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MINIDISC PLAYERS

 

HEAD

A DISC OF DELIGHTS

 

INTRO

It has finally happened, MiniDisc is now the natural successor to compact cassette, here’s five hi-fi solutions that prove MD has arrived...

 

COPY

 

SHARP MD-S50, £300

Whilst Sony have concentrated on functionality and features, Sharp have been busily shrinking their MiniDisc players, to the point where they’re only slightly larger than the discs themselves. The MD-S50 is remarkably compact, in fact the re-chargeable lithium-ion battery pack, which lasts for up to 4-hours between charges, represents almost a quarter of the volume and around a third of the weight of the machine.

 

One of the ways they’ve managed to save weight is by moving all of the display, and most of the control functions to a separate module, that connects between the player and the in-ear phones. This has a tiny LCD panel and a set of impossibly small buttons and keys, particularly if you’ve got fat fingers, or try to use it wearing gloves. The module is quite heavy too, and unless it’s clipped onto clothing, it has a tendency to tug uncomfortably on the phones. The display shows all the usual track and time information, and the track title scrolls across the panel, but since it can only show six characters at a time, you have be quite determined to use it.

 

Other, more successful facilities include a 10-second anti-shock memory, random and repeat play plus cue and review. Strangely there’s no program play function, the facility to replay tracks in any desired order is on of MD’s key selling points. The in-ear phones suffer from the usual problems of comfort and lack of bass depth, though the 3-stage bass-boost helps a little. Actual sound quality is very good, though the limits are defined by the supplied earphones, which are best described as average; almost any type of semi-serious headphone yields an instant improvement. Nevertheless,  sound output is reasonably well balanced and noise levels are on a par with CD. Very small, very cute but the lack of program play is a shame.

 

Value for money 78%

Sharp UK Ltd, telephone 0161-205 2333

 

 

SHARP MD-X3H, £700

This smart-looking one-box mini hi-fi system incorporates not one but two comparatively new audio technologies. The first, of course, is MiniDisc, with a full-spec playback and record deck; the other is SRS (sound retrieval system) three-dimensional sound; more about that in a moment. The front panel is split into four sections. At the top there’s a 3-CD autochanger, below that is the AM/FM tuner with 20 station presets. The MD deck comes next, and below that there’s a single auto-reverse cassette deck. A range of record and playback permutations are possible, but it’s the CD to MiniDisc options that will interest most people.

 

There’s a useful set of track edit and syncro-record functions, that automates the whole process, plus five MD editing functions, for dividing tracks, combining adjacent tracks, re-ordering track sequence, erasing tracks, and assigning titles to tracks and discs. Most editing operations are carried out using the front panel display and controls, with a very versatile jog-dial doing most of the work.

 

The SRS processor can be used with any of the four source inputs. There are six pre-set modes, 1 to 5 simulate the soundfield in various types of material and simulated listening environment. Mode 6 is used to create a 3D effect from mono material. Power output is rated at 2 x 50 watts RMS through two,  two-way bookshelf-sized speakers.

 

SRS generates a wide, highly detailed soundfield. It’s not surround sound by any stretch of the imagination but can help to liven up otherwise dull stereo material. MD and CD replay is very clean with very little background hiss. CD has a very slight edge with fractionally more depth and treble detail, though on both sources the response is even and uncoloured. MD copies of CD are very crisp and apart from a tiny increase in noise and slight flattening of treble frequencies, is virtually indistinguishable from the original.

 

Value for money 83%

Sharp UK Ltd, telephone 0161-205 2333

 

SONY MZR-30, £300

If you still need convincing about the versatility and the compact nature of MiniDisc then take a look at the MZR-30 recordable MD player. It’s just a little larger than a pack of 20 cigarettes, yet Sony have managed to squeeze in the functionality and performance of decks and systems more than ten times its size. It’s got the lot, including a complete set of recording and editing facilities, yet it will slip easily into a jacket pocket.

 

Control layout is excellent, a lot of functions are handled by an ingenious jog-dial, that’s used for track selection and many of the disc editing and labelling operations. A small LCD panel set into the side of the machine shows all deck functions, track and disc information, recording and playback levels. An anti-shock sound buffer holds around 10 seconds worth of audio and it has a sampling rate converter, internal clock and optical digital input. Power is supplied by a chunky lithium ion battery that runs for around 8 hours between charges, the unit also comes with a clip on battery pack, that holds two AA-sized cells, which extends playing time to an amazing 15 hours; recording times are a little shorter. A small remote control module in the earphone has buttons for track selection, cue and review, track marking and volume.

