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MZ-1

(1992)

MZ-1, picture by Nick Jarman

The MZ-1 was the machine that introduced the MiniDisc format. Just like the Philips Compact Cassette the emphasis was on portability and convenience so it was only right that the first release should be a portable model. By the standards that would follow the MZ-1 was a sizable piece of equipment, similar in bulk to a turn of the decade Discman model of a few years previously. Sony had done themselves no favours in this respect by making it slot-loading with power operation (like a video recorder), later MD models would on the whole use a simpler door type mechanism that considerably reduced the size and complexity. Text copyright © Walkman Central. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.

The MZ-1 could record for up to 74 minutes, although 80 minute discs would appear later. Recordings could be made from a microphone, an analogue line-level source and from a digital source via an optical cable. Unusually, both input and output connections could be made optically, although it was not possible to make a digital copy of a disc that was itself already a copy by connecting two MD recorders together, the SCMS (Serial Copy Management System) software blocked any attempt. This was the birth of DRM (Digital Rights Management), although back in 1992 it was not the big issue that it is now. Analogue recordings could be made in an unrestricted manner, despite the complex digital circuitry the recording level could still be set manually using a small thumbwheel whilst a display much like the level meter on a conventional tape recorder showed when the correct setting was obtained. Text copyright © Walkman Central. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.

Once made, recordings could be divided, combined, deleted and named, all new experiences to those used to tape recording. A small keyboard made the titling operations much less tedious than they would become on the later, smaller models, although each track name could only be a maximum of 20 characters long. Playback worked in the same way as a regular Discman CD player, a bass expansion function was included although the “Mega Bass” name was not used on this occasion. Power came from a special rechargeable battery (BP-MZ1) that could be recharged in the machine in around an hour using an external mains adaptor. At this stage the heavy power consumption meant that conventional dry batteries would have been impractical, even a fully charged BP-MZ1 would only last for about two hours. Text copyright © Walkman Central. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.

The MZ-1 introduced the idea of compressed digital sound recoding to the home user. It employed the original form of Sony’s ATRAC codec which was capable of reasonable results. The MZ-1 could not hope to match the quality of results that Sony’s uncompressed PCM-based portable DAT recorders could manage but it was also cheaper and a lot easier to handle. DAT tapes could not be edited with the ease that was a characteristic of MD and the problem of poor head life that dogged DAT was not a problem either. The MZ-1 was also outperformed by the WM-D6C which was greatly cheaper and used standard cassettes but gave better results than the average cassette Walkman of the day. This did not make it a realistic alternative to cassettes at this stage, it was too big, too expensive and had too short a battery life. All these problems would be eventually resolved in the models that followed. Text copyright © Walkman Central. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.

At around the time that the MZ-1 was announced Philips launched DCC (Digital Compact Cassette), another compression-based home digital recording format. Most of the early DCC models were full-sized Hi-Fi separates designs, although there were a few portables. Like DAT, DCC suffered from the slow track access problem that is common to all tape systems. This did not help to popularise what turned out to be a largely unwanted product. It disappeared completely after only a few years. MD also eventually ended up as a commercial disappointment that failed to outlive the Compact Cassette format that it was intended to replace. Text copyright © Walkman Central. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.

The MZ-1 isn’t as widely known today as the TPS-L2 or the D-50 but it still deserves to be remembered as a great Sony “first”. Text copyright © Walkman Central. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.