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mini disk recorders

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by robw, Jun 24, 2002.

  1. robw


    May 14, 2001
    Long Beach, CA
    I remember reading a thread that mentioned mini disk recording, but haven't relocated it in my searches. I think Chris Fitzgerald said he used them and was really happy with the results.

    I'm beginning to look into them, and haven't found anyone with personal experience, so would appreciate any info here. I'm hoping to find a relatively inexpensive (<$200) recorder that works better than my portable cassette recorder for recording practices, rehearsals, and gigs. As I understand it, with a Sony mini-disk recorder I could record live music direct to digital format with millions of re-recordings per mini disk without loss of quality. The MD format would allow me to download the live recording onto my PC where I could use music software to edit the recording (ie. clean it up).

    If I understand right, I could also use the same MD recorder to record a song from a CD or download MP3 files to mini-disk. Then I could put the music on my PC again to edit the song such as for bringing out the bass parts to help with transcription, or isolating a bass solo in a song.

    Sony is the only company I've found selling mini-disk recorders in a walkman style package. But if it does all of the things I mentioned above, it sounds great. I'd be interested to hear if anyone has used them, which recorders they've used, and how successful it has been. Also, how much extra is required besides the MD recorder and a microphone? Is there downloadable freeware that can do the music editing or a relatively inexpensive music software?
  2. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Portable MD recorders do NOT have digital outputs so you can only do analog recording to the PC. As far as "cleaning it up" you can edit out dead space and reset track marks on the MD itself. You can't do any signal processing (re-EQ, etc.).

    Again, no digital upload from MD to PC, but you can do digital downloads from PC to MD. Of course, why would you do this? Your computer already has a CD drive so you could just rip the track from that :confused:

    Sharp does but is about to stop selling them in the USA. Others makers who sell units in Japan and Europe but not the USA include Pansonic, Aiwa, Kenwood, Denon; there are internet dealers who import these. The cheapest Sony units do not have mike inputs :mad: so make sure you check for this feature before you buy!

    Nothing, really. The latest "Net MD" units come with the cables you need for downloading from your PC.

    I use the Sharp MT877 (soon to be unavailable) with a Sound Professionals "T" mike. It works great for recording rehearsals and gigs.
  3. robw


    May 14, 2001
    Long Beach, CA
    Ed, thanks for the links. Obviously my search skills are pretty weak.

    You answered most of my specific questions. Thanks alot. I guess it was too good to be true, but they still sound useful for recording rehearsals and such. When you record a gig or rehearsal with a full band using your MD recorder do you do any signal processing to get decent results? If so, can you recommend an inexpensive or freeware program that allows signal processing of an audio file? I'm trying to prevent overkill by buying a program that does far more than I need, but is still capable of cleaning a live recording if necessary.

    If you find that signal processing isn't really necessary for the MD capabilities or usefulness, I'd be interested in that as well.
  4. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I've been using a small Aiwa MD recorder for recording gigs, workshops etc. for the last 4 years.

    I like them for their simplicity and relatively high quality sound, as well as the 70 minute length and the fact you can carry loads of disks in a small space.

    I did find that buying a better microphone had a huge impact on the sound - mostly the mics included with the MD, pick up no bass at all!

    Other than that I edit on the MD recorder - just tidy up gaps etc.

    I also have an optical (digital) cable that lets me record digitally between my CD player and MD. I can then record compilation disks to use for parties or to play between sets at my bands gigs.

    Also the MD is overall much smaller than any CD Walkman and never skips, so is great to take around with you "on the move".

    As to "decent results" of recording - most people are amazed. So I have recorded the Jazz Summerschool I have attended each year and quite often have played things back to people involved, immediately after on a decent pair of headphones - and they're always like :"Wow, it sounds like I'm right there on stage" etc etc.
  5. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Like Bruce said, with good quality mikes, the recordings are excellent, near CD quality.

    Even with the cheap stereo mike I use (plus I record in LP2 mode for extended recording time with a slight reduction in quality), I get plenty of bottom end in my recordings and the recordings are far better than cassettes: no hiss, no wow and flutter, better dynamic range.

    It's too bad MD didn't take off here in the USA because as a recording format it's far superior to CD-R. The editing and titling features are fantastic.
  6. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I think it's a great musician's tool - I know and see loads of musicians over here in the UK using them for recording their performances. You can carry all the stuff around with you and it takes up very little space. The Jazz guys I know, use it to compare the quality of their solos.

    I guess that ordinary music "consumers" would prefer CDs or free MP3s - there is not much benefit for them unless they want to "bootleg" gigs! I shouldn't have said that!! ;)

    But for a musician, it's great to have something so small and robust, that records with decent quality.
  7. I just scanned this thread, so don't kill me if this was already brought to light, but the new Sony portable MDs feature a USB connection, and I would assume that is a digital conection for both upload and download, tho I would have to check. The thing about MDs is that they are a great reference point and amateur recording tool, but due to the technology they add compression and reduction in signal quality, so just don't plan on using it as a professional recording device.

