Hits since January 23, 1998.
The Sony R50 vs. Sharp 701 FAQ
You want to cut to the chase. You've finally decided that the MiniDisc format is just too enticing and exciting to not be a part of, and you've come to the conclusion after reading thousands of comments that: A. You want to buy a portable MiniDisc recorder, and B. It's either going to be the Sony R50 or the Sharp MS701. But which one?
Well, I'm sorry to inform you that the purpose of this FAQ isn't to make a definite statement on which unit is better, but rather, to provide (hopefully) all the information necessary for you the consumer to make the choice for yourself. Because both competing units from SONY and SHARP have very similar features, it should be in the differences (small as they are) that finalize any decision between the two. Knowing that, I'll let you in on a secret: if you've never owned a portable MiniDisc recorder before, you'll be enormously happy with either one.
The R50 takes up approximately 70% of its predecessor, the R30, with a volume of 109.5 x 19.7 x 77 mm. (4.3 x .78 x 3 in.), and weighs 240 gm. (8.5 oz.). The Sharp has a volume of 87 x 29.4 x 81.5 mm. (3.4 x 1.2 x 3.2 in.), and weighs 216 gm. (7.6 oz.).
Essentially, the Sony is technically smaller, but longer and heavier than the "MD Jacket" square design of the Sharp, which has virtually the same dimensions of three stacked MiniDiscs. Sharp achieved this by putting the RF section, signal processing encoder/decoder, digital servo, EFM processing and audio compression/decompression circuitry onto a single chip, which has the added benefit of decreasing power consumption. In should be noted that the unit weights mentioned include both the weight of a battery and a MiniDisc. Also, while the Sharp may weigh 10% less than the Sony, it should be understood this is just a barely distinguishable single ounce.
This could just as well be called the "Ease of Operation" section, since each feature in some way or other reflects on how certain functions make things easier (or harder) for you. Both models come with all the standard MiniDisc editing options (move, combine, divide, erase track, erase disc, track name, disc name), the three standard repeat modes (all repeat, one repeat, and shuffle), a built-in sampling rate converter, mono recording, synchro recording for line-in and digital (the Sharp also has synchro for mic-in), resume playback, and come with headphones, LiIon rechargeable battery, AC adapter, AA attachment case, and carrying case. Both the Sony and Sharp have the ability to mark tracks on the fly -- the Sony with an independent TRACK MARK button, the Sharp by pressing the REC button while recording. The MS701 maintains Sharp's Slot-In disc insertion method, while the Sony still used the Clamshell door (discussed later).
In general, however, it is the differences between the two models that will matter most in your purchasing decision. The R50 comes with a nice assortment of unique features. Topping the list is the handy jog-dial, which you can use for track searching while playing tracks, moving tracks around, or quickly entering in titles of songs. The Sony R50 also has an independent line-out jack, so you can monitor your recordings through the MiniDisc unit instead of the recording unit (in general, though, you would want to listen through the recorder unit, but it's nice to have the option). The MS701's output is impedance matched to serve as both headphone or line-output. The R50 also comes with AVLS (Automatic Volume Limiting System) that prevents the volume from going over a certain limit.
While recording on the R50, a recording light comes on (as well as the normal LCD display). The Sony has a mic sensitivity switch (high or low), while the Sharp has this built into the recording levels. The Sony also maintains the clock setting, for the obvious reason of recording the date and time of recording. Sharp, on the other hand, does not offer this in the new MS701.
One of the Sharp's nicest features over its rival is the ability to adjust recording levels during recording. While the Sony cannot do this, it offers a compromise with its auto-recording level AGC (Automatic Gain Control). This probably won't be used much with recording professionals, but can probably be left on to satisfy the average consumer's recording needs. In addition, the MS701 has an auto-mark feature which the R50 lacks. You can set it for 3, 5, or 10 minute intervals during microphone recording (useful when recording long passages that you want to search through later), or use the normal auto-mark feature when using line-in, (to get the correct track information when dubbing a CD, for example). For MONO recording, the Sharp also offers a FAST PLAY option; the Sony does not have this option.
With recording or playback on the Sharp, an accurate VU meter responds to the music's levels in the LCD display. This is additionally handy for recording purposes, because you clearly know when your line-levels are too high (the meter shows OVER). The Sony R50 does not have as accurate a display, instead relying on nine bars. It is still possible to get an accurate dB conversion, for more information please refer to this section. A unique feature to the Sony display is its estimated position pointer that let's you know approximately how 'full' your disc is, (on the Sharp, you're just going to have to look at the Time Remaining). Also, the Sony display shows what mega bass level you're at, while the Sharp only tells you this when you change the value (by pressing the BASS button).
