Sony NetMD - First Impressions

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by AaronD, Jun 15, 2002.

  1. AaronD

    AaronD Stunt Coordinator

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    I've been looking for that perfect pocket size device to take on walks and to work for casual listening. I started out looking at small mp3 players with either memory cards or 3" cd's for their media. For some reason Sony's new NetMD portables never popped into my head, until I went to circuit city to pick up a DVD or seven. Needless to say I walked out of the store with a NetMD MZ-N505 ($149.99) and a five pack of MD's.
    [​IMG]
    Here are my initial impressions.
    Specifications
    The MZ-N505 isn't anything special in the hardware area. It sports a USB connection, a Optical digital in, Headphone Out, A Control Port, and a DC in for the supplied wall adapter. In addition, the MZ-N505 has MDLP capabilities which is the reason for the lofty play times listed on the packaging. The device supports the following ATRAC compression levels.
    1. Standard - ATRAC3@132kbps - 80 Minute Play Time.
    2. LP2 - ATRAC3@105kbps - 160 Minute Play Time.
    3. LP4 - ATRAC3@66kbps - 320 Minute Play Time.
    Ergonomics:
    The size of the unit is exactly what I wanted, something that would fit in my pocket and stay out of the way. The controls are very easy to understand, but I would like to see a back light on the small LCD for low light situations. My only complaint so far is that the volume buttons are too close to the directional pad that controls the play functions. But, this is definitely not a show stopper.
    Software:
    Perhaps the coolest feature about Sony's NetMD devices is the supplied software. OpenMG Jukebox and NetMD Simple Burner are the included packages. The Jukebox software is meant to "manage you music collection" including the hordes of MP3's you may or may not already have. The included "NetMD Simple Burner" is for quickly copying CD's direct to mini disc. But beware, this setup does have DRM so if that sort of thing makes you want to scream you have been warned.
    The included Juke Box software stores files that you've ripped from CD in the ATRAC format with a bit rate of your choice. When ripping from a CD you can choose to send it to your hard drive or your hard drive and attached MD player. Not only does it manage the ATRAC files on your hard drive but it keeps track of your MP3's and will convert them to ATRAC and send them to your NetMD device. In addition you can edit the contents of an existing MD and even download it to your PC. For those of you who have stand alone MD recorders in you systems this device would allow you to change track/md titles and re-order tracks all with the luxury of a keyboard and GUI.
    Regardless of what you are transferring to MD you can choose between Standard, LP2, and LP4. In my tests I transferred from CD and MP3 to NetMD in both standard and LP2 modes onto the same MD. I really like being able to mix bit rates on MD, and was able to fit one full album in Standard (from CD) and a second in LP2 (from MP3).
    The NetMD Simple Burner software is great for quick copies to MD, however for some reason you can only choose between LP2 and LP4, standard (or full bit rate) ATRAC is not available. Whereas transferring full bit rate ATRAC in the juke box software could take some time (around half the play time of what you are transferring), copying a CD using LP2 is very quick. It took me around 10 minutes to copy a ~45 minute CD. Both software pieces integrate with CDDB for automatic naming of tracks and albums and the Simple Burner also automatically creates groups with the corresponding album name on the MD.
    Sound Quality
    The included headphones are definitely not something to write home about, but they aren't totally bad. My biggest complaint about them is that they are stiff and hurt my ears after extended wearing. I whipped out my Sennheiser HD 570's for a listening test instead. The CD I had copied to Standard ATRAC on the MD sounded very good, it was perhaps lacking a little bit in the highs and was a tad murkier. BUT, the overall SQ was very good considering the device and application. I then listened to the MP3's (128k) that I had transferred to the MD at LP2. With the MP3's I honestly couldn't tell that much of a difference between the two. Now, I'm not an advocate of MP3 for sound quality, just mostly convenience...But I don't think I'd have problems with recording 160 minutes of audio to an MD to lug around with me.
    Final Thoughts
    NetMD is definitely cool, and I like it much better over the MP3 players I was looking at. I think ATRAC sounds better than MP3, and MD's are way cheaper than memory cards and more rugged than 3" CD's. The included software is pretty nice, if you can get over it's DRM quirks which aren't that bad to begin with. I think a NetMD device would be a welcome addition to even a seasoned MD lover, if not just for the ease of copying CD's and MD's and editing with a GUI.
    I can definitely see a MD deck for my car and HT by the end of this summer... Perhaps the proliferation of MP3's and small portable devices will be a saving grace for MD after all.
    Thanks for listening!
    -Aaron
     
