MZ-N707 NetMD Minidisc recorder/player

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Price Paid: $230

Purchase at: Circuit City

Strengths
-Small size, very portable

-Mostly solid construction

-NetMD capability that allows faster-than-realtime transfers from PC to MD (but not the other direction!)

-MDLP which lets you store up to 320 minutes on a Minidisc, though that time is only useful for voice-only recording

-Well-designed remote

-Simple but effective menu system

Weakness
-NetMD does not allow easy MD to PC transfers

-Opressive (though necessary) copyright protection procedures in the NetMD software

-There isn’t an LCD on the remote

-Flimsy battery door

Comments/Review
PHYSICAL NOTES

Despite the misleading “official” dimensions, this unit is really amazingly small. Everywhere except the AA battery compartment, it’s about two or three minidiscs thick. The buttons are very well-placed, and even though you must hold pause while pressing record to enter record-pause (instead of entering record-pause automatically like the Sharp units), this is not particularly difficult.

The construction of the unit is, overall, very solid. The MD compartment and mechanism seem a bit finnicky, but they should hold up. I’m not so sure about the battery door, which feels like it could snap off in a stiff breeze. The buttons are nice, if a bit small, and though the circular selector button works well and is surprisingly easy to use, it’s still a bit loose-feeling.

While I’m disappointed in the lack of an LCD on the remote, it’s something that isn’t really that much of a setback (unless you’re used to having the LCD, which fortunately I wasn’t). The remote is otherwise very well laid out, with logical and easy-to-press buttons, though the construction of it is pretty cheasy and plasticky.

The LCD on the main unit, by the way, is quite nice. While it does lack a backlight, it provides all the necessary information very well. You can change the two lines of display to read [track number/elapsed track time], [track title/remaining track time], [group name/remaining time in group]or [disc name/remaining play time on disc], and similar modes for recording, but no other combinations other than that. Come on Sony, how hard would it be to make them separate options?

FEATURES & SOUND QUALITY

The main downside to this unit (as opposed to the rival Sharp ones) is that on the MZ-N707, you still cannot change the levels of recording while you are recording. You must first enter record-pause, which could eat up valuable time if you are recording from a live source. The often-insulted “complicated menu system” of the Sony Minidisc recorders is really blown out of proportion. The menus here are all quite logical, and most of them can be navigated (to at MOST three levels down in selections) with the in-line remote.

MDLP is very nice, as I was able to fit about three standard-length music CDs onto a single Minidisc while still in LP2 (double-time) mode, which is still perfectly fine for listening to music, as it matches up to either 132kb/s or 105kb/s, depending on what you choose in the OpenMG NetMD software. LP4 (quadruple time) is very low-resolution sound (only 66kb/s), and is really only suitable for voice-only recordings, such as lectures.

While honestly I’ve never tried jogging with it (not much of a jogger ^_^;;), I cannot make the MZ-N707 skip even by shaking it violently.

The Group Mode is nice, as it allows you to sort the tracks into different groups, so you could, for example, load three CD’s worth onto a Minidisc, organize them by groups titled with the names of the original CDs, and listen to any of those three albums when you wanted to by selecting it in group-mode. Sweet.

The sound quality is quite nice. The bass and treble are separately adjustable, and can be saved in two different presets. LP2 is virtually indistinguishable from a CD-quality sound. Recordings made in SP mode (standard length) use the ATRAC Type-R codec, and sound VERY good!

NetMD NOTES

Well, NetMD is here, and it’s passable. It’s not the end-all that it was hyped up to be, but nonetheless it’s a useful feature. One important aspect of it to know is that you CANNOT transfer a file to Minidisc at more than 132kb/s. You can mark the track as “SP” so that the track will play in a non-MDLP unit, but it’s still the lower resolution sound.

Sony’s copyright protection rules may be necessary for them legally, but they’re a real pain. Through the use of a “check-out/check-in” system, you can only have the same song from your PC on three different Minidiscs at any given time. The software, however, is fairly well-designed and easy to work with, once you learn the basics.

OVERALL

The Sony MZ-N707 is a very nice little unit, at a much more reasonable price than it’s MZ-N1 bretheren. It’s still plenty small to just toss into a pocket, and the very usable remote will let you navigate through the menus even if you HAVE thrown the unit in a pocket. With NetMD, it essentially becomes a mp3 player that uses better encoding than the mp3 standard, and where 160 minutes (remember, LP4 is really unusable for even half-decent music) of music only costs about $2.50 for the blank Minidisc as opposed to $85 or so for a 128MB solid-state memory card, such as a MemoryStick or SmartMedia card. The ability to record and the extreme portability put this way above other music media. As compared to other MD units, this one is very competitive, and with NetMD for a somewhat reasonable price (for Sony! ~_^), you really won’t regret this decision.

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