Glen Wintringham ([email protected])
When I came to Japan I really wanted a recorder. The
Sony MZ-R55 was the latest MD unit then available, but I
couldn't bring myself to buy it or any of the other units, as I felt my
brother's MZ-R50 (at that time already unavailable in Japan) was better
than any of the newer models. So I waited. . . When the Panasonic SJ-MR100
arrived I took notice. When the Sharp MT831 came out I almost bought one,
but wanted to see Sony's response. When the R91 came out I was
sold, I waited until the tourist model came out
(international warranty, universal AC adapter, optical cable) and got it
that week, so I've had it about 2 months now.
Why the 'R91 as opposed to the 'R90?
I find the R91 prettier. I can't tell the
difference in weight, and I suspect Sony only made a variant
with a magnesium lid so they could fractionally surpass the competition
& say "World's Lightest" in their advertising. (The ads on the trains
there are full of "World's Smallest" "World's Thinnest" "World's ****est" -
Sony & Panasonic are the best in the "world", while Sharp
is the best in the "universe". ) I think the buttons
on the R91 are slightly better too, bigger, more tactile. Plus the R91
is around 3000 yen cheaper. A matter of taste really.
Why the Sony as opposed to the Sharp?
The Sony is solid and rigid. It feels good. It ejects with a nice sound, and you can press the lid anywhere to close it. The Sharp feels a bit flimsy. If you press the open lid in the corner the clamshell flexes, binds, and won't close. The hinge on the clamshell looks weak. (In fact I saw a display model that had broken at the hinge, the clamshell was hanging freely by the ribbon cable - not a great display. The display models in certain shops in Den Den Town have a really hard life, so it's good after a month or so for seeing how equipment holds up, externally at least.) I also wanted the option of an AGC for certain recording situations. And the Sony is smaller. And has the jog dial. Again, depends what you consider important.
I did like the Sharp's charging cradle, battery, and display though. There wasn't much in it, it was the rigidity of the Sony mostly.
It turns out I was wrong. The Sony has proven
to be less reliable in service than the Sharp. I've personally had
no problems, but repairmen such as David Popovits haven't been
impressed by the design.
There are already several well
written reviews of the R90/91, so I'll just add a few things
that I don't think I've seen covered explicitly. I assume you've
already read something about the R90/91. It may seem like I'm ragging on
the thing (I do cover a few negatives), but I love it really.
The battery life indicator is pretty useless. >From a full charge it reads 4 bars for about half an hour. Then it sits on 3 bars full for most of the discharge, and about half an hour before the end drops down through 2 and 1 to "Low Battery". (I exagerate only a little.) So you really have to just remember yourself roughly where you are in the discharge. Also it usually indicates full charge every time you turn it on, you have to wait half a minute or so to actually see what it really thinks the state of the battery is, and it goes up and down depending on whether it is reading or not.
If the battery gets
low when recording, the unit will stop recording, write the TOC and turn
off. You can playback for a bit over an hour after this.
The name bank is great. One perhaps less obvious(?) use for it is entering
common parts of words e.g. "ing" "ed" "igh", it saves a lot of time.
The AGC is fairly good as these things go for mic recording, doesn't pump too much. It has sufficient gain for really quiet sounds. The sound quality is reasonably good, some mic preamp hiss. The preamp cannot cope with a very loud microphone input. If you have a high output mic and are recording a loud band it will overload (at 28mV RMS to be precise). You can set the gain lower manually but this only works to a point, you're not actually turning a physical pot, so extreme volume can overload the input even on minimum gain. The R55 had a switch to reduce the gain of the preamp which helped a little, but it's gone on this model, so Sharp would be a better choice if you're doing a lot of microphone recording.
If you are recording from a mic, you'll quickly find that you must use the battery only. The power supply injects a terribly large mains frequency component which is greatly amplified by the mic preamp. Recording from a computer's soundcard is also improved by using the battery. It's not noticeable recording from the line-in, but I'm sure it's there, just much quieter in relation to the signal. Quite probably the ATRAC decides it's inaudible anyway so it's chucked, but not ideal.
If you record a lot of short sounds (say 20-30 seconds long) in one
session, and delete or divide some of them, sometimes the TOC update/data
save can take 3-5 minutes. (Not a misprint.) You might wonder if the thing
has crashed, but it probably hasn't.
