Minidisc FAQ: Beginner Topics

Do you have a newbie question? Send it in!

  1. I just don't get this Minidisc thing. Could you please sort it all out for me in a clear and simple way?

    In terms of function, think of Minidisc as a cross between CD and cassette. Like cassette you can record from any audio source and playback through headphones or a home HiFi. Like CD the audio is stored digitally, the sound quality is excellent, and you can easily skip to your favorite track. Unlike either CD or cassette you can edit the recorded audio to your heart's content, dividing it into tracks, naming tracks and moving them around, and deleting what you no longer need.

    Unless you have NetMD equipped Minidisc gear however, the only route onto or off of a Minidisc is through realtime recording and playback (except for the high-speed CD/MD decks). And NetMD or not, you can't get at the compressed audio directly from a computer. This is the biggest functional difference between MD and computer connected MP3 players and CD-R burners.

  2. Is it true that you can re-record on Mindisc? I heard you can record mp3's to the MD, then shuffle them around, delete some and add more later. Is that right?

    Yes, it's true, except that when you record your MP3s onto Minidisc, you have to do it in realtime, by "playing" them on your computer and recording to MD through your PC's soundcard at the same time. When you do this your MP3 is converted to ATRAC format (Sony's compression system) by the MD recorder. After that you can move, edit, delete, and replace tracks using the MD recorder, as you like.

  3. Why should I buy an MD recorder over a standard portable CD player, especially with the new CD-R drives for people's computers?

    Well, if you never do field recording, and don't mind looking positively silly walking around with a CD player in your hand, and are happy to fire up your PC everytime you want to take some new tunes with you, and never want to delete or change tracks on a disc after you grow tired of a few, then I'd say go for the CD player, definitely!

    Seriously: one must weigh this question for themselves. There are tons of happy MD and CD campers out there, just consider the usage patterns that are likely to be convenient for you and whether MD or CD fits them better.

  4. I hear that Minidiscs are "near-CD quality", and use compression. How do they sound in comparison to CDs? Can anyone tell the difference?

    When the first Minidisc unit appeared on the market years ago, the difference between a CD and an MD recording of the same CD was discernable without a great deal of concentration. However, over the years, ATRAC (the compression technique employed by Minidiscs) has improved greatly, and now it requires careful listening with senstive ears and expensive equipment to hear any difference between a CD original and an MD recording.
    See our collected assesments of MD audio quality by members of the Audio and HiFi press.

  5. How do you transfer a CD track to a Minidisc?

    From Audio Equipment: Connect a cable from the CD player's headphone or line-out jack to the MD recorder's line-in jack. This cable is called a "1/8th inch to 1/8th inch stereo mini-plug cable" and is available in Radio Shack and other such electronics stores. (A recording between a CD player and an MD recorder can also be achieved with a digital optical cable.)
    From Computer Equipment: Connect the computer's headphone jack to the MD recorder's line-in jack (see previous) then use the CD-player program on your computer to play the CD track while recording on the MD recorder.

    See also the MP3 handling tutorials.

  6. Since Minidisc is a digital format, isn't there a Minidisc drive that can be connected to a computer for direct transfers of audio between PC and MD?

    For transfers from the PC to Minidisc, Sony has introduced NetMD, a feature that allows high speed downloading of compressed audio over USB. But it is a one way trip, once downloaded the audio data on Minidisc is no longer accessible from the PC as data, it can only be "accessed" by playing it back as music.

    As for direct transfers from Minidisc to PC, such a capability would be great! (And a petition was sent to Sony asking them to add it.) Unfortunately Minidisc was designed with a so-called "audio/data firewall" that prevents the ATRAC audio data on MDs from being accessed directly by computer. This was done to comply with Recording Industry concerns over music piracy. (The fact that Sony has introduced the Digital Relay CRX10U-A2 [a portable MP3/audio CD player that is fully USB connectable for seamless audio/data transport to/from PC] is an irony due to the CD's grandfathered status as a computer peripheral that appeared before the Home Recording Rights Act [a law that impedes consumer bit for bit copying of audio content, see SCMS]).

    One year after Minidisc appeared, Sony announced MD Data -- it consisted of a slightly modified Minidisc blank and the MDH-10, an MD data drive with SCSI interface. This permitted users to use MDs as a computer data storage format. Unfortunately, due to the requirement for a firewall, MD Data drives cannot read or write ATRAC data on Audio MDs.

