Hardly a blip on the musical time line from records to eight-track to cassette to CD to MP3 player, the MiniDisc is the coolest portable music device that never took off, making it the perfect device to spotlight for this week’s Technology Throwback Thursday.
Smaller than an original iPod with the ability to hold 80 minutes of music on a standard MiniDisc, more than the standard cassette would allow (23 minutes per side), the MiniDisc player was compact enough to beat out the Discman portable CD player but had the cool factor that far outpaced the Walkman. It should have been the ultimate portable music device.
Quick trivia break: which was the first MiniDisc to be released in the US by a recording studio? Find the answer at the bottom.
So what happened? The big benefit the MiniDisc had over CDs was that it was re-recordable, like a cassette, but could be scanned like a CD. As CD-Rs became more affordable, and prices for MiniDisc players and media stayed high, technology buffs started to move over toward CDs even more heavily, leaving the MiniDisc as a legend in Japan, but few other places. At the same time, record companies weren’t producing albums on the MiniDisc at nearly the same rate they were for cassettes and CDs, because the customers just weren’t there. The combination of those factors led to the downfall of the MiniDisc.
Unbelievably, Sony continued to sell MiniDisc players until March 2013! You’d have to be incredibly devoted to MiniDiscs to be buying those players last year…probably the same people who still insist on buying cars with eight-track players.
So for this week’s Technology Throwback Thursday, let’s celebrate the coolest musical innovation that never took off. The MiniDisc player may well be the Betamax to CDs and MP3 players, but at least they got their moment in the sun. A very, very brief moment…mostly in Japan.
And Mariah Carey’s MTV Unplugged was the first MiniDisc to be released in the US by a recording studio on December 7, 1992.