Sony MDS-JE630 Minidisc Recorder
by Jim Bray
The Mindisc format
is another Sony innovation that, unfortunately, hasn't really caught on
with North American consumers. And that's a shame, because it's a nifty
digital recording technology that works really well.
Minidisc has caught
on in the commercial sector, notably radio stations, where its portability,
editability, re-recordability and instant access to tracks makes it ideal
for commercials, promos, and music tracks. It's also popular in Europe
What sets the MD apart
from other recording media is that it effectively gives the user audio
editing capabilities similar to what once were only to be found in recording
studios. So you can not only record your favorite songs, you can combine
tracks, move them around, and even delete tracks from the middle of the
This is wonderful
flexibility for the home (or commercial) recordist. If you decide to dump
track 3 from your recording, for example, you can replace it with a new
selection (even one of a different length) without messing up the rest
of the existing tracks.
Pretty nifty, huh?
One knock against
MD is that it "dumbs down" the data in order to get a full CD-length recording,
making it what's called "Near-CD quality." This might matter to purists,
but in my tests with this particular Sony (admittedly my only experience
with the format as of this writing) I couldn't hear any difference between
the source CD and the destination MD.
You can think of Minidisc
as being superficially similar to recordable CD's (CD-R's), except that
like an audio cassette or a floppy disk, you can re-record on MD's at
will. CD-RW's are re-recordable, but you won't find many audio CD players
handling them. Add to that the editability mentioned above, and you have
a formidable format.
Minidisc is also facing
competition from MP3's as a playback medium, so it'll be interesting to
see what happens.
Besides editing convenience,
MD has an advantage over MP3's in that you can bring along a bunch of
pre-recorded discs and change them at will - thereby having oodles of
hours of recording - whereas an MP3 player has a finite amount of memory
Minidiscs are slightly
smaller than computer 3.5" floppy disks (though slightly thicker), which
makes them extremely convenient if you're looking for a recordable format
you can pack around with you easily.
Sony makes home, portable,
and even car minidisc units (recorders and/or players), so you can record
to your heart's content and then take the music with you - as long as
you've purchased the appropriate players to go with it.
The MDS-JE630, which
sells for about $360US, is a home unit designed to plug into your audio
system. It's fully featured (including an input for a PC keyboard) and
more flexible than I had expected considering its relatively affordable
The unit has so many
features, however, that you'll want to take a trip through the owner's
manual before sallying forth on your music pirating adventure, especially
if you're new to MD. A lot of the features use various permutations of
the same buttons, wheels, and doodads, so the manual is a godsend. Fortunately,
it's written in fairly plain English, and includes plenty of diagrams
to help you figure things out.
I had to learn this
the hard way, of course. I started recording a disc and my mindset for
the methodology was to treat the unit as I would a cassette deck. So after
recording a track, I'd put the deck into "Pause" then switch source discs
and resume recording, manually adding a track number when I re-started
Well, didn't this
wreak all sorts of digital havoc on the Table of Contents (TOC) information!
I ended up totally screwing up the recording and making a shambles of
my test disc. Making matters worse, I tried to move tracks around without
consulting the book and ended up with about 11 TOC entries for four tracks.
I'm surprised the poor Sony didn't throw up its electronic hands in disgust
and tell me to come back when I was ready to use the deck properly.
So don't take "analog
thinking" with you into the digital recording realm....
It turned out that
if you use the deck as designed, recording is not only easy, but it actually
works! Who'd a thunk it?
Besides the usual
analog I/O jacks, you get 2 optical inputs (and one output) for direct
digital recording/playback. Other features include a pitch control that
lets you speed up or slow down playback without distortion (great for
Karaoke nights when you discover you can't quite hit that high note after
so many beers!), an "undo" editing function that lets you bail out from
your mistakes (if you've read the manual and know the feature's there!),
and time shift recording so you can store a broadcast program when you're
not home (as you would record a TV show with your VCR).
The front panel controls
include the usual buttons one would expect with a recorder (power, eject,
record, pause, etc.), and adds functional buttons (like "Scroll" "recording
mode" Menu, Yes/No, and the keyboard connector).
When you insert a
disc into the player (and they slide in sideways, with the little door
to the right instead of to the rear as with a floppy disc), the deck takes
a look at it and displays information about it - like the disc title (if
it was programmed in during recording), number of tracks, total recorded
time, etc. The front panel display can be changed by pressing "level/display/char"
or "display" to give you a huge variety of readouts (if you're recording,
for example, it can show the recording level, sampling frequency, track
number and time, etc. etc.)
Keyboard Input for
PC keyboard lets you program titles quickly and easily, so (for example)
you can have artist and track info display when playing back the disc.
I was amazed by the
flexibility of the MD format. Though I used it almost exclusively for
straightforward recording of music tracks, the non-linear way data is
recorded onto MD's let me combine tracks, split tracks (this was a nifty
way of separating continuous cuts from a disc), trim the start and/or
end points (for pinpoint editing). I didn't do any recording from radio
or TV, but if I had the "A-B Erase" feature would have let me cut out
the commercials after the fact and (assuming I didn't do a sloppy job)
the final recording would sound as if they'd never been there. Nifty!
This review only scratches
the surface of this unit's (indeed, the MD format in general) potential.
Suffice it to say that it has made me a believer and I hope MD finds widespread
consumer acceptance. Even if you never exploit a lot of the more esoteric
features of MD, it's still a dandy way to make home recordings.
Sony also makes a
selection of portable MD recorders and/or players, and MD changers for
your car, so you can take your tunes on the road with you. The comany
is also introducing a camcorder that uses MD technology for storing its
the assault from MP3's and recordable CD's, and considering the relatively
high price of blank MD media (CD-R's are cheaper, though one should remember
they can only be recorded on once), Sony may be in for a continued uphill
battle with this dynamite digital medium.
And that's a shame.
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