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Sony to stop producing MiniDisc Walkman devices

With demand drying up, Sony will shutter production of its last MiniDisc Walkman later this year.

The MZ-RH1: Sony's last portable MiniDisc player.

Due to shrinking demand, Sony will cease production of MiniDisc Walkman devices this coming September, Nikkei reported today. This marks yet another blow to the dying format, which experienced a roller-coaster ride of popularity during its 20-year lifetime.

During MiniDisc's introduction at CES 1991, Norio Ohga, Sony's president and CEO at the time, boasted that "the success and benefits of CD and analog compact cassette led to a new need--a need based on satisfaction with CD's wonderful sound, durability, and quick random access, and a need based on the portability, recordability, and shock resistance of the analog cassette. It is a need for MiniDisc."

A need, indeed. After launching the first MD products in 1992, Sony would go on to sell more than 22 million MiniDisc devices (as of March 2011), with millions more sold by other companies that licensed the technology, including big names such as Sharp, Kenwood, Panasonic, and others.

The format experienced a golden age with the introduction of MDLP (special ATRAC codecs that allowed users to fit more music on a MiniDisc), but its popularity faded quickly once large capacity hard-drive/flash music players (e.g. iPods) rose to prominence starting in the early part of last decade. Consumers also lost faith in the format due to Sony's clunky MiniDisc music management softwareSonicStage (and also the dreaded Connect Player). Sony tried to curb the mass exodus with the introduction of the 1GB Hi-MD format, a scaled-up version of the original technology, with little success.

Currently, the only portable MiniDisc unit still in production is the MZ-RH1. In contrast, when MiniDisc was most dominant in the marketplace, Sony was launching up to half a dozen (or more) new MiniDisc players and recorders each year with incredible features that some portable music players still lack to this day.

The Japanese company promised to continue producing MiniDisc (and Hi-MD) media so devout users can keep recording in ATRAC (and PCM). Sony will also continue to manufacture bookshelf audio players that can play the MD format in select markets.

Until very recently, MiniDisc recorders were still some of the best-sounding and affordable portable live recording devices on the market. Did you use MD during its heyday? Do you miss it?