Sharp - Auvi, 1-bit, Delta Sigma - Why I Love Them and Why They're Often Overlooked

Whether you're just getting into MiniDiscs or rekindling your love for an old format, you'll see a lot of talk about Sony. Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, Sony was arguably in its prime concerning unique, forward-thinking consumer electronics. They took a lot of risks (that didn't always pan out), but they had a reputation for putting out high-quality devices. Yes, they also created the MiniDisc format and ATRAC (and subsequent generations), the codec used to put musical data onto the MiniDisc itself.


Sony created generations of unique players in different form factors with different button layouts as they constantly wanted to iterate and evolve. For most, they are the "only" MiniDisc (MD) player/recorders people look for on auction/marketplace sites and consequently, they command the highest prices compared to the other major players in the MD device space like Panasonic and Sharp.

But were they actually better?

Well, they're certainly great! Sony extended the format with Hi-MD, a new format that played old MDs but also allowed for higher total data storage which equated to longer discs with higher quality music. Sony incorporated HD digital amps with a very low noise floor. And let's not forget MegaBass (no one turns it off, right?)! There were so many different models throughout the generations (SP-only, MDLP, Hi-MD) with different designs, that you were sure to find one you liked aesthetically and had controls laid out optimally for you.

Let me make this clear - I like Sony devices - I have many of them!

I think we can all agree that sound quality, music, and the devices that enable us to listen to them can turn into very personal topics with regard to people's preferences. I get that and respect it! 

However, let's also posit that these other multi-billion-dollar companies that sold thousands upon thousands of MD devices also knew a thing or two about making good ones with good sound quality (these major electronics companies were all producing various audio gear from turntables to CD players to headphones and amplifiers).

For me, I suppose it was simply first impressions (and a love for the "underdog") that have swayed my personal preferences towards Sharp. You see, more than 20 years ago, I got my first MD player/recorder. It was a Sharp MD-MS702.

By today's standards it's big, thick and chunky but back then, it was the future in my hands! It was slot-loading mechanism with a satisfying "thonk" when it accepted or ejected discs. It had a cool remote with "Indiglo" lighting and could record all of my favorite music via the optical line-in. I spent hours with this device meticulously and tediously labeling my discs and track names so I could properly see them scrolling on my tiny remote's display. I loved that thing! Unfortunately it's been lost to the years... I simply can't recall if it was donated or trashed due to battery leakage or something, but I'm saddened to think I've probably lost my original one forever (though I have tons of spare discs I had recorded).

Sharp 1-Bit Digital Audio

Sharp made a ton of different devices, but to get access to their 1-bit technology, you'll want to look for an "Auvi" unit. Model numbers are typically MD-DRXX, MD-DSXX, or IM-DRXX.

I don't want to take this post too far into the weeds, but Sharp's 1-bit technology (also branded as Delta Sigma) incorporated a combination of higher sampling rates than CD-quality, lower distortion, and less power requirements which hopefully resulted in greater sound quality with longer battery life (relevant for a small portable device like a MiniDisc player, less so for a home deck). You can read more about it here.

Now, they did this using a TRRS (4-pole) configuration for their headphone jack to provide a balanced output. This is in contrast to a "regular" stereo headphone jack that's TRS (3-pole). See the picture below for a visual. This balanced output with dedicated ground for each channel is supposed to provide better channel separation, less distortion, and be more power-efficient (useful in a portable device).

Additionally, some Sharp recorders were putting out 8 mW + 8 mW @ 32 ohms (like the MD-DR7) on the headphone output (and the MD-MT170/180/190/200 putting out 10 mW per channel!) while most models output somewhere between 3-5 mW. That gives you some extra power if you're trying to use some harder-to-drive IEMs or headphones.

I say "supposed to" because I think most people should take audiophile claims with a grain of salt AND with some perspective. Some people simply don't care if a certain type of setup or equipment adds some esoteric audiophile qualities like "timbre" or "non-recessed mids", they simply want music to sound (gasp!) fun and enjoyable.

