Product: Sony MZ-N510CK NetMD Walkman/Recorder with Car Kit
Date Reviewed: March 2, 2004
Written By: Webmaster Christopher Beley

MiniDisc players are similar to MP3 players, but with a number of differences. First of all, MiniDisc players use MiniDiscs instead of solid-state memory or hard drives. A MiniDisc can store about 80 minutes in SP mode, 2 hours in LP2 mode, and 5 hours in LP4 mode using a format called Atrac3. As you may have already guessed, in the conversion to any of these formats there will be a slight downgrade in quality. If you want to use LP4 mode, for example, and have 5 hours of music on a disk you will have to sacrifice sound quality. So far you are probably thinking, “Well, an MP3 player is way better than this MiniDisc player thing”. There you are wrong. The one big advantage over MiniDisc players is the price. The MiniDisc players themselves may be close to the same price of some MP3 players, but media wise, it is a lot cheaper. A solid-state memory card is going to cost you around $40, while a MiniDisc is only going to cost you $2 a disk and they can store up to 5 hours of music! Let’s see…choices choices…. should I buy a $40 compact flash card or a pack of 5 MiniDiscs for $10…I think I will go with the MiniDiscs:-) 

The Menu Structure

Unlike some MP3 players or CD players, this is going to take a little reading before you start using it. The main reason for this is because of its small screen, which basically, forces you to memorize the menu structure (and if you don’t, it’s likely you will be fooling around with it for a while until you figure out the menu structure). However, the instructions are fairly easy to understand, so most people will be able to figure it all out within about a half an hour (there are a lot of parts you will probably be able to skip). 

Some Annoyances with the Menu Structure

 Most of the annoyances come from the small screen, however, there are some things that the developers could have changed. The first annoyance is the information display settings. Instead of having a button on the device to switch between the title or group settings settings, I have to press the menu key, and then search through the menu and change the settings. Also, if you turn the unit off, your display settings are not saved and then you have to reset it over and over again. However, once you get use to the menu structure, it turns out not be such a big deal. Finally, some people may find the text hard to read. So, if you aren’t able to read the on-screen text easily, you have two options. You could stop reading this review right now and look for something else, or you could buy a remote with an LCD screen on it. Just do a google search for MiniDisc player remote and you will see what I am talking about. 

Device Testing

 Well personally, I am very happy with my Minidisc player. It’s small, but not too small, I can store a lot of music on a cheap media, and I am able to organize all my songs into groups (playlists). However, there are some problems with this device…

 When MiniDisc players first came out you could not connect them to your PC. You had to connect your CD player, DVD player, TV, etc. to your MiniDisc player through an analog or optical cable and then record in real time onto one of your MiniDiscs. While most MiniDisc players still allow you to do that, today there is a new thing called NetMD, which allows you to connect your MiniDisc player to your computer.

 The MZN-510 comes with a CD that has the drivers, Sonic Stage, and this CD to MD program. Other than the drivers, the thing that will probably be most of interest to you is Sonic Stage. This is basically a jukebox program where you can organize your music and then transfer it to your MiniDisc player. However, I would recommend not using it. It has this check in, check out thing where you can “check out” 3 songs from your hard drive onto your MiniDisc player. This means you can only have a copy of one of your songs on up to 3 MiniDiscs. Some people may not find that too annoying, however, if you lose your MiniDisc(s) you won’t be able to “check in” the songs on that disk, and that means you can only check out those songs 2 more times. The other thing is if for some reason something goes wrong with Sonic Stage or your computer, you won’t be able to “check in” the songs on your MiniDisc(s). This means you will not be able to delete any of the songs off your MiniDisc(s). Finally, I have heard countless numbers of people complaining about how unstable Sonic Stage is (which in a less technical tone: “It crashes a lot”). So, you maybe be thinking, “Well, if I can’t use this Sonic Stage thing, how am I going to transfer songs from my computer onto my MiniDisc player?”. Well, I have an answer:-) There is another program called RealOne player. It is free, works with most MiniDisc players, and has no check in, check out limitations. However, you are going to still want to install Sonic Stage to organize your music into groups on your MD player, and to do any retitling, because RealOne Player doesn’t allow you to do that. Finally, before ending this paragraph, I must say that I experienced a few problems when I tried to upload songs to my MiniDisc player when my MiniDisc player was not plugged in and was just running off the battery in RealOne Player. Every 2 or 3 songs it kept giving me an error. But when I plugged it in, everything started to work as normal again. This was probably just something that was wrong with my computer, but I do recommend plugging in your player when recording any music onto your device, because it will save you a lot of battery life. 

So, while I am on the subject of batteries, why don’t I talk about battery life? Well, this MiniDisc player beats most MP3 players giving your up to 56 hours of battery life while playing LP4 music. When you use modes such as LP2 and SP you will get less battery life (maybe around 40 hours), but that is still very good. 

Finally, I have to mention about “skip protection”. So far, I have never had it skip. The MZN-510 uses Sony’s G-Protection, which instead of buffering, it just keeps the disk locked in its space tighter so it doesn’t move (at least that is what I have heard). However, I must note that many other Sony devices (such as CD players) also have the Sony G-Protection too. 

Sound Quality

 I already mentioned before, MiniDisc players use a special format called Atrac3. Basically, when you convert anything to another format it will be downgraded in quality. However, this amount will be very little and most people will not notice it. 

 You are probably wondering how great this Atrac3 format sounds. Personally, I think it sound pretty good, and I am using the lowest sound quality (LP4). However, there are so many sound purists that say the LP4 mode is so bad it makes their ears hurt. I am not going to say LP2 is any better than LP4, because, personally I have not tried LP2, because I would rather have lot’s of music on one disk than better sound quality ;-).  

 You are probably wondering about the SP mode now. Well, this is the highest quality, so high that some people think it sounds better than CDs. You will find a lot of people arguing over that. In SP mode you can store 80 minutes of music (on an 80 minute disk), and I am quite positive you cannot use titles or groups on a SP disk. So, in conclusion, I would recommend using LP2 or LP4, and use SP mode only if you are a sound purist or you care nothing about how much music you can carry around with you and titling the music 

My Personal Opinions

Well, this is my one paragraph where I can say my opinions that may or may not have any effect on your purchase of this. First of all, I do like the color. The silver color makes it look like it isn’t some really cheap device. However, the buttons do seem to be made kind of cheaply. They feel and look like a cheap plastic, instead of a tough plastic or metal. Another thing I like about it is that it fits in your hand nicely (even through it is in the shape of a square). You can easily slip it into your hand and press any of the buttons with your thumb (unless you have abnormally large thumbs ;-). Finally, I must say something about the battery compartment. If you have done any research on this before reading this review, you may have found out there is a battery “hump” that sticks out a little. While some people find this annoying, I personally think it really isn’t that big of a deal, because it isn’t really that big, and plus it makes a great little stand for itself:-) 

 In conclusion, I highly recommend this product. However, for the sound purist or the person who has tons of money and wants to carry lots of music around, I would recommend getting something like an I-Pod. But for all of us who prefer cheap this is probably our best bet.

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