Review of Denon DMP-R30 portable

by Michael Schuster ([email protected])

Since MiniDisc is best suited to portable use, I've always paid more attention to that side of the market offerings. Every once in a while my friend in Japan sends me literature on new models, as well as his impressions from looking at these things on store shelves. After reading the basic info on the upcoming Sony MZ-R3, I decided to upgrade (from my MZ-R2) to a new Japanese model instead.

Today I received my Denon DMP-R30 portable MiniDisc recorder. It cost 48,500 yen plus tax. I will post my initial impressions, and try to make comparisons with my Sony MZ-R2 and what I've heard about the -R3.

This is a Japanese domestic model manufactured by Sharp. It is also sold under the Kenwood name; the differences between the three seem to be mostly cosmetic. Unlike the Sharp-branded version, the controls and display functions are in English. The manual is in Japanese; however there is a 7-page cursory English section in the back. It is fairly complete if terse; and written in understandable Western-style English.

A lot of the minutia omitted in the English section can be deduced by looking at the pictures and numerals in the main section of the manual. For example, they don't tell you in the English section that you can get lower case characters in your label by pressing the DISPLAY button during editing. But the Japanese diagrams make that pretty obvious.

The deck is almost exactly the size as the Sony MZ-R2 and has a similar overall layout. It feels a bit lighter and seems to be made of thinner plastic than the rather chunky feeling Sony. The bright brushed silver finish is a rude shock compared to the subdued grey of the MZ-R2.

First, comparing the feature set one finds that the Sony has the following features which the Denon does not:

Features the Denon has but the Sony does not:

The Denon comes with the usual set of accessories with the exception of a blank disc - however my friend got the sales person to throw one in anyway. It is powered by an internal lithium ion battery which closely resembles the Sony but has its terminals in a different spot. Fully charged it is rated at 3.5 hours playback or 2.5 hours recording. The wall supply is a thin, light switcher rated for 100VAC input (of course) which supplies 4.5VDC at 1000 mA and terminates in the dreaded yellow "unified" (i.e. incompatible) plugs the Japanese manufacturers are now so fond of. I cautiously tried it on US house current and it seemed to work without anything getting hot or complaining. Curiously it supplied 4.226 volts instead of 4.5 (or more) under no load conditions. Not wishing to take a chance on blowing anything up with 120 VAC wall current, I'm using the transformer from my Sony DiscMan which seems to work fine.

There is a huge bulky alkaline battery case which clips underneath (like the car mounts for CD players) and holds 6 AA cells. This provides up to 12 hours playback or 7 hours recording time together with the internal cell.

In the final analysis the power supply and charging situation is more elegant than the Sony, which uses an unregulated wall cube and a single socket for socket or external battery pack. If the unit receives 4.5V it assumes you have a battery case and does not charge the internal cells. If the unit receives more than 4.5V it asusmes you have the charger connected, and charges the internal cell. The difference in voltage is dissipated as heat.

The Denon uses a regulated switching supply which supplies 4.5V. It, and the deck, run cooler as a result; especially during charging. The battery case clips onto separate terminals on the bottom, so there is no need to use voltage levels as an indicator of the power source.

The remote control provides playback and track marking functions but, like the Sony, cannot be used to INITIATE recording. The headphone output feeds through the remote and, unlike the Sony, uses a standard mini stereo phone plug.

I've tried basic recording, playback, compatibility tests with the Sony, and all the inputs and outputs. Many operations use different logic than on the Sony, so it takes a little getting used to. I most feared the label edit setup, but it's pretty straightforward.

Not only does the Denon(/Sharp/Kenwood) portable not have a clock, but it does not support time/date stamping. I used it to label a disc recorded on my MZ-R2 which had time stamps. After labelling, playback on the Sony revealed that all the time stamps had been erased. Interesting.

To give you an example of how things work, here's how to label a track (this is from memory now, honest). During playback of the desired track, press the play/pause button to put the recorder in pause mode. On the front panel, press the EDIT button repeatedly until the menu shows TRACK LABEL, and press ENTER to acknowledge. The display now reads SELECT and gives the first 3 characters of the active set (Latin, Japanese, or punctuation). Choose the set you want by pressing the CHARACTER button, and ENTER to acknowledge.

You now can enter characters, one at a time, using 4 keys. The volume up/down buttons cycle through the alphabets. The << >> keys serve as the cursor. When you're done, press ENTER to finish. The display now goes back to showing the track number and the new label. Also it says "TOC" in the corner to remind you that the table of contents must be rewritten before the changes are permanent. To do that you press the STOP button twice, and it writes the TOC with a visual indicator flashing. If a TOC update is pending after an edit, the eject button is locked and that is so displayed if you try. Nice. (This also explains the soft 'thunk' you feel as you enter editing mode; it's the lock on the eject button engaging).

On some sample analog and digital dubs, the audio quality is good; similar to the Sony but with a slightly different tonality. It's hard to pin down but I suppose different ATRAC implementations, D-A converters, and analog stages will do this. I connected the optical digital output to my Casio DA-R100 portable DAT machine and yes, the dub works just fine.

I tried out the double-play mono feature, which records a mono signal (even from a stereo digital dub!!!!) at half speed. You can even intersperse stereo and LP-mono tracks and it never misses a beat. But what REALLY surprised me was when I took that disc and played it back on the old Sony. Yes, the MZ-R2 played it back perfectly, even with intermixed SP and LP tracks - and the Sony isn't even spec'ed as supporting LP mode even for playback. Can somebody explain this please??

I very much prefer the way in which the Denon chooses where a recording starts. On the Sony, if you accidentally start recording in the middle of a disc (I've done this several times) .... poof! you've lost everything from that point on. You have to REMEMBER to do an end search if you want to append.

The Denon assumes you want to record AT THE END, unless you specifically tell it to over-write (you put it in pause while playing and then engage record, and are asked to confirm erasing the rest of the disc).

All in all, I'm quite happy with this new toy as it represents a significant features upgrade from the MZ-R2 (and even the MZ-R3). I just hope my friend in Japan will be "good" about things should it ever break :-(

I'd be happy to answer questions via the list or email. But to answer the expected question first: no I cannot get any for list members.

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