Doesn't trade quality for quantity
MiniDisc Long Play (MDLP) works by compressing the audio signal into the ATRAC3 codec, which is also used on Sony MP3 players. On nice headphones, the sound seemed to thin out a little bit only as the speed was reduced from normal to LP2, then to LP4. Through our high-end test stereo, the thinning of the audio was more apparent. High frequencies were attenuated (or made quieter), especially at LP4. However, even at that slowest speed, the sound never became unpleasant. Just remember that you won't be able to play these high-capacity discs on non-MDLP MiniDisc players.
While the MD-MT877's most significant feature is the variable recording speed, most folks notice the plastic charging easel first. The easel saves table space and locks the recorder in place during AC operation so that recording sessions can't be thwarted by the accidental loss of power. The stand can even automatically drain the nickel-metal-hydride battery before recharging it in order to pack the maximum charge onto the player. The battery life impressed us, lasting from 6.5 hours for full-speed recording to 15 hours for LP4 playback. A supplied battery pack holds one AA alkaline, which will run the device for even longer.
The shock-resistant memory is also unusually long, with 40 seconds at standard speed and 160 seconds at LP4. To save power, the MD-MT877 automatically adjusts from 5 seconds to 40 seconds, but you can set the memory buffer to its full length when you know that you'll be in shaky conditions, for example, when you're jogging.
The Sharp's controls are small (par for the course with portable audio devices) but easy to use. Volume and track selection are handled by a four-way rocker switch, which works great despite being smaller than a dime. Green, blue, and orange LEDs show the operating mode at a glance. The clip-on remote duplicates all controls except for record and even has its own small display. A sample-rate converter (available on most of these units) enables direct digital recording from DATs and other digital sources that use sampling rates of 32KHz or 48KHz instead of MiniDiscs' 44.1KHz.
Signal-actuated recording from the microphone, the analog line, or the digital line input makes it easy to synchronize the Sharp with your recording source; it simply starts recording when it hears something. Another neat trick up the MD-MT877's sleeve is that it can begin a new track every 3, 5, or 10 minutes.
Sharp's MD-MT877 is an elegant looking, easy-to-use, good performer. But what distinguishes it from lower-priced Sharp MiniDisc recorders we've reviewed is its ability to pack a lot more music onto each disc. Whether that's worth the $500 list price is up to you. Sony's MDLP-compatible MZ-R700DPC carries a $300 list price and includes a nifty USB gadget for recording music directly from your PC.
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