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iPod Killed the Minidisc Star

The iDA-X001 again shows how dominant the iPod is in its market. The other day, I noticed a box of Minidiscs lying dormant on a shelf in my lounge. I loved the Minidisc format and was its champion ever since it launched in 1992. I used to love making compilations and being able to move tracks around on a disc but in a way that didn’t degrade sound quality however many times you played them. Try doing that with tape - it just blew me away. When I got my first proper job in 1998 and I was able to afford my first set of Hi-Fi separates, they naturally included a Sony Minidisc deck. I was dead chuffed. I was so excited I called over a mate to come over to check it out, and he was quite bemused that he’d rushed over just to see a box that he didn’t understand or care about. I also went through numerous portable players and delighted in how small they got with each generation. My final Minidisc purchase was an in-car deck for a lovely little Renault Clio, the presence of which seemed to confuse the poor chap who later bought the car from me. I think six years later he’s still trying to work out how to fit CDs and tapes into it.

However, the onwards march of technology has a way of making us into fickle beasts, no matter the enthusiasm we have for kit at any one point. The death knell for Minidisc as a major format was sounded when a Steve jobs launched a certain small white music player at a remarkably low key event in October 2001. I reviewed an iPod in early 2002 and since then I was hooked. I couldn’t afford one until 2003, but since then my once beloved Minidiscs have been gathering dust. The only real use they have was a couple of years ago as chewing material for my little boy, who at the time had a penchant for biting on them when teething. A rather ignominious end, really.

The point is that we have to move on. Minidisc was awesome in its time and even now Sony has improved it to the extent that it still has a place in 2007 – but just not for the masses.

Alpine has pretty much got it right then with the iDA-X001 – it’s really what drivers have been waiting for and reflects a wider move away from optical media. UMD on the PSP has died a rightful death as a movie format and if Sony was with-it, which we know it isn’t, it would drop it altogether from the PSP2 and ship games in some form of solid state format. It might seem off to be sounding the death knell for optical media when so much investment has been made into HD DVD and Blu-ray players but as Bill Gates observed in late 2005, Blu-ray and HD DVD will probably be the last physical consumer media formats that battle it out. Once they’ve had their time it will all be hard disks and streaming media. Of course there are new boys on the block such as In Phase with its Holographic storage and its humungous capacity, but that’s aimed at the professional and data archiving markets and that’s where I think it will stay.

But while I’m here signing the CD’s death certificate, I’m actually presented with a problem. I like CDs. I want them. If I really want an album, I buy it on CD, rip it at the highest quality possible, usually Apple Lossless, and then store the CD on my shelf as a master. If the CD dies as a format, it’ll take high quality recordings with it and the public won’t really give a damn – its utter indifference to high resolution formats such as DVD Audio and SACD is testament to that. What we need then is the ability to download genuinely CD quality music and then encode into a format of our choice. Until that happens the CD will have a place – as a digital master. Only once we’ve got the server and broadband infrastructure will the curtain fall on the shiny silver disc.

The CD hasn’t quite left the building, but it’s hovering near the door. Will the last optical format left remember to turn out the lights.

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