Clearing out my office drawer a few days ago, I found myself chasing a small, transparent plastic case around the bottom of the draw, somehow unable to either grab it or work out what it was.
Eventually, victory was mine (I pulled out the draw and tipped it over; I still won!) and sitting on my desk, in all of its 1990s grace, was a small MiniDisc case.
But where was the disc itself?
Caught by pangs of nostalgia for a piece of kit that did exactly what it promised and didn’t have software failures/require updates, I headed to a box at the back of the desk, sitting alongside my old vinyl albums (yes, there is a pattern developing, people). There I found my collection of MiniDiscs, colourful and somehow wanting to be played.
Beside them was my second MiniDisc player, the Sony MZ-R410.
What else could I do?
The Wonder of the MiniDisc
I’m aware that this might sound like the ranting of a man approaching middle age, jaded by years of iPods and MP3 players and OS updates and finding the right app to record with, but the MiniDisc really was a great format. It didn’t have all of that baggage – it was literally a “press play and enjoy” device.
Better still, it was serviced with great players, such as MZ-R410, a nomenclature that resembles an aircraft more than a music player.
A few hours later I was still listening to the MiniDisc player, using the same, single AA battery that was found in the device. It had been a good 6 years since the player had last been used (briefly, when we moved house) so this was pretty impressive.
Most impressive, of course, was the sound quality. I’m a passionate Led Zeppelin fan, and take all sorts of precautions against playing my CDs to avoid scratches. My current method is to store them in FLAC format on a DVD, ready to be restored to my hard drive in the event of a failure. Back when I bought the MiniDisc player, I stored each Led Zeppelin CD album across 4 MiniDiscs, using some useful compression called MDLP. Not ideal and not quite as good as the original CDs, but still superior to MP3.
That’s not all. MiniDiscs still playback data with no issues, unlike CD-R discs from around the same time. I’m sure I’m not alone in having attempted to play an old disc only to find holes in the reflective surface and small green/brown patches where the media has been attacked by fungus.
No such problems trouble MiniDisc – sure, a good dose of magnetism might cause problems, but there is no sign of anything eating my music!
What Now for the Minidisc?
Sadly there isn’t an awful lot you can do with a Sony MiniDisc player in 2012. There are no options for using the discs as data storage – they only hold around 150 MB in any case, so data would be limited.
It remains a shining piece of technology, however, proof that moving parts doesn’t have to mean battery drain within 8 hours, and the quality of the recording and playback is far superior to MP3.
The result is a fondly remembered format that was ideal for recording live music and listening to it again later on, something not easily achievable (or indeed desirable if you have any concept of mobile phone security) with a modern media player/smartphone.
The Romance of Nostalgia
It might have been superseded by MP3 and the popularity of the iPod, but the Sony MiniDisc format was a fantastic example of magnetic media shrunk down yet able to offer high (for the time) storage.
In fact, if you were lucky enough to own a MiniDisc player and a collection of small, handy discs (which were encased in plastic) then the chances are that you still have either the player, discs or both.
Why have you still got them, 10 years on? Probably because you realized at the time how useful and portable the format and the players/recorders were. And now, when you look at them, you appreciate that quality.
Or is it just me? Have I been caught in the romance of nostalgia?
Let me know in the comments!