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Old November 10th, 2008, 08:24 PM   #1
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Updating and/or Duplicating a Minidisc Recorder/AT822 Mic Setup

Hi,

For recording nature ambience (birds, creeks, etc.), I currently use a Sony digital MZ-NH 1 HI-MD minidisc recorder hooked up to an Audio-Technica AT822 omndirectional stereo microphone. This combination has worked well for my primary purpose of recording background sounds for nature documentaries.

My dad (who shares my interests) is currently looking at duplicating/upgrading portions of my multimedia equipment setup, so we can record natural sounds at the same time while living in different areas. Anyhow, I got my minidisc recorder in 2005 and am not sure what the current market is for devices like that. While my recorder works well, I was wondering if there might be better, more affordable options.

So, is there an alternate, more affordable device on the market that has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and can record sounds with quality similar to the uncompressed PCM linear audio that HI minidisc recorders provide? I was thinking maybe something that records to CF cards would work. Iíve had no problems using CF cards in photography for the last 3 years. Iím especially looking for something thatís portable and sturdy. I checked out some CF card recording devices online and most of them seem expensive and bulky with too many protruding buttons.

Currently, Iím looking into getting another Sony HI-MD recorder. My current recorder cost about $350, so Iím expecting my next one will too. While I record in PCM linear mode, I always have to convert my audio files to .WAV files so I can load them into Vegas 6.0 and Sound Forge 7.0.

The Sony MZ-M200 HI-MD Recorder looks like itís basically an updated version of what I already have and thatís the recorder Iím leaning toward getting. Still, reviews on it are mixed.

Also, I was planning on getting another AT822 microphone since the one I have has worked great. But, in the $200-400 price range, are there any other Audio-Technica omnidirectional stereo microphones that might work better for ambience? The AT822 is the only sensitive omni mic I have experience with. I know thereís the AT825, but Iím not technologically savvy enough to know if the extra $100 or so would be worth it for my basic nature ambience recording purposes. My main line of experience is videography and not audio production. Any input would be appreciated. Thanks a bunch.

Regards,
Tristan Howard
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Old November 11th, 2008, 05:11 AM   #2
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I think you'll find the AT822 and AT825 to be very similar mics. The main differences I note are the 822 is unbalanced and is powered by its internal battery only (AT cautions against applaying phantom power) while the 825 is balanced and can be powered either with phantom or its internal battery.

Minidisc is technology on its way out and there are a truckload of CF card based recorders on the market today to replace it. Zoom H2 and H4, Sony PCM D50, M-Audio Microtrack, Edirol R09, Marantz PMD620 and PMD670, and extending up from there.
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Old November 11th, 2008, 05:24 AM   #3
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There are newer/better rigs but for your budget stay with your current setup, the 16bit PCM audio is still current for CD work. And you'll have a backup system.

One big feature is the HI-MD discs hold 90mins and are cheap as chips. Try Ebay for recorders. There's also a mini-disc website.

The AT825 won't do plugwise, read up on your AT822, it's a stereo cardioid not omni. I wouldn't go below its quality. HTH.

Cheers.
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Old November 11th, 2008, 03:58 PM   #4
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I used to really like Hi-MD, but then Sony dropped their support for Macintosh and it has really soured me on the format (and Sony in general). Honestly, I can't see investing in any recorder that requires proprietary software from Sony just to gain access to your recordings. Even Minidisco appears to getting away from minidisc. Too bad. It was nice technology.
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Old November 12th, 2008, 04:49 AM   #5
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Take a look at Olympus LS-10. It is small, has great audio quality (as long as you do not belive the 24/96 claims) even with the built in mics and WAV & MP3 files can be transfered easily to any computer, at least if you use SD card, using a standard card reader.
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Old November 12th, 2008, 06:05 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marco Leavitt View Post
I used to really like Hi-MD, but then Sony dropped their support for Macintosh and it has really soured me on the format (and Sony in general). Honestly, I can't see investing in any recorder that requires proprietary software from Sony just to gain access to your recordings. Even Minidisco appears to getting away from minidisc. Too bad. It was nice technology.
Hi Marco,

"Dropped support?" I know that Mac support was one way and required their app when I reviewed the 200, but has something changed since then? BTW, here's my review. HMM For some reason the site will not accept my small PDF file. Here's the text.

