Sony | MDS-JE440 | User's Manual | Sony MDS-JE440 User's Manual

Product Review
Sony MDS-JE440 MiniDisc Deck
Reviewed by Gary Galo
Sony MDS-JE440 MiniDisc Deck. Sony
Electronics, Inc., Consumer Audio Division, 1 Sony Drive, Park Ridge, NJ
07656. 1-800-222-7669 or (941) 768-7669,
FAX (941) 768-7790,
Suggested retail price: $250.
The MDS-JE440 is Sony’s bottom-of-theline MiniDisc deck (Photo 1). It is intended to be used as a component within a complete home audio system, and
not for portable use (for portable field
recording, Sony manufactures a complete line of portable MiniDisc
recorders with microphone inputs). The
MDS-JE440 is styled to match Sony’s
CDP-XE400 and XE500 Compact Disc
players (reviewed in audioXpress August 2001).
The MiniDisc has been around for
nearly ten years. Sony introduced it in
1992 as a means of making digital
recording affordable to the consumer.
The MiniDisc has the same sampling
rate and bit rate as the Compact Disc.
But, the MiniDisc is only 2½″ in diameter. In order to achieve the same
recording and playing time as the CD,
a severe amount of data compression—
about 5:1—is used during the recording
Sony’s compression system is known
as ATRAC, for Adaptive TRansform
Acoustic Coding. In developing the
ATRAC system, Sony employed psychoacoustic principles to determine
what types of information loss are the
least readily discernible to the human
ear. In the early years of the MiniDisc,
the format’s sound quality left a great
deal to be desired. The MiniDisc
seemed like a giant step backwards—at
a time when the CD was beginning to
sound like music, the MiniDisc was a
return to the harsh, edgy, dry sound of
early digital audio.
Much has changed since the intro-
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PHOTO 1: The Sony MDS-JE440 MiniDisc Deck and supplied remote control. This entrylevel component MiniDisc recorder is intended for use with a complete audio system, and
matches the styling of Sony’s CDP-XE400 and XE500 CD players.
duction of the format.
Sony has continued to
improve the ATRAC system, and their compression algorithms have
evolved to the point
where the MiniDisc is
now gaining some respect, especially among
those who need a
portable recording system of reasonably high
quality. The MDS-JE440
uses Sony’s DSP Type R
algorithms, which Sony
calls ATRAC 3.
The MiniDisc is a magne- PHOTO 2: Sony Premium Gold MiniDisc. The media is
to-optical recording for- only 2½″ in diameter, and the case measures only 2 ¹³₁₆ ×
mat using the Sony Mag- 2 ¹¹₁₆″.
netic Field Modulation
system, which uses both heat and mag- nent impression in the particles in the
netism. During recording, the laser disc’s recording layer. This system is a
beam heats the recording medium, significant departure from conventionwhile a magnetic field applied to the al magneto-optical (MO) recorders, as
other side of the disc leaves a perma- explained in a link on Sony’s website:
Choosing and Using Digital Audio
Recording Media.”
Photo 2 shows a Sony Premium Gold
MiniDisc, which is housed in a small
plastic cartridge measuring only 2 ¹³₁₆ ×
2 ¹¹₁₆″. These premium MiniDiscs are
manufactured with a shock-absorbing
mechanism that reduces the transmission of vibrations made by the recorder
or player to the disc itself. They are
available five to a pack for around $15 in
retail stores. Sony and several other
manufacturers make cheaper media for
less critical applications.
PHOTO 3: Inside the MDS-JE440. A handful of proprietary Sony chips make up most of the
Conventional MO recorders employ
a fixed magnetic field, switching the
laser beam on and off. With this system, a portion of the disc must be completely erased before you can record
on it. This requires separate erase and
record passes, doubling the time it
takes to make a recording, or separate
erase and record lasers, which significantly increase the complexity and the
cost. The MiniDisc overcomes this
problem by keeping the laser beam
constant and varying the magnetic
In playback, a low-level laser beam is
used, one that does not heat the disc.
The changes in magnetic polarity
cause the polarization angle of the reflected light to change. Pre-recorded
MiniDiscs are manufactured using a
molding process, but the reflections
from the molded surface are compatible with the MiniDisc’s laser pickup.
