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)

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
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

    SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

    SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

    Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

    £85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

    Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

    £55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering