Kenwood MDX-G7 Review

Tim Corcoran (7-20-02)

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As a fan of the Minidisc format since it fist came out, I have always wanted a conveniently sized portable with speakers, something that sounds and looks well, has decent battery life, a CD-player, radio... you know, a "boombox".

Of course in the US your minidisc boombox choice is very limited so what about importing a Japanese model? There are lots to choose from and many internet-vendors happy to provide them to you. Of course you have to be careful about differences in power, FM-bands, document languages, warranty etc. etc.

This page reviews the unit I chose to import, the Kenwood MDX-G7. I loved the size and features ever since it was introduced in Nov 2000 but couldn't get excited at the $500 price tag. Lately, replacement models have been introduced with a subsequent lowering effect on the G7 price: the MDX-J7 with similar features to the G7 and the MDX-J9 with netMD. I don't know enough about these new models to compare the features but from what I've seen, the differences are slight, Chinese language display support, netMD on the J9 etc.

Oh yeah, and they're much more expensive :-)

Anyway, I hope this review will help anyone considering importing a G7 or even one of the new units.


The MDX-G7 is an ultra-slim unit (51mm thick) incorporating CD-player with CD-TEXT, MD with MDLP and a radio Tuner with Japanese FM-band. Sound output is provided by twin speakers that fold for storage behind the unit. If you haven't seen the cool FLASH animation on Kenwoods site you should check it out.

Other notable features include a USB port which is so crippled as to be practically useless, a 3.5mm optical/analog input jack and a cool remote control.


The 4 biggest limitations which affect any non-Japanese user are the power supply, the FM tuner, the manual and the warranty.

8V DC out at 1.2A
Fortunately enough, the G7 is so small that there wasn't enough room to build-in the power supply, so Kenwood provides a tiny external brick, housing a powerful switch-mode-supply rated at 100V AC in: 8V DC out at 1.2A. Some people will tell you that a 100V brick will work on the US 120V system but I don't think it's a long-term proposition. Your remedy is either to purchase a power converter (yet another ~$30 brick to connect between the G7 brick and US 120V socket, available from the importer who supplies your G7) or to find another power supply. The 8 volt requirement is a weird one and hard to find, but suffice to say I have found a solution in the $20-$30 range. See the workarounds section below.

Life below 90MHz?
By far the biggest disappointment you will have from this unit is the Japanese FM-band tuner. Japanese FM is located below the US/European bands and overlaps it by only a few MHz. If you know what the TV-band is in the US, you know where Japanese FM radio resides (76MHz-90MHz). Where I live (Portland Oregon) the G7 can receive tv-sound from ABC, CBS and NBC as well as one Christian music station and a non-NPR Community public radio station. Decide for yourself whether this is a limitation for you. For me, an ideal use of extended-time MDLP is to record NPR shows like CarTalk and Fresh-Air... but I'll have to hook up an external tuner to do this. Oh well, there's always the AM tuner (531kHz-1629kHz) and external AM antenna Kenwood thoughtfully provided. Of course, Japanese AM frequency offsets are different too. Basically the G7 tuner is a total write-off... :-(

The G7 Manual is naturally enough in Japanese. The majority of G7 functions are obvious and all controls on the unit itself are labeled in English, including the cute remote. Still, you need SOME help and here thankfully, the importer Minidisco has kindly provided a bare-bones pdf translation of important sections on their website where they also sell the G7.

I have purchased lots of stuff from Minidisco and can recommend their service in every regard but one, they provide no warranty on their imported Japanese equipment.

You mean it might break?
The G7 comes with a 1-year Japanese warranty and all else being equal, I'd recommend finding a dealer who will at least help you to claim service under warranty. In the case of my importer, AudioCubes/HyperJack the customer is responsible for shipping charges to return the unit but they will handle the claim AND shipping back to the US. This is a very fair policy and one of the reasons I chose them.


There is no workaround for the Tuner. Well, I suspect there might be if you were willing to hack the G7. Even on a domestic Japanese model I'm guessing that Kenwood (who sells world-band boomboxes too) uses a common tuner-chipset. If you could find the strapping options on the circuit board of the G7 perhaps you could "enable" that feature... but I'm not about to try, at least not yet :-) If anyone ever sees a G7 schematic I'd love to know what it shows.

As for that power brick, 8V is not a common voltage on US equipment. For battery power the G7 uses 6 AA batteries (6 x 1.5V = 9V) so I don't know why the external adapter isn't 9v too. Anyway, the closest we can come in standard supplies in the US is 7.5V. I've heard that RadioShack sells a 7.5V regulated supply for digital cameras with enough oomph to supply the 1.2A requirements of the G7 but their latest catalog shows only a 6.5V model which I doubt would work. Make sure any adapter you find has the right voltage as well as correct size and polarity plug for the G7.

By bizarre coincidence I discovered that the power supply Apple shipped with their now-defunct Newton 2000/2010 PDA has the right plug, the right polarity and a high-quality, regulated 7.5V output. Perfect for the G7. I am the proud owner of one of those venerable Newtons so I had the supply lying around, but a search on the net found a couple apple-liquidators with stock of them too. Price seemed to be in the $30 range. The Newton supply is a universal one, so it will work on 100V-240V 50/60Hz systems worldwide. If only Apple had designed the FM tuner :-)


OK, let's get to the meat of this thing: How does it sound? What can it do? Positives/negatives etc.

Lets start with a physical description. The G7 is tiny, 172mm tall and just 470mm with the speakers open. Fold those speakers behind the unit and the width is just 236mm, perfect for travel.

The foldup carrying handle doubles as a stand and you can choose either a white or silver color scheme. I chose white. The front of the unit may look like plastic in the pictures but it's entirely skinned in aluminum, painted glossy white.

The rear of the G7 is a contrasting color (rust in my unit) and is plastic except for the grey aluminum heatsink panel in the center. Back to the front: speakers are covered in an attractive fabric with contrasting color. Many online pics show the white G7 color scheme with red speaker grills but in reality the color is closer to salmon pink. The LCD display is large and clean, with a yellow backlight on the white units and blue on the silver scheme. The display can show Roman as well as Katakana characters, CD TEXT and Minidisc Titles, battery condition and a clock. Backlight brightness can be adjusted and even enabled/disabled for each power mode, wall-socket or battery.

G7 weight is an impressive 1.7kg.

Overall the G7 gives me the impression of being assembled from the parts bin of Kenwood portable players. The MD and CD players both feel like high quality portables you might already own. The overall package is attractive and pleasing. It is a cross between the typical boombox and one of those executive mini-systems everyone is selling these days. In fact, there are screw slots on the rear for wall mounting the G7. Everyone who has seem it remarks on the G7's unique appearance.


The CD player is a good quality 1-bit DAC drive, with a transport similar to many portable CD players. Sliding the catch on the top of the G7 causes the door (basically the front 60% of the unit) to open 100 degrees with a nicely damped action. CD's are held on a spring-loaded spindle like you see in most portable CD players.

The CD drive features double-speed playback (for 2X MD recording) and can read CD TEXT from those few CD's that offer it. It has managed to play everything I tried, including one copy-protected title that won't play on my PC (A Beautiful Mind Soundtrack). I was even able to dub that album digitally at high-speed to MD. Interestingly (and perhaps because of such copy-protected CD's) the G7 can dub from CD to MD in either the DIGITAL or ANALOG domain.

On alkaline batteries I noticed a little motor whine on the audio out when seeking a distant CD track but this went away with wall-socket power as well as NimH batteries. It's probably due to high current pulses during seeks which alkaline batteries aren't much good at providing.


The MD is an Atrac/Atrac3 unit with MDLP and all the prerequisite editing controls we love and expect these days. Remember, Sony changed the Atrac versioning scheme with MDLP (going back from 4.5 to 3), so don't be put off by that Atrac3 number. Sound quality of the MD recordings is everything I expected. I'm one of those that has to really listen to distinguish LP2 from regular Atrac so that may tell you something about my judgement :-)

The coolest MD feature of the G7 by far is O.T.E. (One-Touch-Editing, or as I'd have named it O.T.R. One-Touch-Recording). This allows dubbing of individual songs or whole CD's to MD at normal or 2X speed by a single button-press. Yes 2X mode sounds like Alvin and his chipmunk buddies while it's working but hey, it's handy. Even better, O.T.E. is triggered from the remote control in a very intelligent manner. Imagine listening from your armchair to a CD, auditioning each track to decide whether to dub it. At any time in the track you can touch the O.T.E. button on the remote and have the G7 enter MD record mode (no end-search necessary thankfully :-) while restarting the CD track from the beginning for a perfect dub. This works when the MD is in 2X mode as well as normal speed. It does show up a minor limitation of the G7 remote however, no mute button :-) At the end of that track the G7 MD enters pause mode but the CD continues to play allowing you to audition the next track etc.

2X-recording works with all MDLP modes but unfortunately does not support the program-play mode of the CD player. This means that if you don't want the entire CD you'll have to dub the tracks individually. Sadly lacking too is automatic CD TEXT transfer to MD. I can't believe they missed this... even a mechanical copy-paste using the "Title Memory" capability of the MD unit would have been useful.

The MD can also record from the tuner and the AUX input, which is a combo optical/analog 3.5mm jack in the top of the unit. Remember I said it felt like an assembly of portables? This combo socket is identical to those on portable MD recorders like my Sony MZ-R900. It is NOT possible to record from the USB input which means you can forget dubbing MP3 files to MD digitally using just the G7. I wonder how the MDX-J9 NetMD unit works in this regard? Another strange oversight to the MD recorder is the complete absence of a recording level control. From my Japanese manual I haven't determined if there is an automatic gain control or not, I'll update this page when I find out. All ports are protected by handy little rubber plugs too, a nice touch.

Titling is well-implemented on the G7. There are 2 modes, both controlled from the remote. Standard Japanese cell-phone-style titling uses the number/letter keys of a keypad: e.g. hitting the #5(JKL) key repeatedly cycles through letters/case : (J - K - L - j - k - l - J - K ...) etc.

The second mode involves a scrolling display of the characters to choose from for titling. This is especially handy for selecting symbols and would be essential I imagine for Katakana. Overall, I had no problems titling, except that it cannot be done during recording or even playback of an MD.

There is no timestamping of MD's in the G7 and it cannot display the date/time of MD's from other sources.

Finally, let me mention the bizarro anti-copying feature Kenwood built in. When you record a CD at 2X to MD, the unit will refuse to record that specific CD again for a period of 74 minutes... get it?


While enthusiastic about the possibilities at first, I've decided this is a bonehead feature. Basically it allows you to use the G7 as a pair of powered USB speakers when connected to a USB port on your PC. I tried it, and it works, Windows XP identified the G7 as "Burr-Brown (Japan) USB Speaker". The better use for this port in my opinion would have been to allow titling of MD's and dubbing of audio files to MD but neither of these is possible. At the very least I'd have liked to see the G7 mix USB sounds with whatever internal source you select, so you could play an MD and ALSO hear your PC sound... but alas it's a one-input at a time setup.


Tying together the features I've described already is a 2W+2W amplifier with active tone controls and a pair of foldaway ultra-thin 2-way speakers (70mm+25mm). Switching, tone controls, recording modes, volume settings etc are all handled via a simple control panel layout and the large clear LCD panel.

The system Volume control thumbwheel on the top of the G7 doubles as a menu selector under control of the Menu button located nearby. Dedicated buttons on the front panel operate basic source-switching (AUX/USB/MD/CD), tone setting and basic CD and MD functions. Most complex features of the G7 are controlled exclusively from the remote, so you don't want to lose it :-).

The AUX input can accept either optical digital signals or standard line-in analog.