Ty Ford
When do my singer/songwriter, wedding and event video shooters, radio news interviewers, concert tapers and podcaster friends ask me about inexpensive, high-quality (as in, at least 16/44.1) recording thingees? Always, always and then mostly....always.

Itís like the search for the Holy Grail. How much money do they want to spend? Sorry, thatís how LITTLE do they want to spend? What do they want to do with the audio? How fussy, how fragile, how much does the media cost?

For all of my assorted friends, the answer today, at this very moment, especially when a small, inconspicuous device capable of 16-bit/44.1 is needed, is the Sony MZ-M200 Hi-MD recorder. At just over four ounces with a 1 GB Hi-MD disc inserted and with 3.25 inch x 3.25 inch x .5 inch dimensions, this $439.00 quarter pounder is not cheesy. I am a little concerned by the fragility of the drive slot that open to receive the MD or Hi-MD discs. Overly rushed or inexperienced hands could bend those more delicate parts that shouldnít be bent. Gentle and gingerly operation will insure longevity with many happy recordings.

UPGRADED FEATURES
There are several significant features that differentiate the earlier MZ-M100 from the MZ-M200. In addition to linear PCM, the MZ-M200 supports ATRAC, ATRACC3 and ACTRAC C3Plus formats an will playback MPEG-1 Layer 3 (MP3) files from 32 kbps to 320 kbps, fixed or VBR.

You can use your existing MD disc supply for Hi-MD or regular MD recording, although, obviously, youíll use them up a lot faster. You can charge the 3.7V, 370 mAh Lithium Ion battery either by using the external power supply or by simply connecting the MZ-M200 via its USB cable to a powered USB port on a computer. Although you can use the included power cube for full operation under AC power, using only the USB cable as charger incapacitates the MZ-M200 for anything other than charging and offloading files to your computer.

The MZ-M200 records digitally via a mini-optical S/PDIF port, or via separate mini TRS mic or line level analog inputs. When you insert a mini-TRS mic plug into the MIC jack, the display indicates the recorder senses the change and automatically shifts from LINE to MIC. Levels can be automatically or manually adjusted. Using MANUAL RECORD which allows manual control of the input level, was a problem with the older MZ-M100 because the system reverted back to AGC mode every time recording was stopped. Once MANUAL is selected, the MZ-M200 stays in MANUAL record.

It takes about two seconds for the MZ-M200 to go from dead OFF into RECORD. Hit the RECORD toggle button and then PAUSE. Check and adjust the record level and hit PAUSE again and you are recording. While recording you can also toggle the MANUAL record level up or down; a very important feature. Like many disc recorders, when you hit the STOP button after recording, the system needs to close that file and prepare for another. This takes a number of seconds. If your job entails recording files in quick succession, itís probably best to hit PAUSE rather than STOP. Each time you hit RECORD, you can configure the MZ-M200 to create a new numbered GROUP of recordings. Each time you hit PAUSE while in RECORD, you increment a new index number within that GROUP number. Thatís a very handy and logical way to organize your files and you can also turn that feature off if you donít like it.

Although the Hi-MD Music Transfer software for Mac users shows cut number, duration, file size, codec, bit rate and YYYY/MO/DD, Group numbering isnít indicated. It may be on PCs, but Iím a Mac shop. Another Mac Limitation; Mac users can only transfer audio from the MZ-M200, not to it. You can use the MZ-M200 as a storage device for any sort of file, but you canít play audio files transferred to it from a Mac. PC users can take advantage of the supplied Sonic Stage software to achieve bi-directional transfer of audio from computer to the MZ-M200. Simple Burner also ďcomes withĒ and allows audio from a CD operating in one of your PC CD drives to pass directly through your PC to the MZ-M200.

