It’s all been downhill since 2003

Sadly, I need a new mp3 player. My iRiver H140 lasted me five years, because it did exactly what I needed. It played everything I asked it to play, it never deleted my files. It did what I told it to do, it sounded gorgeous and it lasted sixteen hours between charges. So, my criteria are:

1) Sound quality. This is the Twenty-First Century and there’s no excuse for shitty reproduction.
2) More than 40 Gb of space. I like my tunes. I like them all.
3) No hassle.

I should expand on the last one. No hassle, for me, means:
a) Treats my data as mine. These are my files and I’ll do with them what I like. (If I like them enough, I’ll even pay money for them.)
b) Works with multiple computers – there’s normally several laptops at home, plus tunes at work. Music comes from all of them.
c) I’ve never used tags, just directories. Tunes are files, they already have metadata – filenames and folders – so I have no need to set up another metadata system that needs to be kept in sync. How many people here have all their zillion audio files correctly tagged?
d) What the hell is a playlist anyway?
e) I don’t want to have to keep a copy of all my music on a computer. My mp3 player is my music store. Occasionally it gets backed up to the phuge external hard drive, but that’s backup, not sync.

So I look around the market place and WTF? It seems the only players with big hard drives are iPods and Zunes? Are my options limited to:

1) Get an iPod and completely change the way I listen to music. Oh, and convert all my ogg files into mp3s? And then hope it doesn’t delete all my music…
2) Get an iPod and try to battle iTunes into submission? And by that I mean drag it out into the street, shoot it in the guts, and stand around watching it die? And then try to find some way to use a new iPod without iTunes?
3) Get an out of date iPod and hack Rockbox onto it?
4) Get a Cowon S9 for the sound quality and accept a 16 Gb capacity?
5) Buy a Zune and a pair of thick leather gloves for every time I have to physically touch its fetid, satanic carcass?
6) Find a second-hand, five year old H140, put a 80 Gb drive in there, gaining myself both a music player that does just what I need and a sense that for the last five bloody years, technology has stagnated?
7) Buy myself a hard drive, lithium battery, decent decoder, DAC and an OLED display, build my own box, write my own firmware, and do it myself?

38 thoughts on “It’s all been downhill since 2003”

    1. *throws rocks*

      If I get an iPhone, then I’m going to have to spend an unknown but potentially large amount of time putting software onto it. Time is the one thing I’m short of these days.

  1. Before you get a Cowon, I should say that the thing I hate most about the iPhone for tunes (apart from the obvious stupidity of iTunes) is that it’s all touch screen based.

    I like being able to skip tracks without looking at a screen.

      1. And while we’re talk about wants, I want to be able to think about a song and have it play. I want my brain interface!

        I also want to think about kung fu and know kung fu…

        1. Ok, I’ll just need to reverse-engineer your brain protocols. Please try to remain still while I poke around in there with chainsaw and multi-meter…

    1. If you’re using the earphones it came with, you can double-click the mic-button to skip a track.

      Somehow I’m picking you’re using nicer headphones. 🙂 I have Sennheisers with the right button..

  2. you can get 3rd party apps for running an ipod and managing the music behaving as though it is a USB drive that you drag files onto. I believe they are a bit clunky, I tried a couple of the free ones, i would expect the pay ones to be better.

    and hurrah! you void your warranty!

    the ipod classic 120GB seem to have a few issues with screens fucking out after 6 months. mine did and was not the only one,. the replacement seems not to be new, but refurbished: I am not convinced the battery is as good as the one i had before, and it makes more clicky HD noise when it is operating.

    Apple appear to be increasingly more Satanic than MS these days.

    1. ps the 3rd party apps seem to tend to reside on the ipod itself, and be players/file managers, so you can just plug it into any old PC and drag music off it. dunno about the ogg thing.

    2. SharePod is good and free. Of course, you still have to get your tags sorted out.

      And you don’t void your iPod warranty by using other software to put music on it. Don’t be silly.

  3. I don’t quite hate my ipod, but very close. It’s just awful. If it hadn’t been a present I’d be very cross. It works tolerably with amaroK once you overlook the short battery life, and with amaroK you can actually use it with multiple computers. Rockbox would probably improve it immensely, when I manage to get around to it.

    has had a succession of Creative Zens and they seem to be pretty good. AmaroK handles them well, they have reasonable hard drive space, and they sound reasonable. I like the older (6, 10G) models’ interface WAY better, with a push/toggle switch to do up/down/choose, but the new ones with the toggle on the front are okay even if they look like a 1970’s remote control.

      1. Fight the monopolist – buy a Zune!

        If you have any Windows, I quite like the freeware SharePod for simple file based upload/download to iPods.

        There are also a number of tools that can use dir/filename or even just track analysis to populate the ID3 tags.

        1. True, there are, but which ones are actually any good?

          Coz dir/filename -> tags is what, four lines of Perl? Whereas a tool with a degree of common sense is really what I’m after, and it seems common sense is hard to program.

        2. I’ve got a friend with a Zune if you need to see one, I think its (along with the iRiver products) the only competitor to the iPod (sorry Creative lost it in 2005 I have not seen IMHO much from them worth talking about).

          1. Actually the other things is Creative has shit client software the Zune player for Windows is actually easy to use and quite good now if you’ll excuse me I need to bleach my eyeballs so i may be clean before Steve.

