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CharlieSummers

Complete Frustration

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Excepting the past week, I have managed to live my entire life without being frustrated by Sony's pesky MiniDisc.

So I am archiving the work product from a now-defunct satellite radio program. Most of the audio was on DAT; researched, purchased a Sony DDS drive and used SCSI board, installed in a spare Windows XP machine, installed Silicon Graphics firmware to the DDS drive, and almost immediately started ripping DATs to WAV files directly without a D-A-D cycle at double-speed.

Some of the audio, particularly remotely-recorded stuff, is on a pile of Minidiscs, which should also remain in the digital world without a D-A-D cycle. Start the same process; research, gather required hardware/software, and...

Utter frustration.

First, I plugged the MZ-NHF800 into my 64-bit Windows 7 desk machine. After some driver hocus-pocus, the disc appeared on my desktop,showing a bunch of .HMA files in the \HMDHIFI directory. Ok, pretty good; installed the SonicStage software (iTunes earlier and uglier but equally bloated stepfather) from an ISO of the 4.3 version I found...well, nevermind where, rebooted the machine, and...still can't run it, since it must be run from the Admin account. Seriously? OK fine, reluctantly switch user to wear the "magic hat," jump through all of the insane hoops required to transfer/convert the files on this disc to PCM in a WAV container. Insert another disc, second verse same as the first.

Switch disks again, machine plays unhappy noise, disc not recognized, SonicStage can't see anything, I get annoyed.

So to eliminate "modern" operating system versions as a cause, I installed SonicStage to a Windows XP machine, since this always works (sarcasm mine). The machine refused to recognize the MZ-NHF800 I have for the transfer. Headscratching ensued, grumbles occurred. Tried another disc (the one that failed in the Win7), and HEY! I can see the file on the MD in SS! I attempt to copy the Net MD disc, and...can't, "Media Write-Protected." I assumed (pretty sure you can see this one coming) it meant there was an issue with the write directory, so I assumed the software wasn't installed properly - especially since it couldn't read what I assume were High-MD discs at all.

So back to the desk machine. Find (here, in fact, thank you very much) Net MD drivers for 64-bit Win7, connect the player with the apparent Net MD-formatted disc, experience failure, update driver in Device Manager, and Bob's-your-uncle I can see the thing in SonicStage. Attempt to copy, and...same error. Wait a sec...it can't possibly mean the MD itself is write-protected, since I'm not writing to it but reading from it...but ok, let's unlock the disc anyway, and...different error! This time:

Quote

 

Unable to transfer the following tracks to My Library because they are recorded
by Net MD or another computer.

 - Untitled

 

Other than despising everyone at Sony, vowing never again to buy anything with that logo, and using some words I had forgotten I knew, I am about this close to chucking it all, using line-out->line-in and just recording the d*mned things in real time before smashing every bit of MiniDisc material here, extra digital-analog-digital cycle be d*mned.

Then I calmed down, had a cappuccino, and decided to ask you folks for advice. Is it standard for these things to be so asininely touchy? Or am I just doing everything wrong?

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You did everything right (don't need the 64-bit NetMD drivers), but you omitted to take account of the (unknown to you) fact that Sony needs the disk to be UNwrite-protected before it will pull stuff off them. I know, that's one place they violated the rules (there are, as you imply, others). However the vast majority of users spent man-years putting copies of copyrighted music ON to minidisc, and Sony not unreasonably felt that they couldn't encourage them to recover music from disks where the owner did not have the original CD. Sigh. (there was also the small matter of the world's first trillion dollar lawsuit against them over the original VCR, but we'll postpone that discussion until you've calmed down and got your data). Actually copying music back from the MD was not allowed originally - instead they had to update the transfer count on the PC which is no different than Amazon or Itunes IMO. So things actually improved from the "legacy MD" recordings, which recordings the BBC used happily as their entire work product for about 15 years.

