Reply to Stereophile, re: MD's Relaunch

Jon Deutsch ([email protected])

Dear Stereophile,

In your article on the recent Sony MD promotion, you write:

Sony first rolled out the MiniDisc technology several years back as a recordable digital replacement for the cassette tape.
Just as an FYI -- Sony, in fact, did not market the MD as a replacement for the cassette. Consumer confusion ensued primarily because it was thought that MD was a replacement for the ``just getting really hot'' CD market. A mistake that Sony has publicly taken the blame for in several press releases.
Critics have claimed that the MiniDisc format's heavy data-compression scheme limits its use as a high-quality digital recording and playback medium. They also cite its high cost relative to cassette recorders and players as a detriment to the target market, especially high school and college-aged buyers.
It is quite true that critics claim to have a problem with the ATRAC compression scheme (5:1 compression used to be considered ``heavy'', but it quickly becoming ``light'' as heavier schemes are used for AC3, etc.). What is misleading is your statement that critics don't find the reproduction to be of ``high-quality.'' In fact, most critics do state that the output is very high-quality, but state that MD output is not of ``professional quality.'' This is a distinction that I feel should be made clearly.
But Sony insists that the public wants a smaller, recordable digital medium. John Briesch states that ``People for years have expressed themselves through music. MiniDisc gives people the ability to easily personalize their own music without the problems associated with analog cassettes.''
I completely concur with Sony's market research. The CD has successfully brought us out of the analog LP format, and MD should successfully bring us out of the analog cassette format. Why stick to analog, spurious-quality, friction-driven cassette when there's a digital, random-access recordable medium available?
Which brings up an interesting point. Sony is marketing the MD as a way for folks to record from existing CDs, since the market for prerecorded MDs is practically nonexistent. Yet we all know how much the music business hates digital recording. The RIAA has been very firm in controlling DAT, Recordable CD, and DVD-Audio.
From a consumer perspective, I don't think the target audience of MD even knows about the RIAA, or its intentions. It's very plausible to believe that consumers will find the MD congruent to the cassette with respect to recordability and legality.

From the RIAA perspective, two things:

  1. It's not a true digital copy (lossy compression)
  2. SCMS is implemented --- the RIAA has already dealt with MD's potential issues.
I believe you do your readers a disservice by not acknowledging the 2nd item, especially if you are bringing up the RIAA angle in your article.
So maybe MD sounds mediocre enough that nobody cares, or perhaps it sounds decent but nobody really thinks it will ever take off. Regardless, Sony is hoping you'll crave a MiniDisc soon. It's also interesting to note that Sony, one of the originators of the CD, has yet to join the ranks of manufacturers announcing inexpensive CD recorders for the consumer market. A mere coincidence?
Perhaps you could add some value to your article and actually give your opinion on the quality of the MD output, and of the format itself. Commenting on the marketing of a music format, and outlining political issues surrounding it, is good information, but a Stereophile article should go past a Wall Street Journal-type report and address the critics' and supporters' assertions.


Jon Deutsch

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