If you're in the rather tricky position of losing recording ability on your MD unit, your warrantee's run out, and you're out of luck paying for an extravagent overhaul by sony tech, I might have the solution for you.
Although this is my first post, I've been a lurker of these forums for quite some time after buying my first MD unit (R700) a year and a half ago. During this time I've ran through a R900, and now currently using a N1.
Recently a friend of mine lost recording capability on his N1 imported from japan. Since it was an import, sony tech started playing games with respect to how much they'd charge to get the unit fixed (in Toronto any way). So he turned to me for help.
From what I've seen on these forums, this recording problem always crops up from time to time, and at first I was jaded by the number of complaints in the absence of any sort of helpful info, aside from the lazy lines, "bring it back to get it serviced". Please!
The following guide describes how I managed to fix an N1 with the supposedly common "recording" or "blankdisc" problem. I will not guarentee anything; this article is intended as a final option to an otherwise broken MD.
Notes before we begin:
1. This is intended as a last resort attempt to correct recording problems. You will be making irreversable 'adjustments' to your unit.
2. You will need a certain basic competancy in electronics; ie: be able to spot a broken wire, and not be intimidated by some basic basic soldering. Knowing common vocabulary also helps
3. You will need to take your MD apart, which necessarily voids your warranty. Do this at your own risk!
4. You must work methodically as well as have a sharp eye for details when dissecting your MD. If you cannot take apart your MD and put it back together, don't read further.
5. Find a pair of non-working headphones (that are headed for the trash) or buy the most inexpensive headphones at a local dollar store (we will be using the wires from them).
6. Patience. Don't be surprised if you find it doesn't work perfectly the first time (took me two weeks off and on).
7. Read this over before you attempt anything. Visualize the flow of work and make sure you know what you're doing before picking up that soldering iron!
(for people who know what their MD looks like internally, and want to get to the point)
The ribbon cable that services the magnetic write head of the N1 is prone to breaking, as the magnetic head is coupled to the optical head (so even playback will stress the cable). The solution is to bypass the broken ribbon cable with wires, allowing signals to once again reach the write head.
The key aspect is the choice of wire used for the bypass; it must be extremely thin and very flexible, to reduce contributing any mechanical resistence to the lateral movement of the read/write heads as they traverse the disc surface. Single conductor wires will not do the job as they offer too much resistence, preventing the read/write heads from traversing the entire range from the inner to the outer edge of a disc. Use the wire scavenged/scuttled from inexpensive earphones for this task, as they are very thin multi conductor wires with a fibre core, and also insulated via coating [?].
We will begin with a diagnosis of your problem.
I'm working with the N1 for simplicity and knowledge sake (as I've fixed only the N1 so far).
1. Functional Unit:
Is your MD able to play recorded discs?
If not then you've got bigger problems that I can't solve.
2. Make sure it is a problem with recording:
Is your unit able to record via microphone input? (as opposed to problems transferring if using NetMD software).
If so, you're having software problems, which is not my focus in this thread.
If not, read on!
Some times problems can be resolved by cleaning the optical head.
Use a cotton swap and some cleaning fluid (not water!). Personally I used rubbing alcohol as it works well with fingerprints and dust. I hope others will correct me or suggest alternatives if you're well acquainted with cleaning solutions.
Test to see if the problem persists.
Download the service manual for your MD model (if you can) and follow the diagrams to remove the outer shell of the unit.
For most Sony models, the casing is a two piece design; the bottom segment covers the circuitry board and battery, while the top consists of the operative buttons while serving to protect the recording head.
Following the service manual steps should let you take apart the casing easily. Remember for the N1 (and similar), the battery cover must go first, then the bottom casing, then the top.
Note: 'Open' the MD (as in popping it open like you were going to insert a disc), remove battery cover, then remove bottom casing.