To be fair, there's a lot better chance that an MD will be readable in 2025 than the disk from an Atari, Amiga or Commodore 64 (Apple 2 - we won't even go there).

Exercise trust (and caution) and open the disks to writing, and you'll have no further problems.

Stephen

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2 hours ago, sfbp said:

(there was also the small matter of the world's first trillion dollar lawsuit against them over the original VCR, but we'll postpone that discussion until you've calmed down and got your data).

I remember it well...I'm an old guy, who has roughly five hundred beta tapes in the basement I need eventually to transfer to digital, and so know well Sony's eventual win there gave us the, "right-to-copy," that the DMCA did its best to destroy. Still, that's no excuse for wonky software and draconian (dare I say idiotic?) copy protection...

2 hours ago, sfbp said:

Exercise trust (and caution) and open the disks to writing, and you'll have no further problems.

I still can't transfer the Net MD disk...I continue to get that "Unable to transfer the following tracks to My Library because they are recorded by Net MD or another computer." error. I've been focusing on the Hi-MD disks, which I have been able to transfer and convert, and so long as I don't find many Net MDs, I'm willing to transfer them analog just so this part of the project can complete while I still have a little hair left. (Frustrating that the DATs were easier to directly transfer than something basically designed for recording and moving files.)

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NetMD means (really) that the disk was MADE by NetMD. Are you sure?

If what you have is a "legacy" disk then there are two questions:

1. Did the legacy disk get formatted to HiMD specs (can you see the .HMA file like on the one you mentioned)?

2. Was the transfer to the disk via USB, if not HiMD?

If #1 is yes, you should be able to work with the disk same way you did with the 1GB disks. If you cannot, it means that you are kindof screwed. However, the good news is that HiMDXfer may be able to help.

If the answer to #1 is NO, then you need an MZ-RH1, no ands ifs or buts (except for the x1 transfer - you can do it digitally, just need a deck with optical out). Sorry. How many disks?

If the answer to #2 is YES, then even MZ-RH1 won't help you. But probably you have original recordings and it's not an issue.

Anyway it sounds like things are starting to move.

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1 hour ago, sfbp said:

NetMD means (really) that the disk was MADE by NetMD. Are you sure?

I can only report the error message SonicStage is throwing. That was a copy/paste, so that is exactly what SonicStage reports when it refuses to copy the audio.

1 hour ago, sfbp said:

1. Did the legacy disk get formatted to HiMD specs (can you see the .HMA file like on the one you mentioned)?

No.

1 hour ago, sfbp said:

2. Was the transfer to the disk via USB, if not HiMD?

I assume, but cannot guarantee (I wasn't there) this disc was recorded directly. As I mentioned, this is from the salvaged archives of a long-running Satellite Radio program, and I was never an employee. I'm just trying to salvage all of the audio and paperwork possible for donation to a national archive.

I do know what's on the disc, since I listened to the beginning of it with headphones; it is the remote half (interviewee only) of an interview with Dr. Gordon Williams on August 30th, 2005 for a series on U.S. Veterans. I have no idea what may or may not have happened, but I can't imagine the file would have been copied to a computer than back to a disc...it would be more reasonable that this disc is the original recording made by the producer in the field.

(Funny thing is, I have a file from DAT which contains both halves, Williams a phoner, so this disc will "complete" this particular interview source.)

2 hours ago, sfbp said:

However, the good news is that HiMDXfer may be able to help.

This is part of the stalled linux MiniDisc project, yes?

2 hours ago, sfbp said:

How many disks?

So far, only the one...the other discs I've ripped thus far (even the 80s) are formatted Hi-MD. Haven't gotten through them all yet, though.

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A single disk, I would be happy to help with, using my RH1.

When it says NetMD, it is lying (in this case). You CANNOT transfer legacy MD to the PC with any unit made before the RH1 was incarnated.

