Using MiniDiscs in the 2020's

tags: reviews

Incoming links: Software and equipment I use

MiniDisc was a an audio format meant to replace CDs in the mid noughts. It was hampered by Sony's terrible DRM schemes and later completely wiped out by mp3 players, which were solid-state (except for iPods), cheaper, smaller, and a lot more accessible. Despite this, the retrofuturistic appearance of the discs have made them appear in a number of science fiction movies, including my favourites The Matrix and Strange Days.

I like them because the discs (and hence the players) are small enough to be conveniently portable, but large enough to not get lost like an SD card would. They also allow for physical interaction with playlists/mixtapes in a way that digital media does not. I sometimes dream of making a skeumorphic music player based around these artificial constraints.

For a long time NetMD, the protocol that would allow you to copy music onto a MiniDisc from a computer, was unusable. The DRM would only allow you to transfer music using Sony's SonicStage, a terrible piece of proprietary software that of course would not run on a modern machine. However, fairly recently the protocols were reverse engineered, and now the entire stack is available in WebUSB-compatible Web prowsers using [the wonderful WebMD](WEB MD LINK). This makes NetMD players usable again, in fact a lot more usable than they were when they were originally released! Unfortunately, they are now also notoriously expensive on the second hand market.

Additionally, some record labels, primarily in the vaporwave and retrowave genres have begun releasing original music on MiniDiscs.

My MiniDisc Players

I have two MiniDisc players, one Sharp MD-MT831 I got as a gift after I complained about the price of MD players online (!?!), and one XXX model NetMD I bought mainly for recording. A regular MD player can play MDs recorded by a NetMD, so I use the first one to burn disks I play on the second one, usually at work.

The Sharp player is using a replacement battery from Small Battery Company that I laboriously imported since they do not ship outside of the UK.