I also appreciated being able to have a massive music library ripped to hard disk using the ATRAC-3 codec (provided by RealJukebox and SonicStage), which to my ears gives results noticeably superior (much more like "CD quality") to both MP3 and WMA at equivalent bit rates. While the system is limited in its upgrade potential (there's only one free card slot and one free drive bay), the hardware capabilities are great enough that I don't think I'd be ready for an upgrade anytime soon aside from adding even more hard-disk space.
You could get most of the features of the Vaio MXS10 by upgrading a non-Sony PC (all except its MiniDisc and Memory Stick capabilities), but that would require very careful shopping for add-in circuit boards and more than a little expertise in software installation to make sure that whatever you add will work properly with the other hardware and software. The primary advantage of the MX series is that the wide range of capabilities provided not only work together but can work synergistically in ways limited only by your own imagination. With its enormous expertise in the three essential fields of computers, digital audio, and digital video, Sony is one of the few companies in the world that could have pulled this off.
Considered as a piece of audio/video gear, the Vaio MXS10 performed very well. Considered as a PC, its audio and video measurements were nothing less than superb. For example, most computers' analog audio outputs suffer from mild to severe noise, due mainly to contamination by a host of intrusive digital signals from the computer circuits. Not so with the MXS10. Playing CDs and 16-bit WAV files through its line-level outputs using Sony's SonicStage program, it delivered A-weighted noise levels of -74.0 dB, only a couple of decibels higher than the theoretical 16-bit minimum and unsullied by digital leakage. Its 16-bit excess-noise level (+2.1 dB), linearity error (-0.1 dB), and noise modulation (0.25 dB) fell in the same quality range. Interestingly, the results in these tests were a couple of decibels worse when I used the other supplied player programs, RealJukebox and Windows Media Player. But frequency response was within ±0.5 dB through the audio range using all three players.
The speaker-level outputs were nearly as clean as the line outputs (-71-dB noise levels) but clipped at 10 watts (10 dBW) into 8-ohm loads and 16 watts (12 dBW) into 4-ohm loads. While these figures fall short of Sony's "20-watt" rating, our results are in tough, real, standardized audio watts, as in our receiver measurements, not wimpy, nebulously defined "computer" watts. Besides, with closely positioned speakers as good as those supplied or better, even 10 watts can produce a very loud volume.
If you want even more audio power than the MXS10 can deliver, along with really clean sound, you should use its optical digital audio output, which was bit-accurate for 16-bit audio as long as the relevant volume control (the Wave or Compact Disc slider, depending on the player program being used) in the software output mixer was turned all the way up. This output is also the only way to get multichannel Dolby Digital DVD soundtracks from the MXS10.
The composite- and S-video outputs were very good when the PC was playing DVDs, with the luminance frequency response flat through most of the range and down only 3.6 dB at the DVD limit of 6.75 MHz (onscreen resolution was a full 540 lines). Setup level measured only +5 IRE (instead of the standard +7.5 IRE), but you can easily compensate for this small error if you calibrate your monitor using a DVD test disc. Onscreen letterboxing through the video outputs was poor - as it is on most of the DVD players we test. In contrast, progressive-scan image quality on a computer monitor was superbly smooth and free of artifacts.
Sony Vaio www.sonystyle.com/vaio, 800-571-7669
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