All MiniDisc players are designed to
play both pre-recorded and recordable
HHB, manufacturer of some of the
finest professional CD and MiniDisc
recorders and media available, has published an excellent guide to the various
current digital recording formats. This
document is available for download in
.PDF format. Go to
uk/usa.htm, and click on “Brochures,
Manuals and Ads,” then click on
“Brochures.” Look for “A Guide to
PHOTO 4: Close-up of the mechanism, showing the laser and magnet assemblies.
Photo 3 shows the inside of the MDSJE440. Nearly all of the circuitry is contained in proprietary Sony surfacemount integrated circuits. The A/D and
D/A converters use Sony’s Wide Bit
Stream technology. The A/D converters
are 24-bit, and the Hybrid Pulse D/A
converter operates in conjunction with
an 8× oversampling digital filter.
Surface-mount IC op amps are used
for the analog amplification circuitry.
My unit was supplied with 4570 types—
these are not listed on the NJR
website, but it is probably safe to assume that they are superior to the
usual 5532 or 4558 types still found
in some consumer gear. The MDSJE440 contains a conventional (i.e.,
non-switching) power supply.
Photo 4 is a close-up of the mechanism. The laser assembly faces upward,
toward the bottom of the MiniDisc. The
magnet assembly is located above the
laser assembly.
Photo 5 shows the same close-up
with a MiniDisc inserted, and the play-
PHOTO 5: Close-up of the mechanism with disc inserted and the
deck in the record mode. The magnet assembly makes physical
contact with the top side of the MiniDisc.
audioXpress October 2001 75
System: MiniDisc digital audio system
Media speed: 400 to 900 rpm (CLV)
Error correction: Advanced Cross Interleave Reed
Solomon Code
Sampling frequency: 44.1kHz
Coding: ATRAC-3
Modulation system: EFM (Eight-to-Fourteen)
Number of channels: 2 (stereo)
Frequency response: 5Hz–20kHz, ±0.3dB
Signal-to-noise ratio: 96dB
Wow and flutter: Below measurable limit
Analog input: 500mV RMS; 47kΩ
Headphone output: 28mW; 32Ω
Analog out: 2V RMS; 50kΩ
Power consumption: 15W
Dimensions: 17 × 3¾ × 11¼″
Weight: 6 lbs 10 oz
er operating in the record mode. During recording, the magnet assembly actually makes physical contact with the
top side of the disc. Like Sony’s low-end
CD players, the MDS-JE440 is quite
solidly built.
The MDS-JE440 comes with stereo analog inputs and outputs, plus a Toslink
optical digital input. (A more expensive
model, the MDS-JE640, also has a
Toslink digital output, plus Toslink and
S/PDIF coax digital inputs.) The digital
input is intended for making digital
copies of CDs, DATs, or any other digital format from a player with a Toslink
Making digital copies of commercial
CDs that you already own is perfectly
legal as long as the copies are for your
personal use. Making copies of your
friend’s CDs is not legal. The MDSJE440 uses the Serial Copy Management System, which allows you to
make a first-generation digital copy of a
commercial CD, but you will not be able
to make subsequent copies from the
first-generation copy. The MDS-JE440
has a built-in sampling rate converter,
allowing you to make digital copies
from 32kHz or 48kHz sources, as well
as the standard 44.1kHz.
In the conventional stereo mode, you
can record up to 74 minutes on a MiniDisc. But, the MDS-JE440 has three additional modes that allow longer
recording time. The LP2 and LP4 stereo
modes allow two or four times the normal recording time, respectively. There
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is a corresponding loss of fidelity, however, since the level of data reduction
increases at a rate proportional to the
increase in recording time.
There is also a mono mode, which
gives double the recording time, but
with the same fidelity as the normal
stereo mode. Recordings made using
the LP2 or LP4 mode can only be
played on MiniDisc players supporting
the LP format (not all do).
Using the basic recording and playback functions on the MDS-JE440 is as
simple as operating a cassette deck.
The bar-graph recording level indicator is not active until you press
The deck allows you to adjust the
recording level for both analog and
digital inputs.
If you have a CD that was recorded at
a low level, the MDS-JE440 allows you
to change the level while making a direct digital copy. I know of few professional CD recorders or DAT recorders
that allow you to change recording levels while recording via the digital inputs (HHB, Marantz, and Sony have recently introduced professional CD
recorders with this feature). This can be
an extremely useful feature, and I’m
amazed to find it in a low-cost consumer product (and I wish that I had it
in my professional CD recorder).
