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Buying a mini-disc

Please note that the review below was written in 2002, and is now out of date. It is unlikely that you will now find these two recorders in the shops as newer models have taken their place. However, the basic differences between Sharp and Sony models remain - Sharps tend to have better facilities for adjusting the recording volume manually, and Sony have better editing facilities. The links and information at the bottom of the page are still valid.

For more information about minidiscs, the future of recording devices, and the issue of archiving compressed formats, http://www.minidisc.org is the place to go.

The EMOHA Portable Mini-Disc Comparison: The Sharp MT877 and the Sony MZ-R900

Investing money in new equipment is always fraught with anxieties about whether you have bought the best or most appropriate unit. Members of EMOHA currently own or use both Sharp and Sony mini-disc recorders and, having been through the effort of researching, buying, and using these machines, we thought we would share our experiences and conclusions.

As oral historians we are more interested in recording speech than music, and having listened to both units I'm going to take it as read that they both have excellent sound quality for playback and recording. Reading other reviews, it may be that the Sharp has slightly better bass response for music, but for recording speech I don't think there is much difference.

Both recorders feature MDLP - Mini Disc Long Play - which means that you can get up to 148 minutes of acceptable quality speech (and considerably more at an unacceptable quality) recorded on a standard 74 minutes minidisc. This is very useful for interviewers, and if you are looking for a minidisc recorder it is something to bear in mind.

Both units come with small, rather bad headphones, and remote controls which plug into the recorder. The remote display is viewed from the left of the lead on the Sharp, while the Sony is viewed from the right - one is upside down compared to the other. I find all these remotes so fiddly I tend not to use them, and I can't say which display orientation is better.

Both units seem so fragile that if you sat on them I'm sure they would break (so don't sit on them). As will be explained below, the Sony has more features than the Sharp, and some of these are useful.


Sharp MT877

Sony MZ-R900


[Sharp MT877]

[Sony MZ-R900]

Instruction booklet

Clear, easy to understand.

Clear, easy to understand.


The unit I have is in a light blue and looks quite elegant. However, the reflection of the light off its surface does mean that the writing by the buttons is sometimes difficult to see. The screen is large and easy to read, although there are animated dolphins that swim along it for some reason.

The unit I have is a darkish blue which means the writing on the unit contrasts better than on the Sharp and is easier to read. The screen is small but I've had no trouble reading it. The overall appearance isn't as easy on the eye as the Sharp, although this is in part due to the spacing of the buttons, which is a useful feature (see below).

Ease of use

To record you enter 'record' mode, adjust the recording level, and press play. Features are easily accessible with the press of a few buttons. However, the buttons are too close together and the 'wheel' which controls the vol/rec level and shuttle controls is too fiddly (this has been made better on recent models).

With the automatic recording level you just press record and you're off - it's more fiddly to manually adjust the recording level. The buttons and jog levers are easy to use, and, being spaced out better than the Sharp, there is less chance of doing something wrong. However, to get to the features you have to scroll through menus and this can be a bit tedious.

Useful features

You can adjust the recording level as you record - which you can't do with the Sony. The recording level will remain at the level you set it, unlike the Sony which will revert to a default setting after you press stop.

Although the basic editing features are shared by both units, the Sony wins easily on added features, particularly the ease with which you can add track markers during playback, which I think is a huge plus. There is an automatic recording level, a clock which helps stamp the date and time a recording has been made, a way to select the playback order of tracks, labelling of tracks or disc during recording or playback, storing labelling phrases, and several other features which the Sharp doesn't have.

Bad features

Putting in track markers during playback requires 3 or more presses, compared to one with the Sony. No automatic date and time stamp.

You can only adjust the recording level in standby mode, not while recording, and if you press stop the unit reverts to automatic recording level.

Batteries etc

To charge the Sharp you have to put it in a plastic cradle which plugs into the mains, which can be inconvenient but at least gives the unit a feeling of being protected while it's plugged in. There is no mains input to the unit itself.

Plug the unit straight into the mains to charge. Like the Sharp, you can use the rechargeable battery by itself, or an AA (LR6) battery, or both. Sony claim longer life when recording than Sharp, and much longer life for playback. As battery life will vary hugely according to circumstances I'm not sure how much value to place on these claims.

Overall packaging

Rather disappointing I thought. The carry case for the MT877 is thin velvet with loose bubblewrap inside, and just seems cheap.

Better than the Sharp. A plastic case for the unit with a clip so it can be attached to a belt.

The Sharp's main advantage over the Sony is the ease of manually setting the recording levels, although interviewers might find an automatic recording level (which the Sharp doesn't have) useful. However, the track marking facilities of the Sony are excellent, and I think this is important for interviewers, especially the ability to insert track markers at the touch of a button during playback.

So, of the two models above, I would say that for oral historians the Sony MZ-R900 is the better bet, and generally this is true of the Sony range of models. I would add though, that if you are buying a mini disc recorder to record live music I would probably go for a Sharp, as the ability to set recording levels quickly, and retain these levels, is more important than it is in an interviewing situation.

You can also get useful information from the following links:

http://www.minidisc.org and http://www.minidisc.org/equipment_browser.html - if you go nowhere else, try this site for reviews of anything mini-disc related. 

The ecoustics.com review page has brief reviews of many models.

There is a 'chatroom' to do with recording on the h:oral website. Go to http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/logsearch/ , limit the search to h-oralhist, and search for 'Recording'.

If you have any comments on the above, or if you would like to review any recording equipment from an interviewer's perspective, please contact us.


Last updated: 26/3/04
East Midland Oral History Archive Web maintainer
This document has been approved by the head of department or section.

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