 

Surprisingly the in-ear phones actually sound quite reasonable. They lack the harsh tinny sound of most of the others, there’s even the beginnings of some bass, with the mega bass mode engaged. Plumb it into a decent hi-fi and it compares very favourably with any of the system based components we’ve looked at. CD to MD recordings show only a tiny reduction in treble detail. In fact the only thing that’s missing, that would have made it the only MD machine you’ll ever need, is a built-in microphone. Recommended.

 

Value for money 90%

Sony UK Ltd., 0181-784 1144

 

SONY DHC-MD5, £500

Sony have dared to be different with this elegant one-box mini system. The unusual sloping control panels certainly sets it apart from the regiment of black boxes jostling for shelf space. The MiniDisc loading hatch is just below the main display panel and two large dials. The one on the right controls volume, the other is a multi-function jog-dial, used for everything from track and disc selection, to tuning. The 3-band tuner has an RDS decoder, for displaying programme details and traffic information.

 

A pair of equally imposing 3-way bass-reflex speakers are supplied with the system box; they’re driven by gutsy 2 x 40 watt amplifier, with 20 pre-set equaliser setting, switchable bass boost and ‘groove’ (even more bass emphasis) mode. A sleep timer turns the system off at a preset time, and it can be programmed to make timed  MD recordings from the tuner.

 

At the bottom of the stack there’s a 3-disc CD autochanger, replay is sequential, random or programmed with a 32-track memory. Up to 30 CDs can be labelled, with title or track info displayed every time its loaded. There’s an extensive set of DC to MD recording and editing facilities, including track re-ordering, move, split and combine functions.

 

Audio performance is impressive, the speakers are well suited to fast, dynamic rock material, and there’s plenty of power to play with. With all the bass enhancements switched in, it sounds quite meaty too. MD and CD replay is crisp and articulate, with very little background noise. Side by side comparisons of CD and MD digital copies reveals only a few subtle differences, here and there, that you probably wouldn’t notice, unless you were listening for them. Striking good looks, powerful sound and a very good selection of MD recording facilities; well worth considering.

 

Value for money 88%

Sony UK Ltd., 0181-784 1144

 

SONY MDX-C670RDS, £400

If you’ve got an MD system or deck at home, after a personal player the next logical place to have one is in your car. The MDX-C670RDS is a really impressive piece of kit. There’s 20 presets for the 3-band tuner, RDS gives up to the minute traffic reports and station information, and there’s 4 x 35 watts of amplification, to drive two sets of speakers, front and rear. If that’s not enough there’s line-output sockets for external power amplifiers, and a stereo line input, so it can be used with other source components.

 

The front panel is detachable, a bleeper sounds for a few seconds when the car’s ignition is switched off, to remind you to take it with you.  It comes with a rotary remote control column or ‘joystick’, that can be attached to the steering wheel or dashboard. This controls all of the unit’s main functions, so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road, to adjust the volume, change stations, select tracks on the MD player, or mute the sound. The unit can also be used with one of Sony’s boot or under-dash mountable CD and MD autochangers. A full dash fixing kit is supplied, and there’s some easy to follow instructions, for those that want to install the unit themselves.   

 

There are simply too many variables in in-car audio for us to be able to make any meaningful judgements about sound quality, but suffice it to say, hooked up to a set of decent hi-fi speakers and a 12 volt power supply, it would certainly pass muster as a home audio component. In the confines of a typical family saloon there should be more than enough power for most normal people. MD playback is fine with all of the clarity, detail and precision of it’s house-bound brethren.  

 

Value for money 85%

Sony UK Ltd., 0181-784 1144

 

CONCLUSION                                

Best sound                              Sony MD5

Best features                          Sony MZ-R30

Best build quality             Sharp MD-S50

Best value for money             Sony MZ-R30

 

FIVE TOP TIPS FOR BUYING MINIDISC

* Player-only decks are really only of interest if you’ve got a record deck as well, otherwise what are you going to listen to? Pre-recorded MDF software is still rather thin on the ground
 

* CD to MD copying is still the most popular application, put simplicity of use and flexibility high on your list of priorities

 

* MD editing functions on record decks and systems are a powerful tool, so the more the merrier

* The in-ear-phones supplied with most players are pretty naff, try others head/ear phones before you buy, maybe try to include them in the deal

* If you get a player-recorder you will need a good supply of blank discs, buy in bulk, it’s cheaper    

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Ó R. Maybury 1997 2703

 

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