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Sony MiniDisc:Digital Music Storage Takes Another Turn

No-skip digital sound while you're out jogging — that's the promise of Sony's new MiniDisc Walkman. Plus, you can record all of your favorite CDs onto MDs, provided you can afford it.

The sound quality of the MiniDisc rivals that of a CD or a Digital Audio Tape, with a frequency range of 20-20,000 Hz. It is clearly superior to a cassette, the current preferred Walkman format.

The 2 1/2" MiniDisc (MD) is rather like the ordinary 3 1/2" disc used by most PCs. It contains most of the same elements — a hard cover to protect the spinning disc, a sliding shutter for the drive to read it and the space to store lots of music, either 60 or 74 minutes worth. It also has a table of contents which allows the WalkMan to play songs in random order, recorded order or any order you choose, for that matter.

And it doesn't skip. That trick is accomplished by a memory buffer, which stores roughly a second of music. If the read/write head gets jostled, the MD continues playing from the stored buffer while the head finds its place.

The MiniDisc also does an excellent job of recording live material, depending upon the microphone(s) used. For songwriters, it provides two-track recording and playback, with indefinite duplication possible without error or wear. It does not provide for multi-track recording.

Learning to record, edit, label and erase poses about as much difficulty as setting your digital watch, except that the buttons and switches are larger than those on a watch. For folks who have grown up with Nintendos, PCs and other assorted digital items, handling this machine will be "No problemo."

So what is the downside to this wonderous device? Cost, for one – the play and record machine lists for around $699. The play-only version lists for $499. The cost of blank MiniDiscs must also be factored into the equation. The 60 minute version costs $10-12 and the 74-minute $14-16.

Then there is the matter of pre-recorded titles, a familiar concern with a new format. As of this writing, there are about 300-400 titles out. Since Sony controls a seriously large chunk of popular American music, however, that is less likely to be a serious concern as the company weighs in to support the MiniDisc.

The literature accompanying the machine suggests that additional applications are in the works, particularly with computers, but no details were mentioned. A check of Stereo Review on America Online revealed only that the MiniDisc's data .compression methods, which remove sounds that the human ear cannot hear are not compatible with other data compression strategies, so that direct digital to digital hook-ups could be problematic.

The MiniDisc is available in Louisville at Wilder Electronics.

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