That said, our biggest complaint in the performance department involves the software rather than the hardware. Unfortunately, copyright protection handicaps what could have been a huge step for the MiniDisc format since MP3 players were previously the only portable audio devices to handle fast transfers from a computer. To be fair, the copyright-protection mechanism will accept any MP3, WAV, or WMA file, regardless of whether they were downloaded from file-sharing networks, ripped from your own CDs, or legally purchased. But before a file can be loaded onto the MZ-N1, the software must import and convert it to the secure OpenMG format.
This process slows the effective transfer time significantly. Counting both conversion and transfer times, our 733KHz Pentium III test machine with 128MB of RAM moved MP3s onto the device at 0.19MB per second in the LP4 mode. That's only 1.52 times faster than real time, hardly the 32X speeds that Sony claims. Filling the MZ-N1 with fresh MP3s takes about an hour, no matter what mode you choose. You'd almost be better off recording from your sound card in real time, except that no song titles would appear on the device's display. Additionally, every converted OpenMG file gets stored on your hard drive. This speeds up subsequent transfers but eats disk space something fierce.
Ripping directly from a CD in your to the Net MD works much better. We transferred a 59-minute album in about 8 minutes, which is 7.5 times faster than real time. A CDDB2 database connection adds song information to CD tunes so that the Net MD can display titles for them as well.
For years, major manufacturers have been dreaming of a device that integrates seamlessly with legitimate, online music-distribution services, and the Net MD line handles portable downloads from both Pressplay and Rhapsody. However, our download attempts failed--we got an "Unknown error 94"--and only a portion of the music on P2P networks is available through these services anyway. If the kinks are ironed out, the Net MD line of MiniDisc units will be much more appealing.
In the end, it boils down to this: Sony got everything right with the MZ-N1 except the software, which really tested our patience. Third-party developers are working on apps to replace OpenMG Jukebox, users have posted workarounds on various Web sites, and there's an online petition asking Sony to add USB uploading capabilities. But for $350, you really shouldn't have to work that hard to get a device to perform the way it should in the first place.