User Impressions of the Sony MZ-R30

I discovered MiniDisc solely by stumbling upon the MD website. A few weeks later I have converted from a DAT-loving Minidisc sceptic to a very happy un-prejudiced Minidisc user!
-Hans Huter ([email protected]), Amsterdam, The Netherlands

After a fruitless search for the MZ-R30, I was about to buy an MZ-R3, when I entered a Sony store and saw the salesperson fiddling with a very familiar little silver box, one of the first 'R30 units shipped into Europe. Scheduled for sale at the end of February, I managed to buy one of the two dealer test examples of the MZ-R30. Here are some of my findings:

First, I was very pleasantly surprised about the Sony list price, being NLG 599,- (US$ 350,-) for the recorder including rechargeable battery and accessories, compared to the NLG 799,- of the MZ-R3 without rechargeable battery. Chances are good the street price of the unit is falling to NLG 499,- (US$ 285,-) as soon as it is sold in every shop on the corner. (I have pity on the poor soul who just invested his dear money in one of the last MZ-R3 machines on the market...)

When I took it home to do some test recordings, I was amazed by the sound quality of this tiny machine. I was very sceptical towards Minidisc, but now I think it is absolutely unbelievable that a machine the size of a compact cassette box packs so much quality.

I tested the MZ-R30's DA-converters first by connecting the machine with an optical cable to a quality CD-player, and putting the MZ-R30 in RECORDING-PAUSE mode. I then connected the line-out signal to the AUX input of my pre-amp, so I could switch between the CD and AUX to hear the difference between the DA-coverters of both the CD-player and the MZ-R30, without ATRAC compression. The difference is very little, almost inaudible, and in blind testing I cannot hear directly which is which.

When it comes to recording, I was equally surprised. Being a newcomer to the medium of Minidisc, I expected at least some loss of quality in copying from a CD, even with an optical connection. But after hours of comparing, I can only conclude that the ATRAC compression on this machine works practically inaudibly.

After a lot of A-B testing between original CD and the recorded Minidisc, I must conclude there is a very very tiny difference in the mid-high imaging and very deep bass, but I cannot really say that the sound quality is lower. It is the same difference as between two high quality CD-Players of different brands. Also, it must be said that my CD-player costs MUCH more than the MZ-R30, and is also wired to the pre-amp with expensive cabling, while the MZ-R30 was wired with the "cheapo" supplied mini-jack cable. I am deeply impressed!

Needless to say, all the extra new functions of the Minidisc recorder are GREAT! It has always been a pain to edit an hour-length of cassette recording of my band during rehearsals, just to take out the minute-long conversations about which band member was playing in the wrong key... fellow musicians will know what I mean! The jog-wheel is very nice also, you can edit titles and tracks with one finger. But be very careful not to be too quick while editing!

My only criticism about this machine is that they have made it almost too small to look credible. It looks ridiculous next to a microphone that is twice the size of the recorder. Also the record + pause buttons are so small it is hard to put the machine in recording mode. Next time Sony should also add a recording button to the remote control on the headphones!

This brings me to the issue of microphones, I have very good experience using the MZ-R30 with the sony ECM-S959 microphone. It is a wonderful combination, and while sony recommends the ECM-909 mic, I find that mic to be too "tinny" sounding, it just does not record the low frequencies too well. Perfect for speech, but if you want to record music, you had better save up for a ECM-737 or even better, a ECM-S959. the 959 goes down as far as 50 hz, while the 737 only goes down to 80hz. Those low frequencies are really import for live-music recordings however! The ECM-S959 is a very good compromise if you do not want to spend a fortune an a professional mic like the Shure VP88 or so. Besides, what is the use of discussing tiny differences in ATRAC compression sound quality when you are using a lousy microphone to record? You should always spend at least as much on a mic as on the recorder in my opinion.

One more funny Sony issue: Ridiculous differences in prices of equipment! Compare this!

Minidisc recorders:
MZ-R30 in the USA : US$ 550,- list
MZ-R30 in Netherlands : US$ 350,- list !

ECM-S959 in the USA US$ 250,- list
ECM-S959 in Netherlands : US$ 400,- list !

Same manufacturer, same kind of consumer electronics, VERY different price policy!

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