You should see a ribbon cable that runs from the top casing connected to the circuit board via a special 'connector'. Remove the screws securing the top casing, and flip it over so you can see the inside of the MD, while keeping the ribbon cable attached.
The ribbon cable is anchored to the board via a flat 'connector'. The 'connector' is a two piece construct; you can release the cable by pulling softly on the two sides of the connector segment facing the ribbon. Do not, do not tug on the ribbon cable itself. If you find the ribbon difficult to detach, it means you havn't released the connector yet. Don't go any further if you can't pass this step, undo everything and take it to the sony dealer.
Sony's portable MD recorder designs are relatively universal.
You should be able to identify the optical lens head, attached to the motors and the axle that allows it to track the disc. This (to the best of my knowledge) is similar to a cd player optical head, so no surprises. The optical head is on the 'bottom' of the unit, and stays horizontal even when you open the case for inserting discs.
You should also notice the magnetic write head, attached to a metal arm that is fixed to the 'top' of the interior chasis, which can move up and down to accomodate insertion of discs.
Take care in not touching the metal arm or the magnetic write head.
Reattach the battery clip, and insert the gumstick battery. Close battery cover to secure battery. Your view of your opened MD should be birds-eye, with the chasis popped up as if accepting a disc.
Insert a disc with content in it. Preferably a full disc. Make sure it is write protected.
Instead of pushing down on the left chasis arm to 'load the disc', you can detach the left chasis arm (by pulling it gently to the left farther), and let the chasis , along with the disc, drop into the loaded position. Get something to keep the right chasis arm down (as it activates a switch that tells the unit the cover is closed, allowing you to turn it on).
You should be able to turn on and play the disc using the controls on the top casing, while being able to see the disc spin and the magnetic head track across the disc surface. Pay attention to how high it floats above the disc (vertical distance)
Stop the player, and remove whatever you used to close the right chasis arm switch (let the arm lift up). The unit should turn off by now as it thinks you opened the case to pop a disc out. The disc itself won't pop out as you've released the left chasis arm that helps lift the disc out. You must lift the chasis yourself and remove the disc.
Replace with an empty or expendable disc, and once again load it (using steps above). Try to record to the disc (you don't need any input), while paying close attention to the magnetic write head. Make detailed observations regarding the vertical distance of the head relative to the disc. You will need to refer to it further on. It is closer to the disc surface when you are recording than when you are in playback.
Eject the disc once again, and remove the battery, detaching the ribbon cable from the top casing, put the top casing somewhere safe.
5. Identifying the source of the problem:
At this point the problem should be apparent. There is a ribbon cable that connects the magnetic read head, runs through the flexible metal arm, and traces a path to the circuit board on the bottom, where it is soldered at two points to the board. This cable is easily broken, and this should be your problem, if you find a broken cable.
If you've got keen eyesight you should also notice that the magnetic write head has only two leads (wires)!, and also the magnetic head + arm construct is intimately connected to the optical head/block, so that the magnetic head moves in unison with the optical head.
Since the magnetic head is coupled (intimately attached) with the optical head, the ribbon cable servicing the magnetic head is always under use, even when you're not recording anything (ie: during simple playback). This is the exact problem.
At this point it is obvious what steps must be taken to fix the problem.
Simply bypass the broken ribbon cable and you should be fine, right?
6. The broken cable:
At first I tried using liquid solder (comes in a pen, you can 'draw' solder lines with it) to patch up the ribbon cable, but it doesn't work well.
It seems the ribbon cable consists of a paper-like 'base' or substrate, with very thin copper wire (they're flat so i'm supposing that these wires are printed onto the substrate) deposited on top, finally covered with a protective and flexible polymer/plastic. I must admit it is an elegent design, as well as a major pain to replace.
This is the toughest step; replacing the ribbon cable.
You must find wiring that is very very thin, yet very flexible and pliable.
