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C30, C60, C74 Go

A few weeks ago I heard an announcement that was something of a surprise, the statement that the MP3 was dead. Whilst I've no doubt that people will still continue to use it for a good while to come, this adds another format to the dead-list, along with cassettes, vinyl*, CD, minidisc, DCC, 8-track and wax cylinder.

Whilst I'll confess I've bought the odd digital download, I still like to have the physical media to add to my collection. My 600+ CD collection continues to grow and I routinely trawl Discogs for other second-hand discs to add to my shelves. I can't see that changing for foreseeable future.

With the death of these formats, there's something else that's been lost along the way - the mixtape.

In my teenage years, the mixtape was one of those things that we all did for our friends and loved ones. Back in the height of the cassette format, I remember many attempts to put together the perfect mix of music on a C60 or C90 (C120s weren't such great quality and used to snap quite easily). The challenge of putting together a mix that used up every second on a side of a C60 was a fun one. Unfortunately in the world of streaming services this just doesn't seem to work in the same way. There's something quite tangible and personal about making your own tape to give to somebody else.

I will confess, however, that I still like to make a slightly-more-modern day equivalent of the mixtape - using minidisc.

Minidisc was a format that was declared dead by Sony back in 2013, although in some areas it's still alive and kicking. Some recording studios continue to use the format and it's still popular in journalism, which is why they still get a good price on sites such as eBay. A standard recordable minidisc contains 74 minutes of music and seems nicely reminiscent of C60/C90 cassettes, albeit with some funky editing facilities. A physical time constraint still remains and time is still required to record the contents.

I bought my minidisc recorder back in 2001 and it's still going strong. My machine, an MZ-R700, is still by modern standards a relatively small device. It nicely fits in the pocket, runs for days on a single AA battery and can record up to five hours on a single disc (although the quality isn't great at that level). I've also got a tiny plug-in microphone, which is ideal if you want to discretely record and make your own bootleg gigs - and blank, new discs can still be bought. Sound dead? No, not really.

As you can see below, it still has its uses - such as recording your vinyl to a format that you can listen to elsewhere….



I have no doubt that the MP3 format will continue to be used for many years to come. Whilst I buy the odd AAC/MP4 track from iTunes, I'm a luddite at heart and still like having some form of physical media to collect - and should iTunes/Amazon/Spotify/whoever go to the wall one day, I'll still have something to show for it. Ultimately, though, I'm convinced that there's no such thing as a dead music format. I'll still rip and burn CDs, I'll still use the MP3 format and I'll still make up my own mix-tape minidiscs. The technology sector is a fickle one and there's already a successor to the current MP4/AAC format on the horizon. Are we going to bin our old iTunes downloads and buy this new format instead in a few years time? I hope not.

Don't believe what the industry tells you. A music format is only dead when you stop using it.

* - Yes, yes, I know vinyl isn't totally dead - but it's definitely "niche".
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A couple days before Christmas, I did something that I’ve never done before - I lost a mobile device.

The victim was my poor MiFi (previously reviewed here), which I’ve had for nearly two years. It’s a wonderful device and has provided me with cheap and reasonable internet access on the move. I don’t quite know what happened, but on my usual train, the 7.49 to Cardiff, I must have left it on the seat. On realisation, I went through the seven stages of grief and accepted that I probably wouldn’t see it again. If a commuter hasn’t got themselves an early Christmas present, I’ve pretty much lost it to First Great Western’s overly bureaucratic lost-property office.

Luckily, I had a pleasant surprise when I called my network provider to report the loss. The blocked the device and said they’d send me a new “up to date” version, as long as I carried on the contract.

…and so, twenty-four hours later, I had a shiny new MiFi in my hands. Huzzah!

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There are a few things that strike you when you first have a peek. Firstly, it’s been given a makeover. It’s like a little black pebble now, with a rather handy status screen to let you know what’s going on. Someone has also rather sensibly put a thingummybob to allow you to physically secure it to whatever you want to - which should prevent idiots like me from losing the damn things.

Perhaps the best improvements, though, are the web-based configuration interface (which means that anything that has a browser can set up the device) and the automatic connection that takes place as soon as you switch it on. Once on, it connects and fires up the WiFi within about five seconds. Simplicity is the best bit of it - It has even less buttons than its predecessor. The only other button is the one that displays the network ID and password. As before, you can connect up to five devices to it, but how much bandwidth everyone gets will depend on how good your coverage is. It seems that they’ve even thought about how to improve coverage too. Included in the box is a proper docking station which also charges the device and angles things for the best reception. Huawei seem to have considered everything.

In terms of performance, it’s said that with the addition of HSDPA, bandwidth is supposed to have massively improved over the previous iteration. Whilst it’s hard to give absolute values for this (because your coverage, network and computer might have some bearing on the performance), I averaged at least 3MB/s in good coverage 3G and city areas, and about 800KB/s in my “not to good” home area, which impresses me. There are still rural areas that don’t even get 512K lines with conventional wired broadband, let alone mobile versions. In most cases, the upload speed wasn’t too far off the download speed (tested with speedtest.net). It’s hard to say if the speed improvements are due to improved network coverage, a better antenna, or simply the HSPDA bit, but my hunch leads to me to think it’s a combination of all three. I used TuneIn Radio through my iPhone and car stereo as the test (6Music, I do wish you’d broadcast on FM!) and dropouts were very short and rare. The quality of connection seems to have improved.

If you’re using the device without its charger, then battery life will depend upon how much you hammer it. From full-battery to empty, you should get 6+ hours of continuous use. However, I’m just charging mine up again after a few weeks of slightly more intermittent use (about 20 mins/day). It’s got a standard USB connector if you want to charge it up on the go.

Do I recommend getting one of these? Of course I do. It’s damn good way of having mobile data, miles better than those awful USB stick affairs - and you can share it, too. Lots of small improvements have been made in every area, showing that a lot of thought has gone into the revamp. Setup is simpler, connection is simpler and the speed is better. I have to say that it’s seriously impressed me. If you’ve got an iPad, laptop or equivalent, you could do a lot worse than buy one.

Now I just need to make sure that I don’t lose this one.
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