Sony Net MD MZ-N1 review: Sony Net MD MZ-N1

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Tiny; excellent design; connects to PC via USB; excellent battery life; great sound quality (both recording and playback); uses cheap, removable media.

The Bad Copyright-protection technology slows down transfers and consumes disk space; can't upload recordings via USB; expensive.

The Bottom Line Sony's software drags down an otherwise fine product.

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With its Net MD line, Sony has made the MiniDisc format more palatable to online music fans, allowing users to connect the units to a PC via USB and store between 74 and 296 minutes of MP3s on inexpensive media. The MZ-N1, the crown jewel of this line, allegedly offers superfast, 32X transfer speeds as well as the ability to record live audio. There's only one problem: As with Sony's flash-based MP3 players, copyright-protection software turns a silk purse into a something of a sow's ear. With its Net MD line, Sony has made the MiniDisc format more palatable to online music fans, allowing users to connect the units to a PC via USB and store between 74 and 296 minutes of MP3s on inexpensive media. The MZ-N1, the crown jewel of this line, allegedly offers superfast, 32X transfer speeds as well as the ability to record live audio. There's only one problem: As with Sony's flash-based MP3 players, copyright-protection software turns a silk purse into a something of a sow's ear.

Design
Sony gets high marks for the design of this square, magnesium-encased marvel. It's no flash-based MP3 player, but the MZ-N1 is light--4.48 ounces with the battery installed--and takes up little pocket space at 3.0 by 2.88 by 0.75 inches. A navigation jog dial on the unit and a triple-function, pullout control on the thin, in-line, backlit remote enable easy access to all functions and information from either interface (except for Record, which has to be activated on the unit itself). Unfortunately, Sony didn't include a carrying case, but at least you can clip the remote to a bag strap or a shirt pocket while stowing the device elsewhere.

Features/connectivity
The MZ-N1 sits in its small docking station and recharges its battery using the attached AC adapter. This MiniDisc unit connects to your computer's USB port in order to download music at speeds faster than real time. Other than the USB connection, the MZ-N1 has all the standard MiniDisc connections: an analog line-in jack, an optical line in with a cable included, a mike input, a headphone/line-out jack, and an AC-adapter port.

Sony's OpenMG Jukebox software handles the transfer of MP3s, WMAs, and WAVs from your hard drive to the MZ-N1. You can select normal stereo (74 minutes), or you can choose LP2 (148 minutes) or LP4 (296 minutes) in order to fit more music onto the device. As one might expect, sound quality diminishes as playback time increases. For ripping CDs to the device, Sony includes Net MD Simple Burner software, which converts to only LP2 or LP4; we'd prefer having the option to rip to normal stereo levels to preserve sound quality.

Once you've transferred files onto the unit, you'll find an array of playback features to make listening easily configurable: shuffle and repeat modes; a two-band EQ; an automatic volume-limiting system to protect your hearing; and variable-speed playback, which outputs music at 80 to 110 percent of normal playback speed. Finally, there's a line-out/headphone toggle jack for switching between the two options; a line out sounds better when sending audio to a stereo system since it bypasses the headphone amp.

While recording in analog or digital, the MZ-N1 displays a stereo recording-level meter, which is crucial for clean rendering of live audio. This Net MD also shows you a remaining recording-time meter, microphone-sensitivity adjustment, and track time-stamping. But one flaw prevents this Sony from being the perfect portable recording device: You cannot upload recordings via USB the way that you can with the or the .

Performance
The MZ-N1 sounds great, especially when you play songs ripped straight from CDs and use nicer headphones than the included folding pair. However, keep in mind that poor-quality MP3s sound even worse after being transcoded to the OpenMG format.

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Sony Net MD MZ-N1

Part Number: MZN1

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Built-in Display LCD
  • Media Load Type slot-load
  • Weight 3.1 oz
  • Type 1 year warranty
  • Sound Output Mode stereo
  • Type MiniDisc recorder