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Impression: D-777/Sony R900/Atrac/Mp3

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
Well, after months of searching and anticipation my Sony D-777 portable cd player - much celebrated here at Head-Fi - finally arrived this afternoon. It was purchased used at Ebay for sixty dollars. Aesthetically, it's a beautiful player - dark grey, thin, sleek with just the right amount of controls (although the side placed buttons are a pain). I have two minor gripes: No LED display on the unit and the fact that you can't access the line out with the external battery pack attached. I'm forgetful and always not remembering to recharge my batteries and, wasteful as it is, I end up using alkalines all the time. So, it would have been nice to access the line out with the battery pack on. But onward...

For my first test of the player's sonics I am using the following set up. For my cans, I'm using my Senn HD600. To give them enough power I'm running both sources through a Total Airhead. (Since they're both using the Airhead, I'm discounting the Airhead's own "personality" - which I like, by the way). The two units I'm comparing are my Sony R900 mini disc and the famed Sony (discontinued) D-777 player.

Well, things change...

At first I was going to write this a review of the D-777, but I suppose what really develops out of this test is a comparison of ATRAC (minidisc) compression versus uncompressed auido. Both the D-777 and R900 minidisc are very good sounding machines. Having not heard a D-777 before, my first impression of the player is its wonderful smoothness. For those using Grados, this would probably be a top pick player. It has a very full-bodied sound, rich without any harshness or tendency toward sibilance (or course the HD600s help). If the current crop of Sony tend to emphasis treble, I can understand why the D-777 is sought after by portable guys. Mikey, I like it! Another quick impression is that you wouldn't want to use Headroom's crossfeed on the TA with a D-777. The sound becomes way just to bassy. Without the crossed I find the sound of the D-777 richer and more melodic than the R900. This is most likely due to the music compression, which I'm coming to.

Now to comparing the ATRAC compression scheme of the R900 uncompressed audio. Well, simply put, ATRAC loses. Now I love minidisc, it's a brillant format (for portablity, recording, organising, everything...) and it sounds so much better than Mp3. A few days ago I experimented encoding a song with the highest quality Mp3 settings (size be damned) and the Mp3 never touched the un-encoded song. Now listening to ATRAC versus a CD, I can hear that ATRAC does manage to tromp Mp3. The ATRAC compression is far less noticable than Mp3 encoded song I made. But compression is compression.

I'm listening to Track Four of the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. (It consists of a woman singing acapella backed up by a chorus). In the R900 is the minidisc I made (optical out Sony ES player). I'm a visually oriented person and the best way I can liken the difference in sound with a visual analogy. Quite simply the ATRAC/R900 sound is "flattened". The vocals on the D-777 hang rounded in space. Fullest soudning in the center and tapering off in three-dimensions (and evenly) around the voice creating a believable, solid image. Whereas I can still "see" where the voice is on the ATRAC recording - it just hangs there ia bit flattened in space without a true sense of roundness. (Does this sound crazy?, Sorry.). Anyway, sorry for the strange analogy, but like I say, I'm visually oriented. Anyway, that "flatness" (a touch of a "dryness" or "cardboard" quality is another way of putting it.) was FAR more noticable with a top quality encoded Mp3; and although it's still noticeable on the R900/Atrac, I find the minidisc sound much more rewarding. Of course the CD/D-777's sound is the most fullbodied and "rounded".

Has this stopped me from loving my R900 for the last eight months to death? No way. Minidisc, it's marvellous and sounds marvellous. I'm noting small degrees of improvement. F@$k, we're not talking $20 Walkmans here.

So how's the D-777 overall? (I'm now listening the the Elvis Costello, Burt Bacharach collaboration. Nice) It's a very sweet sounding portable! I glad everyone recommended the player to me. Last week in some obscure shop I spotted a pair of E888s for $35 dollars but they had this weird "mini" plug I'd never seen. Now I know where that plug fits. I'm on my way to that shop tommorow! Cheers.

post #2 of 13
Nice review! I think you're basically picking up the difference between CDs and compressed formats. I'm only recently starting to learn to hear the differences myself. CDs, when heard off a good source, just sound much airier. I could hear this even from my Panasonic 570 compared back to an MP3. The difference is even greater when I jump over to my big boy 9000ES (which is ultimately what taught me how to look for compressed sound). Funny because before I had my 9000, I could swear MP3s, MDs, and CDs all sounded alike, regardless of how good the CDP was. That was back when all I looked for was detail and tonality and soundstaging. It took me a while to retrain my ears to realize that better CDPs don't improve on those areas, as those areas have pretty much been perfected in this day and age...rather one has to listen for that airy feeling seperating instruments and just embracing vocals. That airy feeling being present is a good sign that the player you're listening to is top notch.