    Despite the built-in firewall, one company does sell a system for direct computer access to ATRAC audio data. By modifying the firmware in Sony's original MDH-10 data drive, EDL in Britain has been able to create the Minidisc Transfer Editor, a PC package allowing direct computer based transfer of ATRAC from MD to PC, with ATRAC to .wav file conversion done on the PC. The system is intended for audio professionals (radio stations, etc), and carries a price tag (~US$5000) to match.

  7. Can Minidisc carry MP3's or other computer music formats?

    They can carry the music or other audio material from an MP3. You do this by playing the MP3 on your computer and recording to MD through the computer's headphone jack, connected as in the previous question.

  8. But can I use Minidiscs to hold actual MP3 or other computer files?

    Yes, the Hi-MD format allows you to use your Hi-MD recorder as 1GB external USB drive. Prior to Hi-MD, [std-MD] audio MDs were not capable of holding computer data. A now-obsolete branch of std-Minidisc, called MD Data, was capable of holding 140MB of data per disc (functioning much like a Zip or floppy disk, but using Minidisc technology). MD Data discs were not compatible with std-MD audio discs. You can read about the old MD Data units in the Equipment Browser.

  9. How do you record music from the radio?

    Connect the headphone jack from the radio to your MD recorder, as in the previous question.

  10. Can MD connect to a cassette or deck in any way?

    Yes! Just as in question one, through the headphone or line-out jacks on your cassette deck.

  11. I'm still confused, can you just tell me what cables I need?

    From Shawn Lin's MD Recording FAQ, here is a brief guide to the type of cables usually required:

    Home EquipmentMinidisc Home DeckStereo RCA cable (two RCA plugs on each end)
    Portable EquipmentMinidisc Home DeckStereo RCA cable to 1/8" stereo miniplug
    Cheap PC SoundcardMinidisc Home DeckStereo RCA cable to 1/8" stereo miniplug
    High-End PC SoundcardMinidisc Home DeckStereo RCA cable (two RCA plugs on each end)
    Home EquipmentMinidisc PortableStereo RCA cable to 1/8" stereo miniplug
    Portable EquipmentMinidisc Portable1/8" stereo miniplug to 1/8" stereo miniplug
    Cheap PC SoundcardMinidisc Portable1/8" stereo miniplug to 1/8" stereo miniplug
    High-End PC SoundcardMinidisc PortableStereo RCA cable to 1/8" stereo miniplug
    NOTE: RCA cable is also known as "phono cable", or in Europe, as Cinch cables.

  12. What are some other things MD records from?

    Microphones, Vinyl-LPs (works well!), Digital-Audio tape, VHS/DVD audio (soundtracks, etc.), Video-game music (connect through headphone jack as in question (1)), telephones, electronic musical instruments, etc. With the right cable or microphone, you can record any audio source to MD.

  13. Enough about recording to MD... can I record from MD unit to my computer (or another audio device)?

    With the proper cables, yes. You would use the same analog cables listed above for recording to another audio device from MD, simply switch the inputs/outputs. For a computer, this would mean connecting an analog cable (usually a 1/8" male to 1/8" male miniplug cable) between your MD unit's line out to your sound card's line in. If you're looking to transfer audio from MD to your computer digitally, you need an MD unit that is capable of digital output (all current portable MD recorders lack this feature, but most home MD decks have it) plus the correct digital audio cable.
    A good piece of free software for Windows-based machines that will record an incoming audio signal is MusicMatch.

  14. Can all things be done on a portable Minidisc recorder that can be done on a larger Minidisc deck?

    Yes, almost all. The Minidisc decks usually have finer editing precision when dividing tracks (so called "rehearsal mode" with 11ms or 60ms accuracy), and some have PS/2 keyboard connectors to make titling easier. Decks may have somewhat better analog input/output quality (but unlike portables, usually do not have microphone inputs). When recording digitally from a CD, MD decks and portable recorders are essentially equivalent. The one major difference is that home MD decks usually have digital output, the portables do not.

  15. What's the difference between a player and a recorder?

    A player only plays MDs, a recorder can play and record them.

  16. Has a portable MD unit ever been released that has a built-in AM/FM tuner?

    The only two units that feature an AM/FM tuner are the Sony MZ-F40 MD player (released in May 1997) and the new Sony MZ-G750 MD recorder (released beginning of 2001).

  17. I've heard rumors that Minidiscs are on their way out... is MD a sinking ship?

    Technology is always advancing and rendering older mediums obsolete. It is true that Minidiscs have been around since 1992, and have had a slow time picking up momentum. However, Minidiscs have proven their advantages over lots of other competing products (one of the best things going for Minidiscs is that the discs are cheap!), and will certainly continue to appear on store shelves for years to come.

