in 2002:

Anyway, the main takeaway is that you could treat minidisc media in a manner somewhat similar to an iPod. It was during this period minidisc had its peak moment in North America, with Sony selling 300,000ish units in the USA during 2003. We don't have an official breakdown, but going by what's on the secondary market, a very large number of these were low end units sold at WalMart and club stores such as Costco and Sam's Club in various bundles.

Music-as-files became the default way most people engaged with digital music and the iPod, among other file-oriented digital audio players are largely what replaced minidisc in North America.

Sony's play with this strategy appears to have been to get existing and new minidisc users alike ready to migrate to new formats such as memory stick, ATRAC CD, and hard disk based players.

HiMD hardware, in HiMD mode, amps all of this up to eleven, primarily because as an ecosystem, Sony itself implemented HiMD almost exclusively in portable machines. Two HiMD tabletop/bookshelf stereos exist in Japan only, but Sony never implemented a HiMD car stereo, settop hifi component, or even a CD/HiMD fast-dubber hifi component.

Instead: in the file-oriented environment, Sony appears to argue: you already have the music on your computer, why not burn a custom audio CD for your home hifi, or send music to it over the network, or burn an ATRAC3 CD for your kid's cheap AT3/MP3 CD player or for your car's ATRAC3 CD player. In fact, If you have HiMD for its cost or flexibility, but you need something for sports, why not fill that gap with a flash-based Network Walkman, rather than selling a sports-specific HiMD machine?

Whether or not Sony itself succeeded, this model is the ultimate truth of most digital media consumption during the 2000s and into the 2010s. Almost everybody outside of Japan got used to ripping CDs, trading files, and generally computerizing their music libraries.

09: The End: Minidisc's Slowdown and the Long Tail

HiMD ultimately did worse than the classic MD and MDLP formats, globally.

HiMD suffered in North America and Europe because it was timed to almost exactly match the launch of the iPod Mini. The iPod mini was the first variation on the iPod as a theme and used an even smaller drive with a 4-gigabyte capacity, while boasting very similar sound quality, battery life, and a much better onboard user interface and much better computer software.

HiMD suffered in Japan because while you can *technically* get away without it, you almost *have* to have a computer, ideally one with a pretty big hard drive to use HiMD. As mentioned: Sony themselves did not offer a HiMD hifi component or really any tooling around successfully authoring and editing HiMD discs without a computer - even the bookshelf stereos were explicitly set up for computer usage.

In the classic MD-MDLP ecosystem, Sony offered options such as the CD-TEXT transfer cables for portables and set-top recorders, editing and titling remotes for the portable machines, QWERTY titling remotes for decks and bookshelf stereos, decks with PS/2 keyboard ports. In HiMD, the only option to get to any of that was to hook up to a computer and run SonicStage.

Internationally, that's much less of a big deal. The iPod and other file-oriented options (even things like Sony's own ATRAC/MP3 CD players) were gaining in popularity globally, so HiMD should have done pretty well.

A contributing factor, internationally, is likely that Sony didn't market it. At $150-180 for the mid-range HiMD machines, with the ability to record off of a microphone or line level sources and the ability to rip those recordings back to a computer, the format should probably have done better, but didn't. This is in the era when voice memo recorders were still at best flash media devices with dozens of megabytes of storage, and still cost as much or more than a minidisc recorder.

Even co-selling the machines into the pro market doesn't seem to have made a difference.

In 2006, Sony introduced One Final Model to the portable minidisc lineup. It was also co-sold as a pro field recorder and may have done slightly better in that role. Many people praise it as a swan song and breathlessly claim it's the best minidisc machine ever, but more observant users noted that it was akward to actually use as a portable music player. That's because the thing was designed and built with the near-singular focus on "Japanese people use it to rip all their old minidiscs so they can migrate to a newer, computerized music ecosystem". Sony left that model on sale until 2011 as part of leaving it available as a transition tool, and, it was widely available in Japan as a rental as part of that transitional purpose.