You will hear some "naysayers" that say you shouldn't/can't use a "standard" TRS jack with Sharp Auvi 1-bit portables because it will "sound terrible"/"collapse the stereo image"/"damage the device", etc. I can attest to the fact (A-B testing the same headphones/IEMs with balanced/unbalanced cables) that "normal" headphones work just fine and still provide some stereo imaging. Now, I didn't go get a test track of R/L audio and sit an anechoic chamber, but I did test, verified it sounded acceptable, and continued to enjoy my music. I suggest you do the same.

I'll be completely honest with you: I mostly just dig the aesthetic. There, I said it! Ever since I saw the first Delta Sigma Auvi CD/MD player while browsing through a BIC Camera or Yodobashi store in Tokyo, I was hooked! 

Well, what about the gear failures that plague Sharp models?

This may be an issue, but like most claims there are sweeping generalizations and anecdotes on both sides. Personally, I think it's a bit overblown and I have many (including a Sharp MD-MS200 from 1997!) 20+ year old Sharp models that are working fine without maintenance! Of course, I will get in there and clean/lube them, but you should know that you can (and will) find plenty of Sharp players that are working fine and will continue to work fine. 

If you're super-concerned or worried, get a few since they're typically cheaper than Sony players. Better yet, look for the later-generation ones. Note - not all the dates are in there, so though this list is sorted by newest-oldest, you may need to scroll down to see some of the other new units.

Personally, I have the MD-DR7, multiple MD-DR77 units, multiple MD-DS5 units, an MD-DS55, an MD-DS30, an IM-DR80, and IM-DR805. All are Auvi/1-bit units and are working fine without a gear replacement.

I think it's fun to mix/match players depending on how you're feeling. Also, you could invest in learning how to maintain and replace parts if you ever need to.  Some people like to leave their "precious" recorders at home and only bring MD players with them when they travel.

Remember, most of these devices are 20+ years old and each have their own problems. Sony recorders are known for write-head issues that can be a very tricky fix.

To each their own, though! Like I said, I like and own many Sony MiniDisc devices but enjoy my many Sharp ones on a more personal level.

OK so do I need balanced headphones or not?

TL;DR is "no", but if you want to get the maximum performance (better battery life, more power, better stereo separation), why not get some? There are plenty of options that are affordable and what audiophile (budding or veteran) wouldn't mind an excuse to shop for new headphones or cables?

There's plenty of anecdotal evidence out there that Sharp players sound "fine" with 3-pole/TRS headphones and that's my experience as well. I took the time to A/B test the same headphones with different cable configurations (Etymotic XR3ERs and the Audeze LCD-XC - those are the ones I have balanced/unbalanced cables for) and tried to listen to tracks with pronounced L/R audio sweeps or other music I listen to often and am very familiar with. Long story short, I didn't notice any real difference outside of perhaps a small volume drop based on the # I had to crank it to with the unbalanced cables.

To make this even more difficult (who doesn't love a good challenge?) 3.5mm TRRS cables for balanced headphones (NOT for PC headset/phone/mute controls) aren't super common. Most balanced headphone cables come in 2.5mm or 4.4mm, but the Sharp devices are looking for 3.5mm TRRS.

You could search Amazon or AliExpress for adapters, but I wanted to get some custom cables for a proper balanced connection so I found a seller making some on eBay with the proper MMCX connectors for my Etymotics, and mini-XLR for my Audeze headphones. There should be plenty of options in different budget ranges.

In conclusion, if you're looking to grow your stable of MiniDisc player/recorders or feeling a bit "budget constrained" as you're shopping for Sony devices, check out some Sharp ones, they might pleasantly surprise you.


Look, just give them a listen and see what you think. Battery life could suffer a bit if you don't use a 4-pole/TRRS, but the sound shouldn't suffer much (if any, depending on your ears!). Plenty of people have chimed in on both sides on head-fi and Reddit.

Sony Insiders forum - referring to a Sharp schematic anticipating that people might just want to use 3-pole/TRS headphones