Hi-Fi World, October '97

David Price

Ah, the Internet - that repository of useless information perfect for Sunday supplement journos to wax lyrical over. As for me, if I read another wide-eyed exposition of "the Net", it's "cyber-surfers" and "techno-freaks", I'll be reaching for the sick bucket.

Fast becoming the supreme Nineties' bandwagon, the Net is packed with dullards who think they're interesting enough to have their own homepage. Hell, even 'Just' William Hague has one! Still, ignore the millions or rainforest-killing column inches devoted to the subject, the countless lists of "cyber-cafes" (yawn) and Internet lifestyle gurus, and you might be surprised to find that there are actually some good reasons to go "on line".

You see, the Internet is particularly suited to specialist subjects, and as World readers surely know, hi-fi is just such a pursuit. Our own website ( is a small but perfectly formed contribution to the genre, and there are many, many more. But what has really surprised me is that the best hi-fi related site I've seen is not, as you'd expect, something to do with vinyl tweaking or 'speaker building but, of all things, MiniDisc. - known to humans as The MiniDisc Community Page - is quite the most remarkable hi-fi resource you could ever imagine. Sited in Australia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Japan and the U.S. and written entirely in English, it's run by one Eric Woudenberg ([email protected]) who's very possibly the most dedicated hi-fi enthusiast you'll ever encounter.

Pay a visit and you'll find an amazingly comprehensive site, with a complete history of the format down to every last magazine mention, including my own enthusiastic review on Sony's MDS-JE500. There's every technical article you could want, reprinted from hi-fi mags all around the world (including Japan's prestigious MJ), links to every MD hardware manufacturer and extensive product overviews. And it gets better.

Rather than featuring the usual manufacturer sponsored advertising spiel, the Community Page is packed with FAQs (Net-speak for Frequently Asked Questions) and some mind-bogglingly detailed technical features on MD hardware.

You can download MSDOS and Windows programmes which hook up to your MD machine to provide extensive editing and titling facilities, the PC software controlling the MD machine's own disc operating system! And how about a MiniDisc Audio Transfer system that decompresses ATRAC and stores it on a PC hard drive, or a list of Sony's MD remote control codes? Yep, MiniDisc hacking is fast becoming The Next Big Thing (errm, in MiniDisc circles at least).

And then of course there's the politics, Eric is especially hot on this hornet's nest and publishes a litany of features and excerpts from the likes of the Washington Post, the Nikkei and the Wall Street Journal, as well as countless European and U.S. hi-fi mags. Each piece gives this much maligned format a lot of 'good copy', although in the interests of fairness and impartiality, Eric also includes an ill-tempered rant from Stereo Review.

ATRAC, the data compression system that makes MD possible, is the subject of much talk too, rather in the way vinyl junkies chat about exotic moving coils. To wit, we have archive technical pieces on ATRAC 2 (yuk!), detailed tracts on ATRAC 3 and 4 (ATRAC 3.5 seems to be regarded as MD's great leap forward, while 4 is currently considered the only chip to have). There's even insider gossip on Sony's recently abandoned policy of refusing to supply other manufacturers with anything newer than version 3.0 - Hello magazine would kill to carry so much tittle-tattle!

As for the format's users, Eric dispassionately observes that people who use MD regularly "become quite fond of the format" and goes on to talk about "cool things people are doing". Be warned, this little disc is being used for everything from restoring antique Music Boxes to ground based sensors in NASA sonic-boom propagation experiments. I kid you not. There are even stories of MD in Russia, of using Sharp MD portables in American square dancing and as an aid to snowboarding. No one but no one could have made this up...

So there you have it, possibly the most comprehensive website on any subject ever and it just happens to be about MiniDisc. As for me, those happy memories of Hi-Fi World's Sony MDS-JE500 review remain, and I'm beginning to get the feeling I might have to buy an MD machine for myself pretty soon. Should I go for a home recorder or a portable? Well, one thing's for sure - if I opt for the latter, I'd be a fool not to access the MiniDisc Community Page's link to Motorola LiIon Cells and Battery Management Techniques!

HiFi World's address is:

Audi Publishing Ltd
66 Castellain Road
Maida Vale
London W9 1EX

Fax: +44-171-289 5620

Return to the MiniDisc Community Page.