Rockbox Rocks My Socks Off

Rockbox: An alternative MP3 player firmwareI recently had to replace my MP3 player, which I loved. I had an Insignia NS-DV4G, which is a little 4 GB player that can play a couple file formats, show album art and other JPEGs, and play videos. It also has a digital FM tuner, which is a big deal for me since I'm a C-SPAN junkie. Anyway, I accidentally destroyed it while on vacation, so I ordered up a replacement and prepared to settle back into my digital music player comfort zone. The very next day, Woot put up a Sansa SanDisk e280 for about half the retail price. That's an 8 GB player for about the same price I just paid for my 4 GB Insignia. I had to bite.

And bite I did. After the new player arrived, I upgraded my firmware, loaded it up with some tunes, and then started nitpicking at the functionality of the thing until I had a firm list in my mind of its shortcomings. Browsing my favorite MP3 player forums, I slowly came to realize that I wasn't at the mercy of the manufacturer's firmware...I could use something called Rockbox instead.

I won't do a full review here; plenty of others have already done that. But I will say that if you have an iPod, SanDisk, or another supported player, you should definitely check it out. It gives you a bunch of cool features, such as the ability to play FLAC files, totally customize the look of your player via themes, browse your device's folders, and a ton of other cool stuff. I think my favorite feature is that when you install Rockbox, you end up with a dual-boot player, meaning you can still boot into the player's original firmware if you so desire. And my second-favorite feature is that it lets you play Doom on your MP3 player.

Rockbox is totally free, and it's open source, so if you don't like it, you can make your own build and do things your way. It does have some drawbacks, such as shortened battery life, slight learning curve, and way too many options to set, but overall it's a great way to take control of your MP3 player.

And now, a note about size: I have a decent-sized (some would say large) digital music collection. Shortly after I got my Squeezebox, I decided to go entirely digital, and converted all my CDs to FLACs. Since then, my library has grown my leaps and bounds (thanks, bittorrent!) to encompass a little over 60,000 tracks. Obviously, no MP3 player around today is going to let me take my whole collection with me. As such, I don't really see the appeal of an 80 GB or even a 40 GB player. For many people, that 80 GB iPod [Editor's note: I hate iPods] lets them carry around their entire digital music collection, but for me, I would have to face the arduous task of choosing my favorite 80 GB of MP3s. Instead, I used to have a 2 GB player, which let me carry around just what I was currently really, really into. Then I upgraded to 4 GB which let me do that plus some old favorites and podcasts. With my new player, I really have no idea how I'm going to fill 8 GB. What's your take? Do you prefer to carry around all the music you own, or do you like to have a sampling on hand? Let me know in the comments.


Muxtape On The Desktop And Other Cool Stuff

MuxmasterSo, does anyone read blogs in the summer? I know I don't. I suppose that's why I haven't posted in some time. The summer heat + a packed travel schedule have kept me away from the computer. But in the brief time I've spent on here, I discovered something wonderful: Doug McCune's Muxmaster. It's an open-source Flex application built for the Adobe Air platform which lets you browse and listen to Muxtape mixes on your desktop. You can read much more about it at Doug's blog.

I thought Muxmaster was so cool, I finally got inspired to post my own Muxtape here: http://tfish77.muxtape.com/ Stay tuned for updates to it over time. Let me know in the comments if you want to hear my thoughts on each song.

I've been toying with the idea of putting back the bits of code Doug removed (well, not putting back, exactly, but writing my own) that allow you to download songs via Muxmaster, but so far I've decided against it due to laziness and the fact that I hate downloading single songs without the rest of the album (what can I say, I'm a completist). If you're absolutely dying to download tracks from Muxtape, thus violating the spirit, if not the letter, of their TOS (while violating various copyright laws), go install this Greasemonkey script - but be warned, Justin has been rumored to ban IPs of users using that script.

Muxmaster has another feature I really like, which is that when you load up a playlist by name (for example, Menomena's playlist of their B-sides and rare tracks), it loads up the playlists of users who have marked that playlist as a favorite, assuming that there must be some relation between the musical tastes involved here. I think that's neat - almost as neat as Jan Oberst's Muxfind, which lets you type in a band or a song (or a Muxtape playlist) and then searches its own index of Muxtape playlists to help you find music that Jan thinks is related to the music you typed in. Pretty cool. If I was a less lazy programmer, I would integrate this with Muxmaster. Anyone want to do it for me?

PS For reasons unknown, I still can't use Muxtape in Firefox (I'm still on FF 2). I always get this Javascript error: this.player.sendEvent is not a function. I've tried disabling Greasemonkey, Firebug, and AdBlock, but to no avail. Anyone else have this problem?