``Near CD'': What does it mean?

There are countless MiniDisc fans who will speak in glowing terms of how MiniDisc is virtually indistinguishable from CD quality audio. But to put the matter in proper perspective we've excerpted a few quotes from members of the audio profession. Most of these concern Sony's older high end MiniDisc deck, the MDS-JA3ES. This represents a fair comparison with CDs since we are discussing the realizable potential of the format, and not the relative quality of various MD machines.
Louis Challis, Electronics Australia, October 1996, Reviewing the top end Sony MDS-JA3ES deck:
The [output of the D/A] chip is an audio signal with a spectacular dynamic range and a degree of fidelity which convinced me that any previous claims of lack of fidelity and commonality of quality between Mini Discs and CDs has now become a technically invalid issue.

Although Sony claims a theoretical 131dB signal to noise ratio, I believe that what they were actually aiming to achieve was the linearity of an 18-bit system (i.e., 108dB capability). On delving further, that belief was confirmed by my measurements.
We ran this A-B testing during two separate sessions encompassing a total period of three hours. After the testing was completed we were satisfied that we could neither identify, nor could we hear any difference between the digital original and the digitally recorded MiniDisc, or the manufacturer's own pre-recorded version of that same disc.

After carrying out numerous additional recordings of my own (on my own), I came to the conclusion that the JA3ES is currently the most convenient, and outstanding digital audio recorder (deck) that I have ever had the pleasure to use, or to audition.

Isao Shibazaki, MJ Audio Technology Magazine, December 1995, Technical Report on Sony's MDS-JA3ES deck:
... playing back a 20 bit encoded premastered MD can, depending upon the song, even be felt to exceed a CD.
German Stereo Magazine, July 1996, Discussing Sony's new Fourth Generation ATRAC Audio Compression:
Considering noise, ATRAC 3.5 had already reached CD level, so that MiniDisc can now only go beyond the CD standard. It is not a secret that this is possible.
Edward J. Foster, Audio Magazine, December 1995, MDS-JA3ES Report:
... occasionally the MD copies [of first rate CDs] sounded a bit thicker and a bit harsher than the originals. Yet without the originals for A/B comparison, I'd have little to complain of; I've heard much worse sound on CD. Under the most trying conditions and with program material known to be difficult on a transform algorithm, I can still discern a difference in quality. Nevertheless, the Sony MDS-JA3ES's version of the ATRAC algorithm comes as close to MD perfection as I've heard. With the majority of program material, I think you'll find it essentially transparent.
So, it appears that Sony's ATRAC 3.5 based high end MDS-JA3ES deck can be considered by some professionals to be indistinguishable from, or even better than a CD. Does this mean the new high end machines (MDS-JA50ES, MDS-JA30ES, MDS-JA20ES) based upon the ATRAC 4.5 chip, will be considered by some to be clearly better than CD? Perhaps we will soon have to start clarifying that ``near'' means ``near, though a bit better''. -Eric Woudenberg

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