Another nice feature of the MS701 is its Moji-Stamp option that allows for direct copies of MiniDiscs and the track and title information. Normally, you can make direct copies, but you must manually enter in the titles and the disc name.
The largest bone of contention with the Sony MiniDisc recorders is still present on the R50: that is, the END SEARCH requirement. When you record a new track, you must first press END SEARCH on the unit so that the head goes to the end of the last track on the disc, otherwise, the unit will begin recording from wherever its current position is (thus overwriting tracks!). The Sharp automatically assumes you do not wish to destroy data, and begins recording at the end of the last track.
As for the physical design of the units, the Sharp has slightly better button layout. For instance, there is only one button for PLAY/PAUSE, while the Sony has them separated. Also, the volume buttons are quite small on the R50, whereas the Sharp's buttons are more easily manageable. Finally, the Sony does not let the disc come out of the unit while it's playing -- the Sharp does.
I realize that this list of features may seem overly specific, and I know that many of these options most people couldn't care less about -- that is, until they realize they don't have them. In order to make this as fair a comparison as possible, it is necessary that I include everything unique to the two models. Just remember the most important things: adjustable record levels, AGC, the shock-proof memory, the jog dial. Think about your own personal needs when it comes to convenience, design, aesthetics, and of course, functionality, and then re-read this section to get a sense of what you can and cannot live without.
The Sony has 16 Megabits of DRAM, and provides 40 seconds of shock proof memory. The Sharp provides 10 seconds of shock proof memory (like its predecessor the MS200).
The question of remotes is a very personal decision. The Sony has a new "stick controller" type remote, while the Sharp has the "wristwatch" thumbprint style remote. Both remotes have a normal stereo mini-jack input for headphones (in contrast to the older Sony models). They also have all the normal playing functions (play/pause, forward and reverse, stop), as well as control of the play mode, and display mode. Both models show some graphic for a playing disc, the battery level, and when the unit is recording, and both have a HOLD feature.
The Sony stick controller has a scrolling display on remote which shows the time elapsed, the time remaining while recording, a scrolling track title, MD title and time recorded (not date recorded). The rest of the display on the remote shows the track number (alternating with total tracks on the MD), and the play mode.
The Sharp's remote has a scrolling track title, elapsed time, and remaining time. If a track has not been named, a little animated fish swims back and forth and blows out notes. If left in text mode, the title will scroll across the screen in its entirety, pause, and then scroll across again repeatedly as the track plays. The Sharp also has a bass boost button (lacking on the Sony remote). What is new to the Sharp, and for the moment a uniquely Sharp feature, is the inclusion of a backlit LCD display inside the remote. Similar to the Timex Indiglo displays, it emits a soft blue glow when any button on the remote is pressed. The light goes off after a couple of seconds, or until the pressed button has been released.
In the final analysis, the preference of remotes is a matter of aesthetics, since both provide nearly identical functionality. Sony's stick remote follows the lines of the headphone cord better, so it is less 'bulky' than the round thumbprint remote of the Sharp. On the other hand, the Sharp has an ergonomic design and a larger display with a very useful backlit feature.
Sony: Recording time with LiIon: 4hr, with 2AA: 5hr, with both: 12hr. Playback time with LiIon: 7hr, with 2AA: 12hr, with both: 22hr. Recharge time: 3 hours.
Sharp: Recording time with LiIon: 3.5h, with 2AA: 4h, with both: 7.5h. Playback time with LiIon: 5h, with 2AA: 8h, with both: 13h. Recharge time: 2.5 hours.
Both come with external battery packs and LiIon rechargeable batteries. The surplus of time that comes about when adding the external battery pack (ie 7 hours + 12 hours = 22 hours?) is easy to explain. After a lithium battery is drained, it can still provide some power, just not enough to make the whole machine working. The same is true with AA batteries. But when they are taken together, they produce enough electricity. While each battery seperately is not able to run the the unit independently, both taken together can provide the minimum amount to power the machine.
The Sony has two levels of bass sound emphasis, while the Sharp has three. There have been reports that the Sony Mega Bass has a tendency to go above the bass range and oversaturate the middle and even high frequencies. In addition, it is possible to adjust the bass cut-off levels of the factory presets on the Sharp in the TEST MODE. In effect, you can have three user-definable extra-bass selections.
