Mini-Marvel: Let's Hear it for the MiniDisc - by Gus Silber

Let's hear it for the MiniDisc, the coolest thing to happen to portable hi-fi since the invention of the Sony WalkMan

Journalist Gus Silber, alerts Johannesburg to the dawn of MiniDisc in South Africa, in this article reproduced from the local magazine Style

[Gus Silber explains: MiniDisc has not taken off to any noticeable extent in South Africa, and the Sony MZ-R50 is currently the only model available. Hence the broader, non-technical, consumer-based angle of this piece.]

Rrrriiinnnnnppp! You recognise the sound. It is a cassette tape, the most ubiquitous recording-and-playback medium of our age, being unwound from its plastic shell by an inquisitive infant, a bored grown-up, or an in-car stereo system delivering the ultimate judgement on your taste in music.

Let's face it. There are few things as calculated to unwind a person as a cassette tape that has reached the end of its tether, which is why I am happy to report the imminent demise of this fragile, flaky, formerly state-of-the-art format. Imminent demise? Yep. Let me tell you why I have no qualms about putting this seemingly reckless prediction down in writing.

A few months ago, idling away the hours in transit at Heathrow Airport, I succumbed to temptation, unburdened myself of a couple of hundred Pound Sterling, and strolled swiftly off to catch my flight with a brand-new Sony MZ-R50 MiniDisc recorder in my carry-on luggage.

I could tell you that the MiniDisc is the biggest thing to happen to portable hi-fi technology since the invention of the Sony WalkMan. But that would be wrong. It is the smallest thing. So tiny, that it makes your average so-called Compact Disc look as ancient and cumbersome as a Long Playing record. Indeed, when you first set eyes on a MiniDisc, you may think it is a CD that somehow shrunk in the wash, and has now been sandwiched in a clear plastic case for protection. But you're not supposed to stare at the thing. For inside that sturdy, virtually infant-proof shell, lies a bigness of sound that will simply blow you away.

MiniDisc is a digital format, which means it does not suffer from the warble, flutter, and wear and tear associated with the cassette tapes it is clearly designed to replace.

To non-canine ears, furthermore, the crispness, clarity, and dynamic response of music on MiniDisc is indistinguishable from that of CD, with one crucial difference: you can record on MiniDisc, supposedly up to a million times without any noticeable deterioration in quality.

Hook your MZ-R50 up to your home hi-fi, and you will be able to duplicate your CD's and even your Long Playing records with astonishing fidelity, on discs that can conveniently accommodate up to 74 minutes of sound. But that is only the beginning.

Add a good stereo or binaural microphone to the mix, and you will soon hear why this nifty little device, which slips easily and discreetly into a shirt pocket, has become a favourite of birdwatchers and bootleggers around the globe. (Bootlegging: the art of recording a live musical event by stealth. Extreme caution advised.)

I use my MZ-R50 for audio note-taking, interviews, and just generally soaking up the 'ambience' of a place. The quality of reproduction, in just about any setting, is good enough for broadcast, and is certainly enough to put my high-end Sony WalkMan D6C stereo casette-recorder to shame. Small wonder that the MiniDisc, after a shaky start, is being warmly embraced by gadget freaks and road warriors as the coolest item yet on an evolutionary chart that has already consigned vinyl, eight-track, reel-to-reel and the Digital Compact Casette to the scrapheap of history.

To be fair, there will always be a place for the common audio casette, if only as a distraction for toddlers or a means of relieving executive stress. But once you have seen, heard, and felt the power of recordable MiniDisc for yourself, you too will learn that the future is bright, shiny, and small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Ask your friendly hi-fi dealer for a demo today.

27 January 1999 - Gus Silber

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