I finally received Sony's new MZ-EP11 portable MD walkman. It came in a surprisingly small box which neatly included the player, the same line-remote microjack earphones as the E50, a felt pouch (yes the overly large one), a NiMH flat "chewing-gum" battery, a 100-110V external charger for that NiMH battery, and a Sony AA battery. Note that it does not come with an AC adaptor, which is available separately.
Its physical attributes are quite stunning. After hearing reports on how it is "much larger and thicker" than the E50, I have to say that, in terms of realistic everyday usage, its size is still tiny compared to most portable music players in the market and its footprint is not much larger than the E50's. The EP-11 is (if you dislike numerical measurements) the exact width of a MD sleeve, the length of a 90-min cassette tape (without the box), which is about 1.33x the length of a MD. It is as high as one and a half CD-jewel cases. In some pictures I took of it (which I have availible should anyone email me), the EP-11 has about the same footprint as my computer's Logitech mouse. In other words, this player easily fits in any pocket and is definitely a joy to carry around.
Furthermore, I would say that this EP-11 is an improvement from the E50. It is definitely very solidly built; in fact, the player is very tough and inflexible in its feel. It is not heavy, and shows quality construction from Sony. The "head-loading" mechanism is completely a spring-mounted mechanical device -- it does not compromise the EP-11's thickness and bulk with electric motors found in other MD players. The front loading door does open if one pushes it open; however, this makes it quite easy as well to just push a minidisc directly at the player and have it load. Once the minidisc is pushed all the way into the machine, then there is a solid click and the door will close (when your finger is moved out). The door can not be opened once the MD is inserted, and the MD is ejected by a full-action slide of the eject lever on the side of the EP-11, which literally "ejects" the MD back out. It is pretty much identical to a PC (note the emphasis on PC and not the Mac's software-driven disk drives) 3.5" floppy drive in its headloading mechanism.
The sound quality is quite amazing; I would believe this machine incorporates ATRAC4.0 (why would Sony use anything less?), and with digital megabass turned on, I would say this EP-11's earphone output FAR exceeds my CD-player's DAC, and perhaps is more vibrant and dynamically more active than the MDS-JE510's headphone output. After recording several discs on my JE510 (analogue signal recordings close to the 0db mark), the EP-11's playback was very loud. I have heard from Nic Boyde in Japan that with his experience the EP-11 is louder than the E30/50, and I have to say that using the earphones supplied with the EP-11, I do NOT have to turn the EP-11 to the max even when walking around the rather loud environments of New York City. I do not believe I could get a better sounding portable of this size.
The player has an internal bay for either (no you can't use them simultaneously) the chewing gum battery or one AA battery, the former quoted to last 4 hours and the latter quoted to last 5. I believe I have used my NiMH battery for more than 4 hours actually. The charger, although written in Japanese to not use outside Japan, works with the 110V in the United States; mine did not heat up or show any signs of electrical strain after charging for one hour (it automatically shuts off when the battery is charged).
However, I do notice that it was rather difficult to open the EP-11's battery door (it is one of the usual "slide-right-and-hinge-out" battery doors). In fact, after I had used the EP-11 for one day, I found my first dissatisfaction at not being able to replace the damn battery!! Sony Japan does not see this problem present in their EP-11's (when I called them), but Nic Boyde in Japan has also told me that he finds the battery door "rather stiff." Luckily Sony USA currently is "repairing" my EP-11 (poor thing is now in the shop after ONE day!), and hopefully they can open the door (yes I can't even #!@!$% open it!) and loosen it somehow. Perhaps this is a design flaw (after all, how many things could possibly make such a battery door malfunction?!), or perhaps it is due to the stiffness of the entire player's overall construction. If anyone else has such an experience when they receive their players please email me.
Other than this little annoying quirk, the player is excellent and I truly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a MD walkman.
Both cases feel equally rugged, but the EP11 still seems more rugged to me and I would be more likely to run with it or feel that I could drop it and have it be OK, or run with it. That is not based on fact in any way, just my perception.
I really love the fact that I can use a $1.50USD Renewal rechargeable alkaline battery without an adapter hanging off of the end, instead of buying a series of more expensive chewing gum batteries.
Also, the E30 has a PLAY MODE button on the side for REPEAT OR SHUFFLE. This is displayed on the screen of the E30 also. You have to do all of this through the remote on the EP11. When you use it without the remote, it feels like a first generation machine, just play, skip, and stop, and you have to count the tracks to see which one you are on. If always use the remote, this is not a problem.
I hope that helps a little bit. It wasn't long ago that buying these players from Asia was a little daunting to me, so I am trying to be as descriptive as I can so you can make an intelligent decision if you are planning a purchase. Keith is correct that it is a wonderful device, but still like my E30 just a little better.