Sharoma MiniDisc Hacking

Hacking

Most MiniDisc aficionados are aware of unit hacking to gain access to new features. The unit that perhaps benefits the most from this is the Sony MZ-N510, which also comes in the N520 and NF610 variants. The 2001 model R700 can be hacked to add many features of its upscale brother, the R900, as well as the Type-R codec, which renders the R700 capable of performing real-time SP recordings with Sony's last evolution of ATRAC1.

The hacking instructions on this page are colour coded. Commands using buttons on the MD units are displayed in: BLUE and when referring to values on the LCD display of the MD units the colour will be: GREEN. When new values are written to the MD unit's firmware, this will be shown in: RED

The N510/20 hack

Introduction to the units

This hack works for the MZ-N510, MZ-N520 and MZ-NF610 units, which are basically the same unit. The N510 is the first model to use this mold, the F610 adds a radio remote and the N520 is a 2004 European version with new software bundled and a rechargeable (700mAh Ni-MH) AA battery. The N510 was introduced in 2003 as a budget (but not quite entry-level) Net-MD recorder. It boasts an excellent design, quiet unit noise (I've owned an R90 and R900 and in comparison it is very quiet), great build quality and a line/optical input. Even some HiMD recorders now lack this very important feature. It means true, high quality, real-time SP recordings can be made from an optical digital source. The unit lacks a microphone input, but does come with a remote port and a non-LCD remote. I use my R900 backlit LCD remote (RM-MC11EL), or my MC38EL, both of which function perfectly. These units were probably the last decent budget Sony models. The North American market got some pretty spartan units in 2003/4 that were just plain inflexible downloaders. My version is a UK N520, 2004 model. The unit feels solid, and like the R700, boasts a wonderfully ergonomic design. Unless I'm mistaken it's the last non-HiMD portable recorder Sony sold, at least in the UK anyway. It was sold until the termination of the 2004 product line, alongside the first generation of HiMD portables.

Features and specifications

These models all have the Type-S codec (I have seen early publicity shots of the N10 having Type-R, but my N520 definitely has Type-S and most, if not all, N510 and NF610s do too), which means SP recordings are made with the final version of Sony's original ATRAC1 codec, Type-R, and MDLP playback modes are improved with the Type-S version. Type-S improves playback of MDLP tracks and is not a recording enhancement. The only major drawback seems to be the lack of a mic. input, but I've rarely used this feature on any of my other portables anyway. There's also no date/time stamp, but that feature seems to have died a long time ago and Sony dropped it completely for their 2005 models. The N510 and its 'sister' units feature, out of the box:

The battery life with a standard AA is very impressive. Roughly 50 hours playback and 15 recording. Battery life varies greatly between recording modes and brand, so suffice to say it's excellent. By 2003, Sony had refined the optical pickups and other mechanisms to the point where battery life is supreme, access times fast and reliability excellent. Also, a feature such as the ability to change recording levels whilst recording is something that Sony took many years to finally implement.

So what about this hack then?

Sony seem to use the same firmware in at least one generation of their models, and for budget models they just disable certain features, or set simpler ones. This may just be marketing (in the case of program play mode for example) or it may be because of a genuine hardware restriction in the budget model. For example, Personal Disc Memory can be enabled but low end units lack the necessary EEPROM to save the settings, so they're lost when the unit powers down. Luckily, the N510/610 and 520 can be hacked to enable a handful of very useful features. These are:

Due to the lack of EEPROM, the selected sound settings are not stored, so after a power down the unit will reset and then play with S-EQ turned off. Custom modes are also not saved. The Personal Disc Memory function is also pretty much useless. Everything else works, although setting the DPC or Sound EQs is limited somewhat by the small screen (if you have a later LCD remote, such as the MC38EL, you'll get a full graphical display for the speed and sound settings - hold down 'Display' to access menu options via LCD remotes). By far the most exciting addition in my opinion is the line out mode. Like every model since the R90, Sony has used a software switch for line out mode, and it shares the headphone jack. When a remote is plugged in you can't set LINE and the unit is stuck to HPhone, but when the remote isn't present LINE can be selected. This effectively boosts the volume somewhat and removes all EQ settings. Useful indeed if you hook up your portable to a bookshelf system or amplifier. I'm not sure if it's the same on the high end models, but with the ones that officially lack a line out mode the LINE setting will just max out the volume and kill any equalizer effects; This can be achieved without a hack. However, having a software setting makes it simpler and removes the risk of accidentally putting your headphones back on and forgetting the volume is set to maximum.

Setting the hack

To obtain these new options, you need to enter service mode on your unit. Remove any disc, make sure your unit is powered sufficiently, unplug any remotes and then switch the HOLD mode on. Now follow this procedure:

  1. Hold down the GROUP button like you would a shift key, and then press this combination quite quickly: » » « « » « » « and then press PAUSE twice. Now release the GROUP button. Your display should now be flashing the unit's BIOS version and every single LCD element. The firmware version will most likely read 00 8 V1.600.
  2. Press » once, and 000 Manual should be displayed. You can press STOP any time to go back a level. Press » again and 010 Laser is displayed.
  3. Press VOL + five times until 060 F Code is displayed.
  4. Press » once more, and you get 061 and some rolling numbers. Ignore the rolling numbers. All that is important here is the last two digits. They should read 00. Press MENU to increase them by values of ten until 70 is shown, and then press VOL + twice to get them to 72. Now write this new setting to Register 061 by pressing PAUSE once. The first stage of the hack is complete. This hack has just enabled the new Sound settings, Katakana editing, the Line Out mode and the Title display.
  5. Press » once to move to Register 062. After the rolling numbers, the two digits here should read 20. To add the Program Play Mode, and the remainder of the Useful menu, change this value to 61. Remember VOL + - change the value by one, and MENU and PLAY change it by ten. It's hexadecimal, so it will go 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,A,B,C,D,E,F and not simply 1-10. Once this reads 61, press PAUSE to write it, and then remove all power sources, and try out your new hacks.

Other hacking options

There are other numbers that can be set in Registers 061 and 062 to enable different things, or just some of the hacks above. If you want the Line Out mode, but not the 6-band EQ (a lot of people prefer the old SOUND1 and SOUND2 bass and treble settings as these get stored by the unit), set Register 061 to 40 and not 72. This will also remove the Title and Sound options in the Display menu, as well as the Katakana editing option. Personally, I have my unit set to 40, since I prefer the default sound settings and can switch between these with the R900 remote. If you want the novelty of the sound hack, then the 'unique' setting is good for most types of music and gives a subtle boost to bass, midrange and treble. If you just want Katakana, and nothing else, set Register 061 02. You can also set Register 061 to 80 to add a 'Power Save' option in the Power menu. This will blank the display after a few seconds of inactivity, but it's been known to cause other problems, such as the battery indicator showing more power than it really has. As for Register 062, it can be set to 01 to just enable the Useful menu items, but this will disable the workings of the bookmark function. It can be set to 40 to add PGM but this will disable the Useful menu entries, so either leave this value at the default or set it to 61 and enjoy every feature.

Back to defaults

To reset your unit to factory defaults, Register 063 being set to 00 will cause Registers 061 and 062 to reset to their default values once the unit powers down. After this, just reset your hacks, or don't, but make sure you reset 063 back to 01. Or you can manually just re-write the old values. The default values are: 61=00, 62=20, 63=01, 64=00.

The R700 hack

Introduction to the units

This hack (and instructions) applies to the MZ-R700, but it can also be applied to the MZ-G750 and MZ-R500 models. The information for hacking the new features into the R700 I have taken from this page, which also has more details as well as how to perform the hack on even more units: Original hacking page.

The Rxx generation of MiniDisc portable recorders was released in 2001, and were the first MiniDisc Long Play recorders. The R900 was the much celebrated flagship model, the R700 was the middle range unit, and the R500 was the first Sony recorder to be even further stripped down; The entry level MDLP portable recorder, it lacked a microphone input as well as a remote output. The R700 was a very popular model when it was released, and its sister unit the G750 had a radio-remote, which was a first in the MD portable recorder scene. The R700's success was due to its lower cost (when compared to the expensive flagship R900) and array of features, most importantly MDLP and a microphone input. The unit's excellent design and button layout was also praised, as was battery life and build quality. It's a very solid unit and roughly 50 hours of playback can be had from a single AA battery.

