MiniDisc: Sony MD Walkman MZ-R30

January 10, 2009

In April 1988, I purchased this portable unit as much needed company on a boring daily commute into central London.

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As it was my very first Minidisc device, I chose to purchase a recorder. Comparatively at the time, most personal stereo cassette units were playback only, with the exception of the most desirable Walkman WM-D6C.

The MZ-R30 supported both analogue and digital S/PDIF recording – the latter input via an optical Toslink connection through the ‘line-in’ socket. Analogue input signals could either be from a plug-in power stereo microphone or via ‘line-in’. Audio output was analogue only – either at the fixed ‘line-out’ level socket or though attached headphones on a different 3.5mm connector.


In Playback …

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The supplied in-ear headphones unfortunately weren’t up to much (bass non-existent), but Sony made them nicely removable from the supplied in-line remote control (weird plug) so that a better model of theirs could be bought.

I instead ditched the remote and went for Sennheiser’s HD25 SPII – a closed back design much better suited to my daily train journey. Unfortunately these were a bit hard to drive, so I had to run the player at maximum volume – which thankfully worked without distortion.

The supplied Li-ion cell life was quite decent in this situation, and a charge would generally last me a couple of days. It would normally charge inside the unit when powered from the mains adaptor, but at a couple of electronic shows I found an external twin-cell charger and an additional Li-ion cell for longer playtime enjoyment.


Adventures in Analogue Recording

This was one of Sony’s first MD recorders and a few ergonomic issues were evident. Mainly, to start a new analogue recording with manual recording level, the following two-handed finger gymnastics were required.

  • Press ‘End search’ to position to the end of the disc (or have the new recording trample over elsewhere on the disc),
  • Simultaneously hold in the pause button, press the centre of the record button and slide it over to the left. Keep the two like that until the LCD shows ‘ManualREC’. Release both.
  • Adjust the recording level using the track skip forward/reverse buttons.
  • Press the pause button to start recording.

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Looks pretty easy written up like that. But fiddly and damn easy to do incorrectly and have to go through again.

The ‘End search’ action upset many concert tapers and it was only after a large number of MD recorders were made and sold, did Sony finally get it right.

The quality of analogue recordings made was very good and largely noise free. I bought a small Panasonic RP-VC200 lapel mount stereo microphone – It was excellent for recording live performances.


Digital Recording and DAC usage

On the whole Digital recording was easier – no manual record level setting required. The recorder supported S/PDIF streams of 32, 44.1 and 48 kHz – using the built-in sample rate converter, and when recording from CD the ‘Synchro Rec’ function would detect and create new track marks as necessary.

Protected SCMS streams were blocked from recording with the stern LCD warning – ‘NoCopy’.

At the time my optically connected MP3 jukebox PC had a huge internet sourced collection of music tracks stored at both 44.1 (CD) and 48 kHZ (DAT) sample rates. Digitally transferring to MD these tracks, that had previously been Winamp decompressed from their MP3’d storage and then recompressed by Sony’s ATRAC processing, impressively didn’t show up too much deterioration when played back.

But even more impressive was the performance of the unit as a high quality DAC for live playout of my computer audio.

Placed into record-pause mode as described above (with a blank Minidisc), the recorder converted the digital input (from a cheap and S/PDIF hacked C-Media CMI8330 soundcard) to a very good line-out analogue rendition. In fact, this was a whole different world than that available from PC soundcards at the time, including the more expensve Soundblaster Live series.

I found the MZ-R30 a well built unit of quality materials and the weight indicated as such. I’ve just dragged it out to write this review, so am clearly on a nostalgia trip. Better stop now 😉


MiniDisc: Sony MDS-JB920 Minidisc Deck

September 2, 2008

currently live editing article…

After the purchase of a portable MiniDisc recorder (Sony’s MZ-R30), I became interested in purchasing an accompanying MiniDisc recording deck for the Hi-Fi stack.

Starting from 1998, Sony were churning out quite a few different domestic models for the home. I found the spec of the MDS-JB920 deck mainly appealing due to the feature of S/PDIF digital output from the Minidisc deck AND the same digital output active while monitoring analogue or digital input signals when set up in recording-pause mode. I’ll cover this later.

The deck is part of Sony’s QS range of quality components and is solidly built to show the promise. It has the following connectivity.

inputs
1 analogue ‘line in’
2 digital toslinks
1 digital coaxial

outputs
1 analogue ‘line out’
1 digital toslink
1 digital coaxial

The supplied remote control is a bit of a monster