MiniDisc units are a cut above the common herd. They offer better sound quality than your average run-of-the-mill mp3 player, and they are engineered to much higher standards. In these days of iPod mania MiniDisc is becoming extremely rare, so to cater to that ever loyal niche of MD followers here are some tips to ensure our MiniDiscs are still spinning defiantly many years from now.
At first they may seem like a cumbersome annoyance; all that extra cable to carry around. Remotes are in fact extremely useful. Not only do they save wear to the buttons on your unit (and prevent it from acquiring dirty fingerprints), they also allow you to safely store your unit away from the elements as you go about your daily life. A remote clipped to your shirt pocket offers instant access to all the necessary controls and saves you from foolishly having to carry the actual unit in your hand, or fishing around for it when you want to change the track or adjust the volume.
LCD remotes that are backlit bring their own particular advantages. You can see what you're doing in bed if you fancy some late-night listening. If you're out and about, try using a non-LCD remote or disabling the backlight. There's no point draining the battery with a backlight if you aren't using it anyway.
Quick mode can be extremely useful. It keeps the unit powered up to allow an instant return to the music, as well as faster track seek times. The drawback is the effect this has on battery life. On higher end units (for example, the NH900 and RH10) quick mode is configured to remain on until the battery is completely drained, meaning you can return to a unit after a few days and it still resumes instantly to the music. On entry level units (such as the N510 and NH600) quick mode acts more conservatively. It will remain on for a number of hours (usually just one) and then cease. Personally, I have quick mode enabled on all my units that feature it. Although the unit essentially remains "powered up" permanently, no moving parts are engaged when it is left idle and the battery life is not significantly reduced. Also, remember that quick mode automatically ceases when there's no disc inside the unit.
Write protect tab
It amazes me how many MD users neglect to use the write protect tab. Unlike on traditional cassette and video tapes, the MiniDisc write protect system is reversible. It's a simple plastic tab that you can switch on or off. Once you've finished recording or editing a disc, take a second to enable the write protect. This saves you from accidentally erasing the contents, or from a faulty unit (such as an R900 with a burnt out recording head) wiping it. If you need to redo the disc or whatever, it's no trouble to just click it back.
Wear & tear
Decide which remote you are going to use with a unit and leave it plugged in permanently. This saves wear to the unit's headphone socket. On some units, especially the R700, this is often the first component to fail. Constantly plugging in and taking out of headphones and remotes will soon weaken the links and you'll lose sound output. Bad news unless you're skilled with a soldering iron. If you leave your remote permanently plugged in you'll save your unit from this wear and tear and transfer it instead to the remote. If you switch headphones between multiple units it's better to plug them in between remotes themselves; these are, after all, much cheaper to replace than your actual unit and are much less prone to the wear from constant switching. I have yet to have one of my remotes fail yet I constantly change my headphones between them all.
Even if you have an external charger for your gumstick batteries don't use it! Most units Achilles' heel are the battery compartment doors and constantly removing the battery weakens them, often irreparably. Instead, leave the gumstick in the unit and never remove it. Simply charge it within the unit when it is fully depleted. Once it's run down (after roughly a year or so) just replace it and start over on the new one. I've never heard of a unit failing due to internal charging stressing the components; however, units with broken battery doors are extremely common. Just make sure to only charge the battery when it is fully drained, and always leave the unit uncovered (when recharging) to prevent dangerous heat build up. Also, only use reliable gumstick brands. If you are at all worried about the battery expanding and getting stuck inside your unit then stick to the official Sony ones, despite their excess cost. Personally, I've never had a problem with the GP brand of gumstick and these are often inexpensive. Be careful when charging on cradles, too. These have been known to cause problems for some users. Once the unit is fully charged, take it off the cradle (or unplug the AC adaptor).
All Sony units that use gumsticks also come with an AA battery pack. If you don't like using gumsticks or don't want to spend money replacing them, simply remove it and just use rechargeable AAs - you'll still get excellent battery life and it'll save you money. Plus, the battery packs are much more durable than the unit's battery door. Do not use a rechargeable AA battery if you intend to leave the gumstick inside the unit as well. Only use a rechargeable AA on its own. If you wish to use both batteries at once, make sure the AA is a standard alkaline.
Units that simply take an internal AA cell are even better. Often their battery door is strong enough to cope with a lot of use and you can happily remove the battery if you wish to recharge it externally (or replace it, if using a standard alkaline). I make sure I at least have a unit that takes standard AAs or my AA battery pack with me if travelling for an extended amount of time. The AA battery pack will also 'trickle charge' the internal gumstick (once again, never use a rechargeable AA with the gumstick!), although you shouldn't make a habit of leaving your unit with an (alkaline) AA attached and the gumstick inside. (There's a very interesting and informative post about how Sony's AA battery packs work in conjunction with the internal NiMH.)
If, like me, you own multiple units, then you may want to rotate them. Not only will you save excessive wear to one particular unit, you'll also find you'll come to appreciate the different strengths of each unit. Or, pick a certain unit to specialise in a certain role. For example, use your cheaper low-end unit as the 'outdoor portable' or as a downloader, and the expensive flagship with the high definition digital amplifier as the 'home listener'.
All modern Sony units are equipped with AVLS, or Automatic Volume Limiter System. Depending on the unit, it prevents the volume being raised above a certain level (14 on the later models). My advice is to always have this enabled on all your units. Not only will it protect your hearing, you'll also extend battery life and find that you don't need the volume as loud as you previously thought. With a pair of decent earbuds (for example, the ever popular Sony MDR-EX71s - these offer excellent sound isolation, further negating the need for a loud volume) the output at the maximum AVLS limit is more than adequate in all listening environments. One particular danger is increasing the volume in response to excessive ambient noise, such as on a train. This is extremely dangerous and can easily damage your hearing. Be sure to use earbuds that offer as much isolation from outside sound as possible. This way, the actual volume can remain low. MiniDisc units are not equipped to power large headphones (use a headphone amp if you wish to do this). The majority of Sony units have an output of a mere 5mW and are designed to drive earphones and portable headphones with an impedance of 16 to 24 ohms.
Your hearing will adapt to the volume. Never begin a listening session with the volume too high. Always start low and slowly raise it until you're comfortable. If you feel any strain at all on your hearing then it is too high. You may even find that you can adjust to a much lower volume than you thought possible, or find that during listening you need to lower it. Your ears are very delicate. Be careful not to abuse them. With lower volumes you can still discern all the fine detail of excellent music. Once again, the AVLS system is an excellent way of preventing you creeping the volume up to unsafe levels. On the rare occasion that a song has been mastered too low to hear it adequately you can tweak the EQ to add extra output.
Some people prefer a flat response with their music. Personally, I find the Sony RH10 offers excellent sound without any EQ added. However, certain combinations of unit and earphone may require EQ tweaking to get a pleasing sound. Although using EQ settings adds drain to the battery, it can drastically alter the sound to suit your personal taste. It also adds small amounts of volume if you're at the AVLS limit and the output isn't quite loud enough for you.