    I use mine to record rehearsals and shows for personal reference and it works great. I have a home minidisc player as well which has an optical out, which means I can record digital quality in real time out to my PC using a special PC card (Dio) - but ideally you could get one of the new Sonys and be able to transfer the data directly via the USB connection to your PC. Hope this helps...
  8. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    I'm not entirely sure about that. As far as I'm aware, Steve Lawson (see the 'Ask Steve Lawson' forum here, or his website at http://www.steve-lawson.co.uk/) recorded most of his first solo album, Nothing But the Bass using a MD recorder and a good microphone at some of his concerts. I don't know how it would do for a more rowdy gig or a full band, but it's certainly been done with professional results by some people.

    Wulf (currently thinking about investing in a MD recorder, but by no means an expert ;) )
  9. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    NetMD/Open MG allows downloads only, BTW it works only under Windows..no Mac support :mad: It also has a very weird copy protection scheme: once you download the same song three times to your MD (i.e. record it on 3 discs) you can't dowmload it any more unless you ERASE it from one of the discs you recorded it to :rolleyes: To allow high speed downloads, you lose fidelity as well. It's really meant to let you dump MP3s at high speed to MD, in order to compete with portable MP3 players.

    There is a "Open NMD" project underway hoping to allow uploads via the USB interface as well, but right now it's just a dream.

    For digital uploading you need a home or pro deck with digital outputs (Sony does make these, but cheapest is $400 US).

    Net MD FAQ link:
  10. Wulf - the difference between a MD and a DAT or other pro level digital recorder is actually audible if you A/B them. I don't doubt you can make very good sounding recordings with a MD, but they will be lower in signal quality (ie lower sampling rate), and that can't be retrieved. I guess I meant a recording studio quality sampling rate when I said 'professional'.

    I too, would have no qualms about using a live MD version of a tune for an album if the playing was hot, because that is the most important thing, but I would call that a tradeoff - accepting amateur level recording technology in order to release highly professional playing...
  11. robw


    May 14, 2001
    Long Beach, CA
    Thanks for all of the replies and personal experience. The portable MDs are exactly what I've been hoping for to replace my cheap tape recorder, and it has plenty of extra options as well. One of the units I'm considering is the Sony MZ-N505 Net MD and it can be seen here:

    Based on these posts, it sounds like the Net MD reference means the unit has an ISB port for downloading MP3, WAV, or WMA files. The only thing that has me worried is that the write-up on the recorder says it "Records from PC, portable CD, home CD unit, and radio". It doesn't mention live sound recording, but I'm pretty sure it has that capability.

    I would be interested to hear what microphones have been tried that did not work well - particularly in picking up bass with live recording. I've read some recommendations of good mic's, and am thinking about the small stereo mic's marketed with the MDs like the Sony ECM-DS709, which is around $80 US. Another consideration is using my Shure SM57 microphone with adapters to get it from the XLR connector into the small stereo input jack. Is this a bad idea? Would it require more equip like a DI box or something?
  12. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    BZZZZZTTT I know a few people who got burned by this!

    The cheapest Sony MD units do NOT have mike inputs. You can only record live if you have an external mike preamp!!!! :eek:

    Instead of the 505, look at the 707 which does have a mike input (and you get a car kit with it, too). :cool:
  13. Amen - if its the one I saw, I now remember it DID NOT have a mic input! I was like "huh?". So double check that and heed brianrost.
  14. robw


    May 14, 2001
    Long Beach, CA
    Thanks for the heads up. The wording sounded strange, but the Musicians Friend catalog that got me thinking about MDs in the first place has the 505 series advertised next to an "MD Field Recording Kit" with a microphone and carrying case as if they were options with the recorder. It sounds like false advertising, but I've had good experience with Musicians Friend on many occasions. More likely it's a simple mistake. Either way, I'll make sure the unit I get has a mic. input.
  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I remember reading about the way MD works and it is not a simple, straightforward compression - it tries to work out what is necessary/unecessary!!

    I saw it explained that it would not work very well with say a large symphony orchestra playing loudly - too much information. But with a solo instrument played quietly, you may well get recording as high in quality as any digital system. It is to do with "information" and as such it's misleading to think in terms of "recording quality" like analogue systems.