Rereading what I wrote, I think I misspoke. If it is a HiMD recording that is somehow blocked by rights management, then HiMDXfer can help. (Actually VLC or ffmpeg might do it). But if it is an original legacy recording made on a deck, most likely, then HiMDXfer is useless. Sony really did make that process one-way in the hardware (until the RH1). It was not a matter of deliberate protection, just that the earlier units could not be handled by USB1.1 (speed of Xfer). The RH1 barely manages it, and there is a major tweak you have to do to make sure it uploads at full speed always.

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3 hours ago, sfbp said:

A single disk, I would be happy to help with, using my RH1.

I sincerely appreciate the offer, but if there are only even a handfull of discs in this format, I can pull out the external sound converter and run analog copies. This seems to be what they did originally anyway...bring the discs back, and play them into the board. Makes me shudder...

3 hours ago, sfbp said:

But if it is an original legacy recording made on a deck, most likely, then HiMDXfer is useless. Sony really did make that process one-way in the hardware (until the RH1).

Which keeps making me wonder why the devil radio stations would bother with the things. If you can't get the file out of the device (other than using analog), what's the point? (Of course, I know people who think Dalet stores files uncompressed because it uses WAV containers for its MP2 files, too. Maybe they just don't know any better.)

3 hours ago, sfbp said:

just that the earlier units could not be handled by USB1.1 (speed of Xfer)

But the datastream speed is irrelevant. Once the file is recorded, USB 1.1 would just mean the file would take longer to transfer...there's no reason a closed file would need a specific speed to travel from the device to the computer. This would only be an issue for real-time transfers (recording on the device but storing immediately on the computer), which this isn't. Heck, I can transfer a 1080p video transport stream via USB 1.1 - I'd just want to start the transfer before I left for vacation.  ;)

DAT was surprisingly so much easier to directly transfer.

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Right - they figured out that the upload speed was not enough. This meant they never had to worry about copyright violations. They had enabled copying TO minidisc. Enabling copying FROM minidisc at that stage (before they had any encryption and protection mechanisms properly worked out) would have been Sony handing the world a free tool to music-share.

The RH1 was their exit-the-market tool so that people could not complain they had been left high and dry with LEGITIMATE recordings.

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Adventures in MD, continued. I was able to pull the audio from every disc but one using SonicStage (clearly most were HiMD format); since the MZ-NHF800 doesn't have a line-out, and the headphone-out was pretty noisy, I sent that one disc to a friend with a player. So the discs from the cancelled satellite radio program have been salvaged.

Not sure this is the right place for this, or even if it's a question I should be asking, but hey, the format has been long abandoned by Sony, so what the hey...

I'm wondering if the test software ever "escaped" from Sony. The service manual to the MZ-NHF800 references copying over a specific folder to the Windows XP machine (!) and using it in conjunction with SonicStage to put the machine into test mode, which has a self-diagnostic test. I now have two MZ-NHF800 decks, one of which can only playback but not record (and read HiMD data via SonicStage but not write). While I'm relatively confident I won't be able to fix the thing, it would be nice to be able to run diagnostics just to see if it can identify where the problem might be.

Searches on the Net were not successful, so I thought I'd take a shot here since y'all seem to know a whole lot more about this stuff than anywhere else...

Edited by CharlieSummers
Correct typos, add incredulity.

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There are two obvious ways to get into test mode. One is a series of button presses on the NHF800. The other is a solder bridge (useful when the buttons don't work!) which is on most earlier models. I don't see it there in the manual so it may be they dropped that method with the introduction of HiMD units.

It's possible you may have misunderstood the diagnostic thing - there's a file, but it doesn't contain audio, and it's simply some remote commands via USB. Nobody needs this one. I may have the files if you are desperate but I have a horrible feeling the program is stone-age and won't run under Windows 64 bits.

The proper diagnostics consist of the right disks introduced into the machine in service (test) mode, at the correct time.

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55 minutes ago, sfbp said:

There are two obvious ways to get into test mode. One is a series of button presses on the NHF800. The other is a solder bridge (useful when the buttons don't work!) which is on most earlier models. I don't see it there in the manual so it may be they dropped that method with the introduction of HiMD units.

