Getting Started

MiniDisc is a retro-futuristic media format. We highly recommend you read our Why MiniDisc? FAQ and watch the following videos from This Does Not Compute and Techmoan. If you find the format appealing after this research, we're excited to help you enter the community.

Entering the MiniDisc world isn't one does on a whim. Because the format isn't officially supported (since 2006), buying hardware (portables, decks, etc) and discs is not always straightforward (or, increasingly, cheap).

Be aware that in 2021, this format is a hobby and a money sink. Prepare to open your wallet. There is a chance that you will purchase equipment that is broken, or needs repairs. You will need to spend time finding deals and vetting purchases.

You should enjoy collecting, using, preserving, and documenting the format for this to be worth your time and money.

mz-n505.jpg The Sony MZ-N505, a good choice for a first device.

An obvious first MiniDisc device (if you don't have something already) is a NetMD portable recorder. These devices can record music over a USB connection on a modern computer (Windows, macOS, Linux, or Android) and have better battery life and sound quality than older devices.

Check the details of a device on the respective wiki page, and Talk to us if you have any further questions before you spend money on a device.

Device cost is currently fluctuating quite a bit, but unit, remote, dock [if applicable] should all be under $100. Below is a list of often recommended units. This list is far from complete, but contains some of the more popular ones. As far as costs go, there is no reason to get a non-netMD recorder over a netMD one. They all cost roughly the same.

  • MZ-N505 - Takes AA batteries, netMD Writer
  • MZ-N707 - Takes AA batteries, netMD Writer
  • MZ-NE410 - Takes AA batteries, netMD Writer, cheap entry model, does not have an AC port
  • MZ-N420D - Takes AA batteries, netMD Writer, cheap entry model, does not have an AC port
  • MZ-N510 - Takes AA batteries, netMD Writer
  • MZ-S1 - Takes AA batteries, ruggedized design.
  • MZ-N910 - Late era netMD, fast writing
  • MZ-N920 - Fastest netMD Writer

Units to avoid

  • MZ-N1 - write head failure, dock required
  • MZ-N10 - Rare proprietary cable required

There are several places to find equipment, depending on your locale.

You won't find MiniDisc equipment in stores that sell new electronics, nor in major online retailers; there hasn't been new stock to sell for years, now.

Instead, much equipment is sold on auction sites such as eBay and Yahoo Japan Auctions (via proxy services as necessary); thrift stores such as Goodwill or Value Village; or classified ads such as Craigslist, Kijiji, or FB Marketplace. Which is most convenient and affordable for you will depend on your location.

The local availability of MiniDisc equipment, discs, and accessories will depend on how popular MD was in your region. Japan was by far the most popular market, and the pricing and availability reflects that.

In some cases, patience is key. Local sellers may pop up with a great deal if you're willing to shop around and monitor sites, thrift stores, or garage sales for a few weeks.

Importing a device from another country can be worthwhile, but be mindful of shipping, processing, and customs fees. These are applicable whether using a proxy service or not. Consider these before deciding to ship/import a device or not. Due to the pandemic causing major transportation disruptions, shipping costs from Japan have increased quite a bit. Expect to pay considerably more than you would have in 2019 for shipping.

Our buying from Japan guide

Sellers may list their equipment with little or misleading information. Even a device listed as working may not have been fully tested to record correctly or may have battery corrosion. Some listings will call recorders players (or vice versa). Items listed “as-is” or “junk” may work perfectly but have not been tested.

Keep this in mind when purchasing equipment, as it can lead to buying second or third devices to replace bad purchases, as donor hardware, or it can result in great deals.

Sometimes there will be sales of MD lots, including a recorder or more with discs, remotes, chargers, batteries, etc. These should be considered as it may be cheaper than individual purchases. AC adapters are very useful to have (and may be hard to find separately) while batteries will have likely failed if original.

A Sony MDW80T blank disc, the only type still available new at retail.

MiniDisc is a recordable format, so be sure to get discs (unless you aim to only buy albums released by labels). Discs are re-recordable thousands of times. For used discs, you should aim to not pay more than US$3 per disc, or ~JPY100 from Japan. Brand new discs (MDW80T) are still sold in Japan for ~JPY240 each and should not cost more than US$5 when imported.

Collecting a number of different discs is part of the format's appeal. There are a great variety of colors, manufacturers, and styles. Visit the MiniDiscDB to see a vast collection of discs of many different types and styles.

It is common to keep a MiniDisc portable in a pocket or bag while controlling playback via an inline remote. Most equipment does not need a remote to function, but some do (check the wiki page for a device) and others have features that are only available via the remote (many players only have screens on the remote, but do have playback buttons on the player)

Remotes bundled with a device often work with other devices by the same manufacturer, but may lack some features (no display, no access to device settings, some buttons mismatched).