Features and specifications

The R700, despite being the 'middle' unit and not being as well equipped as the celebrated R900, still came with many features. Out of the box, it had:

The R900 was the flagship unit of the 2001 generation. It was actually released in Japan in August, 2000 and as a result a fair amount of evolution had taken place by the time the generation's other units appeared. The result was that the R700, G750 and R500 actually had a more advanced ATRAC DSP installed that contained the new Type-R codec (Type-R had in fact been around since 1998, but took a while to trickle down to the portable recorders). Since this wasn't on the R900 Sony had this disabled on the other units. The R900 was still the flagship model, so lesser units couldn't be seen to have a more advanced recording system. Full information on this can be read on a thread at the T-Station forums.

So what about this hack then?

The R700 can be hacked to add the following working features:

The hack also reveals further options in the menu system, but due to hardware limitations and restrictions in the circuitry/command codes these cannot be used. These are:

Even with the R900's RM-MC11EL remote the sound settings cannot be changed (it does in fact change its readout to 'bass 1/2' instead of 'sound 1/2' when used with an unhacked R700), nor can the unit actually switch to a genuine line out mode, again due to circuitry restrictions. So all in all, not that many extras, unlike the N510 hack. This hack apparently does allow a digital pitch control (speed settings) when used with the R900 remote, but after testing I've found this to be untrue. You also can't alter the microphone sensitivity like you can with the R900. Plus, only the R900 has the battery back up clock to allow a date/time stamp to be performed when recording.

Personally, I recommend not bothering with the features hack. The treble can't be changed with the extra sound settings, so in effect you still are choosing between a bass level of 0, 1 or 3. The other features just aren't really worth it. The R900's other strengths were the date/time stamp and the proper line out mode. However, I do recommend you set the Type-R hack.

Setting the hack

To obtain these new options, you need to enter service mode on your unit. Remove any disc, make sure your unit is powered sufficiently, unplug any remotes and then switch the HOLD mode on. Now follow this procedure:

  1. Hold down the VOL - button like you would a shift key, and then press this combination quite quickly: » » « « » « » « and then press PAUSE twice. Now release the VOL - button. Your display should now be flashing the unit's BIOS version and every single LCD element. The firmware version will most likely read V1.300 00 4.
  2. Press VOL + and Manual 0 00 should be displayed.
  3. Press PLAY and Laser 0 10 should be displayed.
  4. Press VOL + five times until F Code 0 60 is displayed.
  5. Press PLAY and you'll see three rolling numbers (ignore these) and S90. The last two digits are the ones that need to be changed. 0 61 should be on the right.
  6. Press VOL + until instead of 90, the digits read F7. VOL - will reduce the digit if you go past.
  7. Press PAUSE to write this setting here. This enables the extra sound settings, the line out and Katakana editing.
  8. Press PLAY and you'll see three rolling numbers again, followed by S20. The far right should read 0 62.
  9. Press VOL + until instead of 20, the digits read 7B. VOL - will reduce the digit if you go past.
  10. Press PAUSE to write this setting here. This enables the personal disc memory, the extra play modes, the melody timer, and the auto time mark.
  11. Remove the battery to exit service mode. Now try out the new features.

Enabling the ATRAC1 Type-R DSP codec

If you wish to perform recording tests with the two codecs make a recording before you apply the Type-R hack, or at least note down the values. The original values are: S00 867 and S20 868 (thanks to Geert-Jan Tielen).

Once again, enter service mode as you did above and then at the firmware screen follow these instructions:

  1. Press VOL + VOL - VOL - and Keisu 8 00 should be displayed.
  2. Press PLAY and then VOL + five times.
  3. Press PLAY seven times. You should see 8 67 at the far right.
  4. Using the VOL + - keys change the value to S67 then press PAUSE to save.
  5. Press PLAY to advance to Register 8 68 and change the value here to S01 and PAUSE again to save.
  6. Now exit service mode.

ATRAC1 Type-R should now be enabled on your R700 unit (or R500, G750). This is the final evolution to Sony's ATRAC1 (SP) recording codec and should yield superior results to the 4.5 version the R700 is shipped with. This also makes the R700 a superior unit to the R900 when it comes to real-time SP recording quality.

Back to defaults

To reset your unit to factory defaults, Register 063 being set to 00 will cause Registers 061 and 062 to reset to their default values once the unit powers down. After this, just reset your hacks, or don't, but make sure you reset 063 back to 01. Or you can manually just re-write the old values. The default values are: 61=90, 62=20, 63=01, 64=00.