Other than the 3.5mm headphone socket there is NO usable audio output on the G7. The subwoofer output doesn't qualify because that's exactly what it does, provide sub-1kHz sound to an external (optional) subwoofer.

Battery Life

I've never found a boombox that didn't eat batteries and the G7 is no different. It's worse in fact because the internal bateries are 6 AA cells. I measured power drain as shown in the table opposite.

What this tells me, is that I'll be using wall-socket power most of the time and a couple sets of NimH cells for the occasional walkabout.

It REALLY is white I promise
MDX-G7 Current Consumption (typ)
PowerSave Mode 1.7mA
Powered on 180mA
CD, low volume 380mA
MD, low volume 270mA
CD, mid volume 450mA
MD, mid volume 350mA
MD recording from CD, mid volume 570mA
Kenwood rates battery life as:

2.5Hrs CD playback
3.5 Hrs MD playback
2Hrs CD dubbing to MD

Pretty optimistic numbers I'd say.


Let me just briefly mention the dual programmable timers which can be set for record or playback up to 24 hours ahead (and auto-repeat from there). These are flexible and easy to use and without a workable tuner are most likely to find use as dual alarm clock settings. Oh yes, you can set the G7 to awaken you at a preset volume or to gradually turn up the volume from zero. How thoughtful.


OK, so finally I get to the most important issue for most of us, how does it sound? Ultra-thin speakers like on the G7 can't be expected to generate a lot of bass and well, they don't... At first, I was surprised by the relatively flat sound, but after playing with the tone settings I have decided that I can live with it. Basically the speakers sound like near-field monitors to me. I sometimes suspect some sound-field adjusting (expanding the stereo image by electronic means) but that could be just me. I will say the unit sounds best with vocals and most limited with orchestral music. Output is clean and amazingly distortion free. Even at absolute top volume I was unable to hear ANY distortion and this produces an amazingly powerful sound.

The G7 offers 3 active tone-settings:

  • Manual (with individual bass/treble settings)
  • Loudness (with automatic boost of low and hi ends)
  • NB (which I believe stands for Natural Bass)

This last setting boosts the lo end quite effectively without any effect on the high frequencies. It's my default setting.

Finally, I should mention Kenwood sells a cute subwoofer companion, the SW-G7. The silver-colored box is even designed to allow the G7 to 'dock' with it, forming a single unit. The G7 subwoofer output (top panel) appears to be a filtered lineout rolling off above 600Hz.

I briefly experimented by connecting the G7 subwoofer o/p to an inexpensive PC subwoofer (Altec Lansing brand) producing quite good results. I may look into trying this out for some more extended listening time.


I've got slightly mixed feelings about the G7 so a simple objective rating is hard, but what the hey:

I paid $370 (incl shipping) for the unit and knew all about the tuner/power/docs issues ahead of time. I could easily have chosen a world-band tuner but I went for the style of the G7. I'm a little disappointed by the battery life but not surprised. Sound and usability features are good and darn it, this thing is just plain cute :-)

I'd give the whole package a *** rating (out of 4) . Not quite my dream machine but closer than anything I could ever hope to find domestically.

My Import Experience

Some of you may wonder what it's like to buy an imported "grey market" machine. I can only share my experiences.

I bought from AudioCubes who are a US company working with the Japanese exporter You can also deal with HyperJack directly through T-station or their own site. My transaction was clean and simple with only a few days delay because HyperJack was out of stock on G7's. Shipping was fast by EMS from Japan (3 business days to OR) and the package arrived looking intact.

Unfortunately my G7 was not packed properly within the Kenwood cardboard box and suffered some minor damage. It appears that Japanese products are not delivered in sealed boxes (my imported Sony MZ-R900 MD was in an unsealed box too). Anyway, the G7 box was missing half of it's packing/shock absorbing cardboard so the unit has a small dent and scratches from the power supply impacting the CD-door during shipping (I think).

Mr Matsuda at HyperJack has been looking into getting me a replacement door, and will ship it to me then.

Overall I rate their service well, I'll update this page to let you know how it turns out.

Last modified: 7/20/2002