The MZ-M200 has an extremely valuable HOLD button, I call the ďnervous groom disaster preventerĒ for wedding videographers. During any operation, including RECORD, engaging the HOLD button locks out all of the buttons from functioning. So when the groom fumbles around in his pocket for the wedding ring during the ceremony, he doesnít turn off the recorder. The hardwired remote control still functions even if the HOLD button on the MZ-M200 is set. If the HOLD button on the remote control and MZ-M200 are both set, all switches are locked out.
Playback pitch and +100/-50 speed control are supported as are sync recording from a digital source. You can Move and/or Erase individual tracks, parts of tracks or groups of tracks. Tracks or parts of tracks can be played back repeatedly. Several ambience programs, a six-band equalizer and a level normalizer are also included.

In addition to acting as a headphone extension, with playback volume control the hardwired remote control has its own small LCD display and hides a few extra features not accessible from the MZ-M200 itself. Its black-on-black control legends are very difficult to read. Not having a RECORD button on the remote control isnít a deal killer, but it would be nice for surreptitious recording. However, If you toggle the RECORD button on the MZ-M200 first to begin recording, you can use the PLAY/PAUSE/ENT nub on the remote control to toggle from RECORD to RECORD PAUSE, as long as you hold the nub down for about half a second or more. Quick closures are ignored.

IN USE
The MZ-M200 is a great bed side tool for singer/songwriters and busy executives, either of which may wake up in the middle of the night with thoughts that should be recorded before they are forgotten. The little stereo clip-on mic that comes with the MZ-M200 may not be of the best quality, but it plugs directly into the MZ-M200 or via a three-foot, RF suppressed, albeit vibration conducting, extension cord. You donít even have to turn the lights on. Just grab the recorder, toggle the RECORD button, wait two seconds and then spill your guts. Do so at a modest distance, the mic is very pop sensitive.

For higher quality recordings, simply use a better mic. I really like the Sony ECM 88 lav, which can be powered by a AA cell in its power supply. With a Female XLR to mini TRS cable with pin 2 wired to both tip and ring, I was able to get much better recordings with much less noise. To hear MP3 versions of the .wav files I recorded, go to and look in the Sony MZ-M200 folder in my Online Archive at www.tyford.com. The Sony ECM 88 with power supply, of course, costs more than the MZ-M200. You may already have other solutions in your audio bag if you need better quality recordings. Through my laptop speakers, the selfnoise of the little stereo mic was inaudible and its brightness did make it punch though better, but I still prefer the quieter, smoother ECM 88.
You could also attache the MZ-M200 to the unbalanced stereo output of any mixer and use it as a primary or backup audio recorder. For more pristine recordings, you could record with high-end studio gear and A/D converters and port that audio via the optical S/PDIF port on the MZ-M200.

IN CONCLUSION
Having experienced the MZ-M100, the MZ-M200 brings some fun features to the party. The menus arenít very deep. No, it doesnít have phantom power or even XLR inputs, but where inconspicuous size and 16-bit/44.1 stereo audio are appreciated or needed, the MZ-M200 delivers. Choose the pocket you put it in carefully. Sitting on it would definitely crush this dwarf.
Ty Ford has been reviewing gear for Pro Audio Review since the first issue. He may be reached at www.tyford.com.
Technique, Inc. © Copyright 2006 11/06
Applications: Anywhere 16-bit, 44.1 kHz stereo recordings are needed.
Key Features: Small, light-weight, transferrable files, USB battery charging, digital sync recording,
Price: $439.00
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Old November 12th, 2008, 10:24 AM   #7
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""Dropped support?" I know that Mac support was one way and required their app when I reviewed the 200, but has something changed since then?"


Yeah, the Sony software no longer works with the latest generation of Apple's operating system leaving me with dozens of Hi-MD discs I'm no longer able to access. I gather from the forums over at minidisc.org that there is a fair amount of anxiety over Sony's continued commitment to supporting even Windows software. One of the big attractions of HiMD is for archiving, and given the current situation, as far I'm concerned, that's way too dangerous. It's a tragedy, as the M200 is great little recorder.
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Old November 17th, 2008, 01:05 AM   #8
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Hi everyone,

Thanks a bunch for the detailed input. Steve, I especially thank you for the list of recorder names. I glanced at the specs on all of them and the M-Audio MicroTrack II is looking like my best bet at the moment. It has a rechargeable battery and uses CF cards. I already have extra CF cards on hand due to my photography hobby, so it would be nice to be able to use that format. The main things that didnít fit my needs with several of the other recorders were their lack of rechargeable battery capacity, their fancy built-in mics, and the fact that they used SD rather than CF cards. While reviews (at least the ones I viewed) on the M-Audio MicroTrack II were generally positive, someone did complain about a loud hiss on the mic gain level scale. Iím not sure what that scale is.

