I requested a Hi-MD as a Christmas 2004 gift when I learned that Sony’s SonicStage software would allow analog recordings to be uploaded without loss of quality to a computer. In the last year, it’s been my podcast-recording device of choice, and is a great portable music solution. I think its audio quality and tweakability are superior to the iPod, but the iPod is certainly easier to use.

As Minidisc adoption has waned over the last few years, Sony has been enabling more features and usability to the line. I just got the news from the Minidisc Community Forums today that SonicStage 3.4 is out and has enabled the following features that I’ll definitely use:

  • New ATRAC3plus bitrates: Bitrates now range from 48kbps to 352kbps with 9 increments (132kbps ATRAC3 is a 10th setting). Not all can be transferred to Hi-MD, but the 352kbps one is a new high (256kbps (Hi-SP) was previously).
  • HQ compression: Normal (default) or high quality compession modes are available.
  • Non-copy-protected uploaded tracks and digital and analog recordings are all able to be transferred directly to a computer without DRM. This finally allows full use of the capabilities of the device and enables content portability between computers and Hi-MD devices. I believe the timing of enabling this is at least partially the result of the bad publicity from the Sony/BMG “Rootkit” fiasco.

I think the Minidisc portable recorders are still the best-featured devices that don’t require proprietary or non-removable batteries. I currently use the iPod Nano more for day-to-day listening of podcasts and some of my new music, but my Hi-MD (the MZ-NHF800) is still the crown jewel of my portable music and recording arsenal. Thanks to Sony Electronics for making it even more useful.