Fast FactsApplications: Studio, broadcast, location
Key Features: Two-track; 16-bit, 44.1 kHz; WAV files and Hi-MD formats; USB port; stores other data files
Contact: Sony at 800-472-7669, www.sony.com/professional.
+ Records stereo, 16-bit, WAV files
+ Includes mic preamp
+ Plays back MD and Hi-MD
+ Stores other data
+ Supports USB transfer
- Small enough to lose.
- Somewhat delicate
- Navigation requires some learning
How about 16-bit, 44.1 kHz, stereo WAV files on a MiniDisc recorder smaller than a hockey puck? Cool! Just when you thought the MiniDisc was headed off into the sunset, Sony reinvents the genre with Hi-MD; most significantly, a format capable of recording 16-bit, 44.1 kHz stereo files to standard or new 1 GB MiniDiscs. Supported recording formats include Linear PCM (16-bit/44.1 kHz) and ATRACC3plus. Playback formats include Linear PCM, ATRAC3plus, ATRAC3, ATRAC and MP3 from 32 kbps to 320 kbps.
The Sony MZ-M100 ($399) is cleverly designed as a three quarters inch thick, two inch square with minimal markings that slips into almost any pocket. Like the Sony TCD-D8 DAT machines, the M100 has a somewhat delicate feel.
Supplied accessories include: an AC wallwart power adapter; hard-wired remote control with group, play/pause, stop, AMS FF, FR controls and mini headphone jack; ear buds; clip-on stereo mic; USB cable; nickel metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable battery and LR6 screw-on, external, single AA battery case. Adding the LR6 external battery lengthens record and playback times by 2 - 4 hours, depending on which mode is used.
The M100 supports recording of PCM, Hi-SP or Hi-LP. For linear PCM WAV files. That works out to be about twenty-eight minutes on a standard MiniDisc or an hour and a half on the 1 GB. Hi-SP mode gets you two hours and twenty minutes on a standard 80-minute disc and almost eight hours on a 1 GB disc. Hi-LP mode gives you about ten hours on a standard 80-minute disc and a whopping thirty-four hours on the 1 GB Hi-MD disc. Even though the M100 won't record in MD, with a PC computer (98/Me/XP), you can record and transfer MD files to the M100.
You can also transfer non-audio data to the inserted discs as you would any hard drive. The non-audio menu directory system of the M100 can be quite complex. Up to 16 levels of directories, up to 512 files or folders can be viewed in a root directory and up to 1,024 file or folders can be viewed in each subdirectory.
Inputs and outputs are mounted along one edge; mini TRS headphone, powered mic (.13 mV minimum) and optical/analog line in (49 mV minimum) jacks and a HOLD switch. The AC adapter, USB and LR6 external battery compartment attach on another edge. Switches for opening the drive slot and battery door occupy the other two edges.
The face of the M100 is sparse with six buttons, some more multifunctional than others. The legends are written in very small type and the reflective surface of the M100 makes them difficult to read. After a while, you learn what the buttons do and don't have to squint at the labels.
There's also a CD with applications that allow Windows and, to a lesser degree, Mac users, to transfer files to and from computers. With Windows, you can use SonicStage or MD Simple Burner software. SonicStage allows audio file transfers. Simple Burner lets you put a CD in a computer drive and "burn" it to the disc in the M100. You can also play files on the M100 across the USB connection so that the audio is heard from your PC. Finally, the USB connection will also partially charge the rechargeable battery in the M100.
Getting WAV files off the M100 and onto a Mac requires the installation of Hi-MD Wave Importer and Hi-MD Monitor software. WAV Importer for Mac works only with linear PCM files. Plugging the M100 via USB to my Mac G5 keyboard resulted in a low power warning on the Mac. The M100 doesn't like USB hubs. It needs to be connected somewhere higher on the food chain. Plugging into the tower worked and showed up as a 12 Mbps connection. After starting up the WAV Importer application, I dragged files from its window to a folder on my desktop at a rate of about 1 MB/sec. Clicking directly on the Sony drive on my desktop showed me files, but not in a format the Mac could use. You should name file in the WAV Importer window because file numbering gets out of sync when transferring from the M100 to a Mac if default numbers aren't changed. You can name files on the M100, but it's not much fun.
The manual (118 pages!) is actually one of the most complete and well-written manuals I've seen. It isn't perfect. For example, the Record section doesn't tell you that you have to hold the Menu button down for about three seconds to get into the other settings. After doing so, you can scroll down and select manual record rather than AGC Record. If you stop recording and fall back to Record Ready, you'll stay in manual record. If you stop completely, you'll end up in AGC Record and have to reactivate manual mode. The AGC Record isn't the worst I've heard, but even with two mic sensitivities from which to choose you can hear the AGC.
I don't like the Sony stereo clip-on mic that comes with the M100. it was thin and noisy. What surprised me was the Rode Video Mic. It sounded quite nice. I also recorded with my Schoeps CMC 641 through a Sound Devices 442 mixer to the mini TRS input jack on the M100. No problem. (Clips are in the Articles Archive on my site www.tyford.com).
With a quality mic or mic/mixer, the M100 is a very useful tool for recording or playing back uncompressed, good quality speech or music. It may be the perfect thing for that art installation, business presentation, singer/songwriter moment of inspiration, nuptial ceremony, theatre cue playback or sleep program. We're talking real WAV tracks that you can combine later with studio tracks. If compression doesn't bother you, having 34 hours of playback on each 1 GB disc is iPodly impressive.
The built-in EQ for playback may be helpful when patching into some systems and there are programmable playback options too numerous to mention. Navigating the playback controls to know what cut you're actually playing tested my patience. I'm pretty sure that was mostly due to my learning curve on the buttons. The best price I saw for 1 GB Hi-MD discs was 10 for $67 and five for $33, plus shipping.
So, now, instead of lugging a DAT machine, dedicated CD recorder or laptop to a gig, one can simply slip a recorder smaller than a can of sardines into one's pocket and go for it. Later, you can drag and drop files to your desktop and do with them what you will. True, the connections aren't balanced and you have to remember not to put the M100 in a back pocket because sitting on it would probably be destructive. Otherwise, life is good.
Fast FactsApplications: Studio, broadcast, location