A listening comparison between the
Sony MZ-E35 and the Sharp MD-ST501

Tugrul Tanyol ([email protected])

Sony MZ-E35

Sharp MD-ST501

Now that I have both E35 and ST501 I started to receive e-mails asking my opinion on both players. I thought writing up my opinions would help those hesitating between them. These are my opinions and of course they are based on subjective listening. But I must say that I have been buying Hi-fi equipment for the last 25 years. Until my first DAT deck I had never gone for any Sony hi-fi equipment, and ST501 is the first item I bought from Sharp. Although I had many Sony products, such as camera, TV, world radio, and finally Playstation for my son among others, I looked suspiciously upon Sony, unless it was a ES player. I always adored Sharp's designs, their appearance, but it had never been a popular brand here in Turkey.

Why am I telling all these things? To show you that I have no prejudice, or have equal prejudice on both brands. My preferences have always been for Marantz, Accuphase, Denon, Linn, etc... Maybe another important point is that we still have no professional critics or reviews on MD equipment. We buy them just as new toys, without listening to them or without having read good articles on them. Their appearance, their various features are still much more important than their sound.

So let's start with their appearance

Both players are pretty little devils, light, almost the same size. Sony has a very modernist appearance whereas Sharp is something like a bonsai, my first impression had been: "God! who has miniaturised this one?" It is very chic. I liked Sony's hidden controls on the main unit but they are not very practical for actual use, unless you have a baby's fingers. Sharp's controls on the main unit are better. The Sharp is very attractive and more ergonomic. Sony's stick control is a mess. I didn't like it at all. I am not able to read it, Sharp's display is clear and backlit. The Sony has 3 display modes, none of which tell me the remaining time. The Sharp unit scrolls the track title and stops for a while with the first 6 digits displayed and then begins scrolling again. But on the other hand Sharp's remote is like a Casio toy, not serious enough. I would have liked the Sony's stick with Sharp's features.

The sound

The Sharp is louder than Sony, it has more flesh, it is more dynamic and clear in all ranges. I tried my tests with both the Sharp's earphones and the Sony's, plugging and unplugging each time. First I listened to some pop music that I had recorded at 32kHz to DAT, then to the JA50ES. The original 32kHz recording doesn't have a particularly good sound quality, so neither did the copy. One song had deep bass passages that were out of control when played on the E35, but were wonderful on the ST501. I can't explain it well, but with the E35 the sound was narrow, however with the ST501 you felt it everywhere.

Then I started listening to classical music. The motets of Vivaldi sounded alike in both players. There is especially a passage where the mezzo's voice is overpassing all that is recordable. This section has always been my favourite in testing CD players. All Denon players fail in this passage, even the legendary DCD 3300. I always fear damaging my speakers. Recorded moderately from Marantz 63 KI (the ever excellent player that I had, even moderately priced) to the JA50ES, both players gave good results. But here also I must say the ST501 has always been better in pianissimo passages. Caldara's oratorio "Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo" sounded as good on the ST501 as it did on the JA50ES. Sharp's sound is really sharp. I don't know about Sharp's other MD players, but this one is something.

A last word maybe: I would have gone for Sharp if I had the chance of choosing, but the E35 came first. I gave it to my son who is very happy now. The Sharp is indeed the real winner.

A last last word maybe: MZ-R30 is certainly a better unit than the E35, plus you have a recording option. If I had to choose the first prize it would go to the ST501, the second to the R30, and the third to the E35, which is still a good player.

Comparision Chart for Modern MD Portables

Comparision Chart for Modern MD Portables

January 1998

40sec buffer YES YES - -
Back lit remote - YES YES YES
LCD on unit YES - - YES
AA inside - - - YES
Weight (light) * * ** *
Volume (small) * ** *** *
Thinness * ** **
PB time (rech.) ** *** ** **
PB time (AA) *** ** *** **
*** : best ** : good * : fair

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