The Sharp MD-C2 minidisc mini system

With internet sale prices between $150 and $200, the current discounts on the $400 list Sharp MD-C2 MD mini system make it not only one of the cheapest minidisc systems available, but one of the cheapest mini-systems of any sort. For your money you get a full-featured system with a 3CD changer, 3MD changer, Cassette tape recorder, AM/FM tuner, auxiliary input, sleep/timer functions and a remote control. I bought mine from for about $150 plus $34 shipping. With its somewhat cheesy, silver tone Buck Rodgers styling, the MD-C2 looks right at home in my kitchen/dining room next to the microwave. Most mini systems in this price bracket seem to sport overly busy electronic displays borrowed from some failed "Death Pong 2000" video game and louvers that would look right at home on the side of a 1972 Datsun. The MD-C2 even has a little string of multi-colored disco lights right in the middle of the front panel. Luckily there is a dimmer button that turns off all the unessential display elements.

All-in-one mini systems have one feature that I find indispensable, the ability to make unattended clock/timer recordings off the radio. I'm a big fan of John Peel's alternative music program on the BBC World Service. The San Francisco Public Radio affiliate KALW occaisonally broadcasts the show during the early am hours. I tried a number of unsatisfactory kluges with my component stereo before I discovered that most mini systems let you easily record radio programs much as you would use a VCR to record a television program. The MD-C2 takes this feature one step further and allows you to record continuously on 3 MD's (or on one cassette tape). Load up the changer with three 80 minute minidiscs and you get four hours of recording time. (Just remember to turn the volume down to zero before you go to bed!) This ability is hard to find on any system at any price.

In most other respects the MD-C2 is unremarkable and works much like any small mini system. Both the manual and operation are straightforward. The 3 CD changer allows you to change two discs while the third one plays. The random play feature cycles through all loaded CDs, so you can't just randomly play tracks on one CD if you have other CDs loaded in the carousel. Even more annoying, the random feature doesn't "remember" which tracks have been played.

The random feature on the minidisc changer works similarly. Unfortunately, you can only randomly play from either the CD carousel or minidisc changer, not both. Both changers make noticeable click-click-clack-click sounds every time they change discs. While this is typical for inexpensive mini systems, the minidisc changer seems particularly cheap. The three minidiscs sit in a rack in the middle of the front face and are loaded into the minidisc recorder/player singly. Each time a disc is loaded there is a good twenty seconds of clicks and clacks. If you are looking for a stereo to randomly cycle through some quiet, romantic dinner music look elsewhere.

Otherwise the MD-C2 is hard to fault at this price. The sound quality is very similar to other mini systems in this price range, certainly listenable but hardly audiophile quality. There are several "surround sound", equalizer and extra-bass settings you can play with. AM/FM reception is average, though you can switch to FM mono to improve FM reception. CD to MD recording is digital and activates SCMS. There is no optical digital input. Record levels on both the minidisc and tape recorders are set automatically. The single cassette deck does not have auto-reverse. All features are available from the front panel without the remote control. The warranty period is a full year, resassuring given the complexity of the unit and its lightweight build quality. Also reassuring are the instructions in the manual on how to reset the microcomputer with a "three finger boot" on the power, fast forward and delete buttons if the unit stops operating correctly.

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