No matter how much Sony tries it seems that the MiniDisc phenomena never quite gets there, even when it succeeded in replacing audio tape. MiniDisc offers re-writable media that is small in shape and cheap to buy, frequently less than a pound whether in singles or packs.
However Apple's Ipod-style “dump and buy again” strategy was the norm for MD players since the format's late-1990s resurgence at the expense of promoting hi-fi separates and in-card decks. Sony alone is pushing the technology forward while licensees like Sharp and Panasonic earn sales on features and design. The MZ-NF810 is the latest incarnation to the Sony MiniDisc series and it hopes to once-and-for-all break out of the cycle.
Measuring a mere 20mm deep and no bigger than the size of the MiniDisc itself, the brushed aluminium case helps to convey that cold yet solid look that could, if need be take a good battering.
The player itself uses LCD screen for tracklistings and other such information as well as offering all the buttons you'll need to get the most out of the device. There are Mic and Line In sockets for connecting to either a microphone or hi-fi and for the computer savvy, the unit offers USB connectivity to the PC.
The MZ-NF-810 is powered by a rechargeable Ni-MH battery with the additional option of adding the dry battery dock that takes one AA battery (included in the box) to the player to get an even longer life. This is a nice feature as it not only means you can last longer without the need of recharging, but also gives you the best of both worlds if you run out of juice mid flow.
While most of the controls can be found on the device, radio operation can only be performed on the adjoining remote control. Pressing that button stops the MiniDisc player in its tracks and allows the radio to spring into life. While this is obviously key if you are intent on listening to the radio the location of the button means that it is all too easily pressed and all too easily leading to quick frustration.
Like the main unit, the remote too has a largish LCD screen again displaying all the relevant information at the press of a button, but also allows you quick access to the controls if the main unit is out of eyes reach. While it is useful to have this all at the reach of a hand the buttons there has been no visible improvement on the problems experienced on the MZ-R900 model and buttons are once again badly labelled and worse still badly placed.
Aesthetics aside, the music quality is very good. The player comes with six graphic equalizer settings and a virtual surround mode to increase your listening pleasure. While sounding like a whim of fancy, the virtual mode is actually very good and on test listening actually took away that hard edge normally found when listening to music through in-ear headphones.
When it comes to recording, the MZ-NF810 does an admirable job too, offering a Quick mode - you trade battery life for faster queuing and FF/REW speeds, as well as offering a bookmark track function for easy access to relevant recordings.
Overall this is a very comprehensive player marred only by the fact that the remote is not the easiest or greatest thing to use. The main unit itself is small, compact and does the job at hand well. The ability to add a further battery can be a lifesaver if you are out in the field. If you're not fussed with the radio then the MZ-NF710 offers exactly the same functionality without the annoyance of pressing the radio button by mistake. We know these are a good pair of portables, but the plain truth is, like mobile phones, they may only be shortlisted when the user's current MD portable breaks.