The Universal Power Adapter is a tiny switch mode power supply made in China. A consequence of the high frequency switching is some radio interference. Switch mode power supplies really aren't an intelligent choice for circuits dealing with small signals, as they're inherently and unavoidably noisy. This one is no different. If you're in a quiet room, put some headphones on, and with the unit off, insert the power jack. You'll hear the mains hum clearly on the headphones, take the power jack out & it's gone again. So basically it's a crap design. I don't know if this is just the SMPS or if the conventional Sony adapters do it as well.
Anyway you can travel anywhere with this and it'll work. Handy.
The Optical Cable is fairly cheap and nasty, but conducts light from one port to another which is all it has to do, so no matter. Nice that they included one.
As mentioned above Titling is English only. I would have
preferred to have katakana as well but never mind.
Up the road are the Sony Pro Shop and Joshin and a couple of others I can't remember the names of. The Sony Pro Shop is expensive. Joshin seems to have very little range. If you buy a tourist model you are going to pay maybe 2000-3000 more than the domestic one. It just depends whether you want the extra features or not, the universal power adapter is possibly worthwhile if you come from a 220/240V country.
But if you don't care about getting a tourist model you can go anywhere, and probably find one for about 32000-33000 (even less as it's a few months old now). There are many discount appliance shops, one I know of (because I lived near it) which is a bit odd is ERG or Erugu. If you take the Kintetsu Nara line from Namba (central city south) or Nippombashi (next stop from Namba, next to Den Den Town) or, well anywhere really, and go to Tsuruhashi station (5th stop from Namba), as you exit the train you'll be facing ERG (south of the station). It's a big building with neon and strobe lights on the sides. Exit the station and find your way there. ERG is weird because they sell the R90 cheaper than the R91, an R90 goes for 31000 I think, and they have one day specials, where I have seen (on different days) both the Sharp 831 and the Sony R90 for 25000. It's unlikely you'll be able to time your visit to take advantage of these specials, but you could go to one of the Korean Yakiniku restaurants the area is famous for instead, and anyway 31000 for an R90 is OK.
If you're in Japan don't buy blank MDs from any of the tax free shops. They're a real rip. There are many media shops which only sell recording media and they are much cheaper. The best I have found is Tanikawa Denki ($BC+@nEE5!(J). If you are walking through Den Den Town southwards (i.e. from Sennichimae Suji or Nippombashi Station toward Shinsekai, Tanikawa Denki is on the left side, after the green pedestrian bridge, but before the overpass. They sell many varieties (Sony, Maxell, TDK, Axia etc.) of MD in 10 packs for 1500-1600 yen (excl. tax). And better still you can buy a box of 30 TDK SP74EX MDs for 4380 yen, that's 4600 including tax - brilliant - 153 yen per MD maybe US$1.45. You can also splash out and buy those aluminium cased ones or any of the real exotic expensive ones there.
More Map Notes - You can buy tax free at most any shop, but only
the explicitly labelled tax free shops sell international or tourist models.
There are a few more tax free shops than I've marked, some of which were
closed on my days off, so I've never been inside. There are also more media
stores. There are generally a
lot of stores. Disc JJ is a great
second hand CD shop. A lot of the stock is completely indistinguishable
from a new CD, and some of the stock is new, but still at a secondhand
price. Japanese CDs are too expensive so if you want to try some Japanese
music Disc JJ is pretty good. Kuromon Market is a famous Osaka marketplace
worth a look to see all the stalls selling odd Japanese foodstuffs. It
also has the famous weird pet store at its Sakai Suji street entrance,
which I somehow never saw either. If you are in Japan around January 8-10th
you should go to Ebisu Shrine. Ebisu Festival is held at this time, a national
merchants festival, and Ebisu Shrine is where it originates from, so it's
really packed and very Japanese. Tennoji Zoo is not so wonderful, but the
accompanying Tennoji Park is, and you can see many homeless people here
dancing and singing karaoke on systems they've cobbled together out of
the rubbish, the flip side of the Japanese economic miracle. Shinsekai
is a unusual place for Japan, comparitively rough, many transvestites and
odd people hang out there. It's very cheap for clothing, food, haircuts
etc. It also contains Tsutenkaku Tower - something like a small Eiffel
Tower, Festival Gate - an amusement park, and Spa World - where you can
spend 24 hours in Japanese baths themed after various international locations
for about 3000 yen.