Basking in Obsolescence

A stack of Mini Discs; smaller and easier to handle than a Compact Disc, it was a very cool media for stereophiles like me, but it was a technology that came and went.
A stack of Mini Discs; smaller and easier to handle than a Compact Disc, it was a very cool media for stereophiles like me, but it was a technology that came and went.

Abby and I spent some of this weekend cleaning and organizing. The house has been in disarray for some time, since last month Abby’s friend gave her an antique bedroom suite, and we have not, as yet, found a home for the furniture it displaced. We have made some progress, including one of my longstanding projects, to reorganize my so-called “comm center,” the computer table in our office that holds two of my police scanners, an amateur radio dual-band transceiver, a small television and the cable box that serves it, a VCR/DVD recorder, and and until yesterday, four stereo components.

Today, however, there are just two stereo components remaining, the receiver and the CD copier/player. I removed the cassette deck and the CD/Minidisc player.

Before I go on, I want to say that I have always listened to music in a very emotional way, diving deep into the sound and artistry. In addition to entertaining me, music has always moved and inspired me. Yet being a man, particularly a single man for many years, I was sometimes drawn into the senseless egotism of the gearhead scene. When I was in college the center of this pissing contest was cassette tapes. I had some friends who swore that Maxell was the only

This is the "comm center" as it appears in our office today.
This is the “comm center” as it appears in our office today.

worthy brand, whereas I was a big TDK fan. By about 1982, just before the advent of the Compact Disc, cassette tape brands were in fierce competition with each other, and to that end, TDK came out with what I guess would be the ultimate cassette: the MA-R and MA-XG. Instead of the usual plastic case with a shiny logo on it, this item had clear panels that revealed a solid metal frame inside. The idea was that the lightweight, plastic case would move around inside the tape deck and mess up the alignment of the tape with the record and playback heads, but the heavy, super-rigid frame would ensure precise alignment.

It was bullspit, of course, since college kids listening to Frank Zappa could no more hear the difference than they could get to their 7:30 am class on time.

But I confess to owning six of these things. Ironically, the heavier frame made them stick inside my car stereo on cold days, and I would have to pry them out with a butter knife.

I thought of all this as I did my cleaning and reorganizing. I removed the cassette deck and the CD/Minidisc player. The stack of electronics looked much more orderly afterwards, but there in the hallway forlornly sat the tape deck and the Minidisc player. I had a mind to throw them both away, or to squirrel them away in the attic for the day after armageddon when antique consumer electronics would be worth millions of dollars. Instead, though, I took the Minidisc player and my sizable collection of Minidiscs to the bedroom, where I set it up on my night stand as my nap time entertainment. All it required was a headphone adapter. Also, if and when I get tired of my current nap time music, it also has a CD player in it, so I can listen to CDs or copy them to Minidisc.

1991 technology is cool!

My last six cassettes, a mix of TDK MA-R and MA-XG metal bias tapes.
My last six cassettes, a mix of TDK MA-R and MA-XG metal bias tapes.



  1. One side-effect of getting older is that I now realize how temporary and fleeting are our current media devices. Neither my wife nor I are anxious to spend much money on the next TV, movie-playing widget, or music device, because we know they’ll simply end up in the garbage in a few years.

    Our DVD player is on the fritz (only plays some discs, not others), so we know we’ll have to replace it soon, but… If we get a Blu-Ray player, how long before Blu-Ray is the past technology?

  2. Here are a couple of pieces of good news about that: 1. Blu-Ray players are a tiny fraction of the cost they were just two years ago. 2. DVD players are almost to the point they are giving them away.

    The bad news: 1. Blu-Ray isn’t catching on like DVD, and may end up in the trash heap of history, mostly due to the popularity of streaming and cloud-based entertainment. 2. 99 percent of all entertainment on Blu-Ray, DVD, VHS, 8mm film, GAF Viewmaster and everything in between is unwatchably puerile and uninteresting.

  3. 2016 update: the minidisk player didn’t last long in the bedroom due to the iPhone and iPod milieu. I eventually gave the player and all but a couple of minidisks to Robert. I have no idea what he did with them.

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