    So, I have Steve's CD and the quality is very good; but I can imagine that if I sat in a concert hall with my MD and tried to record the London Symphony Orchestra playing Messiaen's Turangalila Symphonie - the results would be pretty awful! ;)

    Anyway - the results of recording a small "acoustic" level Jazz group are pretty good - I use a Sony Stereo Mic (ECM - MS907) with my Aiwa AM F5 - both of which were not expensive and have lasted for 3- 4 years so far!!!
  16. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    I'm not sure I agree with you Bruce concerning recording a symphony orchestra. I've used my Sharp MD and a Audio Technica ATM 35 in a wide variety of venues and loud rehearsals and the quality has always been outstanding. Now, I haven't A/B'd it with DAT, and there may indeed be a difference, but I have yet to detect it a difference when listening to recordings of source material from a CD that has been digitally transferred to MD.
  17. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Well I've never actually tried recording a symphony orchestra, I just read this in the manual for my Aiwa MD player - I've always got good results and come to think of it, I did record an "Early Ellington" thing, which included a huge number of "horn" players and sounds great on MD!
  18. Right, while I say the difference is audible, that doesn't mean that MD doesn't sound great. Its just that DAT usually sounds better, and as such is a better thing to work with in a studio environment, that's all. Bruce you are right, I shouldn't say 'quality' but rather 'sampling rate'. A MD records at the same sampling rate that a CD plays back at, 44.1, but lower than a DAT records at, which is up to 48.

    Also, I found this quote out there on the "internet" about MD technology, compression, etc.

    "Developed for high end and professional use with re-recording abilities. Compresses audio data in 1:5 ratio using ATRAC technology to retain original sound quality. Easily reproduced at low cost and able to record from all sources. Highly portable and personalizable.
    Sampling rate: 44.1 kHz
    Frequency range: 20 - 20 kHz"

    Bruce, I assume it is the ATRAC technology you read about regrading smart compression. NOw that I think back on it, I have had my highest quality MDs come out of quieter or more sparse musical situations....

    Also, one thing to note is that most portable recorders have a little switch to turn on/off a limiting mechanism that will flatten/compress the sound above a certain peak level. Make sure you turn this off, unless you want some funky sounding recordings.
  19. robw


    May 14, 2001
    Long Beach, CA
    Just as an update, I haven't had a case of GAS this bad in a long time - years even. It has taken me all of 3 days to get from the initial interest stage to "must have NOW!". I have a wife and kids afterall. GAS usually just leads to heartburn, so I try to stay satisfied with my current gear. These MDs sound so perfect for what I want to do though. Unfortunately the new recordable MDs are a bit out of my range - especially once you add the mic.

    Last night I checked Ebay and couldn't help bidding. I bought a Sharp MD-MT15. I was able to research it a little on minidisc.org, and even download the owners manual before making the bid. It has the mic. input and was introduced in 1999. That being the case it doesn't have NetMD, but for $66 I'm ok with that. My biggest interest is in live recording. I then ordered my mic from Musicians Friend: Sony ECM-MS907. Bruce had good things to say about it, and it was in the price and size range I was in - what's one more thing on the MF gold card?

    Of course I still have to wait for them to arrive and try them out, but I'm pretty excited about it. One thing has me worried, and that is the problems section of minidisc.org. It lists complaints made on all of the models available. I didn't find that section until today! The MT15 had a pretty sizeable qty of dissatisfied owners compared with other models. However, it has also been around for a few years which gives more time to build the complaints file. Also you have to compare numbers sold to really compare reliability or customer satisfaction. Maybe you guys have heard horrible things about these units? Or maybe even good things, perchance?

    At any rate, I made the leap into MD technology. I appreciate the help and directions.
  20. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I found this explanation at AudioTek press :

    "But once we rise to the level of percieved audio quality and audio capacity, we find that CD and MD are once again highly comparable. Both use a 44.1 kHz audio sampling rate, which can produce sounds with frequencies up to 22.05 kHz. Both can store 74 odd minutes of stereo audio programming. CD uses a fixed linear sample width of 16 bits, but MD is more adaptable, and employs scaling to achieve a wider signal range. However, typically MD uses 16 bit linear samples as a benchmark, so there is not normally a great gain from this flexibility.

    How are MD and CD different?
    MD and CD use the same pitches of pitting and similar low-level encoding and error correction schemes, yet both obtain a recording capacity of 74 minutes despite a vast difference in physical size. It is obvious that a bit of trickery is involved to allow this, and you will be unsurprised to learn that this trickery has a name: ATRAC.

    ATRAC stands for Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding, and it is an audio compression scheme not dissimilar to Dolby's AC scheme (better known as Dolby Digital) or MPEG's audio compression schemes. ATRAC compresses digital audio data so that it occupies 20% of the space it would have under CD's PCM encoding. This is achieved primarily, without noticable degradation to human ears, by exploiting weaknesses in our ability to distinguish soft sounds behind loud sounds (called the "masking effect"), recognising the frequencies we are less able to hear (determined by "equi-loudness curves"), and making use of knowledge about the way our ears analyse sounds (in so-called "critical bands").

    While ATRAC is a lossy compression scheme, in that some data is discarded, and therefore original waveform is never perfectly reproduced, it cannot be emphasized enough how little it affects the listening experience. Early ATRAC encoders were less successful in this respect, but today it is possible to record sounds which are almost impossible to distinguish from the same sounds recorded on CDs entirely uncompressed. Indeed, when ATRAC is used to record from sources other than CD, it is possible for MD to exceed CD quality in terms of dynamic range. "

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