Pros: Small, inexpensive media, great sound
Cons: Copy protection scheme doesn't allow you to transfer original material recorded with a microphone.
I bought the Sony MZ-N707 because it includes a microphone jack. I wanted a portable recorder able to capture high quality audio (interviews and sound effects) through a mic and then to transfer the recordings via the USB cable as digital files to my computer.
I was assured by the salesman that digital files could be transferred both ways between the Net MD and a PC. However, once I got into the manual and installed the "OpenMG" software I was dissappointed to find that this is NOT the case.
In a wrong-headed and befuddled attempt at protecting music copyrights ORIGINAL RECORDED MATERIAL CANNOT BE TRANSFERRED TO YOUR COMPUTER!!!
Let me clarify...
The Net MD reflects an obsession with copyright protection. Given the billions that have been lost in the music industry as a result of thoughtless theft through Internet downloads and "sharing" music with friends, this obsession is understandable. After all, Sony is a major player in the music biz.
Sony's solution is the "OpenMG" software which allows you to import music files already on your computer (from WAV, MP3 or WMA formats), music on audio CD's (ripped directly from CDs to the OpenMG store), or music downloaded from designated sites on the Internet. When a file is "imported" it is converted to Sony's proprietary, (and excellent) ATRAC3 format and stored on your computer. You then use the OpenMG software to transfer these ATRAC3 music files via a USB cable (at VERY impressive speeds) to your Net MD Walkman. Transferring music files on your computer FROM OpenMG to your Net MD is called "checking-out" the file.
To prevent you from distributing unlimited copies of your music files, you are only able to "Check-Out" 3 separate copies of any given music file. Peronally I have no problem with this. It seems like a reasonable solution. You have the original source you purchased (CD or purchased Internet download), plus the ability to make up to 3 copies of a music file that you can combine in various playlists on MD's you carry with you (one for the car, one for the gym, etc.).
If you want to check-out a music file that you've already copied three times you must first "check-in" that file from one of your MD copies. You don't have to worry about deleting a checked-out copy since checked-out files can't be deleted from an MD. Forget about trying to fool the system by checking files in to different computers--music files can only be checked in to the SAME computer that they were checked-out from. Again, given a world where even sweet little church ladies unblushingly steal music, I have no problem with this attempt to limit distribution of commercial music. So far, so good.
The problem lies in Sony's decision not to allow you to transfer any file recorded directly on the Net MD back to your computer. The Net MD MZ-N707 has a VERY impressive capability to record audio files. You can record directly from any digital device using the Optical Line In. You can record any analog signal (radio, your home stereo, another walkman or whatever) using the same port which also accepts a normal (non-optical) mini stereo plug, and finally you can record live performances using a microphone.
I purchased a Sony ECM-MS907 condensor microphone which is recommended for the Net MD MZ-N707. I was extremely impressed with the professional quality of the recordings I was able to capture with this combination! However I was extremely dissappointed to find that, although the OpenMG software displayed the tracks I recorded with the mic (which were still stored on the Net MD), the files were marked as untransferrable and all attempts to transfer these files back to my computer were explicity denied.
All of this is completely illogical. If I'm making my own microphone recordings of live performances then of course there is no copyright issue. These recordings are MINE and I have every right to transfer these recordings to my computer, edit them and distribute them world wide. Second, while the MZ-N707 has a Mic input there is no line output. So what sense does it make to prohibit USB transfers of material recorded with a microphone when the only output IS the USB cable.
Of course you could always go out of the headphone jack and into the line input port of your sound card in order to "capture" a file. However this results in a two-generation loss of quality and requires tediously re-recording each track in REAL TIME. This totally destroys the benefits of being able to transfer digital files directly via the USB cable at 32X real time.
So blocking the transfers of mic recordings of live performances makes NO SENSE. Neither does it make any sense to block the transfers of line recordings, since if anyone is willing to go to the trouble of making a real-time recording of an audio file to the Net MD and then transferring the file to their computer--they could just as easily (actually more easily) have made the recording directly to the computer in the first place.
The tragedy is that the Net MD is perfectly situated to be a high-quality field recording device that could be used to record sound effects/soundscapes, interviews, music performances etc. At a fraction of the cost, the quality would be on par with that of a portable DAT recorder. By blocking this, Sony is in no way protecting any music copyrights.
Since every file recorded or transferred to the Net MD is already in Sony's proprietary ATRAC format, certainly they could encode the file to distinguish between files imported into OpenMG (i.e. commercial music files) and files recorded ON the Net MD using a microphone!!
What if you don't care about making any recordings? What if you just want to have a portable device to carry copies of your music with you? Well in this case you'd be very happy with the MZ-N707:
- The sound quality is awesome (even includes EQ)
- The size and weight of this device is incredible (4oz.)
- Very stylish (I had the Cobalt Blue model)
- The MD discs are cheap (I bought a 5 pack for $8.99) yet
store hours of music (80 min highest quality, 160 min LP2 mode, 320 min in LP4 mode)
- Battery life is fantastic-- a single AA can power playback up to 56 hours!
- The speed of transfer to MDs is at 32X!!!
- The software installed on my Windows 2000 machine without a single hitch.
The package is also VERY complete. You get:
- The Net MD unit.
- A charging stand.
- An AC adaptor.
- A car kit complete with a cassette adaptor, 12-volt power adaptor and a cable manager.
- A USB cable to connect to your computer.
- An optical cable for direct digital recording.
- A nice leather case that can be velcroed to an appropriate surface in your car and which has openings that also permit the case to be worn on a belt.
- A pair of headphones (low quality).
- A rechargable battery.
- A blank 80 minute minidisc.
- A CD with the USB drivers and OpenMG software.
The weakest link of the MZ-N707 is the remote control that uses a different set of controls from those found on the main unit (requiring you to learn two sets of controls) and that provides no feedback (there is no display). Also the manual made the operation of this unit seem much more difficult that it actually is.
Since the Net MD MZ-N707 didn't work for my application (field recordings of live performances, interviews and sound effects), I returned it, but given the strengths of this device I regretted having to do so.
I'm now looking into the new Tascam PocketStudio 5
as well as the Archos Jukebox Recorder 20
Incidentally, Minidisc.org also recognizes the obvious flaw of the Net MD in preventing the transfer of recorded material. They have a proposal submitted to Sony to correct this wrong-headed short-coming that is preventing the Net MD from being an excellent field recording device:
Want a PLAYER consider the MZ-N707
Want a RECORDER look elsewhere.