Aiwa XR-H66MD User Comments (4/25/99)

Fred Hamilton ([email protected])

Author's Note:

This review has been both helpful and infuriating to many people over the last year or so.  I wasn't very happy about my XR-H66MD, but a lot of people really are, and they feel I was being too negative.  They're probably right.  It wasn't what I was looking for, but apparently it is exactly what a lot of people are looking for.  So I've re-written my review again so it's a little more balanced.  I didn't throw away any critical data, I just tried to make it a bit more balanced.  For the record, though, this didn't really start out as a complete review, it was originally a list of gripes that I wanted to air to warn and educate potential buyers (because smarter, more demanding customers lead to better products), and hopefully motivate Aiwa in the future to spend as much time on the "soft" features (user interface, quality of features, ease of use) as they do on the hardware (which is very good on this system).

Just so you know, I sold my XR-H66MD in December of 1998.  This means I don't have the system or the owner's manual anymore.  While you should feel free to send me feedback if you want, any sort of technical question ("Can the XR-H66MD do this?", "What does the green button on the lower left front panel do?", etc.) about the performance or operation of the XR-H66MD should be sent to JJ at [email protected]. JJ has an XR-H66MD, loves it, and has graciously agreed to answer questions about it from potential buyers. Thanks, JJ!

OK, here's the revised review...

In May 1998, I was in Japan on business. Of course I went shopping, and was VERY excited to see Aiwa's XR-H66MD system for sale, and for only 49,000yen (about $350US at the time)! I'd been waiting for it to come out in the states, but here it was in front of me. Thanks to this list, I was aware that the FM tuner might not cover the US frequency range. But I played with the demo and saw that it covered both the Japanese and US frequencies (76MHz - 108MHz, in ridiculously small .05MHz steps). So I took the plunge and bought it.

From a hardware and feature list perspective, it is a great value, particularly if you can find it for $300-$400 (I think it still retails for $599 in the US).  A system with a 3CD changer and 5MD changer, good sound, etc. is a great deal.  A lot of people just want to insert their CDs and Minidiscs and listen to them, and this unit does a great job of this.  At a basic feature level, this is a great deal.

But as I dove down deeper into the features of the unit, I was more and more disappointed.  Here is this wonderful piece of hardware (CD and MD changers, power amps, digital in (from MD), digital out (for CD only, by the way - there's no MD digital output), capable of doing everything I want it to do, but it's coupled with a very illogical user interface and (imho) half-assed feature implementation.  It's sort of like PCs - G3 and Pentium class processors deliver performance something like 100 to 1000 times faster than we had 10 years ago, but it still takes just as long to boot the damn PC, or load a PowerPoint file, etc.  It's basically because the software is bloated and not written very well (but let's not get me started about Microsoft).  Well, the firmware for the XR-H66MD is definitely not taking full advantage of what the XR-H66MD's hardware is capable of.  That's the main reason I'm disappointed.  It's like having your kid grow up and work at Taco Bell when you know he's smart enough to have been a doctor.

So the basic features are OK, probably good enough for most people.  But here is my original list of comments that may be of interest to "power users":

  1. It has a 5 disc changer, but multi-disc shuffle play only shuffles ONE DISC AT A TIME! I quote from the manual: "When the random play mode is selected, all the tracks on one disc is [sic] played randomly, then the next disc is played in random play mode, and so on." The main reason I bought this unit was so I could put in 5 MDs, hit shuffle play, and get an instant cool mix. I'm very, very disappointed.  Interestingly, the CD player shuffles all 3 discs in shuffle play, which is exactly what I wanted and expected the MD changer to do!  I'm also disappointed that there is no sound when the MD changes from one disc to the next.  It's got a 10 second buffer, so it could easily be playing the end of the last song while it's seeking the next.  And it would basically be FREE to implement (since the memory required is already there).  That's the way my Sony MDX-61 car MD changer works, and that's a feature I feel all MD changers should have.
  2. There is no "next disc" button on the remote, either for CD or MD. You have to select a specific disc by pressing "MD (or CD) Direct Play", then the disc number you want to change to. Not easy to do in the dark.
  3. The shuffle play apparently does remember what tracks have been played, so you won't hear the same track more than once until you've heard every other track on the CD/MD. I was confused about this before, because it didn't delete the track from the track listing after it's played it (like most other CD/MD players I'm used to).
  4. Benefit: Originally I said there was no mono record feature. There actually IS a mono record function, so you can record 2+ hours of radio (or whatever) in mono on one MD. You can also use the record timer with this to (for example) tape your favorite radio show while you're at work. Originally I thought this was just a 24 hour timer (you couldn't pick the day of the week), but apparently I was wrong - it turns out you can pick a day of the week
  5. The automated CD-MD digital copying is sort of lame. It only copies one CD onto one MD, or 3CDs onto 3MDs. So I can't automatically (for example) record two 35 minute CDs onto 1 MD. It will make 2 35 minute MDs. You may be able to get around that, but I was never able to figure out how.
  6. Many functions only work with the remote, others only work with the front panel. So you generally have to work with both to get anything complicated done.
  7. The display is very bright and busy. It has 3 modes: the default, full-on psychedelic mode, and 2 more muted modes, but it still lights up my bedroom at night well enough to see by. Even when it's turned off (it's got a clock).
  8. Overall, the system is just not very easy to use (except for basic functions).  Labelling, deleting, splitting, combining, etc.are almost impossible to do without the manual nearby.  I get a lot of emails from people who already own the unit, asking me how to record in mono mode, how to delete a track, how to record for 6[12] hours straight (5 discs * 1.25 hours [*2 for mono]), etc.  They think they can do it (the manual isn't clear), but they don't know how (because the manual isn't clear).  One point, and this applies to most tools, both hi- and lo-tech:  If it's designed well, you shouldn't need a manual, let alone a "XXXXX for Dummies" book!
  9. I just received information stating that you can't record the radio for 6[12] hours straight.  Recording stops after the first disc is filled.  (This doesn't apply to the specialized CD->MD recording modes, however).  Maybe this user just couldn't figure out how to do it, but from his email it sounded like he tried pretty hard, because he was pretty disappointed that he had to return it to the store for a refund.


If you just want to listen to a bunch of CDs and minidiscs (imagine that!), this is a great product.

As a power user, I was pretty disappointed - I've bought some WONDERFUL products (particularly their 3 head analog cassette decks) from Aiwa over the years. They generally have all the features and performance I want and everything's very logical and easy to use.  I've never had any complaints about their products before now.  But this product is undercooked.  It looks good on the outside, but for the power user, it promises more than it delivers.

I put my XR-H66MD through medical school for this? :-)

If anyone wants to talk to me about this review, send me an email at [email protected] (but remember I don't have the system or the manual anymore).

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