In order to ascertain in as objective manner as possible which one sounds better, I thought it necessary to first start off with the technical specs. on each of the models. For those who aren't as mechanically inclined, suffice to say that the higher the value, the better, (except in Wow and Flutter; this doesn't matter on MiniDiscs anyway since the value is so phenomenally low).
|44.1 kHz sample rate||44.1 kHz sample rate|
|20-20kHz +/-3dB, wow & flutter <.001% peak.||20-20kHz +/-3dB, wow & flutter <.001% peak.|
|Line output rating: 194mV, 10 k ohms.||Line output rating: 300mV, 50 k ohms.|
|Headphone: 5mW + 5mW (16 ohms)||Headphone: 10mW + 10mW (32 ohms)|
|MIC H: .22mV||MIC H: 0.25mV (10 k ohms)|
|MIC L: .78mV||MIC L: 2.5mV (10 k ohms)|
|LINE: 69-194mV||LINE: 100mV (20 k ohms)|
The ATRAC version of the units is unfortunately not entirely comparable -- that is, both Sony and Sharp each use a proprietary ATRAC, (the current version for Sony is 4.5, and the current version for Sharp is 5.0). The Sony R50 uses Sony ATRAC v4.0, and the Sharp MS701 uses Sharp ATRAC v5.0 but both seem to be nearly identical in sound reproduction. The difference between the ATRACs has less to do with performance issues than the independent development of Sharp and Sony's ATRAC. The result is that the Sharp and Sony units make recordings with slightly different sound characteristics, but which one people prefer is more a matter of personal taste than one necessarily being "better". I'm unfortunately not in any way equipped to test the differences, and until someone does, it's fairly safe to judge them the same and move on to something that actually makes an audible difference.
In the end, it seems that the Sharp 'should' sound very slightly better than the Sony, with an emphasis on slightly. It should be also be noted that the hissing problems with the older Sony R30 have been eliminated with the R50, as has the distortion encountered at higher volume levels. In a number of discussion groups, owners of both units seem to agree that the Sharp does produce a better sound overall, but it should be emphasized that these are subjective opinions. The reasons for this have been attributed to everything from the inferior headphone amplifier in the Sony, to the different ATRAC versions, to El Niño. While the better specs. on the Sharp would lend credence to the idea that the Sharp sounds better, both units could always benefit from a good set of headphones and a soundproof room.
There are two factors to consider when asking this question: the sound quality of the recording, and the ease of the recording operation. Because I have no method of doing direct digital testing from various sources (microphone, analog input, or digital input), I cannot give any 'scientific' comparison between the two. Subjectively, I would tend to believe that both the analog and digital recordings of the two should be nearly identical, with the Sharp having a slight lead over the Sony in microphone recordings (naturally, a better microphone and a mixer will always produce higher results than the direct mic-in on any model).
To the average consumer, then, the question comes down to the ease of recording. Both units have advantages and disadvantages that should be weighed in accordance to the situation. Will you be recording a lot of live music? Or will you primarily be dubbing CD's and tapes onto MiniDisc? Is it more important to get a 'quicker' recorder, or one that has adjustable levels during the recording? All these things will be discussed.
The Sharp appears to have been produced with the needs of the live-recorder in mind. The recording/playback level meters are labeled and incremented according to proper decibel format, indicating -40dB, -12, -4, 0, and OVER in a wide range across the width of the display. This is essential for analog dubbing or live mic recording, and far easier to use than the arbitrary levels of the Sony. To record with the MS701, simply press the REC button, and PLAY. You have the option of having synchro recording where new track marks are placed after about 3 seconds of silence, or auto-track marking with mic recording, using time intervals of 3, 5, and 10 minutes (lacking on the Sony). While both the Sony and Sharp units have line-in and digital-in synchro, the Sharp also has mic-in synchro editing (useful for recordings of conversations or lectures). To place track marks during recording, simply press the REC button again. The best feature, however, is the ability to adjust the recording level while in the middle of recording. With the Sony, you must first pause the recording, then adjust the levels, and start again. With the Sharp you don't have to choose between 'getting everything' or 'getting everything right.'
