MiniDisc Recorders-
The Best Kept Secret for Music Lovers

by Najia El Mouzayen

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article comparing the rewrite-able Compact Disk format (which was not available at that time) with the MiniDisc format which had just come on the market. The MiniDisc technology was so new and so poorly marketed that few dancers had ever heard of it. The MiniDisc format had been in popular use for several years in many recording studios for musician's rehearsals and in theaters for rehearsals of plays and musicals because of its relative ease of transport and its high digital sound quality. It had been, and still is, all the rage and a format revolution in Japan for some time, and I had been waiting for it to arrive in the United States so that I could convert my aging vinyl LPs to the new disk format. After I accomplished the conversion, and discovered the many advantages of the MiniDisc (or MD) format, I went on a personal campaign to make my dance friends aware of how versatile the format could be for them.

However, the dancers were not ready to embrace the new technology! Much to my amazement and disappointment, dancers seemed complacent with their audiocassette tapes and their scratchy old records, and I noticed that they had gone wild to locate and purchase any Compact Disk (or CD) which claimed to contain a "complete dance routine." Disappointingly enough, CDs containing complete and useful dance routines are scarce as hens' teeth! It seems that there is always something wrong with the length, or the order of the routine, or inclusion of some tune that the dancer dislikes.

Pre-recorded CD dance routines are generally made to fit another dancer's likes, dislikes, and repertoire or for universal acceptance and marketability.

Yet, the dancers to whom I spoke remained unconvinced and happily informed me that they were "waiting for the new recordable CD format" to debut. Well, now the compact rewrite-able disks are here, and many dancers tell me that they are now "burning" their routines onto them. However, they are also finding that the format is somewhat limited in ease of ability to edit show routines. As a result, many dancers and their coaches have resorted to editing laboriously, exactly like before, on audiocassette tapes and then burning a CD from that source with all its resulting loss of audio range. Much to their dismay, many dancers are also finding that the resulting disk will not play on all CD players when taken to gigs!

I, on the other hand, had been converting ALL my music to MiniDiscs, including many of my CD format recordings because teaching dance and creating custom show routines while using the MD format is a dream come true for me!

  • First, I find that the little window with its scrolling label readout is a wonderful help. The slim and lightweight machine is capable of scrolling song titles, as well as your personal comments and notes so that you know what is on the MD without reading the jewel case (which for us Oriental dancers, in many instances, is only printed in Arabic). The timed length of a tune, the time remaining for the piece to complete its play, the length of time recorded, and the length of time that remains available to be recorded may also be scrolled.
  • For dance teachers, I recommend the model of MiniDisc recorder that has a remote control. With the remote control, one may program a song repetition or even a repeated phrase of the music of any length. A dance instructor or coach may also create a "loop" recording or even a real time repeat with which to teach a particular dance step or combination without walking back and forth to control the machine or standing beside it to play the selected section repeatedly.
  • The digital aspect of the edit function of the MD recorder is so precise that I am able to patch things together seamlessly. I can remove unwanted choruses of songs that are too lengthy for inclusion in a show routine that has to meet specific time limits. There need be no more glitches in your shows! This is very useful when a coach prepares a dancer for competition. As long as there is not a drone in the background of the melody, one can edit out entire phrases ruthlessly, and make the rhythm continue without noticeable, or at least, objectionable oddities in the rhythm.
  • At any point, a new track, without a resulting space in the recording on playback, may be created within a MD recording that was not part of the recording on its original source: vinyl, audiotape, CD, or live recording. This feature is especially useful for pre-recorded routines that do not stop or "break" when a new section begins, or it may be used during a medley so that a particular song may be located by title. Remember! What you put on the MD, you can also easily remove. I like to have the option of changing my mind!
  • Just as with CDs, MDs may be recorded with fade-functions, both "in" and "out."
  • MiniDiscs are safely enclosed inside their holders like the floppy disks for the "A" drive of your computer so that one's oily fingers will never touch the disk itself. How many times have you accidentally touched the underside of your CD or dropped it?
  • Each little MD holds up to seventy-four minutes of recording plus scrolling titles.
  • Tracks may be arranged and rearranged easily at will, and then they may also be changed back again, or to another position, if you are not satisfied with the result.
  • MiniDiscs may be reused and recorded over and over again without degrading the product and have been tested to re-record a million times.
  • MDs take up very little storage space and they are lightweight to carry.
  • With a portable the size of a "Walkman" the dancer can hook into any amplifier and take her music with her to venues where her patrons have no MD player.

Taking all the forgoing features into consideration, I would unhesitatingly recommend that, at the very least, a dancer should own a MiniDisc recorder for its editing function alone. Even if you are already capable of burning a CD to toss in your dance bag, the MD is smaller, safer to handle, more versatile to edit, and they are relatively cheap (currently about two dollars each). They come with little plastic outer covers to which you may affix computer-generated labels to read (after you put on your reading glasses)!

I have only found that there is one draw-back to the format and that is that the disk is so small there is not much room to affix a graphic or program notes, but I think that it is more than off-set by the convenience of the scrolling read-out. Also, I have been told on several occasions that the reason MiniDisc format is not popular in the U.S. is that there is a lack of pre-recorded music available in the format, and that is unfortunate. However, when used as I have advocated, for Oriental and other dancers, that lack is of little consequence.

I have converted nearly all of my music to the MiniDisc format now: (nearly three hundred disks in all!) of music that is no longer available in any format and music that is current. While making the conversions, I re-discovered music I forgot that I possessed. I should mention that a conversion to the MD has the ability to make the music from your old vinyl recordings sound cleaner by making it possible for you edit out the major dings you have accidentally added to your LPs. (Long scratches, however, are labor intensive to edit out.)

Additionally, Egyptian audiocassettes, with their often unsatisfactory and muffled sound quality, sound a little bit brighter!

Another side discovery that I have made while converting my old vinyl recordings to MiniDiscs is that when the original master tapes are committed to CDs by the professionals they are often re-edited or differently mixed to accommodate the new format. Entire sections of a master musical arrangement that I once loved on an LP were missing on the new CD format! So relying upon the owners of the master tapes to "come out with the CD" is sometimes extremely disappointing. Also, amazingly enough, some CDs are produced in which the quality of sound is actually poorer than your old "taped" version. Therefore, waiting for someone to produce a CD of a tape you heard sometimes can prove not to be the perfect course of action.

At the very least, go to your local electronics store and check out the MiniDisc recorders, portables, and accessories. Conversion from one format to another is time consuming, but if you are as picky about your sound as I am, you will be well rewarded by your results.


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