DaViD Boulet ([email protected]) September 1999
Bottom line: It's the best MD recorder you can buy short of an equivilent (if there is one) ES model.
I'm a sound-guy, not a feature nut. However, the 930 does so well on both counts I'll even comment on features in this review :)
First off, the unit weighs like a tank and is rock-solid in feel. It's an ES without the logo and you'll get all tingly-feeling when you first take it out of the box.
It sounds audibly superior to any MD recorder I've used. The two I've had the most experience with were the Pioneer 707 and the Sony 510 (I preferred the sound of the 510 over the 707, BTW). IMO, the 930 blows both of them away...really.
I'm an audiophile...and use my own outboard DAC for all digital sources in my system (CD, LD, DVD, MD) so I'm not so concerned with the sound of the DAC's in the 930--it's *recording* sound quality that matters most to me. Still I'll say that the units own DACs probably sound better than the DAC's in most better CD players. If that ends up being the case in your system, just leave the MD in record mode and use it as a D/A converter for your CD player! The 3 filter settings do slightly modify the sound. I think most people will find one they prefer.
The only downside to playback from the 930 is that the digital output doesn't allow you to user-select 20 or 24 bit output for use with high-end DAC's or other 24-bit compatible MD recorders. Bummer!
In a word..."virtually transparent". It's really that good. Of course, you'll always be limited by the D/A conversion on the other end, but the 930 does a fantastic job of recording. The new ATRAC R makes a noticable improvement over the 4.0 in the 510 (and is WAY better than Pioneer's 707 ATRAC chip, IMO).
LP's dubbed to MD sound absolutely superb. I downloaded alot of out-of-print vinyl on my friend's high-end turntable and the 930 does them justice. You always loose a *tad* bit of 'air' when going from LP to MD (I think more a function of the 44.1 kHz than the quantization...since this MD deck gives you 24 bits of res) but the effect would still fool alot of died-in-the-wool LP lovers into thinking they're listening to a turn-table rather than a "digital" (and compressed) recording! That warm, smooth, liquid sounding midrange is still there on MD. The 930 has 24 bit A/D's and the ATRAC does it's best to keep that 24 bit res on your MD after compression...and it does an excellent job. Once you dub a bunch of LP tracks to MD from different albums and take them with you in the car, you'll be surprised how the mastering quality/sound of LP varies from album to album. Of course...the same is true with dubbing CD's. The 930 tells the truth about your recordings.
Oh, I should add that due to the high-res nature of the analog-input during recording, the best way to copy HDCD CD's is to decode them on an HDCD DAC/CD player and feed the sound to the 930 via the analog inputs. This will let your MD capture the 20-bit decoded sound (I've tried it both ways and the decoded-analog route is superior by far).
Ok folks, this is where things get really cool--at least for me. I've got an Audio Alchemy DTI Pro32 which takes the (cheezy) 16-bit PCM from CD's and enhances the resolution to 18,20,22,or 24 bits...and then sends that higher-res PCM signal to whatever you want (a D/A converter...or in this case...the Sony 930). This little "resolution enhancement" box makes CD's sound alot better through my 20-bit D/A converter. And now for the first time I can put that on an MD going DIGITAL (I used to enhance CD's, then decode to analog, then record to my 707 and 510 via analog in which sounded better than goind "straight" digital...neither of these units could handle greater-than-16-bit digital input).
The results? My MD's digitally dubbed from CD sound *BETTER* than the CD originals! The Digital volume control is also a breeze to use...you don't have to do anything fancy like you had to do on the Pioneer 707. While you're recording digitally you just turn the rec-level knob the same way you would during analog-recording. Ahhhhh. BTW, I haven't noticed any sonic artifacts using the digital volume control (no hardening of highs etc.). Digital recordings that are manipulated to levels other than the original 0.0 gain sound just as natural as those that are left "flat" (some digital gain filters can make the music sound a bit artificial...as all the amplitudes are getting recalculated and that depends on how good your filter's math is).
For the first time I prefer the sound of digital dubbing (with resolution enhancement) to analog dubbing (also with resolution enhancement). BTW, don't just go with the digital dubbing because it's *supposed* to sound better. It may be technically more accurate, but depending on your system, sometimes dubbing analog sounds "better" to your ears. Try it both ways to see which you prefer.
The deck has all the normal features and then some. The thing I want to metion is the keyboard input. WOW. I thought this sounded cheezy at first but boy was I wrong! This is by far the greatest feature ever to be included on a MD recorder and now I can't imagine living without it. You need a standard PC keyboard and the jack on the front only accepts one specific type (I had to use an adaptor to get my extra keyboard to interface properly) but the results are worth it. Editing now is a pleasure and not a chore. Imagine naming tracks and discs with the ease you you type email! Also, *all unit functions* can be accessed via the keyboard...it's not just for name-text entry. It's a winner.
The 930 is built like a tank and has DAC's that sound like a high-end CD player. The unit sounds better during recording than possibly any other unit out there...including ES units. That goes for analog and digital recording. Also the full-band-width 24-bit digital input lets you feed the 930 up-to-24 bit PCM data and get that resolution benefit on your MD's. This means this unit can record MD's that literally sound BETTER than our uncompressed CD format (too bad it doesn't sample-rate convert from 96 kHz, otherwise you could record 24/96 DVD's digitally...although most DVD players downsample/quantize anyway for their digital outputs). The keyboard is the biggest pleasure of all. I can't wait to record MD's whereas it used to be a chore.
Go get it if you don't have it already and feel free to email me with any questions or comments.
-DaViD Boulet [email protected]