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.


Unknown said...

It had never occurred to me that you could hack the firmware, although it makes perfect sense. Cool!

Being married to an IP lawyer torrenting is verboten in my house, so I have a relatively "modest" collection of ~2500 tracks, mostly in mp3 format. So I can fairly easily carry this all around on a full-sized mp3 player. I like to do this for a few reasons:

1) Sometimes I am just in the *exact* mood to listen to War by U2 or like electro-bollywood. With all my albums, I can do that if i want.

2) It's fun to whip out your mp3 player at a bar and share your tunes with your friends.

3) It is a FUCKING MIRACLE. I remember when I was a kid and i thought it was so cool that some people had jukeboxes in their houses. And now I can carry one in my purse, it contains hundreds of albums, and it's smaller than a pack of cigarettes. We are living in the future, and the future rules!

comanderbly said...

For me and the wife we use our iPod mostly on road trips. So having everything on one device is a plus. We just got a 160GB ipod to replace our the 2 super old ones (pre-color screen). Its way more space than our entire music collection but gives us space to grow and add videos.

Newmanium Reveler said...

i'm a slave to the i-man, and i am on my way to filling up that 160 gigger. I can see the minimalist appeal of less memory but for long trips, it's such a relief to not have to make a number of agonizing decisions (gram parsons or the boredoms? nick lowe or tony rice?) and take the "let god it sort it out" approach.

however, one of the thigns i really enjoyed about vacation in colorado was getting to load up an old-school magazine of cd's and be limited by previously-made mixes. it's like a museum of the self or something.

John Das Binky said...

Fuck all you new school people. MP3 CDs are the wave of the future. (I actually still use them, my car stereo plays MP3s, so I drop a full audiobook or a few dozen albums on there, and I'm happy.)

But I'm with you. My music collection is climbing up towards the 150 GB range, and even if I could, I don't know that I'd want to carry that with me everywhere. I tend to shuffle more often than I listen to albums, and there's stuff in there that I don't want popping up all that often.

We have an iPod Nano we were gifted, with 2 or 4 GB (can't remember which) and the rare times we use it, I struggle to winnow down what I want to something meaningful. More often than not, it's the same two dozen albums, most of which I've got on my mp3 CDs anyway. (Alternately, I have just over 4GB of They Might Be Giants stuff, and could drive someone insane with that...)

Molly Malone said...

i'm confused. there are 80 - EIGHTY - GB iPods? i thought they only went up to 16.
and what's a FLAC? and this "theme" whereof you speak?

... off to strap an onion to my belt.

dkarjala said...

Rockbox is THE answer to using an ipod with Linux and it is AWESOME. Just had to say that for those hesitating.