  2. Joe_H

    Joe_H Screenwriter

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    fyi, i don't have the unit, but i think i remember reading that when downloading to the unit in SP mode, it will first convert it to LP2 before sending over USB,and THEN will decompress this in the player.

    I might not be describing this quite right, but i'm pretty sure thats what i read.
     
  3. Maurice Verploegen

    Maurice Verploegen Stunt Coordinator

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    Great review Aaron,

    Question though. Do you know if those MD's recorded in the LP2 or LP4 format, will read on any regular MD player. Here is why I am asking. I have an MD player in my HT set up. As well as a Car deck. I am really into MP3, and am ready to sell all of my MD gear to change back to CD. So I can take full advantage of this MP3 format. However, if this will record in MP3 format, and I can play it in my HT, and Car MD deck? I might change my mind. Please let me know.

    Thanks.

    Mo
     
  4. Thomas Newton

    Thomas Newton Screenwriter

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    A MiniDisc track recorded in LP2 or LP4 mode will only play back properly on a MiniDisc deck that has the LP feature.

    I have read that if you play a LP track on a non-LP player, you will hear silence. The tracks are supposedly recorded in some clever way so that they look like ATRAC silence to a player that is not expecting LP. (This keeps the player from getting confused, or generating a loud blast of noise as it tries to interpret LP2/4 data as ATRAC data.)

    MiniDisc tracks recorded with the MagicGate copy protection software supposedly are marked in some way so that the MD player will not allow you to edit them (split track, combine track with another track). I wouldn't be surprised if there was some embedded SDMI watermark. But I don't think there's anything stopping them from playing on other LP2/4-capable decks.
     
  5. KeithH

    KeithH Lead Actor

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    Aaron, thanks for the review and welcome to the wonderful world of minidisc! I'm not in the market for a portable player (I have a cheap Sony unit) or Net MD, but I enjoyed your review just because we don't see too many discussions of minidisc here.

    From your review, I gather you have not tried the LP4 mode yet. I don't have an LP-capable deck, but from everything I have read, LP4 is only suitable for the spoken word. Music in LP4 apparently sounds like total garbage. Maybe some with experience with LP4 can chime in.

    When you are ready to grab a home deck, let us know. A couple decks I recommend are the Kenwood MD-2070 and Sony MDS-JB940. Crutchfield has the Kenwood deck as a "Special Purchase" for $300. I think it was discontinued a few years ago, so I am guessing that Crutchfield bought up Kenwood's remaining inventory recently. Anyway, I bought one from Crutchfield a couple of months ago and am very happy with it. It is a very solid deck for the money.

    While I don't have the 'JB940, I have its predecessor, the 'JB930. Sony's 'JB' decks are an excellent value. Build quality and sound quality are excellent. Crutchfield has the 'JB940 for $400. It's getting tough to find these days, and since it came out well over a year ago, I am guessing that Sony will be discontinuing it this year in the US. Sony is planning on replacing it with the 'JB980 in Europe later this year, but I have not heard if the 'JB980 will be released in the US. I believe the 'JB940 and 'JB980 will be very similar in features and price (in £).

    If you do get an in-dash minidisc receiver for the car, you might consider getting a compatible CD changer for the trunk. Unless you are going to make loads of mixes onto minidiscs, you might find an in-dash minidisc receiver limiting. When I bought a new car last year, I immediately started shopping for a CD changer for the trunk and found a Sony unit at a good price. I considered going with a minidisc player for the in-dash receiver, but even with the CD changer, I felt I would miss the CD player in the dash. I always leave the trunk changer filled with CD-Rs, and when I buy CDs and want to listen to them on the way home, it is convenient to pop them in the player in the dash. So, even with the CD changer, I don't think I would have been happy with the in-dash minidisc receiver. That's just me.
     
