The Kenwood is one of the two MiniDisc recorders in this test. Bigger and more expensive than the Sony contender here, the DM-7090 fits in with the macho styling of other Kenwood components to the extent that on first unboxing it we momentarily wondered where the little discs went! In fact, the tiny slot is away to the left of the big central display moulding, giving the player a slightly less purposeful look than the Sony.
Where it scores over the Sony is in the provision of rear sockets. There are digital ins and outs on optical and electrical/coaxial connectors plus the usual analogue in/out sockets. The Sony makes do with optical only - while most Japanese CD players have optical outputs (and a few both digital outputs), electrical connections are more popular in Europe and they generally sound better, too.
Within, the Kenwood uses its manufacturer's DRIVE system. This is nothing to do with the disc transport, but stands for Dynamic Resolution Intensive Vector Enhancement. It's all to do with smoothing the sound via a series of digital filters designed to enhance low-level detail.
In use, this recorder is easily understood, with functions such as track editing carried out via a menu-driven system similar to the Sony's. But the layout of the controls, and the sheer number of buttons on the Kenwood, means its operation isn't as intuitive as that of the MDS-JE500. However, there are no such reservations about the performance: the Kenwood sounds good.
As with other latest-generation MD machines, this one is capable of making highly convincing copies from digital sources and analogue inputs alike. Copy from a good 500 pound CD player then compare the two back-to-back and the slightly diminished ambience of the MD version gives the game away; play the MiniDisc recording in isolation and you'll never be anything other than entirely happy. Mind you, the Kenwood's best when you use its coaxial digital input: the optical input sounds just a bit softer.
Beside even the best of the cassette desks the DM-7090 can hold its own: bass is well-extended and tuneful, there's plenty of presence in the midband, instruments have excellent character, and the treble is both clean and crisp. And when you consider the absence of tape hiss, enabling the Kenwood to outperform even the best of the Dolby S machines in this respect, plus the relative ease with which good recordings can be made, the appeal of this machine isn't hard to fathom.
Copy U2's Pop disc and the heavyweight sound remains intact, along with the ease with which you can pick out the elements in the mix. Even a demanding disc such as the Jacques Loussier Tri's jazz version of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, with its wide dynamic range, records superbly. The Kenwood is a striking when you're listening to the tiniest touches on the cymbals as it is when the trio is really driving hard.
MiniDisc: good enough? Too right. As with the Sony in this test, the 500 pound Kenwood here requires no excuses to be made no longer for either the format or its execution. Indeed, this is a very impressive piece of kit - if only the Sony didn't have so clear a price advantage...
This is turning into the year of Sony's Big Push. Taking its cue from MiniDisc's runaway success in Japan, the company is launching a new line-up of hardware. And this machine is the most attractive MD home recorder yet. It's not just the price, though at 300 pounds it's right up against quality tape decks: the Sony offers high quality encoding and decoding designed to offer fine recording and playback, it boasts intuitive ergonomics, and it's easy to use.
If there's a drawback here, it's that the digital input is via an optical connector only on pricier models does Sony offer coaxial electrical digital in. But within the optical format's limits, the MDS-JE500 gives good recordings. What's more, the additional functions MiniDisc offers - track editing/moving and disc/track labeling - are simplified by a rotary control to access menus, plus a clear pair of yes/no keys to respond to the menu prompts.
Make a few recordings, and while you can tell the source from the copy in straight A/B comparisons, listen to alone MD quality stands up to scrutiny. Sony is at pains to remind us that MiniDisc isn't a replacement for CD, but is designed to take over from analogue cassette, and on these grounds the MDS-JE500's copies stand up very well.
Yes there's a slight warming and softening of the sound, and some very subtle ambient cues tend to go AWOL, but listening to anything from Warren G's What's Love Got To Do With It? To close focused orchestral recordings is far from frustrating, Upper treble is slightly rounded off, and bass fills out a little, so that U2's Discotheque becomes more solid than on the CD, but there's no shortage of impact or dynamics.
The Sony's recording are extremely easy to enjoy, and it makes reliable copies every time you hook up the digital interconnect. Recording from analogue sources takes more care as overloading will cause digital nasties, but this is a still simpler machine to use than its analogue rivals.
We find ourselves coming back to that 300 pound tag with some wonder. This is a very fine recorder for the money, and one that makes it simple to get optimum results every time you hit the record button. We like it a lot.
As for MiniDisc, we like the Kenwood's sound, but prefer the intuitive operation of the Sony, which also makes recordings that outclass those of the more affordable tape decks here. There's also the price difference, which is very much in the Sony's favour.
Other machines tested were:-
Sound Build Facilities Verdict Denon *** **** **** **** Kenwood **** ***** ***** **** Pioneer ***** ***** ***** ***** Sony **** ***** **** ***** TEAC ***** ***** ***** ***** Yamaha **** **** **** *****