Back in 1997, long before MP3 was anything more than a concept, I was serving in the Air Force and frequently deployed overseas. Some guys on the squadron introduced me to a strange format for making music portable. MiniDisc.
I soon got to learn that those tough little discs survived the rough-and-tumble of life in a kit-bag. We each bought portable players, and would ‘pool’ our discs together to make little music libraries, would trade discs with one another, and would copy CD’s for one another back home. No matter where we were in the world, AA batteries were easy to obtain, and just a handful of batteries would literally last weeks. It was a pocket-sized bit of luxury that we could carry with us, and I loved it.
......then, along came MP3 players and the ubiquitous ‘iPod’. Suddenly we could carry all of our music in a small space, and it seemed that the MiniDisc was dead. Within about 3 years everyone I knew had ditched the format and were literally giving away their discs and players, as were oil-rig workers, fishermen, and other locals who worked away from home for extended periods. I too, confined my MiniDisc collection to a box in the loft, and bought an iPod Classic.
Fast-forward to 2005, and I deployed for a 4-month tour to Iraq. My iPod came with me, and I had the small luxury of my music collection to fall back on, OR SO I THOUGHT. By the second week I had the sickening ‘Sync Reset’ display (which of course was impossible without my PC) and in one fell swoop I lost my music. Other guys had problems with the portable power-generators cooking their wall-plug chargers, and soon quite a few of us had lost the use of our players, just when we would have appreciated them the most!
Back home, and I was quickly falling out of love with my iPod. It seemed that whenever I updated my collection there would be issues with mixed/missing title-tracks and artwork. Any albums entitled ‘Greatest Hits’ would become an amalgamated mess, and whilst the battery-life seemed to get ever shorter, the demands for a ‘sync reset’ increased. The love was fading.
I noticed something else, too. My listening habits were changing. My seemingly endless access to music made me a lazy listener, and I would frequently jump from album to album, track to track, and would often skip mid-way through a track. My days of listening to an album the way that the artist intended, had gone. This wasn’t music enjoyment.
....and so, by 2008 I was back to my MiniDisc, and what I revival it was! Equipment that had previously been prohibitively expensive was now dirt-cheap, and I was living the hobby like a millionaire! I soon had units for every occasion with Sony JA20ES and JA50ES decks for hifi use, numerous portable players, and a Pioneer MEH P9000 head-unit for the car. I could afford to be extravagant with discs, and my well used dozen or so swelled up to over 1,000.
That was 10 years ago, and nothing much since then has changed. I still indulge in the childhood enjoyment of putting a ‘mixtape’ together in real-time, copying music from my CD’s and vinyl to Type-R SP to listen to in the car, or out walking the dog. Because space is at a premium my playlists are more carefully considered, and I listen to each track in full. My listening-habits are back to where they should be. In 20 years I can count on one hand the number of corrupted discs I’ve suffered, only ever having to re-copy one album. I keep discs and a spare player at work, in the summerhouse and in the car, and I have a physical, tangible connection with my music collection again.
MiniDisc as a commercial format is dead, and I’m OK with that. It continues to live on in my household, and probably will do for years to come, maybe even for another decade or more. I continue to love the ‘forgotten format’, and those robust little discs give me everything I need.