  18. What's the difference between an MD and the 3-inch CD-Rs used in the Sony CD1000 digital camera? Sony sold a digital camera in Japan in 1998 called the Cybershot DSC-MD1 that recorded images to an MD. What is the difference between that technology and the technology used to record images to a CD-R?

    The MD and the 3-inch CD-Rs used in the Sony CD1000 are completely different. MD: magneto-optical recording on cartridge enclosed 64mm disc. CD-R: dye based (i.e. optical) recording on an unenclosed 300mm or 80mm (3-inch) disc. The two formats are completely incompatible.

  19. What I was mainly wondering about is the disk technology itself. If you took an MD out of its cartridge and compared it with a CD-R, other than size, what are the differences?

    Magneto-optical vs. Dye based recording. You need a magnetic head and laser in the former, laser only for the latter. Max write speed for MD is 176KB/s to 352KB/s (e.g. home units with high speed 4X CD->MD copy and commerical Kiosk recorders). Current (ca. 2001) max write speed for CD is 7.1MB/s (e.g. 40X CD burner).

  20. I recorded from the radio to MD, titled the tracks, and then digitally copied that MD from my home deck to my portable MD recorder. The audio and track marks were copied, but the track titles I made were not. Why is that?

    The S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Audio Interface) standard used by consumer audio gear such as Minidisc, DAT and CD equipment carries audio samples for the left and right channels (at 32, 44.1, or 48 khz, and up to 24 bits wide) as well as several status bits (e.g. copyright and track information). Although in theory it would be possible for consumer S/PDIF to carry track title information (there are unused bits in the data stream [in fact in S/PDIF "Professional" mode, ASCII information about the audio source and destination can be transferred]), carrying such information was not made a part of the consumer S/PDIF specification and hence no consumer equipment implements it. A brief HTML document and more complete PDF document give further details about the S/PDIF standard.

  21. If I took an MD out of its cartridge, could I play it in one of those new mini-CD players such as Compaq's PM-1?

    Hardly. There would be multiple problems trying to play a bare MD in a CD player:

    1. Physical Disc Diameter: mini-CD: 80mm, MD: 64mm
    2. Lead-in diameter (inner circumference of the disc where data starts): mini-CD lead-in: 46mm, MD lead-in: 29mm
    3. Chucking mechanism: mini-CD: 15mm chucking hole, MD: magnetic clamping through steel plate on MD (with alignment hole)
    4. Recording system: mini-CD: PIT/LAND, MD: PIT/LAND for pre-recorded, Magneto-Optical for recordable
    5. Encoding: mini-CD: CD-DA (44.1khz, 16 bit PCM), MP3, WMA, ..., MD: ATRAC, ATRAC3

    The MD and mini-CD track pitch and optical parameters (spot size) are the same however.

  22. If you have the PC-LINK that comes with the MZ-R500, MZ-R700 and MZ-R900 recorders, will it work with the newer MD recorders (eg.MZ-R909, R910, etc.) and/or older ones (eg. MZ-R90/91, MZ-R70, etc.)?

    Yes, the PC-Link will work on pretty much any* MD recorder since it is just a USB to audio converter and all Minidisc units can record an audio signal.

    * If it's a USB to digital (e.g. TOSlink) PC-Link it will not work on those rare MD recorders (e.g. MZ-R5ST) that have only microphone or analog audio inputs.

  23. My friend claims he can record movie quotes via the optical line in using his Sony MD and DVD player. I am not sure of the model of either of his players, but both were purchased in Europe. However, when I tried recording this way I was given the error message 'NO COPY'. I can still do recording from DVD using the analog connection but it would be easier with the optical cable. My DVD player is a Sony with an optical output and my MD player is the MZ-N707. Why can't I use the optical line for this recording?

    Whether the audio from a DVD movie can be copied digitally depends upon the DVD title itself (i.e. the content on the DVD disc) and how the copy-protection permissions were set on its audio track. Judging by user reports, DVD movies seem generally to be set to not allow digital copies of their audio tracks (however out of keeping this may be with the spirit of the AHRA). The availablility of DVD titles with digitally copyable audio tracks may vary from region to region, and may be more likely with European titles.

Copying Status: Public Domain. However, no liability is accepted for the correctness and safety any procedures or advice given here. This FAQ is distributed in the hope that it will be useful. Also, please include a notice that this file can be found at in any copies that you post.

Return to the MiniDisc Community Page.

As always, I would be much obliged for any updates and corrections from Sony Engineering. -Eric Woudenberg

Return to the Minidisc Community Page