MD = Mini disc recorders

Mini Disc is a Sony invention from the early 90's that was meant to replace the Compact Cassette with a modern digital format, the company had tried this earlier with the DAT but failed due to high costs and other problems related to the VTR derived transports and resistance from American record companies who believed that the sound quality of the DAT machines was good enough to threaten the sales of CD's.

The design of the MD took those factors into consideration, the basic format is an 64mm enclosed magneto-optical disk that had been developed by Sony for use as a data storage solution but was not finalised since other MO formats beat it to the market and its data capacity of approx. 126mb was considered too small to compete with the Compact Disk Recordable and CDRW technologies from Taiyo Yuden, the audio format is a 44.1 Khz 16 bit compressed 4.83:1 (292kbs) using a technology that the company calls ATRAC.

The use of a disk rather than tape format meant cheaper, more compact and reliable mechanisms, the use of a lossy 1:5 compression means that up to 60 minutes (and later up to 80 min. when the data capacity was upped to 140Mb) could be crammed onto the disk and the effect it had on the sound quality appeased the record industry, however that heavy use of compression in addition to a universal implementation of some sort of automatic limiters means that the format is not suitable for professional sound recording but will do just fine as a recreational, A/V support or speech recording device, furthermore the use of the format for archival purposes is also not recommended since MO disc of this type have an unproven lifetime, although in all fairness it has proved to be better than the CDR derived recording technologies.

This did not stop the format from eventually becoming a standard in radio broadcast institutions, something that it remains to this day but for spots and advertising a physical format is considered superior to a software one mostly for psychological reasons, more modern data formats like SD disks and similar products are simply too small to be used in a situation like this (they can literally fall in between the cracks in pro-audio gear), they also are a generic data carrier, but the MD has the advantage of being specifically an audio one, you are not going to overwrite an MD disk with your holiday snaps.

In or around 2000 some Sony portable computers could be bought with a MD drive with a data capacity of 140Mb but that device was dropped again in 2002, that was the first time a the MD technology sold as a data storage technology for computers although the company has used the format in some camera and image capture products previously.

Sony announced in the summer of 2011 that it would stop the manufacture of portable MiniDisk recorders and mechanisms, but Sharp had stopped making them some time previously, at the same time they however confirmed that they would continue to manufacture mechanisms for professional recorders and in fact continue to make hi-fi separates and music systems that feature MD’s.

For serious home and location recording purposes there are a number of annoyances with the format, the primary one was the use of automatic limiters, it is an understandable use of them since the format was intended to replace cassettes and the great thing about analogue tape is that it has headroom, get your recording levels too low and the recording becomes a bit noisy but otherwise fine, get the levels too high and the recording becomes a bit compressed, get them way too high and it becomes a bit distorted. Digital has no headroom, so get your levels a bit too high and the recordings become heavily distorted.

Limiters thus become necessary not as a professional feature but as a tool to make the minidisk as user friendly as a cassette recorders were and as such there is nothing wrong with using them. Problem is that a limiter is a difficult and expensive thing to implement properly and even the best such will leave audible artefacts under stress, the ones in fairly budget MD recorders are obviously not built to professional specs and therefore will do the same only more so. This leaves them implementation specific and the ones used in the Sharp family of portable recorders were fairly good but some of the Sony ones were somewhat less than great.

This is furthermore an annoyance since the Atrac compression engine format can clip waveforms when presented with a busy acoustic environment, it is primarily a problem when you have signals with great dynamic variation but that is exactly what happens at live concerts no matter if they are the Berliner Philharmonic or the Marz playing at your local pub, but it can also happen if you are close miking an acoustic signal with rich harmonics such as a guitar. The combination of the limiter working overtime and compression artefacts can make for a sound that is a bit odd. Even amongst the professional recorders the analogue part of the limiter can be a problem although an number of the either disable it or allow you to disable it via a switch or a menu.

Minidisks manufacturers, Blank Minidisks Discontinued MD Recorders.

Minidisc Recorder & Player Manufacturers

These are the Minidisk players that are being made as of July 2011 or models that even though they are out of production still have enough stocks left in the channel to be avaiable for a few months more.


The cheapest model from the company is the MZ-E310 a simple portable playback only model, it was officially deleted from the catalogue a couple of years back but there is still quite a lot of stock left in the channel and typically selling for less than half its original retail price or up to 1/4 of the original RRP(commonly found here in the UK for 20 to 35 pounds), it is a simple unit that does support almost all playback modes including MDLP4 and the Mono modes that some of the pro units use and runs off 1 AA battery. A bit light and plasticky at 93 grams but that also makes it one of the lighter MD players ever made and it sounds fine.

Next Page : Discontinued MD Recorders -- Previous Page : DAT

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The site was last compiled on Sun Nov 10 2013 at 9:15:00am