Lieven’s thoughts on Minidisc
When Nathan told me he was planning on doing a series on Old School audio devices, it didn’t come to me at all he was going to write about the (in)famous Minidisc system Sony developed in the early 90s. Being born in the seventies, I spent most of my teen years in the nineties. In my opinion, your musical style and preference are determined in your teen years. To make a long story short when Nathan said he was going to write about the Minidisc, he actually reminded me I actually owned one all these years ago.
When I finally found my MD-player in the attic (thanks to my lovely girlfriend) it turned out to be the good old Sony MZ-R70 recorder. With it were a whole bunch of Minidiscs, some of them even unopened. I have to admit I got as happy as a little kid getting candy for the first time. Ten minutes later, that all changed. It turned out the rechargeable battery had leaked all over. Mea Culpa.
Aesthetically speaking, the player looked like almost new. Sure, there were some scratches, but after cleaning it up, it looked just fine. I combed the battery compartment for leakage and then dropped a brand new AA battery into the external battery compartment and was greeted by the familiar kzzz zz zzzzzz, kzzz zz zzzzzz.
It was alive!
And all the memories flooded back. If you ever owned a Minidisc player you will never forget the turning sound those MDs made. Oh yes kids, back in the days our digital players made noise! And one AA battery gave you 17 hours of musical pleasure from a device that actually fit in your pocket. No looking like Spinal Tap at the airport.
My MD-player was now working again but what were all those buttons and connections for again? One MIC in, one optical Line in, two 3.5mm headphone jacks and a whole bunch more for menu items, track marks, recording- and that was just the top.
Here’s a guilty admission: after all these years I had no longer had a clue how to work one of these devices. Thankfully, the manual was still in the box. It’s actually pretty spectacular what Minidiscs could do back in the days. In general they had excellent DAC sections because the technology back then was still too expensive to develop great amp stages. Lots of MDs were actually used to as recording devices at concerts and a lot of bootlegs from those days were recorded on Minidiscs. (Nathan will talk more on the success and failure of the Minidisc system so I won’t go into any detail about this.)
My Sony MD apparently wasn’t the best player on the market but it did have 40 seconds of memory so you would never hear bleeps whilst walking. It also had a cabled remote control and I remember the more expensive units even had screens in their remote units. Count me among the jealous of the day. But I just couldn’t afford those versions. One of the good thing about the remote was that it allowed connecting a different headphone to it so you could always keep using your remote. I put in the MD that said “Last compilation” and was greeted with Linkin Park’s “In the End”. I guess the last time I used the MZR70 was around 2000.
I don’t think my MD-player was equipped to copy the song titles. That meant titling them manually. It seems that I was lazy, though; lots of my disks have no track names on them at all. Also, I noticed that I had the MEGA BASS set to maximum. Maximum bass? Oh yes, I always loved my bass but I have to say that the extra bass setting here sounds like many new/actual DAPs with the EQ set to zero and bass boost off, I guess people over the years learned to love bass more and more.
The original 15 year old earbuds were still working and I before I put them into my ears I was afraid of the sound quality they were going to unleash to my spoiled eardrums. But hello! There are a lot of modern technology earbuds and IEMs on the market now I wouldn’t even rate as good sounding as these standard Sony earphones.
Well, it was time to test the recording capabilities. I put in a blank disk and hooked it up to the Line Out of my AK240 and recorded Michael Jackson and Pink Floyd. The source files? DSD, of course. The process involved playing back the source material and recording the analogue output wave in real time. It’s a pretty time-consuming process.
A lot of people nowadays are still using Minidiscs and most of them do it because of the DAC units inside. The Sony automatically recognises a new song and inserts track marks. So, how did my DSD files make the transition from digital to analogue to digital? Suffice it to say that I wasn’t disappointed. On the contrary, the sound was great: linear with a slightly elevated bass (see above). Mids were musical and there was with heaps and nice, sparkling treble.
If all the review samples I received sounded like this I would be a very happy guy. I’m kidding, I’m quite happy as it is thank you, but I’m just trying to say that the SQ of this 15 year old device beats a lot of players out there. Sony did that good of a job and I’m lucky to own one of these classic units. I actually saw new old stock versions of my exact unit being offered online for over $500 USD. (Back in the day, the MZR70 sold for around $250 USD.)
So should we all go back to Minidiscs and forget about our expensive Hi-Fi Digital Audio players? I would say “yes” if you need something small and good to do recordings. And, of course, you have to still be living in the past. I would say “no” if you just use it to listen to music. Making a disk is extremely time consuming. And it takes a lot of time to get everything right. What it does right is good sound quality.
Preparing for this article was a trip down memory lane. It was fun. But I don’t think you’ll find me leaving the house with the MD-Player instead of my AK240 or Cypher Labs rig. But if I saw you with one, know that you have my respect and understanding.
Before you ask, no, I am not selling you my awesome MD-Player. This one will stick with me for as long as I live, or longer. Sorry.