Steve, as for the 822 mic being unbalanced; is that really a disadvantage? I mean, for bird sounds and whatnot, would a balanced mic make a significant positive difference? Iím guessing as long as Iím in remote areas, it probably wouldnít. Also, Iím assuming phantom power implies a recorder can use power from the recording device itís connected to. I always I had the batteries in my mic when I used it and Iíve never had a phantom power conflict with my minidisc recorder. Anyway, I noticed the warning about using phantom power. Iím assuming that as long as I use my 822 mic with the AA batteries in it, I should be okay. I guess the phantom power problem would occur if I tried to run my mic without batteries.

Allan, thanks for your input. Iím assuming that since the 825 is balanced, its plug configuration wouldnít work with the sockets on my minidisc recorder. Anyhow, I figured Iíd just get another AT822. I did read up on my mic and itís indeed stereo cardioid and I didnít see any ďomniĒ references on the specifications sheet. I guess I figured because my mic wasnít shotgun and seemed to pick up most surrounding elements that it was omni. My auditory ignorance is pretty blatant. I feel kind of embarrassed I didnít pick up on the stereo cardioid stuff earlier. Anyway, I now know the 822 can capture a natural sounding arc of about 170 degrees. I guess an omni mic would pick up a 360 degree natural arc. It looks like ďcardioidĒ generally means ďunidirectional.Ē

Anyhow, to the contributors on this thread: thanks again for all your input. These forums have been sort of like film school for meóbut much cheaper. Take care.

Regards,
Tristan Howard
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Old November 17th, 2008, 02:06 AM   #9
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Mic patterns range from omnidirectional through wide cardioid, cardioid, hypercardioid, and super-cardioid as their directivity increases from completely undirectional 360 degree pickup to relatively narrow uni-directionality.

"Balanced" does not always mean "better" nor are unbalanced mics always inferior. It's true that most of the higher quality mics sold these days are balanced but it's not the balancing that makes them high quality but rather the market that they are aimed at. Virtually all professional sound reinforcement and recording equipment uses balanced connections for the increased noise immunity it offers and so mics made for the professional market will likewise be balanced to mate with it. But there are a lot of balanced mics out there, such as some of the music store mic kits sold for garage bands for example, that would be pretty marginal for serious recording use. There's a big difference between the sound of a $75 music store house brand mic and a $2500 Schoeps or Neumann even though both connect with balanced cable.

As to whether to get the balanced 825 or the unbalanced 822, I would expect you'll find no signifigant quality difference at all. Get whichever mates with your other recording and mixing gear. The reason for Audio Technica's cautions about the 822 and phantom power is that it uses a 3-conductor XLR-M connector for its output. This is the standard conector normally used for MONO balanced connections, usually also providing phantom power, but this particular mic has non-standard wiring so even though it appears to be plug compatible, plugging it into a regular XLR mic input won't work and applying phantom power would damage it.

BTW, I see from the Audio Technica site that the 822 has been replaced by an updated version, the AT8022, that can be used with either balanced or unbalanced inputs depending on the cable you use and will accept phantom when used with the balanced cable.

An omni stereo mic would be a contradiction in terms. In order to have two distinct left and right channels, a stereo mic has to pickup sounds coming from left or right, front or back, differently in each channel. If a sound located, say, 45 degrees left of the center-line was picked up equally by both the left and right channel elements, as would be the case with an omni mic, there would be no difference in the two signals to generate the stereo effect when listening to the recording. Two overlapping cardioid directional patterns, one angled toward the left and the other angled toward the right, would give you the different sounds coming from the left and right speakers that you need.
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