Review of Sony Minidisc Deck MDS-JB940 (QS Series)

Eugene Dolan
August 2001
edolan@gofree.indigo.ie

Introduction

I have been a recording enthusiast for many years and have owned open reel recorders in the past and, at present, a Teac DAT DAP 20 recorder, a Nakamichi BX300 3-head cassette recorder, and a Marantz DR 4050 CD Recorder, all of which give excellent results. I have done a number of live recordings of classical recitals, especially of piano and pipe organ recitals. I will continue to use DAT for live music recordings, but wanted the facility to make digital copies with a minimum of fuss. The flexibility of MD attracted me, and my first venture into the format was with a Sony MDS-JE530. I was impressed with the format in general and with the machine itself, which I felt would easily give better results than a similarly priced cassette deck.

After 18 months I decided to move up from the MDS-JE530 to a higher specification machine for various reasons - hopefully for better sound, and for extra facilities, inputs/outputs etc. I heard good reports about the MDS-JB940 so decided to invest. The version I have is the "UK Edition" which according to Sony is "specially tuned for British ears". Incidentally I generally connect the digital coaxial output into an external DAC (Musical Fidelity Digilog) and playback bypassing the internal DAC - this gives more clarity and transparency to the sound. However the analogue output from the MDS-JB940 is good quality, and most owners will I imagine use this output. 

Performance

My first requirement with a piece of audio equipment is Sound Quality - the ability to give musical involvement. All the features and reliability in the world won't compensate for unconvincing quality in this department. Having tested the MDS-JB940 by copying some revealing CD tracks via the optical input, I can report that the sound (played through Naim monobloc 135 amplification and Sequerra speakers) is very good indeed. An A-B comparison with the CD source of course shows the CD to be a bit fuller and more open, but listening to the MD copy on its own one isn't aware of this, in fact the sound is dynamic and detailed with some subtle effects getting through. I played a copy of an original DAT recording I did of some jazz on a Kawai grand piano. This is a very revealing test, as solo piano is one of the hardest instruments to reproduce properly. The bass on the MD copy was deep and solid, with good transients throughout the whole range - in short, a good rendering of the original performance. 

The LP2 recording mode - which gives double playing time - was surprisingly good on orchestral tracks taken from CD. Obviously there has to be some deterioration in quality, but to be quite honest you have to listen for it, and it's not significant. In the LP4 mode - quadruple recording time - the sound was less open, but much more acceptable than I expected. This mode would be ideal for recording extended FM radio programmes or for background music. A total of 5hours 20 minutes of reasonably acceptable stereo playback can be extracted from an 80 minute MD, which is nothing short of amazing, when you think of it. 

One of the facilities I disabled is the Auto Cut and Smart Space (which go hand-in-hand) because I found that recording an FM radio signal of a live concert where there are breaks between movements could occasionally trigger the auto cut feature and put the recording in pause mode, which is not suitable when making unattended recordings. 

Of the many features, I particularly liked: 

No doubt in time this list will be expanded. 

Conclusion

The overall sound quality is more open than the Sony MDS-JE530 (which was half the cost). The build and added features make the extra expenditure worthwhile. I have no real criticism of the unit - it performs well, and once the controls are mastered, a pleasure to use. For around IR£390 it's great value.


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