  6. Phil Tomaskovic

    Phil Tomaskovic Supporting Actor

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    Is it correct that there is nothing special on what's recording on the MD regarding MP3? What I mean is that if one records MP3 on a NetMD, doesn't it get converted to ATRAC and is then compatible with any MD deck that supports LP? I would hate to get one of these and find I can't play anything it recorded on another deck.

    I think what these new MD players provide is software to convert MP3 to ATRAC and a USB to download it. Not sure if the MP3->ATRAC conversion is done on the PC before sending over USB or in the NetMD recorder itself?
     
  7. AaronD

    AaronD Stunt Coordinator

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    Maurice:
    Thomas is right, a deck that does not support the LP modes will not play the tracks. However, you can record in standard mode using the included juke box software, and that should be compatible with normal MD devices.
    KeithH:
    Thanks! No, I have not tried the LP4 mode yet but I will try and record a track using it this evening and post my thoughts. As for a home and car deck, I think the car deck will be first. I've looked at the kenwood in dash 3 MD changer they have at crutchfield, I think this coupled with an in dash CD player would be an excellent combo. My car has double DIN's in the dash...which is nice. I don't think I could be without a CD player upfront either, so I'll probably look at some sort of combination. As for home, is there a deck that supports LP modes? That is my only concern with the kenwood deck, but sony makes one that does. Toys, toys, toys, toys... [​IMG]
    Phil:
    Yes, the software converts MP3 to ATRAC before downloading it to the MD player...It should work on any normal MD deck, unless you record in LP mode then the deck needs to support this as well.
    -Aaron
     
  8. KeithH

    KeithH Lead Actor

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    Aaron, I'd like to hear your impression of LP4. What would be interesting would be comparing one song in regular, LP2, and LP4 mode. Can you mix and match recording modes on a minidisc or does the mode used for the first track dictate the mode that is used for the remainder?
    Sony makes a few home decks that incorporate LP technology (both LP2 and LP4). These include the MXD-D40 (has an internal CD player and can dub from CD to minidisc at 4x), MDS-JE470, and 'JB940. Crutchfield no longer has the 'JE470, so perhaps it has been discontinued. You might be able to track down a 'JE470 for $180 or so. I'd step up to the 'JB940, however.
    I've seen that Kenwood car deck, and it's looks pretty cool. It's great that you have room for both an in-dash CD and minidisc player. I wish I did. [​IMG]
     
  9. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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    Aaron, welcome to the extremely cool world of MiniDisc. You have now found out why MiniDisc is such a popular MP3 portablizing format. It sounds great and is very convenient, shock resistant, robust cheap media, etc. etc. etc.
     
  10. AaronD

    AaronD Stunt Coordinator

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    I didn't get a chance to compare ATRAC 4 to the other methods last night but I managed to get to it this evening. I used "Jump Jive An' Wail" from the Brian Setzer Orchestra's Dirtie Boogie album.
    In short, it's a little better than I had expected but I still wouldn't record any serious material using it. When compared to Standard ATRAC or even LP2 ATRAC the highs are noticably absent and the mid-range seems to be over emphasized with an overall murky quality. It's like someone cut off the upper range, and stereo separation suffers as well. I'd say the difference is aking to a very old mono record vs. a well cut stereo LP.
    I would say that it is better than KeithH was told, I wasn't completely repulsed when I first played the track.
    In short, it feels compressed and castrated. [​IMG] I do think thought that LP2 is an acceptable compromise. The cymbals loose a little bit of their shimmer in LP2 but it is minimal.
    If I had to give percentages of material missing from the original source it would be as follows:
    CD - 0% (Duh!)
    SP - ~5% (Possibly less, no significant diffference.)
    LP2 - 10-15% (Difficult to distinguish from SP on a decent pair of headphones)
    LP4 - 30-40%
    -Aaron
     