The Sony has its advantages as well. The level meter bar, while not clearly labeled, has been 'decoded' to the equivalent values: 1 = -51dB, 2 = -40dB, 3 = -30dB, 4 = -20dB, 5 = -12dB, 6 = -6dB, 7 = -4dB, 8 = -2dB, 9 = 0dB ("OVER"). Instead of pressing the REC button with the Sharp, there is an independent TRACK MARK button. Also, the Sony has a time-stamp function (the Sharp does not), useful if you wish to know the time and date of a particular recording. While the Sony lacks the ability to change recording levels while recording, it does offer a nice compromise: AGC (Automatic Gain Control). What it does, in effect, is reduce the sound levels whenever they go over the peak level, so you maintain a distortion-free recording. The nicest feature, however, is the record buffer. With most decks (including the MS701), you must wait for about 4 seconds before you can begin recording (waiting for the unit's initialization and TOC read), but when you press record on the Sony, it automatically begins recording information into its memory. Thus you never have to miss any crucial first seconds of record time.
Unfortunately, neither model supports any digital out capabilities (most recorders do not), but they are nonetheless both remarkable units. In general, the Sharp seems better suited for live recordings than the Sony, which offers a more consumer-based recording compromise. The Sharp does not offer AGC because it is more 'impure', but I believe this feature would be well appreciated to the average consumer, as would the memory buffer. To those who are more involved in live-concert recordings, however, the on-the-fly recording level adjustments would outweigh the benefits of the Sony.
Again, this is a personal decision. Sony's clamshell design for the R50 allows for a thinner unit, while the Sharp's Slot-in requires more headroom and thus a greater overall height. The Slot-in resembles a 3 1/2" floppy drive on a computer, and is entirely manual in operation, (thus, no worry about a mechanical drive mechanism that could fail and leave a disc locked in the machine). Sony's clamshell is similar to a walkman, with an opening door that the disc is loaded into.
The advantages of the clamshell is that it makes for a smaller machine. The advantages of the slot-in are that it allows for easier insertion (if the unit were inside of a backpack or pocket, for instance), and no possibility of a door breaking and failing to open or close.
While 'better' is a subjective word, I think it is safe to say there is a clear winner in this category. The R50 has a convenient jog-dial that allows the user to quickly get to each letter in the alphabet, while the MS701 requires you to hold down the forward or reverse button until you reach the letter. There had been rumors that the MS701 couldn't title in lowercase, but this is in fact untrue (the DISPLAY button converts any letter to its lowercase equivalent). Both units have the Roman Alphabet and Character Symbols, but the International version of the R50 does not support Japanese Katakana Characters, (the Sharp does).
Probably the biggest thing to affect the purchase of either unit after their features are their prices, but this unfortunately will help you little in deciding between the Sharp or the Sony. With current price fluctuations, the Sony is a little more expensive than the Sharp (the Sony can be purchased for about $320, and the Sharp for about $285.) Prices will drop, most assuredly, but there's little doubt that they will both be about the same price, with the Sharp edging the Sony out by a few dollars.
Both the Sony R50 and the Sharp MS701 come with the ability to enter TEST MODE. The Sony requires you to insert a 24 k ohm resistor into the jack where the remote enters the unit, touching pins 2 and 4, and then slide the HOLD button over. There is more information about this here
The Sharp is a bit easier. Simply press the DISPLAY, ENTER, and PLAY buttons at the same time. The Sharp's TEST MODE features are nearly identical to the older MS200. To see a copy of the service manual, click here.
Please make sure you know what you're doing when you enter TEST MODE. Currently, the only reasons to enter it at all are to adjust the settings of the BASS presets in the Sharp, or to attempt to disable SCMS (copy protection). There is more information about this on the net -- happy hunting.
This page was created to fulfill a need, a need that I saw growing as the MiniDisc community itself grows. I can't even count how many times I've read "Which one should I buy: the R50 or the MS701?" At first this question interested me, then I finally bit the bullet and bought one, and then it started to annoy me. But now it makes me happy again, because I see that the reason this question is being asked is because people want to join in on the best form of personal audio equipment on the planet.
All the information on this page has been accumulated through hundreds of different sources, and I do my best to cross-reference information to verify the accuracy. That said, it is obviously not the end-all be-all of information on this topic, and I would recommend that any person interested in the subject find more about it on their own. A couple of places to start off would be:
Both of these sites have been enormously useful to me in gathering information for this FAQ. If anyone has any corrections or congratulations for me, (but please, no condemnations!), please email me
© 1998 Matthew Brock