Even the smallest gauge wires you can find in 'surplus' stores will not do the job. Do not use single conductor insulated wires (wires with only a single copper wire insulated with plastic), even if they are extremely thin, as they are not flexible enough to do the job (yes they may feel very flexible in your hands however). The motor mechanism that drives the motion of the optical/magnetic head (not the disc motor) is very sensitive to resistance; it is so sensitive that single conductor wires will provide enough mechanical resistance to prevent the heads from moving/tracking far at all (more on this later).
I has taken me a month of trial and error before realizing the best wires for the job are the multi conductor wires within cheap headphones work best for this situation.
Most cheap earphones (using the earbud types as an example) have two wires originating from the stereo plug, one wire for each ear. Cut the plug off, and split the two wires. You only need a wire length equivalent to the distance covered by the original ribbon cable, so save the rest for other odd jobs i suppose (don't forget to leave a little margin, in case). Strip the wires and you should see that each 'wire' servicing the earbuds actually consist of two very thin and fragile wires, each wrapped around a fiber core. Generally the copper wires are 'ground' and the coloured wires (red and blue) carry the signal. You can use any of them; I decided to go with the red and blue just for simplicity in wiring.
Prepare the wires by applying very very little amuont of solder to one end.
I suggest dipping the end in flux, then melt the solder so it flows onto the wire.
Very little solder is needed. You don't want the solder to 'weight down' the magnetic head.
7. Bypassing the ribbon cable:
Attaching wires to existing ribbon cable is a difficult process and can be 'hit and miss' as the printed wiring beneath the plastic sheath is rather thin. You might just burn through the ribbon too.
Here's another tricky part:
Make a detailed note of the vertical position the metal arm is when at rest (floating above the optical head). Chances are you will bend the arm out of the original shape when you're working with it. The arm must be at a certain position in order to be able to record. Too close to the disc and you will scratch it. Too far from the disc surface and you will lose recording ability.
Carefully detach the metal arm that carries the magnetic head from the rest of the MD by removing the single screw that secures it. It will be difficult as it is also glued down. Take your time and be careful, using a fitting screwdriver (I used a flat head rather than the philips (cross) as flat heads don't strip the thread as easily - your preference) and making sure you don't strip the screw.
Remember the shape of the arm!
Once you've detached the arm, look at the bottom side. You will see two relatively large solder points where the magnetic write head is wired to the ribbon cable. I soldered the two headphone wires to these points (existing solder at these points should be enough to accomodate the wires). Make sure you don't create a short circuit (check for solder bridging). Secure the soldered wires by threading them though the holes of the metal arm (don't worry, the ribbon cable is useless to you now).
Let the wires trail same path the ribbon cable used to take. They should be long enough to allow the read/write heads to reach the outer edge of a disc, but not too long that it gets cluttered up when the read/write heads return to the inner areas of a disc, as clutter will cause resistance and that will hamper read/write head movement.
Cut any excess wire, and prepare and solder the other end to the points on the circuit board where the ribbon cable was anchored. Take note of which wire solders to which point from tracing the paths taken by each wire within the ribbon cable. (this is simple, you shouldn't mix it up at all given only two wires!)
Reform the original shape of the metal arm (if you've bent it, which you should have avoided), and reattach the arm back to the MD. Make sure it is not skewed (should be perfectly in line) and tightly screwed back in as you don't want any misalignment. Check the vertical distance of the arm to make sure it is floating at the same height as it was before you detached it. This is crucial.
Your MD should be fixed by now, but we want to make sure.
Reattach the ribbon cable of the top casing (the casing with the play/rec controls), but keep the cover loose (don't screw it in). Be careful not to break this ribbon cable (haha!)
Reinsert the gumstick battery. Close battery cover to secure battery.
Your view of your opened MD should be birds-eye, with the chasis popped up as if accepting a disc.
Insert a disc with content in it. Preferably a full disc. Make sure it is write protected.
