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NetMD Interface/SonicStage

To help manage your music files and to transfer songs to your new portable music device, Sony has included the SonicStage software package. SonicStage is packaged by Sony with a variety of its portable music products, and is basically an updated version of OpenMG Jukebox, with a new user interface and a new audio codec (called ATRAC3plus, which uses higher compression ratios and yields comparable sound quality when compared to the original ATRAC3... unfortunately the benefits of ATRAC3plus are lost on the N10, which is only directly compatible with the original ATRAC3. ATRAC3plus was designed more for the newer line of Sony MemoryStick walkmans).

SonicStage is a rather robust application that allows you to manage your music files of multiple file formats, rip audio CD's to your hard drive (to WAV, atrac3/atrac3plus, or windows media, but NOT mp3), and transfer music files to your Sony portable music device. While the software itself is not half bad, SonicStage (and NetMD in general) is bogged down by the same DRM (Digital Rights Management) limitations as OpenMG Jukebox was, limiting you to 3 simultaneous copies per song to transfer out to portable devices.

Let me take this opportunity to clear up a few major points:
  1. SonicStage 1.5 (as with OpenMG Jukebox) will NOT encode audio files in pure ATRAC (292kbps, aka, SP mode), but only in ATRAC3 (132kbps and 66kbps) and ATRAC3plus (not directly compatible with NetMD, at 64kbps and 48kbps). Once again, the only way to get true SP quality recordings is to record in real-time through the line/optical input.

  2. The N10 does NOT seem to be capable of uploading files from MD to your harddrive at high speed. Once again, this appears to be more than just a software limitation, so don't expect there to be a new version of SonicStage that will allow high-speed audio uploads via NetMD with the N10 (nor with any other NetMD unit out there on the market).

  3. SonicStage still limits the user to 3 checkouts per song in the Music Drive. Like before, if you convert an MP3 into ATRAC3 and check out all 3 allotted copies, you can always just re-import the song into SonicStage and you'll have another 3 checkouts available to you.
    - HOWEVER - if you import the same MP3 into ATRAC3 format multiple times, SonicStage seems to know that they all came from the same source audio file. If you check one of them out, SonicStage will decrement the available checkouts on each copy by one.

    What does this mean? On OpenMG Jukebox, one could import their favorite MP3 into ATRAC3 format 3 times, and end up with 9 checkouts of that song - this no longer works on SonicStage - you can import the same MP3 three times, however the software will see around that and you will still only have 3 effective checkouts available. It seems that SonicStage does some sort of check on the source filesize or checksum to detect if you are importing the same music file multiple times.

After importing a song three times, I should have 9 total available checkouts of that song, right?

Unfortunately after checking out just one of the songs, all three copies are docked one checkout (as noted by the # of music notes to the left of the song title in the Music Drive window). So I guess that's one OpenMG Jukebox loophole that Sony removed from SonicStage...


The SonicStage CD-ROM included with the Japanese model MZ-N10 will install the Japanese version of the SonicStage software. I tried installing the software both on a Japanese-enabled Windows XP Pro system, and an English, non-Japanese Windows XP Pro system. Despite reports to the contrary, I was able to install the software on both, however if you don't have Japanese display enabled on your OS, all of the text and menus will appear as gibberish (and even if you have Japanese enabled, they will simply appear as Japanese).

When you insert the included CD-ROM, you will see the following setup screen:

If you have an English version of OpenMG Jukebox, you need only to choose the 2nd option and install the NetMD Drivers for the N10. This is probably the easiest way to go, as the faster download speeds (32x LP2, 64x LP4) are hardware, NOT software-dependant. SonicStage also does not really introduce any major improvements (aside from ATRAC3plus, which is useless with MD), so if you already have OpenMG Jukebox installed, that really is the most painfree way to go.

It may be possible to find the English versions of OpenMG Jukebox and SonicStage out on the internet (I was able to download the English version of SonicStage), however please, PLEASE DO NOT SEND ME E-MAILS ASKING WHERE TO FIND THEM. If you really need help find an English copy on the net, you might want to try asking at the discussion boards at www.minidisc.org.

Once the SonicStage software is installed, plugging the N10 into the cradle and opening up the NetMD window in SonicStage should yield a screen similar to the following:

SonicStage (like OpenMG Jukebox) will allow you to control your N10, and give you the ability to title any tracks that you have on your minidiscs (even those that were not downloaded via NetMD).

You will see the three main icons at the top of the window, labeled "Music Drive", "CD", and "Devices/Media" (which is where you would find your NetMD device, when connected). You can open up a single window to control any of these sources by simply double-clicking on its icon; to transfer music from one source to another, simply drag one icon onto another. For instance, to transfer songs from your Music Drive to the N10, drag the "Music Drive" icon and drop it on the "Devices/Media" icon. Doing so would open up a window like the following:

If you wish to transfer MP3's from your hard drive to minidisc, you must first import them into your "Music Drive". Clicking on the "IMPORT" button at the top-right will open up a window where you can select music files on your hard drive that you wish to convert to ATRAC3 (which is a necessary step before you are allowed to transfer any file to minidisc). Understand that when you import a music file in the Music Drive, you are creating a new copy of the file in ATRAC3 format, which means that you will need a good amount of spare HD space if you plan to import your entire music library into SonicStage (this was also the case with OpenMG Jukebox). The optimal bitrate for encoding your imported music files into ATRAC3 is 132kbps (LP2 format). You also have a choice of ATRAC3 at 66kbps (LP4 format), which will take up less disk space, but the quality will be substantially lower. Importing a large number of music files into ATRAC3 can also be a bit time-consuming. The exact speed seems to be processor/memory dependent, but on my system (1.7 GHz P4, 384MB RAM, WinXP Pro), importing a single MP3 file (4m 36s in length, encoded at 192kbps, 5.6MB in size) took about 25 seconds to convert into ATRAC3. Your mileage may vary, but song length (and not file size/bitrate) appear to be bigger determining factors as far as importing/converting speed.

Transfer speeds

When transferring 132kbps ATRAC3 files to the N10, the files will be recorded to MD in LP2 format at roughly 32x speed. However after each individual track is transferred, the N10 performs a "DATA SAVE/TOC EDIT" operation (during which the unit will finish writing the track information to the MD), which can take anywhere from 7 to 20 seconds per track (usually around 8 seconds for a typical 3-4 minute song).

I've posted the results of two Music Drive --> MD transfers to give an idea of the N10's transfer speed. The first transfer consists of 4 normal length music tracks, the 2nd is of one long music track. Again, it would have been nice if Sony had made it possible to simply perform one TOC EDIT after all tracks have been transferred, instead of forcing us to wait through a TOC EDIT after each individual track.

Transfer #1: Four music files in ATRAC3 format, 132kbps (LP2)
Track #Track LengthTransfer timeDATA SAVE/TOC EDITTotal Time
14m 02s7 sec8 sec15 sec
24m 30s8 sec9 sec16 sec
33m 02s6 sec8 sec14 sec
44m 30s8 sec8 sec16 sec
Totals:16m 04s29 sec33 sec1m 02s

Transfer #2: One long music file in ATRAC3 format, 132kbps (LP2)
Track #Track LengthTransfer timeDATA SAVE/TOC EDITTotal Time
152m 17s1m 25s20 sec1m 45s

Transfer speed for songs in 66kbps ATRAC3 ( According to the documentation, the N10 "supports" USB2.0, however in testing transfer times on both USB1.1 and USB2.0 interfaces, there does not appear to be any transfer speed increase when using USB2.0. So it may be more accurate to say that the N10 is "compatible" with USB2.0, although in my tests it did not offer any increase in performance.

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