Last week in some obscure shop I spotted a pair of E888s for $35 dollars but they had this weird "mini" plug I'd never seen.
That's actually a microplug you saw...Sony used it on their first lineup of portables that had remotes, in order to make the earphones proprietary. Needless to say, people weren't too happy about this, and they went back to normal 1/8th plugs after that. Remotes just don't use microplugs anymore, hence the low price on those 888s.
post #3 of 13
Good review, however I know MD is capable of even better performance than recording on a R900. Try one of the better home units, with better ADC's and Atrac Type-R, i.e. a JB930 or JB940 and I think you will get noticeably better performance. I get good recordings with my portables but not like my home deck.
I'm not saying it will equal CD but just like PCDP compared to a quality home CD, the portable doesn't cut it.

Also if you got a remote with your D-777 it has a microplug jack for those 888's.
post #4 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote: "Compared to a quality home CD, the portable doesn't cut it."

That's why I intend to completely and solely emmerse myself in the world of portable audio. Hand me that AM.

Oh, jeez, that means it's back to the Corda. Will this torture never end...

post #5 of 13
I will be visit Thailand in less than a week. Can u tell me where did u found the e888 with miniplug at??? MBK center or other place. I have the D777 as well, and this thing is the best discman I've heard. Awesome sound quality, and give you a really realistic details.
Nice review and please, tell me the place where can I get the E888 (micro plug at). Thanks a lot.

By the way, MD rocks!!!
post #6 of 13
Thread Starter 
Purk, if I show you where the 888s are will you show me the way back to the steel river to buy a Sharp 831 (US$200 -o.k.?), I'll never find that place again! Was it by the Giant Swing?
post #7 of 13

Re: Impression: D-777/Sony R900/Atrac/Mp3

Originally posted by chadbang
I'm listening to Track Four of the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. (It consists of a woman singing acapella backed up by a chorus). In the R900 is the minidisc I made (optical out Sony ES player).
Well i have a question regarding the Optical recording, i record via analog and it sounds great, and i have read that the analog recording is superior. Now of course i haven't tested this, so i was wondering if you also tried an analog copy and see how that stacked up to the CD version, i'm curious to know how much of a difference there is between Analog and Optical MD recording, if any at all.

post #8 of 13
i have read that the analog recording is superior
Where did you read that? Unfortunately, it's nowhere close to being true

Digital MD recordings are superior to analog. For one thing, there are no levels to set. But you also skip two levels of conversion by going straight digital.
post #9 of 13
Geez, i cant remember it was a few years back when i first picked up a MD player (circa Spring 1999). Hmmm...i think it may be time to upgrade to a receiver with a optical port for MD.

But i do like setting my own recording level, is there anyway to still set it, you know some older cds are a little low on volume!

post #10 of 13
as of course most of you know, digital recording through md's usually use optical cables (sometimes coaxial). Optical cables send light signals through fibre optics. The data is processed as "1's" and "0's", the signal being completely digital. Analog connections send electromagnetic signals across a conducting medium (usually copper). The signal is an analog sound signal.

As for the microplug, i have a bit of information. If you want to use headphones through the remote, sony does have some solutions. If you go to an Official Sony Parts Distributor (email sony for info), they should be able to order a microplug-miniplug converter. Sony asia also offers some models that have microplugs right on the headphones themselves.

btw: anybody have pics of this cd player?? i've never seen it before...
post #11 of 13
Then i'm curious to know/understand why people think Vinyl (analog source) is better sounding than CD (digital source). I have a collection and records and listen to them from time to time, they do sound wonderful, but i assume folks here must have some wicked equipment so their vinyl sounds great. I wonder how MD is affected (sound quality wise) when analog recordings are made (does it add hiss or just some sort of degradation in sound quality?).

post #12 of 13
It depends on what source your going through. My analog cables are also very good at picking up annoying ground loop hum. Since optical is just light of 1's and 0's, it shouldn't include any hissing from the source or outside factors. I do think that analog does pick up some, as my MD does. There is a lot of humming in my recordings, no matter which source i go to. I think it could be the fact that i always record with my portable hooked up to an AC adaptor, not even a sony one (i have a sony mzr37), but instead i use a generic AC i got from walmart.

There is so much humming in my recordings, that it doesn't even put in track marks when 3 seconds of blank goes through (its supposed to put in a track mark on analog if there is more than 3 seconds of no sound).
post #13 of 13
Analog recording is not as good because you are adding an extra DA/AD process to the recording.

Digital transfer this is a non-issue and the weakness is only that of the DAC of your MD player (same as above).

The way you are recording has very little to do with vinyl vs CD comparisons. It is just as easily possible that a vinyl -> CD transfer is inferior to the original with the same exact reasoning that you are adding a AD process.

Regardless of medium, the less superflous conversion processes the better.
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