In Japan, Sony and other companies continued introducing and selling new MDLP hardware beyond that, with Sony itself building no fewer than seven new MDLP bookshelf stereos. Sony discontinued all of its own portable minidisc hardware in 2011, and then its own hifi and bookshelf components in 2013.

With the notable exception of TEAC-TASCAM, the rest of the market followed shortly thereafter. In 2015, TEAC refactored one of its TASCAM pro decks, a CD-MD dubber, into a consumer product which they stocked until the end of 2021.

Sony itself is still manufacturing minidisc recordable media in the form of the MDW80T 80-minute audio disc, and the MMD140B 140-megabyte data disc. This program is recorded on an MDW80T and due to the plan looks, small record labels use these discs for modern indie releases and hobbyists use them for other custom labeling. They're also available in bulk.

In 2024, the MDW80T retails for 385 yen for a single, which is roughly $2.60 for a single. In bulk 150-packs, the price goes down a bit, making it, if you need a lot of discs. That's more than in 2004, but often less than buying other old stock media.

10: The Modern Environment

Minidisc is having a minor revival.

Interest appears to be at an all-time high, globally. There's active communities on several social and forum platforms, with new people popping in regularly.

There are modern releases, these are often bulk dubbed from computer or CD to minidisc using pro equipment and titled with serial control. These use the modern MDW80T or similar discs and UV printing. These releases, as with the original pressed releases in the 1990s, are a fun but minority part of the format.

But the core of the format is really recording your own, whether that's your own mixtapes, directly copying full albums, or making copies of DJ mixes or other mixes, and that's never been easier.

There's different reasons to use or try minidisc. Some people get a focus boost out of it, finding it easier to enjoy a full album if the album is on its own disc. Some people find it easier to make focused playlists in the sixty to eighty minute format. Some people want a backup or alternative to listening to music on their phone, for any number of reasons.

The presumptive "market" of options for these use cases is pretty wide open, but minidisc, even in the 2020s has basically all the same advantages over CDs and cassettes, up to and including being faster and easier to write (especially with the modern NetMD software) and being Good Enough quality for most use cases.

Getting started is easy! If you're in the US (where this program was recorded and distributed) you can hop on eBay and search for minidisc hardware either generically, by series or specific models, and sometimes by specific features.

For as uncommon as minidisc hardware was here in the US, it sold well enough here that there's almost always a couple hundred different machines and thousands of available re-recordable discs. You can sometimes find a recorder bundled together with some discs for under a hundred bucks.

In addition, Japanese proxy sites offer the ability to buy from Japan, an option many people prefer because you can pay less up front for a wider variety of hardware. Japan is especially a great source of slim player-only models, with literally thousands of options in all manner of styles, shapes, and colors.

Modern NetMD software has advanced significantly over the last 3-5 years by a handful of different people and the format has been cracked wide open. Doing a modern minidisc burn is as easy or maybe easier than burning a CD. Discs authored with the modern software are often better encoded than period discs for all sub-formats, and Minidiscs can now be ripped using a much wider variety of machines for archival or to shift audio to another disc.

Even without NetMD, many computers have digital output and USB sound cards with it are cheaper than ever. You can even record off the headphone jack of your computer or phone. If you have CDs, you can pair a minidisc recorder with a cheap old CD or DVD player with a digital output.

Minidisc is very well-documented too. The most common modern resource is minidisc dot wiki, the most complete known collection of information about the format complete with user guides and service manuals for the most common hardware, troubleshooting and repair guides, as well as some getting started information.

I've also assembled some more detailed trip reports and recommendations from my own time with the format at the web address stenoweb dot net slash minidisc

That's it for me -- I hope you've enjoyed this look at something a little off the beaten path. Thank you for your time!

As ever: please be aware I've done the best I can to represent continental and national trends, but individual experiences can be different.