  11. Rodrigo Mansill

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    An small correction about MD specifications:
    1. Standard - ATRAC3@132kbps - 80 Minute Play Time.
    The standard mode in MDs is using the standard ATRAC audio codification @ 212 Kbps.
    And, by the way, you can find more information about MiniDisc in http://www.minidisc.org
     
  12. KeithH

    KeithH Lead Actor

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    Aaron said:
     
  13. AaronD

    AaronD Stunt Coordinator

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    Keith:
    It's not something that I would use, like I said... [​IMG] BUT, it's not quite as bad as it's cracked up to be. With media being so cheap, why even bother? I'd like to have a MDLP deck and car setup, just because LP2 sounds just fine for casual listening...
    -Aaron
     
  14. AaronD

    AaronD Stunt Coordinator

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    Rodrigo:
    Yes, you are right... My bad. The OpenMG software allows one to choose between 132kbps, 105kbps, and 66kbps when recording to the hard drive. I'm not sure what 105kbps is other than the odd man out. And it does convert ATRAC files on the hard drive from LP2 or LP4 to PCM when download to the MD in SP mode. So, you really can't get TRUE SP mode recordings from the software using the USB transfer. Crappy. But, LP2 sounds just fine to me for the current application. I've got SACD for retentive listening. [​IMG]
    -Aaron
     
  15. KeithH

    KeithH Lead Actor

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    Aaron, I'm sure if I had an LP-capable deck, I'd make a mix in LP4 mode. You pop in one minidisc and don't have to change anything for over five hours! Very cool.

    I asked:

     
  16. AaronD

    AaronD Stunt Coordinator

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    KeithH:
    Yes, you can I've recorded SP and LP2 on the same disc... Unless the software was tricking me it works just fine. [​IMG]
    -Aaron
     
  17. KeithH

    KeithH Lead Actor

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    Aaron, thanks. Much appreciated.
     
  18. Allan_Lim

    Allan_Lim Agent

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    Aaron thanks for the review. I had been on the fence about getting MD, but between yourself, Keith and Rachel I'm now convinced and will be picking up a unit very shortly.

    I just hope that Sony continues to support the format.
     
  19. Paul Chalk

    Paul Chalk Stunt Coordinator

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    Welcome to the world of MD! I bought the MZ-N1 (my first MD player) when it first came out. I'm rather impressed with it. I like the build quality, the high speed copying, the size, the rechargeable battery, the back-lit remote, and its sound quality. I spent a while paycheque on it but I don't regret it. [​IMG]
    I have a fairly difficult time telling the difference between LP2 and SP. But LP4 sounds like sh!t.
    What I find funny is that I bought this unit for the high speed copying over the USB. But lately I've been using the digital cable and recording in real time. :b
     
  20. Greg Schwabacher

    Greg Schwabacher Stunt Coordinator

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    I just got an MDS-JA333ES home deck today...the first home deck I've had that supports MDLP. Yes, LP4 does sound like crap, but LP2 is more than adequate for casual listening. If you're interested in the highest-end MD deck still available for your HT, check out the 'JA333ES. I ordered mine from Oade Bros., and it took a while for it to arrive, but I indeed have it and am very satisfied. It's replacing an MDS-JA20ES which is going to my second system. I love the MD format and decided I should get another ES deck while they're still available. If you want an ES deck, you'd better hurry, though...according to Jim Oade there are exactly 10 (well, now eight) available at Sony's distribution center in the U.S.! E-Bay is also an option...

    By pure luck, it looks like I'll finally get to try out NetMD! I recently sent my portable recorder (an MZ-R900, the old top-of-the-line model) in for repair under extended warranty. However, replacement parts were unavailable, so the warranty company has agreed to replace my recorder with an MZ-N1! I'm pretty excited, and will hopefully get to dive into the world of NetMD in a week or so.

    MD is great, and should only get more exciting for me once my MZ-N1 arrives!
     

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