Hacking MP3 Players

Any true geek (or is the more fashionable modern term – nerd) will want to hack his/her gadgets – whatever they may be! I am no exception to this rule but still find myself shocked at the possibilities of the open source community to come up with ingenious options for a range of rather limited devices (if you stick with the stock firmware).

Most people expect me to own an iPod, they are surprised when I explain I own no Apple products and actually only bought an Pink iPod Mini for my sisters way back in early September 2005 as it was an offer not to be missed by MightyMouse. Instead just over a year later I purchased a Creative Zen Vision:M. Ordered online on Christmas Day 2006. This was a mighty 60gb beast but affectionately called a ‘Fatty’, due to the large casing. Creative would release a thinner model within the space of a few months, so it would match the same thin dimensions of the 30gb model. I missed out but was not that fussed to be honest. It was a beast but I enjoyed the fact that it played any audio or video I threw at it and only the odd older videos had be converted for viewing (which did not take that long on my PC). However, it was only once I started commuting by train (for the first time since November 2004) that I realised that I needed to upgrade. The Zen, as fantastic as it once was, was just far to bulky to bring with me to work every day. The media player actually weighed down one side of my coat. Add to this, the fact that transferring data across involved carrying a USB cradle. While not too cumbersome, was annoying if I left it at home and could not copy across the latest ArseCast on a Friday afternoon. (I have started to listen to the Arsenal podcast by Arseblogger of Arseblog fame every week). I needed a new player and something lightweight would be ideal for the gym.

I did some research and found RockBox. An open source firmware for a variety of mp3 players. Now it was just a case of making sure the device I purchased (or was kindly gifted by Santa) would be compatible.

I discovered the HotUKDeals website in a rather roundabout way, which I feel is worth mentioning. My colleague at Intel, Rich mentioned the website Bitter Wallet back in late 2010. I read it occasionally but soon realised it was run by the same team behind Gizmodo and Gawger. Every day, they would post a Deals Of The Day blog post, powered by the users of HotUKDeals. I checked out this website, which is just a glorified forum with users from all over the country posting offers. Some of them are phantom offers you will not find in your local supermarket but many are insane offers too good to be missed! It was on here on several occasions I noted the SansaClip+ MP3 player on offer at Play.com. I let my dearly beloved know and looked forward to Christmas Day when I would finally have the player all to myself.

Fast forward five days and I installed RockBox onto the player and finally unleashed the full power of the beast! The firmware enables a number of additional features, installs a database for playback and updates various features in terms of playback (volume, cross fading, advanced play-lists). They have even ported Doom over to the device, albeit plays extremely slowly due to the tiny screen and lack of colour display and high refresh rate. Unplayable but it is not about that, it is proving that such a major PC based computer game from 1993 can be ported across to a tiny device with a little elbow grease in 2011.

Sansa Clip+

image courtesy of Trinh Thanh Trung]

I have yet to actually use the device out in the wild, but am looking forward to the endless possibilities. Plus this gives me the perfect excuse to centralise and organise my mp3 collection. For years I tried to organise my collection manually with a folder for each decade. I then flirted with MusicMonkey Gold but I think I am going to start using free option of MusicBee. Much easier to use and many more features. My server has the majority of my albums stored as FLAC (lossless audio compression format) and following on from the demise of LimeWire over a year ago, I have been using MP3 Skull to download my audio. Good for recent releases, it does have limited options in terms of bit-rate, most files are 128kb/s. Trying to hunt down older songs would not be easy, plus the majority of my mp3 collection still resides on my desktop computer at my parents house. I probably will not get hold of that until I actually move into either a bigger flat or house. My 24 gb mp3 player will have to put in a decent innings until that time in the not too distant future!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.