When the level indicator is not active, time and track information is displayed. Unlike most DAT or CD
recorders, the level indicator will not
function during playback.
The MDS-JE440 is loaded with features. The Synchro-recording feature
automatically copies track numbers
from a CD when digital copying is used.
You can manually add index points
during the recording process by simply
pressing the RECORD button.
During playback, you can select specific tracks either with the remote control or by turning the AMS (Automatic
Music Sensor) button. This is the same
AMS system used by Sony in their lowcost CD players. The deck allows you to
repeat a specific track, and also has
shuffle play. You can even produce
your own program by selecting specific
tracks for playback, in whatever order
you choose.
Editing functions are also included
on the MDS-JE440. The deck allows
you to erase a specific track or even a
portion within a track. You can also divide a track already recorded by
adding a new track number within an
existing track. You can also combine
tracks by eliminating a previous track
number. Whenever you add or remove
track numbers, the remaining tracks
are automatically renumbered. You
can also move tracks around, changing the order in which the various
tracks appear, and you can add names
to previously recorded tracks. The
MDS-JE440 even allows you to change
the recorded level of any track, after
that track has been recorded! You can
reverse any editing operation with the
UNDO function. A full-featured remote
control is supplied with the deck, and
runs on a pair of AA batteries (supplied by Sony).
I evaluated the sonic performance of
the MDS-JE440 by making copies of
some of my reference CD tracks onto
MiniDisc via the Toslink digital interconnect and listening to the results
using the player’s analog outputs connected to my main system. The MiniDisc was not intended to compete sonically with the Compact Disc, and indeed it does not. But, I was surprised
that the results were as good as they
The MiniDisc dubs show a dryness
and a loss of ambience. The soundstage
is also reduced in size, and there is a
slight edge in the high frequencies and
a graininess added to the texture. Note,
however, that I auditioned this unit with
my reference system. A system such as
mine is an unlikely place for a MiniDisc
deck to reside. When matched with
components of comparable price and
quality, the degradation caused by the
digital compression will be subtle, or
may go unnoticed altogether.
I remember how distressed I was
with the sound of CD players back in
the late-1980s. The MDS-JE440 sounds
considerably better than a stock
Philips/Magnavox player from that vintage (a CDB460, for example; we still
have dozens of these in service at The
Crane School of Music, so finding one
for comparison was no problem).
I also copied several CDs using the
deck’s analog inputs, fed from my preamp’s tape outputs. The sound quality
was not quite as good as the direct digital copies, but quite respectable
nonetheless. Used via its digital or analog inputs, the MDS-JE440 is sonically
superior to any analog cassette deck
I’ve used.
One obvious place for the MiniDisc
is in applications where portability is
important. Many people who jog, walk,
or otherwise like to spend time on the
go with their music find portable CD
players just a bit too large to be convenient. I often see people jogging while
carrying a portable CD player in hand—
a nuisance to be sure. Portable MiniDisc players are now available that are
barely larger than the disc itself—they
are truly “pocket-size.”
The MDS-JE440 is an ideal recorder
for making copies of CDs for portable
use. At our music school, a number of
students and faculty have found the
MiniDisc format ideal for making
recordings of rehearsals, and even audition tapes. Again, the MiniDisc
sounds considerably better than an
analog cassette, and is well-suited to
this purpose.
Mated with a couple of affordable
microphones and one of the small
Behringer mixers (July 2001 review),
the MDS-JE440 can form the core of a
respectable low-cost digital recording
system. Behringer’s bottom-of-the-line
MX602A, with a street price of less
than $100, will be ideal where only two
microphones are needed. The MiniDisc deck won’t equal the quality of a
DAT recorder, but unless you’re pressing commercial CDs from your material, you may find the format to be quite
pensive consumer product.
There are many applications where
the sonic performance of the MiniDisc
will more than fit the bill. For those applications, the MDS-JE440 deserves a
solid recommendation.
The MiniDisc has come a long way in
the last ten years. It is not, and was
never intended to be, a high-end, audiophile quality recording format. But, the
sound quality of the MDS-JE440 is nothing short of remarkable for the price.
The street price of the MDS-JE440 is
now less than $200, and I find it quite
amazing that this level of sonic performance, plus such an abundance of features, can be built into such an inex-
audioXpress October 2001 77
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