What’s the Difference Between Compact Discs and MiniDiscs?

By · Monday, August 1st, 2011

The history of audio recordings goes back a long way. From wax cylinders and reel-to-reel tapes to vinyl records and 8-track tapes, each new media format has brought with it improvements in sound quality and usability. The compact cassette introduced in the early 1960s had become the preferred format for pre-recorded music and home audio recording by the 1980s.

The compact cassette peaked in popularity in the late 1980s and sales began to slide from there. Now, the race was on to develop a new format to replace the cassette tape. Sony and Royal Philips had been working together with optical discs since the late 1970s, and laid the groundwork for the Compact Disc at the same time. Pressed Compact Discs made by a CD replication service appeared in North America in 1982, but the format was slow to catch on at first.

By 1993, CD player sales had grown to 5 million units per year, while compact cassette sales dropped off sharply. Sony, seeing that cassette sales were declining, took the opportunity to introduce their own replacement format which they called MiniDisc.

MiniDiscs and CDs are two competing formats which allow users to record and play back audio at a higher level of quality than tapes. The CD format uses an optical laser to record and playback information on the discs, while MiniDiscs use a magnetic head for recording information and a laser to play back the data.

One of the most obvious differences between compact discs and MiniDiscs is their size. CDs are 120mm in diameter while MiniDiscs are secured in a plastic cartridge that is just 68x72mm and just 5mm thick. Another difference is the amount of time available for home recording. Blank CD-R discs were available in 74-minute and 80-minute capacities, with 80-minute discs being the most commonly available size. MiniDiscs were available in 60-minute, 74-minute, and 80-minute capacities.

In terms of cost, the price on recordable CD-R discs fell throughout the 1990s and 2000s as new manufacturers entered the market. MiniDiscs were also produced by third parties including TDK and other companies, but the price per disc was still significantly higher than Compact Discs.

While these two formats share a lot in common, there are also some key differences. MiniDiscs could be erased and rewritten (up to 1 million times, claims Sony) while rewriteable CD-R discs were a niche item that were notoriously problematic. As the cost of write-once CD-R media fell below that of CD-RW discs, it became more cost-effective for users to simply re-burn discs than to erase them.

Sony released a line of portable MiniDisc players and recorders, as well as players and recorders for home use. Portable CD players and CD walkmans became popular items during the 1990s and 2000s, but portable recorders were virtually nonexistent. For this reason, portable MiniDisc recorders are still used today by sound technicians and audiophiles to record live performances. Today, a professional CD audio recorder is the best way for engineers to record a live performance.

With regards to portable players, MiniDiscs used a large “read-ahead” buffer memory to prevent skips and interruptions during playback. It took several years for portable CD players to gain this feature, which gave MiniDiscs a huge advantage for playing music on road trips, while bicycling, and during other activities.

I hope this article has been useful in illustrating some of the key differences between the MiniDisc format and between Compact Discs. There are many more fine technical differences and details, but those could easily fill another article or two! In the meantime, be sure to check out CDROM2GO.com for all of your CD duplication, replication, and blank media needs!

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