Rockbox rescued my Sansa Clip Zip

Rockbox logo Let me confess up front. I am typing this on a Mac, not a Linux box. What put me on the slippery slope a few years ago was GarageBand. I tried it on my wife’s laptop. Surely Linux-based recording software has advanced since then, but at the time recording simple tunes with the Mac was far easier. Recording on Linux left me thinking, “Yeah, this would probably be fantastic if I were a recording engineer already and/or was more interested in the software than in writing a few songs.”

We tend to prefer open source software as long as we can still do what we set out to do. At work we build a lot of open source software using mostly open source software. There are, however, cases where closed software is more expedient… for now.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the Sansa Clip Zip. This is a case where the decision has gone in favor of proprietary software even though the free software alternative actually works better!

In the beginning I had an iPod Shuffle. A bit overpriced for 2 GB, but good when running or skiing, nice integration with iTunes, and Apple has replaced them without comment when they break down. (I’m on my third, having paid for the first. Don’t their testers go running when it rains?)

But I’m tired of loading and unloading stuff on the Shuffle, due to the lack of capacity. So I bought a microSD card. I loaded most of my music in iTunes onto the microSD card, and put it in an Android phone. The phone choked. It flashed low memory when booted with the microSD card. Then it ground gradually to a halt.

I saw the Sansa Clip Zip. I hoped the Sansa Clip Zip could handle the music, since after all it is a dedicated device. I bought it thinking, “So I can get this for less than $50 and it has a microSD slot. Or I can spend hundreds to get enough capacity on a fragile device that is probably no better for what I want to do.”

The Sansa Clip Zip is a dedicated device, all right. Yet with the original firmware it also chokes on the microSD card full of music. Furthermore, I could not find a log file or other indication of what exactly it chokes on. Anyone want to add 32 GB of music one file at a time, rebooting and reloading the device database after every file? Not me.

I thought maybe it was the microSD card. Now I have two microSD cards… both full of music and both causing the same symptoms on the Android phone and also on the Sansa Clip Zip with original firmware.

Rockbox on Sansa Clip Zip Then I came across Rockbox, Free Music Player Firmware, which installed fine onto the Sansa Clip Zip. It looks like it could be uninstalled, too, with roll back to the original firmware.

After installing Rockbox, I inserted the microSD card, and rebuilt the database…

…and it just works. I have not checked every single song, but they all seem to be there.

Rockbox rescued my Sansa Clip Zip.

There has to be somebody at SanDisk or a SanDisk contractor who is paid to maintain the Sansa firmware. On the surface, their firmware does look different from Rockbox. I would not consider it the next Android or iOS, though. Maybe some people would say it is more intuitive. But it’s broken. Who cares how intuitive it is if you would have to set aside a few days of your life just to figure out which half of your iTunes music collection it can load?

How bad would it be for SanDisk if instead of maintaining their own firmware, they contributed to Rockbox?


6 thoughts on “Rockbox rescued my Sansa Clip Zip

  1. same here, Melanie bought a sansa this spring to have enough music to power through 3 weeks of RV driving across Canada and I installed rockbox on it about as quickly as it could be ripped out of its packaging and have been impressed by how uneventful the experience has been. Very solid piece of open source software.

  2. Andy

    My music player buying choices have been dictated by what I could load Rockbox onto since 2007. If Rockbox didn’t support it, I wouldn’t buy it. I love the features and how customizable (and yes, stable) it tends to be. It blows the competition out of the water just on playlist behaviour, not to mention sound and playback options.
    One bonus is that since 2007 I’ve never had to learn a new user interface–Rockbox is consistent across all its target hardware.

    1. rock

      hi there i would just like to ask a question:

      Does it increase the actual volume of music played on the zip? i listen to music outside of my native language,but some tracks are much lower volume-wise than i would prefer.

      1. alexcat3

        Though I have not used my SanDisk in a while, and rarely use the original software, I do remember noticing that RockBox considerably louder than the stock firmware.

  3. Anthony

    I’m going with Andy on this one. Since first using Rockbox on an original Clip, my subsequent media player purchases were determined by the fact the player could run Rockbox.

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