MiniDisc: The introduction of Minidisc

January 12, 2009

– editing this post, ain’t finished!

After years of dominance of the analogue Compact Cassete for recording interesting things from the radio and the occasional LP, Sony and Philips launched two competing digital replacements – the Minidisc (MD) and Digital Compact Cassette (DCC).

A free demo MiniDisc handed out at a consumer electronics show hooked me into the format. Sony has a habit of making these new fangled things do desirable. Anyway I discounted DCC as it looked a clumsy and fragile adaptation of the previous analogue tape format – and I always counted on keeping my existing equipment for that!


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 😉


Speakers: TDL Studio 1M

January 9, 2009

A little while ago, TDL Electronics Limited used to be the British speaker manufacturer that championed the consumer advantages of transmission line principles in bass reflex ported speaker cabinet design. Making mostly floor-standers, their speakers gained some attention of export markets and there were some multiple drive unit monsters headed for the USA in the late nineties.

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With a complex folded cavity inside the speaker to delay the reverse phase acoustic wave generated at the rear of the bass driver (but allowing it to supplement the wave generated in front without cancellation), transmission line speakers are efficient to drive and are capable of very low and distinct bass.

I bought this pair of new Studio 1M’s just after the original company closed down and was sold. Indeed I was quite lucky to get £500 shaved off the original £999 selling price, after dragging my existing equipment down to a listening room in my local Hi-Fi shop and listening to a few alternatives which came nowhere close for the bass!

They are 1 metre in height hence the 1M in the model name, and came wandering into the house in two rather large cardboard boxes – which initially caused a few domestic concerns around here.

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TDL’s speakers then characteristically had a mostly flat neutral ‘transparent’ response over the normal audio bandwidth due to their usage of innovative materials and custom manufactured drivers. My Studio 1M speakers feature stiff aluminium diaphragm drivers for both the tweeter and the bass driver, a design choice taken to reduce the crossover response mismatch found with usage of different materials.

The benefits are particularly telling with brass instruments, percussion and female vocals which really project themselves into my listening room. I have a small collection of demo CD recordings distributed by equipment manufacturers themselves (Naim, B&W, Dali) that impresses me in a way that music commercially designed ‘loud’ for the radio sadly doesn’t. Oh well.

So, moving on to the bass and holding on to the roof tiles…

My Mission Cyrus ‘Straight Line’ amplifier does not feature a bass control (or allow any other tonal modifications) but with these speakers it does manage to generate quite a weighty soundstage for recordings that have a naturally deep content like church organs, stringed bass and the occasional thumpin’ dance track.

The heritage of TDL grew from an earlier 70’s company called IMF whose history is told here. Looking forward there are professional transmission line products by PMC that are used in recording and broadcast studios including those of the BBC.

The TDL company website of today includes some history and descriptions of the internals of these speakers, but the current range produced are quite different products made abroad using traditional components and designs. They are now owned by The Audio Partnership – Julian Richer’s ghostly collection of former great British Hi-Fi companies. eBay is probably the best place to find an original TDL Transmission Line model.

Interestingly, Bose seem to have taken some of the transmission line delay principles and built them into their over-hyped clock radio, which does sound impressive for bass (I’ve played with one!) but loses it tonally in comparison to a proper Hi-Fi system (and a few midi-systems as well …)


test planet

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test junk

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