Sony MDX-C800REC Review

Matthew Wall (wallmdc@alternativemicrosystems.com)
August 2001

Motivation

I was originally looking to purchase a MD head unit for my auto, though most of my friends said I was crazy and just buying another toy. Well they were only about Ĺ right. I was looking around for a long time until I came across the MDX-C800REC, and Iím very glad that I found it. However I am disappointed that Sony is not making it any more.

Pluses

One great feature of this head unit is that with the faceplate off it looks like you have an ancient $30 tape deck with removable faceplate in your car. What thief would want to break out a window for a tape deck these days?

The reason I purchased it was because after some investigation I discovered that Sony had discontinued it, and many places were offering the unit for $300. I really couldnít pass that up.

As for some of its amazing features, first and foremost is the record function. Yes it does record; from radio, CD-changer, MD-changer, Sony TV tuner, or basically any digital or line level audio source you like, even a powered microphone can be used. To the left is a picture of the unit recording, you can see that the recording function buttons on the right side are all lit up.

Something I find even more amazing is that it has a digital input so you donít have to run analog into it if you donít want to. However there is a down side to this: there is only one input jack, so you must decide when you install it whether the input will be analog or digital.

Many are likely to be wondering about the unit's editing capabilities, but let me emphatically state: DO NOT EDIT WHILE DRIVING! That shouldnít need saying, but I tried it once and nearly had an accident (it makes a cellular phone seem safe in comparison). It has the normal DIVIDE, ERASE, MOVE, TITLE, etc. functions and I canít think of an editing capability that it's missing. In the manual it makes a note to not shut off your car while editing because the TOC might not be written. This makes me think that you might be able to clone MDs with it.

After installing the unit I was listening to a live recording I had made and realized I needed to split a track -- thatís when I just about got into an accident. This was the first time I had tried any editing with it and itís not exactly intuitive. In fact it took me a few minutes to get it to the right spot on the track and split it. One down side to the DIVIDE function is that you cannot pause where you want to split the track because PAUSE only appears to work when you are recording. From a quiet parking lot I was able to happily finish the edit, delighted to have in my car all the editing capabilities I normally have at home.

The display is clear, even in bright sunlight
As for some of the recording functions, one option that seems neat (though Iíve yet to try it) is the so-called timed recording. In the brochures it says it can keep recording after you shut your car off. But in my manual it says that I can select a time, up to 24 hours ahead, to record something (I havenít checked the online manual). This works even with the car off and the faceplate removed. Perhaps one could conveniently record the morning news before their commute and then conveniently fast forward through any commercials, redundant news, and traffic reports.

Another thing that I liked about this unit is that the volume control is a proper, fully turning knob and not push-buttons or a rocker. I also find it convenient that when you flip the faceplate down, it keeps playing whatever is on the radio. You have to remove the faceplate completely or hit the power button on the unit for it to stop. The readout on it is extremely easy to read, except in direct sunlight, but Iíve yet to see a car stereo display that is bright even in direct sun.

It has a cute little graphical spectrum analyzer
that bounces all around when your music is playing.

As I did not get either a wired remote or wireless one, I cannot comment on how well they work, but only that they do. I borrowed a friend's remotes and plugged them in. Then I quickly gave them back, as I decided that I would be more prone to driving on the sidewalks if I had anything else distracting me. Itís difficult enough to edit with this unit while driving (and you shouldnít) but to do it with a remote control makes matters even worse.

Minuses

There are a few problems with the unit. I mentioned the dangers of driving while editing (though the equipment can hardly be faulted for this). I also mentioned the oddness of having to choose between a digital input or an analog input; I do not understand why Sony cannot simply detect which input is being used and set things accordingly. Perhaps more importantly for many, the MDX-C800REC is not MDLP capable, so this makes it already obsolete in one sense. I donít use LP modes so this is not an issue for me. Hopefully Sony will introduce a next generation recording car MD unit with MDLP capability. And finally, the fact that such a nice piece of equipment has been discontinued is rather a shame!

Impressions so far

My impressions have been very positive. It does everything I need a MD head unit to do and more. Honestly, three years ago how many of us thought we would be able to drive around while recording an MD from the radio or CD/MD player? And then to be able to edit its contents, all in our car! The lowered end-of-life price on this unit is just great for all MD consumers (Crutchfield still has it for $300). Installation went easy as pie and everything worked great upon hookup. As for sound quality, I have it running through JL amps and speakers and it sounds fine!

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