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Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Mini Disc was the home taping technology that dare not speak its name

Sony have announced they are no longer making MiniDisc players. This is not a surprise.

They were launched in 1992 as an attempt to challenge the compact disc, which had been developed primarily by Philips. Sony still believed, as it had believed when it launched Betamax, that if it controlled the hardware it would control the software.

MiniDisc was a fiddly medium and difficult to love but it had one great thing going for it. For the first time it offered the home taper a flexibility you could never achieve with cassette. You could record a bunch of tunes, then edit or delete them and change their order. In 1992 that was heady stuff.

Problem was Sony could never be seen to say anything positive about home taping. I was once paid to present this technology to a dealers convention but it was made plain that they didn't want me lingering on the one thing that made it an exciting technology.

After that you only ever saw it being used by bands or radio producers. The public didn't get why they might like it because every effort was made to keep it from them. Thus it languished and bigger technological fish came along to eat the record companies' lunch.

Last week Philips announced that it was no longer in the consumer electronics market. Amazing.

10 comments:

ASH On The Beat said...

The portable did well for a while in Bootleg City.

Stephen Towler said...

I had one and loved it. You can't expect not to tell anyone about something while going they buy it!

Stephen Towler said...

Sorry, ` hoping they buy it `

Simon said...

I've still got two full-size decks and two portables, but couldn't tell you when I last used any of them. It was the editing abilities that really sold me on the format - being able to record a concert off the tv then seamlessly cut out the adverts was just wonderful. And for a couple of years I produced music trivia quizzes to play with friends and being able to grab an exact 20 second clip of a song was so easy...

Mondo said...

For a lengthy stretch MD seemed the perfect format (I was a user from 97 to 05). These fun-sized CDs that you could edit and tweak on the fly had punchy sound quality, impressive functionality and dandy in-line controls. I owned a deck, several portables - one being USB connectable, which transferred songs via a proto-iTunes interface. What could go wrong? Well, DRM. Which effectively brick-walled the option for any second generation copying. That, and the refusal to engage fully with the MP3 format

Commercial loopholes and liabilities that withered MDs appeal even with new options(Hi density MDs anyone?), and made Apple's developing new tech, seem like the future (which it was).

Gary Parkinson said...

I was in tech journalism around the time MD came out, so I got a free go – and was completely sold. As noted, the editability was wonderful; I often think Sky+ would benefit enormously from same, but obviously we'd all simply cut out the adverts of the stuff we kept.

Still got boxes of 'em upstairs. Must archive them, because unlike vinyl, I'm not going to go back to sitting around all evening listening to them...

Peter said...

I heart mini-discs. I used to love recording 80 minute mixes of vinyl into them of anything and everything.

Lee Morton said...

I too was very taken by the format and rapidly acquired a number of portable and "separates". I archived a bunch of BBC music documentaries (the Story of Pop (1994), The Beatles at The BEEB, Bowie at the Beeb, etc). Made up compilations. Many holidays were enhanced by a portable player and a stack of discs. Seemed like the ultimate in portability at the time. Sigh!

tokyo-tony said...

Here in Japan, just about every home had a mini disc player. Still plenty around even now.

David said...

Still got my MD deck. This was the closest they came to the warm vinyl sound. Versatile and easy to use, my buddy and I used to do create and swap the equivalent of mixtapes in MD format. One of our highlights was 'Miserable Melodies' a selection of tracks to take you down and keep you there! I think the first track was Pink Floyd's 'Seamus' from the 'Meddle' album.