Sony MZ-N1 NetMD Walkman
Written by Brian Youn [[email protected]]  
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Overall Impressions of the Sony MZ-N1

Sony has possibly given us their best portable MD recording unit to date with the N1. The ability to interface with the PC and download tracks at high speed, along with the slew of features that Sony has put into the N1 makes it a new benchmark in the world of MD. But is all of this enough? As some users have pointed out, NetMD is really "two-year-old-technology" - Sony is just now catching up in the high-speed download department - something that MP3 players have been able to brag about for a couple of years. Meanwhile, rival portable music products are offering even bigger and better things - particularly products like the Apple iPod - which uses a Firewire interface to download an entire CD in just 10 seconds, and features a 5GB hard drive in a 6.5 ounce body - and the Nomad Jukebox 20GB - which has a line-in jack for recording directly to WAV format, and allows for transfers to the PC and back. The ability to upload analog recordings from the MD to the PC is something that Sony really missed the boat on (sure, there might be potential copyright concerns if you allow uploads of digital recordings, but they could have at least allowed the uploading of analog recordings).

One of my long-standing beefs with recent Sony units is that Sony insists on burying almost all of their functions into a complex menu system (the standby menu is 10 items long, and some of the menu items have their own sub-menus...). Personally, I don't want to have to go into a menu just to change the bass/treble presets. I don't want to have to delve into a menu system to put a track into repeat. I don't want to have to go into a menu just to change the display mode. Semi-basic functions like this should have dedicated buttons for them on the main unit. Sharp seems to get this... why can't Sony? Sure, these units are so small, but with the miniaturization of the N1's display, there is certainly space on the face of the unit for a couple of more buttons under the LCD. Sure, most of the buttons are on the remote, but not everybody uses the remote (many times, I certainly don't).

The jog dial is well implemented and works great - on my unit, the jog dial had more resistance than my R909's jog dial, but this may have just been on my unit. An option to reverse the direction of the dial would have been nice, as some users may find the orientation of the dial to be "backwards". The layout of the controls is decent, but could be better - the control bar is a novel idea, but it is still too easy to err when trying to push the center of the bar straight-in. Also, starting a recording in REC-PAUSE mode is not easy to do with the layout of the controls, since the control bar is right above the record slider (and the two are a little too close together for my thumbs).

On a positive note, the LCD on the MZ-N1 is about as good as it gets. Just about everything you would want to see is displayed efficiently. I only wish Sony would add a backlight to the main unit's LCD. The remote is also well designed and easy to use, but I still personally feel that the remote's orientation is backwards - when I clip the remote to my shirt and look down at the display, the LCD is upside-down. Otherwise the remote is good, despite not having the ability to start a recording from the remote. The G-Protection works great - as anybody that has jogged with one of these will tell you - and the unit's battery life is nothing short of incredible. While the unit certainly won't last you the full 30 hours of playback (as stated by the user manual), 20 hours of playback in real-life usage should be around the norm. If you ever used an MZ-R55, you'll have absolutely no gripes with that ^_^.

All things said, the MZ-N1 is about what I expected it to be - a very solid unit overall. But there are too many things that could have been done better for it to be considered a truly great NetMD recorder. As a standalone MD unit, the N1 scores very high - but it's not perfect, mainly due to the ergonomically-challenged control layout and over-reliance on menus (as opposed to dedicated buttons), among other relatively minor details. But the NetMD interface just doesn't give people control of all of the great editing capabilities of the MD format, and only gives us the basic essentials. High-speed PC-to-MD downloads is something that Sony pretty much needed to add (and this really should have been added long ago); even with high-speed downloads, NetMD is nice... but not spectacular. The ability to perform high-speed uploads (with the ability to export to other audio formats) would have really put NetMD over-the-top. But alas, it is apparently just not to be (for those of you that are wondering, MD-to-PC uploads is not something that can be hacked through the software - it is more of a hardware limitation). If all you're interested in is downloading songs from your PC to MD at high speed and taking them on the go, then you may not mind the limitations so much. But for power MD users that strive to get the most out of the versatile MD format, NetMD may be sufficient, but slightly lacking.


If you're just getting your feet wet with Minidisc, and are looking for places to expand your knowledge of this great audio format, the following MD-related sites are a good place to start.

  • The MiniDisc Community Portal ( - The center of the MiniDisc Internet community, the information capitol of the MiniDisc world. If you're new to MD, this is where you should begin (the beginner's FAQ is a great place to start).

  • Minidisc T-Station ( or - Great site for MD news, unit reviews, e-tailer reviews, discussion forums, and more. If you're a newbie, be sure to check out their Intro to MD.

  • MiniDiscussion ( - The MiniDisc discussion boards. Great place to get your MD-related questions answered by the online MD community.

  • Japan-Direct ( - Japan-based retailer of Japanese electronics, and the place I order most of my MD equipment from. Excellent service, quick shipping, and warranty support for Japanese imports - if you have a problem with your unit, send it back to them and they'll take care of it with the manufacturer (extremely valuable since the Japanese warranties are not usually honored outside of Japan). There are plenty of sites out there that may sell for a lower price, but not all of them will cover your back if you end up with a defective unit, so be careful when you shop around.

  • MiniDisc Korea ( or - While this site is predominantly in Korean, there are always plenty of great photos to be seen at this site. Some of the areas are members-only areas and are not accessible otherwise, but still a good site to browse occasionally.

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Author Contact Info

If you have any questions or comments about this review, please feel free to send me an e-mail at [email protected].

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Copyright © 2002 by Brian Y. Youn. All Rights Reserved.