MD Review: Sharp MD-MS701 portable recorder

Michael R Goolsby ([email protected])

The first thing that struck me looking at this entirely re-designed unit was its size, achieved in part by Sharp's revolutionary (and energy-saving) new one-chip LSI design. About as wide as an MD case and about as thick as 3 cases stacked on top of one another, I half expected it to be unable to sound as good as the Denon DMP-R70 (Sharp MD-MS200 clone) or the Sony MZ-R30. But after inserting a digitally copied MiniDisc of John William's new score to ``Seven Years In Tibet'' (beautifully played by cellist Yo-Yo Ma) I was convinced this was real MiniDisc in every respect. Using my Sony CD350 headphones, the sound was full, robust and clear. Even at full volume, which is generally unnecessary, there were no signs of distortion.

The unit features 24-bit Sharp ATRAC 5, as well as the ``slot-in'' design I like so much better than Sony's hinged door lid. It comes with an impressive array of accessories, including a backlit LCD remote display (compatible with standard headphone 1/8'' plugs), LiIon ``chewing gum pack''-sized LiIon rechargeable battery, screw-on auxiliary battery case (2 AA batteries), earbud headphones, AC power supply, RCA to miniplug connection cable, and carrying pouch. The LCD display has been improved over the MS200: it now includes remaining time, as well as a scrolling repeat feature if the display is set on ``title'' function (that is, it will scroll the track title, pause, and then scroll it again continuously as the track plays -- pretty neat).

Standard on the previous model and still here (though sorely lacking on the Sony portable) is the labeled recording/playback level meters, indicating -40dB, -12, -4, 0, and OVER. This is essential for analog dubbing or live mic recording and I am quite glad it was not sacrificed on this model. Also like its predecessor, the line output is impedance matching and doubles as the headphone output. This makes a lot of sense and has worked very well for me on the Denon R70. Finally, I was also thankful that Sharp realizes humans will be pressing these buttons, and they continued their design efforts with easy-accessible buttons. Though the unit is quite a bit smaller than my Sony 'R30, operation is actually much easier (especially recording!), and only editing and bass functions are elsewhere than on the top.

At just under $400, this unit is a bit pricier than the MS200, but varies very little from it in technical specifications. Unless the size is really important (and MD is already quite small), the MS200 and its clones offer great value for $100 less. But, the MS701 is indeed quite ``cool'' and I will certainly enjoy using it for a long time to come. Anyone considering one of these units vs. the new Sony 'R50 will want to give this (or the MS702 and clones) very strong consideration. One of the most commonly-spoken of advantages of the 'R50 is its 40 second buffer, which sounds great if you make your MD skip a lot, however I use my MS701 while jogging and have never had it skip. I do not want to slam Sony, but this is a terrific unit.

Having had more time to play around with the new Sharp MD-MS701, here are a few more observations that may be useful:

  1. The memory buffer does not affect fast forward or reverse playback. It behaves much like a normal CD player with no memory buffer, with no hesitation or catching. Don't know how they did that, but it works well, and it is nice getting clean searches while in play mode and not having to pause.
  2. Between the Sony MDS-JE500 deck and this Sharp MD-MS701, I'll choose the deck's remote for titling discs and tracks every time. Though I didn't use it much, the jog shuttle wheel on my Sony MZ-R30 is far more useful for titling.
  3. This unit features a matching impedence output that doubles as both LINE OUT and HEADPHONES. For a portable, this makes alot of sense and it works quite well. However, I've discovered an added advantage. Normally, when inputing live-recorded music into the computer for editing, I use the LINE OUT on the Sony MZ-R30 and go to the LINE IN of the AWE64 Gold sound card. Annoyingly, even with the computer's mixer adjusted for maximum gain, the digitized sound would be about 6dB less than the MD source. I'd have to typically use Cool Edit's amplification feature to digitally boost the signal back to its original level. However, using the MS701 (and also experimenting with the Denon R70, a Sharp clone), the signal level matched exactly. I am assuming this is because of the impedence matching ability of the MD unit.
  4. The battery level display is indicated by three markings followed by the battery picture itself flashing. When using the unit with the accessory battery pack for extended use, the LiIon battery is depleted entirely before using power supplied by the 2 AAs in the extended pack. The battery level indicator will correspondingly "fill back up" once the internal battery is exhausted and the auxilliary kicks in. Fortunately, operations are not interrupted! Just like the predecessor Sharp MD-MS200, the MS701 requires a 5V/800ma adapter for charging and AC power. The Sharp/Denon etc is NOT compatible with any variations on this requirement. For those who have looked in the US for this voltage, the commonly-found 4.5V or 6V supplies yeild a "POWER?" question from the unit and don't work. The 5V adapters are far from universal in the US and simply not easily found. However, UNLIKE THE MS200, the 701 charges and operates just fine at 4.5 volts. This is the same voltage as the older Sony MZ-R3, may portable CD players, and is also found on most universal adapters.
  5. A nice feature on the Sony MZ-R30 is the TRACK MARK button which, with one touch, either removes on places a track mark. This feature would be valuable on deck units as well. The Sharp MS701 is the same as the MS200 -- track editing is done through a menu.
I'll post more information as I explore this unit further. I hope this is of help.

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