MiniDisc was introduced in 1992 and spent its early years in a dogfight with Philips’ now-defunct DCC format before disappearing entirely. Despite its excellent ergonomics, the format sounded so terrible that its end appeared imminent. But suddenly, around 1997, the first generation of ATRAC version 4 devices came, and the dying format seemed to find fresh life.
Sony’s fourth-generation data compression technique was the first to sound musically convincing, making the format seem exciting for the first time. It wasn’t quite as fantastic as CD, but it did have a lovely bounce that prior versions lacked. However, the business did not rest on its laurels and continued to improve their codec. Because of the conversion to a 24-bit digital filter with switchable coefficients, the ATRAC DSP-Type R came in 2001, giving even more clarity and elegance to the sound. Sony was very proud of the fact that everything, including the noise shaper and pulse generator, was combined into a single chip substrate.
Looking back, it all seems insignificant, but the MDS-JB940QS was a good-sounding, versatile digital recorder that cost less than £300 and provided a lot of functionality and sound for the money. There were a few superior components compared to the 930 it replaced, such as chosen op-amps for the D-A converter output and a beefier chassis with a double top plate that makes the cabinet more sturdy (and therefore less resonant). For the first time at this price point, copper plated screws and washers were used in the casing fastening.
The use of ATRAC3 compression technology (as seen in Sony’s early Memory Stick Walkman) to enable up to 320 minutes of stereo recording from an 80 minute disc was a big feature upgrade over its predecessor. In addition to MD’s conventional double-time mono long play facility, you can pick from double (LP2) or quadruple (LP4) recording speeds. MDLP and non-LP tracks could be mixed on a single disc, and they could be edited on a machine that didn’t normally play MDLP recordings.
Scale Factor Edit was a feature on the machine that allowed users to edit the recordings after they were created. For example, you might normalize each track’s volume so that it doesn’t sound too loud in comparison to the others, or you could post-fade (in or out) all of your songs. It was a little but useful addition to MiniDisc’s already impressive editing capabilities. It kept the oldster’s useful keyboard link (you could plug in a conventional computer keyboard for faster titling) and added a comprehensive Set-Up feature to the Edit Menu.
The sound quality was noticeably better than the 930QS variant. Despite being far from the top-of-the-line MDS-JA555ES in terms of detail, finesse, and naturalness, the machine had a little more detail, finesse, and naturalness. As with all post-1996 recorders, the upper bass and lower midband have a hint of warmth and bloom. The deck featured a lot of detail and a swift, nimble personality. Only in the upper treble did its flaws become obvious, with a slightly thick, foggy texture that lacked the shine that CD at least tries to recreate.
Overall, the Sony was a strong performer in its day, and buyers would have to pay a significant amount of money to outperform it today. Nowadays, £100 will get you a mint machine with limited mileage – which is all you can want from this great but now obsolete format.