Why Japan's MiniDisc cases were the best

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/11/11/why-japans-minidisc-cases-were-the-best.html

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I recall going to a 2nd hand shop in Japan and I was surprised over how expensive everything was. Granted the expensive items were obviously well taken care of, even the music CDs were generally pretty pricy. My one cool purchase there was buying a sealed vintage card deck from Nintendo, not sure from what year but my guess is from the 50s


I had a MiniDisc player recorder as part of a compact Sony stereo which would seamlessly duplicate a CD from the CD player to the MiniDisc. We recorded dozens of discs from the library this way, recording over them when we got tired of them - mostly children’s music for my daughter.

And then it broke - Minidisc deck still worked fine, the cheap CD player drive broke. By that time there were no MiniDisc equipped stereos to be had. Then iTunes and MP3s happened and it was over.

I miss it - was such a great format, better than cassettes or CDs. We never got prerecorded discs and kept all the music in the little slip-cases that the MiniDiscs came in, which were even smaller than the cases he showed - just a little bigger than the discs themselves.


It was a terrific format, only spoilt by Sony and their proprietary anti-copy tech. I still have my Sony MD recorder, a full size machine with some sophisticated editing facilities, including fade-in/fade-out, which made recording from music programmes on TV really easy.
It even has a port for plugging in a computer keyboard for titling tracks.
It still works fine, and I still have a bunch of boxes of discs I recorded years ago.


Does anybody make a recording deck anymore? Or would I have to find an old one?

I was recently lamenting, yet again, that a not great but decent and super convenient mic I have that I bought to use with a minidisc doesn’t really work with any pre-amps and the minidisc player I bought used compression because there wasn’t a non-compressed option available (to me at the time). Later models featured the option for non-compressed recording on minidisc. So every now and then I look around for a used one and dang if prices are still ridiculous, they are still in demand.

If anyone knows of a decent (and decently priced) mic-pre that takes an input from a battery powered mic with a stereo 3.5 mm mini-plug output, please let me know. I bought a Griffin iMic which should have done the trick but that thing had a nasty noise spike every 1000hz and was essentially unusable for the task.

Wow, it still exists - http://minidisc.org/

Beyond a couple of portable players, I had the Sharp X5 bookshelf unit - http://minidisc.org/part_Sharp_MD-X5.html - worked well, though had an overheating issue eventually that rendered it outside my abilities to fix.

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I wonder if the Japanese version of the jewel box for music CDs is any better than USian versions? I would gladly switch over if it could be done affordably, I don’t really play very many CDs any more. But the cases are just awful.

And looking at the lead-in picture - no wonder! Instead of MIB, they ended up with Luther Vandross. :woman_shrugging:

I loved minidiscs! I still have a couple recorders. Fun fact, I actually did the sound engineering for an indie film using my MD walkman and a great little Sony mic, because the filmmaker didn’t know anyone else with a digital recording set up. Worked brilliantly.

I also recorded some music of mine using it, in my apartment no less - not in a sound studio - and was told by a radio professional that it was basically good enough for release as is, in terms of recording quality. Great little media, minidiscs. Died the Betamax death. :frowning:

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The SACD has an improved case, with a beefier hinge, and rounded edges.

I think this is really the key. Whenever I’ve imported second hand Japanese stuff like video games, CDs, or electronics I am always struck by how they are in such great shape. I tend to be pretty rough with my electronics (no matter how much conscious effort I put into trying to keep them in good shape) so seeing how well cared for these things are impresses me.

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Who remembers minidisco?! Wasn’t that the kidrobot guy? My brother has a few players/recorders, I was telling him we shuld dig them up and throw a bunch of vaporwave on MDs and be super-styling :sunglasses: :palm_tree:

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Sony only stopped producing Betamax recorders in 2002 and the cassettes in 2015.

Japan has a very interesting history with regard to preserving old tech since WW2. I believe after the destruction their was a culture on preservation, re purposing, integration and innovation. A friend living there suggests that Japanese tech turns on a cycle of being 4 years behind the rest of the world then 1 year ahead.


Having visited Akihabara (Electric City) a number of times have always been overwhelmed by the vast variety of tech, old and new, Japanese and from everywhere in the world.

Pricing may be expensive but you get exactly what you pay for and after sale complaints are taken very seriously both in and outside of Japan. An attention to value and quality seems to be on a truly equitable sliding scale - from unboxed pristine down to pretty dinged up but still working. It would be very unusual to buy any tech that malfunctions or just doesn’t work - these items have generally had their functioning parts salvaged and sold on.


Betamax? Betamax was the consumer format, those were going that long? Fukushima, if I remember correctly, really hurt the professional Beta tape production lines, which was really a death knell for physical formats, which were already being seriously challenged by pure digital file recording and workflows by that time.

Here’s an article, my memory was messing with me and at first I had remembered it as being the Thailand floods that messed up Sony tape production, but I think that was mostly hard drives in Thailand.

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Thanks for your response. I guess the point I was making was that in the ‘West’ Betamax was a dead in the water technology (mid 1980’s) however in Japan Sony only discontinued production of the machines in 2002. As I understand it Betamax machines could use standard Betacam tapes all along as they were interchangeable.

Like MiniDisc technology was embraced more so in Japan, rather than a passing fad in most of the world, I was contributing to the discussion by suggesting the longevity of Betamax has a similar history.

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Absolutely, listen, I was in the video post industry during the period of Beta SP up through HDCAM SR. It was nice back when we had some “standards,” and Sony tape was that in pro video for a long long time. Little bits from other players, but Sony was always the boss.

There’s a Cowboy Bebop episode that prominently features a Betamax cassette. It’s freaking great, but of course, all the episodes are.


Thanks for sharing, very cool!

Have worked with tape too, Beta in PAL back in the day - so glad we don’t have to worry about interlacing! Saw nothing but Sony in the high end studios.

Would be curious if there was much interest in Beta/ Betamax in Akihabara?

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