Minidisc Meets its Match with New "JukePod" Hard Drive Recorder.
by Richard Herz
It has been over a decade now since Sony introduced its ground breaking new Minidisc technology, and since that time, the monolithic electronics giant has seemed hell-bent to use that same shovel to apparently throw dirt back onto its own creation.
Despite meager attempts by well-meaning web sites, like Minidisc.org, to save the Sony invention from its own self-destructive bent, the final truckload of loam was dumped with a resounding thump on MD's coffin with the introduction of the format's heir apparent: hard drive recorders like the affectionately named "Archos del Muchos", the latest "souped-up" version of the vaunted Jukebox Recorder line.
The "JukePod", as some enthusiasts are calling it, (due to its compatibility with Mac computers and their users — a group Sony and its Minidisc chose to snub right to the end) is everything the MD always dreamed it would be: exceptionally small and unbelievably versatile (the unit has a built-in electret condenser microphone capable of capturing all frequencies from 20-20,000khz). What is more, unlike Sony's rare forays into Minidisc with radio tuners, you can actually RECORD from the JukePod's radio onto its hard drive. Who'da thunk?!?
The heart of this "Jukebox on steroids" — and the key to its superbly transparent digital sound, completely free of harmonics, histrionics, dither and slather — is the introduction of IBM's celebrated new quadruple disk drive density, made possible with the so-called "pixie dust" technology.
This magical "dust", which is actually a three-atom-thick layer of the element ruthenium, a precious metal similar to platinum sandwiched between two magnetic layers, allows recordings by the JukePod to be completely uncompressed (take that, ATRAC!). Enjoyed through a pair of Sennheiser HD600 headphones or those remarkable Grado phones, the sound can only be described as ethereal, transplendent, or "out-of-this-worldly".
Low frequencies down to 20khz are virtually odor-free, with no coloration in the mid-range and not a hint of caramelizing in the upper registers. When listening to classic favorites, like Gustav Mahler's Fifth Symphony in B minor, the cello solo in the second movement seemed to leap from the speakers like Jane Mansfield wearing a 1950's bra in a 3-D movie.
Jazz recordings, too, like Louis Armstrong's classic 1947 Decca duet with Ella Fitzgerald ("Stompin' at the Savoie") take on a new vitality unheard of on Minidisc. The greasy gravel of Satchmo's flatulent wheeziness is almost palpable when played through the amazing JukePod. And Ella's haunting sibilance seems to spray from the speakers like a fire hydrant unleashed on the streets of Harlem. The sound makes you want to leap from your seat and run joyfully to fetch an umbrella, a beach towel, or a facial tissue of some kind.
And rock music, too, gains new power and poignancy when paired with the power of pixie dust. Listen carefully to any of Bob Dylan's post-Blood on the Tracks releases through the magnificent JukePod and you can almost imagine what he is saying is intelligible.
Yes, it is sad to have to say "goodbye" to that old geezer, Minidisc. But with hard drive recorders like the potent new JukePod, offering 16Mbps upload and download speeds (i.e. about 256x(!) realtime for 64Kbps MP3 files), allowing news reporters, musicians, and concert goers to share their recordings without clunky "check in and check out" procedures, it is hard to argue that Minidisc's time has not truly come and gone.
So long, Minidisc. We hardly knew ye.