Damaged Gears

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Damage Reviews: D-NE20

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A Quickie review, not quite old enough to be considered retro by any means. This did appear in Atraclife’s fourms first, as will most of my Atrac gears before I make them public here.

D-NE20 is the current top of the line ATRAC CD player. So by Sony’s standard, it has to have the following to qualify as such: Full Metal Construction, smallest form factor, heaps of accessories, unique problems that doesn’t plague other players of the same generation or such.

Whattya mean unique problems? We’ll get to that in a moment.

The player comes with the following accessories: Dock, 1x 1200mah Gumstick, 3V AC Adaptor, RM-MC53 Remote, 1x AA battery pack, cloth carrying case, Earbuds (909SP earbuds, iirc).

This player builds upon the improvements found in D-NE900, what is probably agreed by most as one of the best PCDP offering by Sony since D-EJ2000, a high compliment. It uses the same “UFO” design, that it tapers off at the bottom and is no bigger than a CD Diameter wise, and no thicker than 1.5 – 2 jewel cases. In fact, Sony touts the D-NE20 as the world’s lightest and thinnest full-sized CD Player. And it feels incredibly small in your hands, especially compared to other, cheaper, PCDPs. Make no mistake, most of your money’s going to the size of the CD Player, or its lack of.

Only the “silver” color is available in the US, and it’s more reminiscient of iPod white than Silver (as was the D-NE900’s iPod mini Silver color Silver). But it’s the “anodized” aluminium white, not pure white. As such, the CD player itself doesn’t pick up any scratches that shows. It’s a rather beautiful player to behold, especially sitting in its matching dock.

Now, the second thing that comes to the mind after “gee whiz it’s beautiful” is how do you control these thing? Thankfully, a set of control buttons are located on the bottom of the player (!). With all 8 buttons, you can control the volume, stop, pause/play, skip your groups forward and backward, and tracks forward and backward. However, these controls lack any way to alter the SQ or do advanced searching. That requires the brand spanking new RM-MC53.

With the remote, you can search through the disc and find individual tracks, apply your favorite parametric EQ settings, make remote do fancy animation, and control your disc’s playback amongst other thing. First new button you’re bound to notice is the Search Button. And it stinks. You have to use the volume jog and the group jog wheel to control the search function. Counter-intuitutive isn’t the word to describe it, it’s nigh unusable. Even with fumbling with it for months on end, I’ve still not gotten the search down pat. The RM-MC40ELK’s remote was a joy, this is torture in un-named prison camp in that forgotten country best left unspoken.

It stinks.

Talk about another thing that stinks: Media compatibility. If it pukes on a Japanese made CD-Rs, I’d hate to think what it would do with cheaper media made elsewhere. Oddly, it seems to hit the first few and last few tracks (seemingly), especially on MP3 and ATRAC CDs. It pukes on good media burned at 12x, 16x, 24x, so I hate to see what it does with generic media made elsewhere to save on labor costs…

Update: Running the disc with low bitrate files (64kbps) has no adverse affect on the playback. That is, it doesn’t stop unexpectedly in the middle and respins the disc. This has a hallmark of a bad firmware bug and should’ve been caught in the QA process, considering it is next to impossible to upgrade the firmware with D-NE series. Huzzah!

Having said that, the main thing that counts is the sound quality, isn’t it? And it lives up to the D-NE900 and D-NE1 quite well.

The redbook playback is pretty good, with strong and fast vocals. The instrumentation plays the supporting role. Not to say that the trebles or bass lines get lost in the playback, not at all. In fact, with Clearbass turned to 3 (and with proper headphones), the bass get nice and deep without the obvious distortion that Digital Megabass adds. However, you’re listening to the singer and the instrumentation rounds out the entire presentation into a singular experience. The Redbook playback just emphasizes that experience here-the singer/vocalist is the main attraction and the band is… supporting cast.

The parametric equalizer, once you get used to the remote’s quirks, can help you round out your listening experience. That I consider gravy on what is a pretty good experience. But who really listens to CD these days right? After all, who listens to Vinyl?

So, here comes a bit of a contentious part, the MP3 and ATRAC playback. As you may or may not be aware, RH line of HiMD players seemingly “handicapped” MP3 playback by a bug where the higher frequencies of MP3s are clipped. Is this the case with D-NE20? No. At least, not to my experience. However, you’re going to get angry here, as the unit is very finicky about media and formats…

So, if you can find good media that the D-NE20 likes, and plays without major problems, you’ll generally like the sound quality of the D-NE20. It’s certainly better than RH910’s default MP3 playback, though I’d say it won’t compare to redbook nor other mp3 player’s playback. For instance, those of you who likes the bright sounds of iPod’s playback will notice that it isn’t bright as iPod. Not to say that it isn’t “detailed.” Two different things. Brightness to me is that subtle harshness in the extreme high ends. Think cymbols and that ssshhhhh sound. iPods have more of a metallic ring to it whereas it’s more softer and rounder on D-NE20. Oh, yes. More bass on the D-NE20. It’s that traditional Sony sound that you’re used to by now. Nothing fantastic, but nothing dramatically wrong either.

As for ATRAC3plus playback? I’ll say its par with other ATRAC products that has the Digital AMP. If memory serves, the non-digital AMPed units have bit more bass oomph at the expense of bit of background noise. And both of these units can’t hold a candle to the HD Digital Amp flavored NH1. It’s what you’d expect from ATRAC products, so I won’t go to that much detail here. However, the SQ on the D-NE20 can be improved with the Parametric EQ, I think, better than the standard 6-band EQ. And, again, ClearBass goes a long way in adding that extra oomph in bass. Oddly (or expectedly?) the choice of media fares better here vs. MP3s.

Overall, the D-NE20 is the most advanced PCDP devised by Sony thus far. However, the unit is hampered by crappy UI with the poorly designed remote. If you have a 2nd generation ATRAC CD unit, you should probably do well to stay away from them.

Good: Digital Amp, ClearBass, Redbook Sound Quality
Bad: Finicky about MP3 and Media
Ugly: RM-MC55 and its useless Search. Showstopping Firmware Bug (see below).

Score: 50 (F)

Update: I’m running the disc with some of the low-bitrate files that I burned several eons ago. Surpringly, the disc doesn’t puke as it would with high-bitrate file. I’d chalk that up as a firmware bug and a bit of a showstopper one at that. I’ve readjusted score to reflect the bug…

Written by Damage

01/27/06 at 7:04 am

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