A Panasonic SJ-MJ17 showing the Gumstick battery.

By far the most common batteries used by MD equipment are the Gumstick and AA cells. Original Sony NH-14WM batteries or clones bundled with devices have (almost definitely) failed by now, so you will need to buy a fresh battery.

To keep devices slim, many (but not all) MD portables use an optional Sidecar to hold a AA battery (or several). These screw onto the side of the unit and allow for an alternative power method. See our list of Sony sidecar compatibility.

We have also started an article for Modern Batteries for some of the oddball batteries (eg, Sony MZ-1)

We would recommend a device that takes AA batteries to start. AA batteries are easier to find, and most US-released MD portables use AAs (check the respective wiki page for details.)

Even with new rechargeable AA batteries, a recorder may be only to record 3-6 discs per battery. Recording is much more battery-intensive than playing, and most like to plug in their recorder while writing. Keep this in mind when looking at equipment and lots. If you must use AAs to record, modern li-ion rechargeables like the Jugees available on Aliexpress will last longer due to their consistent voltage output.

Airpods and Galaxy Buds won't work at all with MiniDisc (unless you buy a Bluetooth adapter). You will need 3.5mm headphones or a 3.5mm aux jack to connect to a portable.

Original headphones that come in a lot or with a portable may be worth preserving but not used for listening. Modern earbuds are likely to outperform the cheap ones provided with a device. Some of the over the ear headphones were especially nice, however. Find 3.5mm headphones that work well for you based on reviews and your preferences.

ATRAC is the audio compression format Sony developed to use with MiniDisc. This audio compression is how a MD can hold the same amount of audio as a CD on a much smaller disc.

Because Sony could develop dedicated chips to encode and decode ATRAC audio, it could perform very well when compared to other audio compression formats of the time.

Later MiniDisc equipment improved the quality of ATRAC encoding and decoding significantly, and you can expect better audio recording from a later device than an early one. This applies even when a disc recorded on a newer device is played back on an older one.

MDLP (MiniDisc Long Play) is an addition to the MiniDisc format that was introduced in 2000 and allowed for 160 or 320 minutes of audio to be recorded to a standard 80 minute MD.

Sony achieved this by both using a newer compression format, ATRAC3 (not to be confused with version 3 of the original ATRAC format) and by compressing the audio further, causing reduced audio quality, especially on LP4 mode.

Audio recorded in LP mode can not be played back on non-MDLP equipment - only silence will play.

All NetMD equipment supports MDLP, but not all MDLP equipment supports NetMD.

At the end of MiniDisc's commercial life, Sony expanded the format with Hi-MD, a new standard with new recorders and discs. Even on standard MD discs, Hi-MD allowed new modes such as uncompressed audio.

Hi-MD devices are compatible with standard MiniDiscs (SP and MDLP) but Hi-MD discs and standard discs in Hi-MD format will not work on SP or MDLP device.

Today, Hi-MD devices and discs are much more expensive than standard MD equipment, and are not a recommended buy for a beginner.

For many, we used MiniDisc in the '90s or '00s and are coming back to it now. This may mean that you already have a recorder and / or discs.

If you already have a device that is not NetMD, you can still record to it in real time via dubbing (or faster for some equipment with CD copying.)

You should still test your equipment after many years of disuse, and issues such as failed batteries will still apply.

After a device has arrived, you should test it. Open the battery cover to check for corrosion. Insert a fresh battery and insert a disc. Even if the disc is blank, you should hear the motor spin up and the display will say that the disc is empty. If there is music already on the disc, have a listen!

Numerous users have reported a stuck laser sled on some devices. Moving and lubing this can sometimes revive seemingly dead devices.

You should test recording to the disc. Whether via NetMD or dubbing. Check the write-protect tab on the bottom of the disc (closed = writable; open = read-only) and that your battery is full.

Erase the disc before writing. Web MiniDisc and PlatinumMD both have options for this. The manual for your equipment (or navigating the menus) will also let you erase the disc from the recorder itself.

Once you have copied audio to a disc, use your headphones to listen back and make sure it doesn't skip, jump, or cut out.

Whether you have uncovered your old high school mixtapes or the lot you purchased includes hours of 90s J-pop, there are discs you may want to archive before you erase them.

We have a guide to cover recording from a MiniDisc to a PC over 3.5mm, RCA, or digital audio.

A late model MD player or a deck are common additions once you decide to use MD as (one of) your primary music formats.

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