Motoring: A digital duel over the dashboard: Sony and Philips are vying for the driver's ear, says David Rowlands

AFTER the car wireless came the radio cassette; after the stereo cassette came the compact disc unit. Soon, you will have an even greater choice of in-car audio entertainment. Two new digital recording formats, specifically designed for music on the move, are about to hit the high street.

Digital Compact Cassette (DCC) is seen by Philips as the logical successor to the tape cassette it invented 30 years ago. Also just launched is Sony's MiniDisc (MD), a tiny CD wrapped in a protective cartridge smaller than a computer diskette. A Sony MD car player is in the shops now, while prospective car-borne DCC buyers, won over by Philips's mega-spend on television advertising for the new cassette, will have to wait another three months. Prerecorded DCC tapes and MiniDiscs are already stocked at major record stores.

Tape cassettes have held sway in car players since Philips saw off the continuous-play cartridge more than 20 years ago. Worldwide annual sales of prerecorded cassettes peaked a few years ago at 640 million, predominantly bought for use in cars or personal stereos. The cassette's convenience is what Philips seeks to preserve in the DCC format as conventional cassette sales decline under critical aural comparison with CD.

CDs enjoy a certain vogue in cars where scanning glitches have been ironed out. Prices have tumbled to pounds 300 for a first-class CD tuner, no more than the cost of a top-flight radio cassette player. CDs have penetrated car-makers' standard-equipment lists: top models from Ford and Vauxhall, for example, sport disc machines; others have them as options.

But CDs are not cheap, cannot - yet - be recorded, and too easily suffer handling damage, while being none too easy to juggle in a car. If there is one thing that Philips and Sony agree on, it is that CDs will not assume the global mass-market status of compact cassettes.

Philips posited that the logical successor should be digital but cosily familiar. Hence DCC is tape, the cassette is the same size although a protective door covers the innards, and it is recordable on a domestic digital player (already on the market) direct from CD. Even smarter, DCC decks play all your old tapes, so there is a strong loyalty built in.

Sony started with a cleaner sheet, developed a means to cram as much digital data on to a tiny disc as is on a conventional CD (DCC needs similar compression), and wrapped it in a protective jacket. What is more, Sony developed a recordable MiniDisc using magneto-optical properties discovered about a hundred years ago. Squeezing MD into a car audio unit was no problem and, just in case rough roads do jiggle the laser, there is a four-megabyte memory - the music plays on while the scanner picks up where it broke off.

For car users, MD has many conveniences. The packs take up little space and are fully protected from scratching, dirt and sticky fingers. An autochanger player, when it leaves the drawing-board, will not be much bigger than a box of After Eights, easily fitted in the glovebox or under a seat. Access to, and repeat of, favourite tracks is rapid. DCC still suffers from mechanical winding sloth. Both formats have the added fun of album, artist and track title displays, an extra trick up the digital sleeve.

Auditions of both formats - DCC on a domestic unit and MiniDisc on the road - reveal the tremendous clarity, precision and dynamism that, hitherto, were the province of CD alone. However, MD has yet to prove to keen ears that it has the firmest grasp on stereo imaging.

Even more off-putting to less sensitive ears are the launch prices. Sony's MDX-U1 RDS car unit costs pounds 850, before adding competent amplifiers and speakers - double the cost of a comparable CD tuner. The Philips car machines will launch at prices from pounds 350 and include amplification. Prerecorded tapes and MiniDiscs cost about the same as full-price CDs - around pounds 13. Blank DCC tapes are about 10 per cent dearer than best-quality metal cassettes, but recordable MiniDiscs (maximum 74 minutes) are a telling pounds 9.

Prices may tumble and car- makers are already goggling at the potential for new digital audio equipment fitted at the factory. Right now you should, perhaps, consider your purse and review in a kinder light the familiar, if just a little imperfect, sounds of your very economical radio-cassette player.

(Photograph omitted)

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
news
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
Brendan Rodgers looks on from the touchline
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick