1998 in MiniDiscs - The good times

October 13, 2013

Earlier this February, Sony stopped producing MiniDisc players.

Yet another incredibly sad moment, I must say. MDs were a part and parcel of my life in the late 1990s to the early 2000s.

I never made it a point to transition the music device from my humble but reliable cassette player, Sony Walkman WM-FX511, to the CD player. Somehow, CD players felt rather large. No matter how good manufacturers made them, the size of these music devices were always limited by the size of the storage media, the Compact Disc. Sony and Panasonic made some really slim and elegant players but somehow, big was still the word that came to mind.

Instead, jumping directly to the MiniDisc format seemed to be ideal. It seemed to hold quite some potential for the future. As incredulous as this comment may seem in 2013, you have to understand how things functioned in 1998.

MD portables actually being portable
In 1998, Sony and Sharp were the dominant players in portable recorders. Sony had released the Sony MZ-R55, the first genuine disc sized recorder. All their previous releases were rectangular blocks so a square-sized, MD-shaped contraption represented quite a welcome change. Sharp was just a little earlier in coming up with MD-sized units such as the MD-MS701 in 1997 and looked set to continue the trend with their MS721/722 models released in '98. All this pointed to increasingly MiniDisc-sized recorders and players. The smaller they get, the more attractive they get. Sounds the same for every tech device for that matter (TVs excluded).

MD portables were getting increasingly more affordable. If recollection serves well, Sony's MZ-R50 / R30 models were in the region of SGD500 - 600+. The new portables from Sony and Sharp were hitting the upper 400/lower 500 levels. As with all technology, once increasingly established, prices drop due to ease of manufacturing, increasing parts availability, consumer acceptance, etc.

Digital Love
At this point in time, what could allow digital playback for a recording enthusiast? I'm the kind to actually listen to radio and actually record music from there with a trusty cassette deck. CDs certainly couldn't perform this function. There were Digital Audio Tape (DAT) and Digital Compact Cassette (DCC) formats but DAT was not very consumer-ish and DCC didn't really represent a threat to MiniDiscs. Somehow, the association for DCC was with Philips only and MD seemed to be taking off with Sony, Sharp, Panasonic all joining the fray. So MDs for digital recording/playback? Why not?

MP3 begins
MP3s were only just starting out and MP3 players were very 'underground' should I say? People were just starting to figure out how to download Cher's Believe ie. where to get the the music, how to download the music, how to listen to the music. Not many were thinking of what portable device could play MP3s. Furthermore, memory prices were crazy. One of the first players, the Diamond Rio PMP300, was just introduced with 32MB of storage. That was insane. With this capacity, realistically we were looking at 3 or 4 songs max? That said, MP3s and their players were really not a viable option in 1998.

So with this, why not jump on the MD bandwagon? It was quite a straightforward decision. This was the beginning of wonderful memories with using MiniDiscs, at least until an equally attractive and compact proposition in the form of the iPod mini popped out in 2004. However, for five to six long years, the MiniDisc was a wonderful format for recording.

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