Um, no, not at all, according to the service manual, page 12, Section 4 Test Mode:

Quote

1. ENTERING  THE  TEST  MODE
Preparation:
Copy  the  “TestMode_Enter_For_900_800_700_600_600D_
Ver***.exe” folder of the PC application of the latest version to
your PC in advance. (operating system: Windows 2000, Windows
XP)
Also, when using this application, the SonicStage Ver. 2.0 or 2.1 is
necessary, and install it in your PC in advance.

And in the Note below the window dump:

Quote

Note: Once the test mode is activated with this application, the test mode is then activated forcibly by only turning on the power. After the repair completed, be sure to release the test mode by using this application once more.

The service manual makes it clear that to get to the self-diagnostics result on the MZ-NHF800 (Sec 4 #7) you use the software provided by Sony to the tech to kick the machine into test mode - soldering is only required on SL894 for killing the Open Door sensor. I never suggested the software was an audio file, nor did I suggest it was copied to the device, rather the computer being used to control the device. There are screen dumps of the windows used to set the device into test mode in the service manual pg. 12.

Again, I am wondering if this software (which I assume contains diag software for a large number of Sony devices, as it tells the tech to copy only the folder "TestMode_Enter_For_900_800_700_600_600D_Ver***.exe" to the Windows XP machine from presumably the monolithic distribution CD) made it into the wild?   

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Here is the recipe:

Turn on Hold, close the unit.

Holding group down press as follows:

FF FF RW RW FF RW FF RW || || (i.e. pause 2x)

You should be in service mode. That's all there is to it. To get out remove the battery. CAVEAT EMPTOR!!! If you do a 911 reset it is most unlikely you will be able to make your machine work without at least one more working HiMD unit, as well as a regulated power supply (the fancy lab kind with super accurate output) to use and help you.

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Well, that's a thing...

Does not work at all on the unit that will not record. Tried with battery, power supply, using the remote buttons, everything short of standing on my head.

Tried it with the one that does record...immediately sent it into test mode.

I suspect the method using the diag software is more...persistent, since again according to the service manual the only way out of it is using the software again. It specifically says after test mode is set to remove the battery, and power-on the unit to enter test mode.

But it seems pretty clear the playback unit has more wrong with it than just the inability to record...while it's possible I screwed up the combination every time I tried, it's pretty unlikely since setting the "good" unit into test mode took all of one try.

Not sure where to go next...

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Um, yeah, nevermind. I am pretty sure I know what's wrong. A physical examination shows the enclosed photo - while the camera insists on focusing on the back wall, you can clearly see the overwrite head hanging down instead of being snugly housed in its little plastic bed.

Pretty sure this is way out of my league.

20161214_150746_MZ-NHF800_overwrite.jpg

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Checked archives and no sign of these "patchwriter" files for HiMD at all. Only the NetMD ones. Strange that you should have such problems with NH700 as it has always presented as one of the most reliable units ever made. I've never failed to get into its service mode either (did you use the 3V power supply?). The head being in a strange position is most often due to someone managing to defeat the interlock that is always triggered when recording. One can do this by attempting to write to the disk,  pulling out (or getting a dead) battery and then wondering what to do because it doesn't open (by design). If you open it now, chances are the head is busted (I can't tell from a picture anyway).

I'd be interested to take a look but no warranties express or implied. Contact me by PM if interested.

Stephen

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1 hour ago, sfbp said:

Checked archives and no sign of these "patchwriter" files for HiMD at all. Only the NetMD ones.

All I can reference is the MZ-NH700/MZ-NHF800 service manual, pp. 12 which clearly suggests a collection of diagnostic software. While I didn't find it here, I did notice later the service manual is in the archives here.

1 hour ago, sfbp said:

I've never failed to get into its service mode either (did you use the 3V power supply?).

