Sony MZ-E90 Review

Tom Chmielinski ([email protected])
November, 1999

Sony MZ-E90 in hand
I received my Sony E90 MD player from Hyperjack last week. I also own Sony E30 and EP11 players. I was waiting until Sony released a player that was drastically different before I upgraded to a new one. I was really tired of the 4 hour battery life as I take overseas trips for work and it is an inconvenience to constantly change batteries.

Sony MZ-E90 -- Pros

This unit is an absolute engineering marvel. I guess we say it every year, so I'll say it now...I don't see how it could get much smaller than this. I thought all the hype about the new metal casting process was just Sony marketing, but the top wall is so thin that if it were aluminum, it would be quite a weak unit. Even though it has thin walls, it is very solid. Not as solid as the EP11, but considering its size, I think it is as solid as can be expected.

The E90 is so incredibly small and so incredibly light (I think half the weight of the E75) that I still find myself staring in amazement. It is so light that I can almost forget it is in my pocket.

Sony MZ-E90 battery hatch
The 21 hour battery life is like a dream come true. I found that if I pulled the E30 out of a drawer I sometimes found that I forgot to recharge it. Also, if the gum pack battery had been sitting around for awhile, it would self-discharge and in either case I could find myself with only 45 minutes of listening time left. Now, since we start at 21 hours, even if the battery is 80% discharged, I will still have around 4 hours of listening. It really makes a BIG difference.

The strong eject feature is very nice, but every time I open it, I hope that they have life-cycle tested this thing, because I get the sense that it is something that could fail over the long haul. I trust Sony engineering, but it is so strikingly different than anything we have seen in the past, it does make me wonder. Also included is the newer backlit remote. It has a couple more characters than in the past and the lighting feature is great when listening in the dark room or a dark airplane when flying at night and everybody is trying to sleep. The light comes on as you would expect, whenever you touch any button on the remote. One nice feature is that the light stays on to display the whole title. If there is no title, it goes off in just a couple of seconds, but if you have a 50 character title, it stays on until the entire title is finished. I like the layout of the remote. The clear plastic gave me problems at first as the letters are difficult to read, but after one day, it becomes intuitive and I no longer have to read the remote.

I cannot speak about the earbuds as I use the new Etymotic ER-4P earphones which don't require an amp. The sound quality on the E90 is excellent as always and the 5mW headphone output with the 4P's is more than enough power.

Sony MZ-E90 buttons
MZ-E90 and MZ-EP11 Side Buttons


Is there such a thing as too small? Perhaps. I think we have definitely reached the point where the weight and clutter of the remote cord, the remote, the earphone cord and the earphones, now equal or overpower the player. It's hard to explain, but imagine for a moment that the player was the exact size and weight of the MiniDisc. When you touched the cord, the player would go flying. We don't have that situation here, but hopefully you understand what I mean. It's a bit strange that the player doesn't account for significantly more bulk and weight than the accessory cords.

The buttons on the side are also really slim and tiny. I laughed when I saw the HOLD button on the bottom, because I can't imagine how I would ever accidentally push one of the side buttons. You have to really make a concerted effort to push these buttons as they are not raised up very high. The bottom switches are also very tiny also (volume limiting and bass). The battery door on the E30 is quite thick, but on the E90 it is so slim (about the thickness of the battery) that I open it and close it very carefully as the hinge does not look like it could survive a solid hit.
Sony MZ-E90 bottom buttons
MZ-E90 and MZ-EP11 Bottom Buttons


I think this is a fabulous unit, and I really like it. It has the long battery life and small size I was hoping for The greatest strengths (size and weight) are also weaknesses. You still need to hold the unit to change MiniDiscs and the space to hold it while the lid is raised is very small. The buttons have to be smaller, this is common sense, but it is not as convenient as in the past.

Be aware that this unit is very tiny. Some people like that and others might not. Any previous Sony player looks like a house brick compared to this unit. We have always wished for something barely bigger than the MiniDisc itself. That time has come. Be careful what you wish for as you might not like it when it comes. I am very delighted to own it, but it is not for everybody.

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