Sharp MD-SS70 review

Alan Jaffray ([email protected])

Why the Sharp MD-SS70?

I had a Sony MZ-E40 that came in the MD-Bundle3. It was a fairly nice unit, but there were some things I disliked about it which made me want to replace it:

  1. Battery life. Having my music suddenly cut off on me because the batteries are dead is intensely annoying. Even with Sony's best 2-AA rechargeable pack I was only getting 3 hours or so of battery life, and while I only occasionally use my portable away from wall power for more than 3 hours, having to recharge the unit at every opportunity is a pain. The battery life is more like 4.5 hours with alkalines, but disposable batteries are expensive, annoying, and bad for the environment.
  2. It's too big to fit in my jeans pocket comfortably, and I don't wear a belt so the belt-loop pouch is useless to me. In winter I carried it in a jacket or sweatshirt pocket, but in summer carrying it around would be awkward.
  3. The controls are difficult to operate by feel. The buttons look nice, but they aren't raised and are right next to each other, so I found myself hitting the wrong button frequently.
  4. The sound isn't great. There's a little bit of hiss. (Perhaps this is due to the low output power?) I had enough hiss when I used tapes, I don't need it with MD.

As for other replacements, the MS-200 is 10000Y more expensive, much thicker and heavier, and besides I don't really need a portable recorder; my home deck is much more convenient for editing and titling functions. The MD-ST60 is 7500Y more expensive and, while slightly smaller, has only 4.5 hours battery life. Sony's MZ-E50 is much more expensive, has less battery life, and might have the same output power problem (does it?). The MD-SS70 seemed like the best option.

How did I get it?

I sent mail to Nic Boyde ( to ask about the MD-SS70's power supply; he replied immediately and was quite helpful. On Saturday, I mailed him and asked for a quote on the unit; he replied with a quote of $272 USD. By Tuesday the yen had dropped against the dollar by quite a bit, so I asked for a requote; this time it was $254. I also ordered some blank MDs.

I wired the money to Mr. Boyde's Wells Fargo account on Thursday. My bank charged me $22 for the "wire transfer", but I didn't want to deal with the vagarities of the post office. They also insisted on a USA address for Mr. Boyde; I gave them the address of Wells Fargo, figuring they'd never need it, and it went through fine. Mr. Boyde wrote me on Friday to say he'd received payment and shipped the unit, and gave me a UPS tracking number.

On Monday I received a call from UPS's Louisville office; my package was in Customs, and they wanted to know what an "emm dee player" was. I told them it was "like a Walkman". They asked me "is it like a CD player?", and then told me that imported CD players had to be inspected by the Food and Drug Administration before delivery. (!!!) Needless to say, I assured them that it was nothing at all like a CD player!

The tariff on the MD player was 1.6% and on the blank disks was 1.7%, and UPS added a $5 brokerage fee. UPS billed me for the $12.40 by mail a week and a half after delivery.

What's good about it?

  1. Battery life. The battery is lithium-ion, a huge cylinder in the bottom of the unit. It runs for at least 10.5 hours on a full charge, possibly longer, I haven't tested. This means I can carry it around, use it at work, etc, and not risk losing power even if I forget to charge it one night. This is very cool.
  2. Size. It comfortably fits in the pocket of most of my pants; it's a little bit tight in my smallest jeans, but not bad. It's 116x81x21mm, as opposed to the E40 which is 130x79x25; this may not sound like much, but the reduced thickness makes it more comfortable, and the reduced height makes it fit in the pocket instead of poking a little out the top. It's convenient.
  3. The remote is excellent. It's very easy to operate hands-free. The volume buttons are on the top, and the stop/play-pause/forward/back controls are on the four corners of a single button; it's easy to find that huge button with a fingertip and then press the correct corner. The LCD display is 6 characters wide, which is tolerable for track titles. If there's no track title and you press the display button to show the title, it will display a fish swimming across the top of the display, blowing bubbles which turn into notes and then pop; a very Japanese touch.
  4. The slot-in design is nice. I dislike the clamshell E40 design.
  5. The sound seems better than on the E40, though I haven't done an proper A-B listening test between the two. No hiss, no other problems that I can hear.
  6. Nothing annoys me. Most consumer electronics have minor details that annoy me; small things that could have been done better if someone had been thinking. Nothing in the MD-SS70 bothers me that way. This is unusual and pleasant.

What's bad about it?

  1. The included AC adapter (5VDC 800mA output) doesn't work on USA wall current, and Sharp's recommended international AC adapter is 5000Y. From postings to md-l I thought this could be a big problem, but it's actually very minor; any 4.5V or 5V AC adapter with 800mA or higher should work, and these are easy to find. As it happens, my Panasonic SL-S320 CD player came with a 4.5VDC 800mA adapter that works perfectly with the MD-SS70; problem solved.
  2. The unit is loud when seeking, louder than the E40 was. It's like the difference between a noises made by a floppy drive (the MD-SS70) and a hard drive (the E40). This is a very minor bother for me, but if you have a lot of heavily fragmented MDs or use shuffle-play all the time, it might bother you more.
  3. The unit isn't ugly, but it's not as pretty as the E40, and not nearly as pretty as Sony's E30/E50 units. There (were) photos at (Nic's site) so you can judge for yourself. Since half the time it's in my pocket or backpack and out of sight, this isn't a big issue for me.
  4. The controls on the unit are insane. They're at the bottom of the unit, there's a track-forward button but apparently no track-back button, the volume buttons are between play and stop, and they're all easy to hit accidentally. However, since I use the remote exclusively, this doesn't bother me at all; there is a "hold" switch which disables all the on-unit controls; and I leave this switch permanently on.
  5. The maximum volume seems relatively low, only a little higher than on the E40. I'm usually at 15 (30 max) while I'm usually at 2 or 3 (10 max) on my Discman. Not at all a problem for me, but if you have difficult-to-drive headphones or like to listen to music very loud, you'll need an amp.
  6. No digital out; I'd like to be able to dub to my home deck digitally. Unfortunately I couldn't do that much anyway because of SCMS. A proper line out would be nice, but I don't know of any play-only portables that even have that.


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