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Small sounds beautiful;Hardware

Minidiscs now offer a flexible and cheap sound editing system. Jack Kenny takes them for a spin

The hardest thing to get right in multimedia is the sound. Cassette tapes do not offer a particularly helpful option here either - just think of the disadvantages: tapes occasionally snag, the difficulty of finding the right place, and then there's the hiss. In addition, editing a cassette tape can be achieved, but the results are rarely satisfactory.

Minidisc playerrecorders have been around for some time, but have not leapt into the headlines. You can buy a portable for just pound;200, and the recordable discs cost between pound;1.50 and pound;4.

So what are their advantages? Well, the playerrecorder is small - the disk is about a quarter of the size of a CD-Rom case, fits easily into your pocket and records for 74 minutes in stereo or for 148 minutes in mono. The lithium rechargeable batteries are good and have a life of around four hours for recording and seven for playback.

They do have some drawbacks. To start with, it can be hard to find a range of pre-recorded discs to play. And in order to get all the information on such a small disc, a good deal of data is thrown away. The process works on the theory that if humans can't hear sounds above and below certain frequencies, why bother recording them? I must admit that I can't hear any substantial difference between the minidisc and the compact disc.

Editing is one of the creative processes that adds vast educational potential to texts, sounds and video, while giving an insight into the media. The plus for education is that with a minidisc, you can edit sound with ease.

In addition to good sound quality, it enables you to mark sections to be deleted or moved with precision around the disc - the equivalent of splicing a tape. You can add and erase track marks, and label tracks - all without spoiling the sound.

On a field trip, an interview with hill farmers can be edited back in the hostel or at school, or fed into a multimedia sequence via a sound card.

If competing with cassettes, the minidisc recorderplayer should win hands down.

Sony MZ-R35 (pound;249) and MZ-R50 (pound;280) 0181 760 0500

Sharp Electronics MD-MS722H (pound;250) and MD-MS702H (pound;200).

0161 205 2333

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