Test Drive: The Sony MDS-B1 & MDS-B2P MD Recorder and Player

The front panel has the MiniDisc slot and lighted Eject button to its right. Once a disc is pressed almost all the way in, the machine grabs the optical package and seats it within a couple seconds. The Table of Contents (TOC) is read and shows the name of the disc on the display below (more on the little QWERTY keyboard remote used to input the names in a minute.)

The display is your standard CD type with a track number "calendar" indicating the current track, small VU meters, status indicators, and a scrolling title area (the name of the disc as well as the name of each cut can be recorded onto the MiniDisc up to a total of a hundred characters per title and 1,792 characters per disc.)

The controls are of the new standard a Play/Pause button, a Cue/Standby button, Stop, Previous, Next, and Record buttons. An old fashioned, three position, miniature toggle switch mounted deep into a protective barrier can set the MDS B1 to Repeat or Repeat/All. A Display button toggles between track names, time up, and time down. A two character LED indicates the Next track to be played.

The two remaining buttons, Edit and Enter, also protected by a barrier, control the machine's editing functions. To join two tracks into one, the edit button toggles to Combine. To split one track into two, edit/toggle to Divide. Rearrange tracks? Just toggle to move. And, of course, two clicks and you can erase a track instantly.

Besides being so simple anyone could do it, this MiniDisc edits in +/ 60 millisecond steps. That means it's a breeze to make a rough recording, clean up the beginning and the end and have just the right take or actuality. For voice work, it's like editing out the bad takes on a reel to reel at the speed of light, without the mess!

For the production wizard pressed for time or the morning man looking to make fast work of the phones while playing a less than four minute oldie, this is your box.

The plastic remote box, with its miniature typewriter type keyboard, is about seven by five inches and is connected to the front panel of the recorder with a cord terminated by mini plugs. I suppose the idea of having a jack on the front of the deck is a good one for those people who want to store their remote away and pull it out when they use it, but I'm more of a leave it connected kind of guy that would have appreciated seeing that jack on the back panel (maybe "as well") or included as part of the remote control multi-pin. Maybe I'm just being an old curmudgeon, but I don't like wires hanging off the front of equipment, other than my headphones.

But there are some great features as well.

Pressing the record button sends the MDS B1 into the digital standard "Paused and ready to record" mode. What it doesn't do is erase anything you've already got recorded the machine automatically chooses the next track number available (as mentioned before, tracks can be moved anywhere after they're recorded.)

The machine can be set for "silence sense" operation, much like a DAT machine writing a new ID number after it senses four seconds of nothing, or for manual recording of ID numbers. On the fly, pressing Record during the recording will write a new track number as well.

An EOM (End of Message) can be set to warn of a track's end anywhere from one to thirty five seconds.

The Eject button is disconnected when the unit is in play or record.

And, engineers get this, this MiniDisc machine will also tell you how many hours operating time the spindle motor has and the number of hours the laser diode has been cooking!

Of course, the ultimate advantage of optical storage of audio data is accessibility. The CD's popularity, for example, is not based necessarily on audio quality as it is for random access time. The MiniDisc has a certain strength when it comes to going directly to a track, anywhere on a disc, and playing it without further adieu. The idea of a TOC makes this and track "editing" possible in the first place.

Although every studio I've worked in remained relatively calm as far as movement goes, you folks in California might find the MiniDisc's standard ten second buffer a godsend it reads the disc and continually stores and dumps the data so that even a mild earthquake won't cause the audio to skip!

For the rest of us, that means the audio is ready to go when Play is pressed.

An Auto Cue feature, when engaged, will cue the track up to the first audio detected, much like your standard CD player with the same capabilities.

Specs wise, you'll find the MDS B1 a contender: freq response 20 20K within a half dB, THD>.095% on a recordable disc vs. THD>.06$ playing a "pre mastered" disc, Signal to noise more than 83 dB on recordables vs. <95 dB on the pre records (available at your favorite store conveniently located near you!).

A few months back, RAP tested the consumer model MiniDisc and found its Adaptive Transform Acoustic Coding audio compression sounded good. On a pair of JBL 4311 studio monitors, we couldn't hear a difference between it and the original source on either a standard CD or a DAT. On a pair of Infinity Six Kappa reference standard speakers, we could. This time around, and it should be considered that this is the professional model, we couldn't hear the ATRAC working.

Sony is currently marketing the MDS B1 and the MDS B2P, a MiniDisc Play only machine that looks exactly like its recording partner with the exception of a Record button and the two editing buttons, Edit and Enter.

Pricing is $3,000.00 for the recorder/player and $2,200.00 for the player, retail. The remote control is included in the price of the recorder. You know as well as we do that a deal can be cut.

Like the cassette replaced the 8 track, like CDs replaced the record, something has got to replace the tape cart for on air use.

Will it be the MiniDisc?

Maybe.

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