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Will MiniDisc Survive?

Richard Reid
May 2000

MiniDisc, the successor of the venerable audio cassette, will certainly continue to serve as an elegant, versatile digital recording/playback medium for years to come. This digital elegance has given my now defunct LP and cassette collection new life and longevity. My MiniDisc recordings with microphone rank as the best I've ever made, notwithstanding the inevitable trials and errors of inexperience.

Rhythm and blues on ten-inch 78 rpm records and AM radio broadcasts provided much of my earliest experience with recorded music. When LPs and 45s became available in 1948, we barely took notice. Even FM radio remained a mystery to me until 1957. Later contention between eight-tracks and cassettes in the 1960s only caught my attention when dolby noise reduction made cassettes comparable to open reel, and certainly much easier to use. By the 1980s cassette sales surpassed LPs, but then digitally-recorded LPs began appearing in the late 1970s. I heard my first CD in 1984 and knew this would sound the death knell of LPs.

Each recording technology seemed permanent and irreplaceable in its moment of glory. We fretted over and tweaked turntables and tape decks, trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to draw ever nearer to an unapproachable ideal of sound reproduction, never even dimly imagining the transformations to be wrought by the advent of CD, MiniDisc, CD recorders, and MP3. Our eyes blur in swirls of acronyms as technologies vie for market acceptance.

With their inherent disadvantages, cassette dubs of CDs would still be the finest recordings on cassette. But the charm the cassette began to cloy. I grew weary of trying to counter print-through echo, tangled and broken tape, errant tape decks devouring favored recordings. The arrival of MiniDisc in the early 1990s made clear that my owning such a remarkable device would be a primary goal. We've since purchased four MiniDisc decks and one portable playback. At the college where I teach, my suggestions have led to the purchase five MiniDisc decks with more on the way. My teaching colleagues and I continue to use MiniDisc for teaching French, German, Spanish, music, drama, and poetry.

Even professional recording studios where I occasionally do voice work began to relinquish their dependence on reel-to-reel tape for the advantage of DAT and Macintosh- or Windows-based computer programs to record audio. But the allure of MiniDisc was its utter simplicity, offering a wealth of versatility, heretofore the exclusive domain of professional studios. Superb instrumentality without recourse to the added complexity of booting up a Mac or Windows PC.

Nothing in electronics, however attractive, can tarry longer than a few rich decades. New audio recording and playback methodologies seem now expected to displace their antecedents, increasing storage capacity simultaneously decreasing the size of the storage medium. For the time being, MiniDisc, recordable CDs, and MP3 will continue a more or less interdependent yet fretful coexistence. But supersession remains inevitable as the exigencies of each subsequent human generation determines.

Many hobbyists lovingly and painstakingly collected many LPs, and, utilizing all kinds of nostrums, attempted to forestall LP's inherent tendency to wear and gather sound-occluding dust. By dubbing them to metal dolbyized cassettes, we sought to capture the LP's pristine newness before any potential scratch or dust-engendered click ruined their sheen. All of it was delightful, this trying to gain an edge on LP degradation. But the native disadvantages of tape gradually tempered my enthusiasm for open reel and cassettes. Today every cassette (and open reel) problem has been totally and splendidly resolved by the advent of the MiniDisc, and my flagging interest in recording has been revived.

My own treasured cassettes have been recorded one and all onto MiniDisc, now offering the advantage of instantaneous random-searched tracks with titles. I place complete trust in the archival longevity of this digital medium. Now that they are on MiniDisc, the recordings of the older members of my family should remain available to other family members for quite some time, given proper care.

Who in the midst of LP collecting in the 1960s could conceive the demise of the beloved cover-art bedecked LP after its thirty-year reign? With all their faults we enjoyed those LPs. Who could foresee the supersession of dolbyized cassettes? It mattered not. We took cassettes to heart as well.

No medium can survive indefinitely. Yes, turntables can still be had to play LPs. Cassette decks with Dolby B, C, and S may still seduce those reluctant to embrace digital technologies. I suspect precious few 8-tracks are still working! I no longer know anyone who owns or uses a reel-to-reel tape deck. But I know many whose cassette decks sit silently gathering dust. The moribund cassette, though not quite dead, should continue for a while, especially for those who still make use of portable cassette player-recorders.

MiniDisc will long survive and find a useful life well into the 21st century, although eventually some future form of inexpensive solid-state recording and playback technology will inevitably render even MiniDisc as archaic as cylinder recordings now seem. The remarkable flexibility and power of MiniDisc will continue to provide hobbyists with excellent recording and playback capability for well into the 2030s. My confidence in MiniDisc as a long-term useful tool is leading me to consider the purchase of another Sony MDS-JB930 or its successor.

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