More Proof That Early Aughts BMW Was Best: MiniDisc

Illustration for article titled More Proof That Early Aughts BMW Was Best: MiniDisc
Image: Jalopnik / Raphael Orlove

I had a fever dream some years ago. In this dream I fed a MiniDisc into the dash of my E36 and smiled as it clunked into place. Once awake, I decided I would install a MiniDisc head-unit in my car. I wanted to be as cool as Neo in my BMW E36. And I wanted period-correct electronics.

It would have to be a Sony head-unit, given the MiniDisc’s provenance and my love for MD Walkmans. But BMW did technically approve; it produced at least two MiniDisc head-units, though only for the E46 3 Series and the R50 Mini Cooper, so my E36 was out of luck. I could’ve tracked down a Becker Mexico Pro MD, a good fit for my dash, but it would also cost much more.

Yes, I could have just replaced my factory head-unit with something modern and convenient, but I felt nostalgic. It was Sony MD or bust. I wanted to fuss with the durable MiniDisc casings and rediscover all of my old mixes. I must have wasted entire days in the late ’90s creating playlists and adding metadata, in spite of Sony’s middling software.

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Illustration for article titled More Proof That Early Aughts BMW Was Best: MiniDisc
Image: Sony Corporation

MiniDiscs were like the cassettes of the aughts. And there were a surprising number of MiniDisc head-units out there. Alpine, Pioneer, Nakamichi, Blaupunkt and JVC are just a few of the companies that made them. They existed in single- and double-DIN configurations, too.

Sony made a few that really captured the zeitgeist of the MiniDisc era:

Illustration for article titled More Proof That Early Aughts BMW Was Best: MiniDisc
Image: Sony Corporation
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You can’t convince me this wasn’t a Winamp skin:

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I confess I only made it to the “Oh, God, what have I done” phase of my plan. I bought a Sony MDX-U1 and a Sony MDX-66XLP but did not install them. I sobered up and realized that keeping the factory radio and adding an auxiliary port was more sensible. But I wish I had seen it through, especially now that MiniDisc is enjoying a very slight resurgence.

Now, in 2020, I’m convinced the apotheosis of head-units — at least in older cars like mine — is a blank dash plate that will interface with the iPhone’s MagSafe feature and can provide both power and data pass-through. It wouldn’t need a screen, either. The iPhone’s will do.

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But there’s less fun in using an iPhone, a fully-functioning pocket computer that can access thousands of songs on demand while providing a reliable telecom feature-set. What I really wanted was an MD unit, for more or less the same reason we love an air-cooled flat-six or a manual transmission. What I really wanted was a bygone object with its inherent technological limitations and enduring charm.

Staff Writer at Jalopnik. Periodista automotriz, Naturally Aspirated Stan.

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DISCUSSION

Does anyone remember when cars used to have a six or even eight disc changer?

My aunt’s Volvo have one and it was really cool to use that’s something I miss a lot