Response to MacNN article on Mac/Sony MD compatibility

Dale Greer ([email protected])
September 2000
Mr. Udell,

My name is Dale Greer, and I am a Mac user who's owned MiniDisc equipment since 1993. I am writing in reference to your recent MacNN article, "Sony shuns Mac users with MP3 MiniDisc Walkman."

You make several erroneous statements in your article which indicate a poor understanding of MD technology. I can only assume you have been mislead by Sony reps, based on the quotes you attributed to a Sony spokeswoman. This isn't really surprising, since Sony's own U.S. press release announcing the MZ-R70DPC contains incorrect information, and the company's U.S. marketing arm has been clueless with respect to MiniDisc technology since the format's launch eight years ago.

My first point of concern is your statement that the MZ-R70DPC is "the first to feature a USB port and support for the MP3 format."

Actually, this unit does _not_ have a USB port. What it has is an optical digital minijack that accepts audio signals sent via the S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format) protocol. S/PDIF is standard fare on consumer audio gear like CD players and MD decks.

If you had read the Sony press release very carefully, you would have noticed that the MZ-R70DPC also includes an optical cable, a "digital PCLink," and a USB cable. All three of these elements combine with a PC and an MD unit to transfer the audio signal.

Here's how it works: The USB cable is plugged into the computer and feeds digital audio to the PCLink, which converts the electrical USB audio signal to an optical audio signal. That optical signal is then transmitted over another cable (in the S/PDIF format) to the MiniDisc recorder's optical digital input jack. The MD unit crunches the incoming audio stream using Sony's proprietary ATRAC data compression algorithm and then burns it to a disc. This process is "real time," so a song that takes three minutes to hear also takes three minutes to record.

For a detailed explanation of why this is the case, see my FAQ.

Sony's digital PCLink appears to be the same animal as Xitel's MD-Port DG-1 and is simply a digital version of an analog PClink device Sony has had on the market for more than a year. (This analog version appears to be an OEM version of Xitel's MD-Port AN1.

So, in short, the MZ-R70DPC does not have a USB port and is no different in this respect from any other portable MD recorder. The difference is in the USB cable/converter device (aka digital PCLink), an analog version of which has been available for more than a year.

You also mention that the MZ-R70DPC is the first to offer "support for the MP3 format." Well, this really makes no sense. An MD recorder is simply an audio recorder. All it does is record an incoming audio stream, like a tape deck. To transfer MP3s to MiniDisc, you simply play the files with your computer's MP3 software. The MD unit then records the audio signal from your computer's audio output (be it USB, digital S/PDIF or analog). My 14-year-old Nakamichi tape deck offers as much MP3 support as the MZ-R70DPC. More information on this subject is given in my FAQ.

My second point of contention is Sony's notion that this device is PC-only. That is simply not true. As you and Sony both note, the MZ-R70DPC comes with no software. This means it is not controlled by any type of computer interface. All it needs is an incoming audio stream. Therefore, it will work with any computer system.

As for the digital PCLink cable, which needs USB to function, a Mac user will have to be running under OS 9.0.4 to receive the audio signal. This is because Apple did not include USB audio support in earlier versions of the OS. However, under 9.0.4, configuration is automatic, so anyone using that version of System 9 will have the same "plug-n-play" functionality PC users enjoy.

As for the Sony spokeswoman who told you there were no plans for Mac drivers: What is she talking about? USB audio is built in to the Mac OS , and the MZ-R70DPC cannot be controlled via software, so there is no need for any type of driver.

If you want additional information on routing digital audio from a Mac to a MiniDisc unit (and vice versa), I've put together a web site just for this purpose.

Thanks for your time.

Dale Greer

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