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General Operation

The N10 operates like most minidisc and CD players; pushing PLAY will start playback of the disc. Pushing STOP will stop playback, but if you push PLAY again, playback will resume where it left off (there is no option to turn off this "resume" feature, nor will hitting STOP twice send you back to the beginning of the disc). Pushing the joystick to the left and right will allow you to change tracks, and holding left or right will allow you to audibly rewind/fast forward though the current selection. There is no power button on the unit; if the unit is stopped for 10 seconds, it will power-off automatically.

To turn the unit on, simply press the PLAY button; the volume +/-, tracking, and End Search buttons will also bring the unit out of a powered-off state. Under normal operation, it takes about 6-8 seconds for playback to start from a powered-off state; however Sony has added a "PowerMode" option, which, when set to "QUICK", will keep the unit in a "ready" state even when powered off. Pushing PLAY while powered off in "QUICK" mode will start playback of the music INSTANTANEOUSLY, with ZERO delay time. Using QUICK mode however introduces an additional drain on the battery.

Sony introduced "Group mode" in 2001, which allowed users to "group" their songs into folders. Pushing the GROUP button allows you to browse/navigate the different folders on the disc.

You will hear an audible "beep" when pushing most of the operation buttons, and there are different types of "beeps" for different operations. If you find this annoying, you can go into the OPTION menu and turn the "beeping" off.

Other useful features of the N10 include:

  • A variety of playback modes, including single track, single folder/group, shuffle mode, and 20-track program mode. This program is lost when you eject the disc, unless you enter the disc into Personal Disc Memory. REPEAT can be toggled on/off for each of the play modes. One note of interest is that in SHUFFLE mode, you can NOT shuffle backwards to a previously played track. Though this may seem completely normal, I also own a Creative Nomad Jukebox which allows you to go backwards to previous tracks in Shuffle mode - which I thought was incredibly nice.

  • Bookmarks - up to 20 tracks can be "bookmarked" on a disc, which can then be played back in sequence if you enter "Bookmark Track Play" mode. You insert a bookmark by holding the PLAY button for 2 seconds, and you can only bookmark an entire track - ie, you do not insert bookmarks at specific time locations within a track. Bookmarks (like programmed tracks) are cleared when you eject the disc, unless you enter the disc into Personal Disc Memory. (I'm actually having a hard time figuring out how this bookmark feature is any different from programming tracks... I suppose it's easier to just hold PLAY and instantly mark a track, instead of having to change the playmode to PROGRAM and manually enter tracks into the program...?)

  • DPC (Variable Playback Speed Control) - Playback speed can be set to -50%, -33%, -25%, -20%, -10%, -5%, 0 (normal speed), +5%, +10%, +20%, +33%, +50%, +100% (roughly double speed), with no resulting change in pitch.

  • Melody Timer - An audible alarm can be set anywhere from 1 minute to 99 minutes, in 1 minute intervals. This feature was probably aimed at train commuters in Japan, to help them avoid missing their train stops. There is no external speaker on the N10, so the alarm plays through the headphones. You can select between three different monophonic melodies.

  • User-adjustable 6-band EQ - along with 4 factory EQ presets (Heavy, Pops, Jazz, Unique), there are 2 user-savable custom EQ settings. You can adjust the EQ at 100Hz, 250Hz, 630Hz, 1.6kHz, 4kHz, and 10kHz, in 6 steps at each band (-10dB, -6dB, -3dB, 0dB, +3dB, +6dB, and +10dB). Unfortunately the LCD does not show you the numerical value of the dB setting while you are adjusting the EQ, only showing you the set of bars. This can make it difficult to know if you are at 0dB or +3dB, etc.

  • Virtual Surround Headphone Settings - "Studio", "Live", "Club", and "Arena", to make it sound like you are listening to your music from inside a tin can. Personally I'm not too hot on this "virtual surround" feature, but your mileage may vary.

Sound Quality

The headphone output of the N10 is rated at 5mW per channel (16 ohms), and delivers good performance though even the higher volume ranges. The sonic performance is on-par with that of previous Sony MD units, and sounds great for a portable device of its size. While the output could be a little stronger, the equalization and overall performance will beat most MP3 players (and considering its price, it probably should!).

The earbuds included with the unit are a set of chrome-trimmed MDR-E838SP's. While a slight step-up from the E805's that Sony has been shipping the last couple of years, they are still nothing to get excited about (although they do look quite pretty). If you're serious about sound quality, invest in a decent set of phones. If earbuds are your thing, I recommend either the MDR-E888's or the MDR-EX70's (the latter I did not have such a good experience with, but most people have nothing but positive things to say about them... the E888's are second-to-none in my book).

General Recording Notes

Songs can be recorded to disc in one of two ways:

  1. Real-time recording, via the line/optical mic inputs (ie, the "old-fashioned way"). If sound quality is your absolute first priority, this is the only way to get the most out of the Type-S ATRAC.
  2. Music files can be downloaded at high-speed, via the included software package. To read more about the NetMD interface, skip ahead to the next page.

To begin real-time recording via the line/optical/mic inputs, first hit the END SEARCH button (to go to the end of the disc), and then slide the Record switch to the right. The red light on the record slider will illuminate, and recording will start instantly, so if you wish to start off in record-pause mode, you need to first hold the PAUSE button, then slide the record switch. The input levels can be monitored on the main unit's LCD, and if you need to adjust the input level, you can change the recording mode by entering the menu with the jog dial and selecting REC SET -> RECVOLUME -> MANUAL. You must be paused to switch to MANUAL recording level mode, however you can then adjust the levels during recording, even if recording is not paused. While paused, the red recording light will blink on and off. During microphone recording, the light will blink if the input level goes above the -12dB clip.

Pushing the TRACK MARK button (located on the left edge of the unit) during recording will start a new track, on the fly. Doing so will NOT introduce an audible gap in the recording (nor will you lose any data), but only place a logical marker at that spot.

By default, sliding the RECORD switch will begin recording from the current position on the disc, and NOT from the end of the disc. However if you change the Rec-Posi option to "From End" (in the OPTION menu), then recording will always start from the end of the disc. Why Sony refuses to make "From-End" the factory default, I do not know...

The quality of the mic-input does not seem to have been improved any from the MZ-N1. While the power supplied by the mic input is adequate for most portable recording purposes, a battery-powered mic is probably your best bet for quality recordings.

Sony has fine-tuned the TIME-MARK feature to allow automatic timed track marks, which can be set anywhere from 1 to 99 minutes, in 1 minute intervals.

General Editing Notes

One of the strengths of the MiniDisc format has always been the vast editing options available to the user. While NetMD has limited the user's editing power (tracks downloaded via NetMD cannot be erased, split, or combined, though they can still be moved and named), the editing capabilities of the N10 are not to be overlooked.

Through the EDIT menu, you can name the current track/disc/folder, move the current track or folder to a different position on the disc, and delete the current track/folder/disc. You can also split the currently playing track by pushing the Track Mark button (located on the left edge of the unit). If you need to place a track mark in a very precise location, you can enter a "rehearsal mode" by holding the T MARK button down for 2 seconds - this will allow you to audibly adjust the location of the track mark before confirming the split. This feature is a great addition by Sony, as rehearsal mode is normally found only on home decks. Track marks can also be removed (ie, you can combine two adjacent tracks) by pushing the T MARK button while paused at a track mark.

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Copyright © 2002 by Brian Y. Youn, All Rights Reserved