You should be able to turn on and play the disc using the controls on the top casing, while being able to see the disc spin and the magnetic head track across the disc surface. Try playing some tracks now, especially try to play track 1 (close to inner area of disc), then jumping straight to the last song (which should be at the outer edge of the disc, assuming you didn't move any tracks). You should have no problems with the read/write heads tracking from inner to outer edge of the disc. If you do, it means your wires are causing too much resistence (which means you're using too thick wires! redo it with thinner, more flexible wires).
Stop the player, and replace with an empty or expendable disc, and once again load it (using steps above). Now test by recording from mic-in. Keen observers will notice the magnetic write head arm will be lowered closer to the surface of the disc when recording. Play back to see if you've managed to record anything. If not, retrace your prior soldering and wiring steps and see if you missed any details.
At this point, the most critical detail (aside from obvious wiring connectivity mistakes), is the vertical distance the magnetic head floats above the disc when recording. Make sure it lies the same vertical distance from the disc surface when recording as it did during your initial test before the bypass.
Once you've managed to get it to record and playback audio from the mic-in, you've sucessfully repaired your MD!
Remove the discs, and reclip the left chasis arm with the chasis.
Secure the top casing first, making sure you don't crush your new wires.
Remove the battery and the battery cover, so you can reattach the bottom casing. Take care when reattaching the bottom casing, as you've got to fit the hold switch on the bottom face as well as the 'open' switch (to open the shell for discs). You won't be able to fit the bottom casing snugly without being able to fit the hold and open switches as well.
Reattach battery cover and put back all the screws you took out (should be 9 screws in total).
Power the unit up and do one more recording test on it using mic-in, then try downloading songs through the cradle.
I hope this long article will help those of you out there stuck with a broken recorder.
The N1 I fixed a week back lost recording ability once again after spending a long, hot day in my backpack while I was out hiking. You may run into intermittent problems when the MD has experienced a temperature change.
I solved this issue by reopening the top cover and gently pushing the flexible write head arm down towads the optical head several times ("flexing" it), so it would acheive tighter floating distance to the disc when recording, and problem was solved! Note that in order to push it down, you've got to have the chasis 'lowered', so detach the left chasis arm first, or else the metal construct that holds the MD disc will prevent the write head from behing pushed down; you need to flex it so that it can almost touch the optical head. You don't need to flex too much, a slight 1/4 mm adjustment is enough. When you're done flexing, just make sure the head isn't scratching the disc by testing recording while the top cover is still removed, but with ribbon cable still attached so you can control the unit)
As an aside, if you've read through the service manuals for most sony units, there's a section on temperature calibration in service mode. I believe that serves the same purpose; namely to reposition the vertical distance of the write head when temperature change affects the metal arm. Interesting stuff!
Mag. Write-head must be in contact with the disc surface.
To avoid skipping issues when recording, clean both sides of the disc.
You may also want to quickly wipe the bottom 'contact surface' of the mag.head as well, with a cotton tip, as I've found grime buildup there that lifted the mag.head, hence no contact. Be careful though!
Ressurecting an old post, if you have problems where the unit blanks the disc and makes it unreadable (and hence unformattable by sonicstage), there is a dirty hack to manually format the disc. Don't do this if you have no idea how to navigate service mode or understand the implications of a mis-executed hack.
So far, I know it works on my N1, and has been reported to work on the N710.
1. Get into service mode:
set (hold) on; hold down (vol -); >, >, <, <, >, <, >, <, (pause), (pause).
2. access [AUTOCOM 500] using (vol +), enter using (play).
3. access [510 ACCESS] using (play).
4. starting at [511 xxSCC], move to [518 xxS03] using (>).
5. change S03 to S00 using (vol +/-), so the value reads [518 xxS00].
6. press (stop) to execute.
7. disc mechanism should be heard rattling.
8. exit service mode by removing power.
voila, the corrupted disc should be blanked.
info thanks to leorick
original post here
Edited by pureangst, 08 March 2005 - 11:56 AM.