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Last week, Sony announced they were ceasing production of the MiniDisc, a statement met by almost universal bemusement that the format still existed. Even as vinyl and cassette sales are enjoying resurgence, the much-ignored MiniDisc has failed to inspire quite the same feelings of nostalgia. Its banishment to the scrapheap is merely a formality for a technology that’s been dead since Apple launched the iPod in 2001.
It’s a sad coming of age for a format that would have turned 21 this year. Released at the wrong time, the MiniDisc may have offered all the flexibility of tape with a host of digital benefits, but its prohibitive cost and fiddly recording was a real turnoff for anyone looking to replace their Walkman. When first the affordable CD-R and then the MP3 player launched just a few years later, the MiniDisc was staring down the barrel of obsolescence.
But though the format may have been a novelty outside Japan for the last decade, there are those who’ll mourn its absence.
Bristol’s heroic reggae OAP has been DJing from a pair of MiniDisc players since his vinyl collection got too big to store in his house. And though the endless hours that must have gone into digitising, slicing and naming over 30,000 records would make strong men weep, compared to the fact that Derek’s travelled on every National Express line, and visited every Wetherspoons in the UK, it seems an almost pleasant task.
Still a regular fixture on the UK’s reggae circuit, Derek’s career has outlasted cassettes, CDs and now the MiniDisc. No doubt he’ll still be playing when Traktor’s a faded memory.
In 1998 Gescom released ‘MiniDisc’, the first album exclusively available on, un/surprisingly, MiniDisc. It took advantage of the format’s gapless playback, where even on “random” every track ran together without any silence – a feature unavailable on CD. The album’s 88 tracks were designed to be played in shuffle, to create a unique and seamless arrangement every time it was listened to.
Its’s since been repressed on CD, and made available digitally, which undermines the original concept somewhat. But though technology may have moved on, the MiniDisc retained an admittedly small attraction for IDM labels through the 00s, even despite Sony ceasing production of pre-recorded MiniDiscs in 2001. Perhaps drawn to the niche appeal of a format most people didn’t even have the equipment to listen to, a handful of labels like n5MD were launched as MiniDisc-only, although those that survived have since started offering their music digitally.
From n5MD’s first release in 2000, MD1
The odd sound artist occasionally pops up, offering double-figure runs of hand-recorded MiniDiscs complete with individual collaged inlays, but its days as a mass-distribution medium are long gone.
Bands and DJs that don’t like laptops onstage
Before the advent of cheap laptop studios, the MiniDisc offered an affordable way of recording at near-CD quality. If you wanted to chronicle a set, a rehearsal, or even try your hand at multi-tracking, the MiniDisc’s near-infinite re-recording capacity and an audio quality that far surpassed cassette made it a handy option.
Of course, compared to Ableton the MiniDisc is a pretty limp prospect, even for those with limited means (and torrents have made even that an ignorable factor for most). But if you want to archive your live sets without risking a pint poured all over your laptop, the MiniDisc still holds up, especially when you can pick one up on eBay for around £30.
Halfcare Gunroom recorded live onto MiniDisc in 2005
A man called David Weinberg
For three years, David Weinberg recorded all his conversations. An aspiring radio producer who was too shy to ask for interviews, he instead wired himself up with a MiniDisc recorder and began to secretly archive endless hours of his life.
He’s since made some of those recordings available, which you can even download as a podcast should you so wish. They offer a largely tedious insight into someone else’s life, but one that would never have been possible without the MiniDisc.