I tried using an AA battery, the 3v power supply, and both; used switches on the unit, tried switches on the remote for giggles as well. There's something else going on...an intermittent button press maybe, a weird short caused by the damage to the overwrite head mount, something. Has to be; like I said, the good unit went directly into test mode. (The three-screen rotation is pretty unmistakable.)

1 hour ago, sfbp said:

The head being in a strange position is most often due to someone managing to defeat the interlock that is always triggered when recording.

Possibly, although not sure how you'd wedge something that far back just to open the unit, but maybe. I have noticed the door is not as solid as the door on the good unit. Still, it's a simple solder bridge at SL894 that defeats the door open sensor, so trying to force the thing open doesn't seem so smart when a drop of solder lets you open the door with the switch.

On the good unit, the overwrite head is held in place by a grey plastic mount snapped into the metal arm...this plastic is missing on the unit that has only playback. So the overwrite head is just...hanging there. It can't heat the MO surface pointing gawd-only-knows-where when the disc is in place, the write heads can't remag the surface, so no recording. Playback is unaffected, as is using SonicStage to pull HiMD files from the discs, since the overwrite head isn't required.

Replacing  X-2021-785-1 OP SERVICE ASSY which includes the overwrite head (pp.50 of service manual shows replacement head group) is way more than I'm prepared to do even if I could acquire the parts group, especially for an obsolete format that I'm unlikely to ever record to anyway. The original purpose for the devices was to recover data, which I've done. I think these two units and associated remotes, power supplies, etc. will be stored in the basement next to the XP machine that contains the Sony DDS drive I use to recover audio from DAT, just in case I'm ever brought additional MiniDiscs in the future.

Edited by CharlieSummers
Fix yet more typos...

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The open door sensor has nothing to do with the mechanical write lock. The latter is to protect whatever data and state has not been written to the disk. The door sensor is simply to allow testing to go on when the machine is apart.

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38 minutes ago, sfbp said:

The open door sensor has nothing to do with the mechanical write lock. The latter is to protect whatever data and state has not been written to the disk. The door sensor is simply to allow testing to go on when the machine is apart.

Yes, I know. What I don't know is where you thought I mentioned the mechanical write lock, or what that would possibly have to do with the overwrite head. Not even anywhere close to each other.

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The mechanical write lock is what (most likely) had to be defeated to get the head that way.

Listen, if you think you don't need help, you don't need help. I have tried and tried, but you always know best. Good luck in all your endeavours.

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32 minutes ago, sfbp said:

Listen, if you think you don't need help, you don't need help. I have tried and tried, but you always know best. Good luck in all your endeavours.

(*sigh*) No, I don't, "think (I) don't need help," which is why I came here. I came here knowing nothing about MiniDisc (although I did use a 128MB Magneto-Optical SCSI drive on my Macintosh back in the late-1980s so I understand the concept), hoping to learn. I have learned. I sincerely appreciate your replies, but they tended to assume I knew more than I did at the outset, which consistently lead me to confusion. That's ok, since it forced me to research on my own, discovering that one isn't supposed to be able to digitally copy standard MiniDiscs - my first posts here pretty clearly show that I didn't grasp that at all.

I got lucky that all but one disc were HiMD (naturally, though, the first one I picked up was the standard which caused all the consternation), so I could transfer them digitally once I got SonicStage to work (thanks to the universal binary found here). I sent the one standard disc (hell, I even misunderstood what NetMD means!) to a friend with a deck that has line-out. After all that was finished, I was curious to know if I could repair the playback-only deck, and discovered it is way more trouble than it's worth...can't imagine I'll ever record anything to an MD, and the damage doesn't prevent recovering data from one. And even if it did, I have the undamaged deck.

So thank you for the help, but I've accomplished what I had to do. I wonder if Sony has any more abandoned audio media formats out there...after ripping roughly 400 DATs and 20-ish MDs, I wonder what else someone will bring me?

Edited by CharlieSummers
Used brackets...oops.

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