      2. AmaroK is good. It’s not perfect, but it’s good. The player/software interface is intuitive: drag music into the player, drag music out. The first connection is a bit tricky but after that it’s all okay. It handles a lot of different players. It allows you to edit mp3 tags easily (too easily, sometimes) and has a reasonable CDDB lookup that can be pointed at custom db’s.

        How come Steve’s liver is replaceable but the ipod’s battery isn’t?

  4. I think you should go for option 6.

    Unless you value ‘newness of technology’ over ‘criteria one through three’, that is. And that would be silly – if it was that important to you, it’d be in the criteria, wouldn’t it?

    Also, I believe my brother is still using his old Nomad, for the very same reasons you’ve mentioned.

  5. OPTION SEVEN.

    I’ve even had a glance at various DACs 🙂

    Aside from that, perhaps one of the Sansa players? I had much love for my Sansa e260 (which was only 4GB, but took microSD cards). Default firmware does mass-storage. And with Rockbox on it, did every format known to man.

    But I am not sure how the current Sansa stuff fairs with Rockbox.

    1. TOTALLY.

      First I’ll need to build the selective laser sintering machine to make the casing. Then I’ll need to learn more about analogue circuit design, which won’t take long. Then I’ll need to learn enough, which might take a while…

      1. Hey, you could go with a SteamPunk wooden casing – that’d take about 3 years off the development timescale, surely??

        I mean, you already know how to form wood, don’t you? I’m looking at the matchsticks for your planned abode…

        1. You know me, I’d end up unable to get exactly the right kind of brass for the rivets, and have to start mining my own copper and zinc…

  6. Have some opinions/notes regarding iPods and stuff, for your information

    Do you interface your music with anything else? Most systems these days seem to like id3 metadata. I’ve been recommended musicbrainz for auto-tagging files with it, but other than a quick play I haven’t done much with it. That can make it a little more palatable to change your music habits.

    For those of you that dislike removing your iPod from your pocket to change songs, there are things like this which can help you out. Personally I wish someone made something as nice as the old minidisc remotes with a screen for the iPod – so I can see what I’m changing to.

    I’ve had mixed results with Amarok and other linux-based mp3 playing suites, particularly around iPod support. My 5.5G works fine with them, but my iTouch only sometimes works. I suspect this is down to the TPM chips in the newer versions to regulate things like accessories.

    I’ve had fairly good results modding iPod firmware prior to the latest generation models, but I also can’t be bothered anymore. iTunes OSX is good. iTunes Windows? It’s good enough if you like media library type management, though it’s more bloaty and crashy than its Mac counterpart.

    Apps like winamp used to do fairly decent iPod management based on folder “metadata” I think.. hard to say, my mp3s were always tagged.

    Converting ogg to mp3 is a huge pain in the arse. That’d probably put me off right there. But if there are compelling-enough reasons, perhaps that’s just the way to go?

    If you actually do want to buy music online, iTunes Plus songs are all DRM free, and higher quality than the first bunch which were available. Most stuff is Plus now. Of course the Amazon-purchased mp3 files will work just fine too.

    For keeping music off your computer, the way I achieve that with iTunes is this: have my iTunes library on an external drive, full sync to iPod 5.5G. This way I can have an empty library on the computer and just plug the iPod in to listen from that, but I also have a backup copy / master library.

    There are a bunch of tools to extract music from iPods to other things, but I haven’t used any windows ones to recommend. Senuti was brilliant on OSX.

  7. iPods…

    OK disclaimer time: Big gert-fuck-off Mac fanboy = Me.

    I don’t get these “oh I used a iPod and I can’t get files on it or iTune does blah and deletes all files, I don’t have those issues and never have done over 4 iPods over 5 years. (I was using Windows XP still fore the first one and partly for the second). However some of iTunes defaults did need to be changed first to make life easier and the install of Safari as a “update” for the Windows users was not cool at all.

    OGG is also better than MP3 so having to convert is a fuck but AAC is better than MP3 too and is actually a Dolby standard not a Apple only format so non DRM tracks should be fine. Amerok last time I bothered (which was in a 0.x release) could play AAC.

    …Oh fuck it need to be true to myself …buy a Mac, Linux is for Communists! :p

    1. Re: iPods…

      It’s not so much that OGG > AAC > MP3 or whatever. It’s that transcoding wrecks quality, so if your file is MP3 then converting to OGG Vorbis (for instance) makes it worse than MP3.

      The solution is to rip/buy everything in a lossless format, but that can be awkward (though I’m almost there).

      1. Re: iPods…

        What he said.

        Generational loss from each lossy re-encode really starts to hurt. I don’t re-encode from a lossy format.

        These days any CD I buy is ripped into FLAC, which the SqueezeBox can play as-is, and is acceptable to generate AAC pr mp3 or whatever from.

  8. Option 7. But make sure it’s wireless (WiFi and Bluetooth, with the ability to seamlessly driveby access points). Plus an integrated flywheel charger. And a case made entirely of a wraparound flexible OLED that can display visualisations.

    And it needs to run the open source Ableton superclone that rikan_feral is going to write.

    I’ll volunteer to program manage.

    1. And it will be lickable, and by that I mean it’s only interface will be the tongue interface.

      (Actually, you could do that electrodes at different voltages for different sensations. “Delete All” would have to be at least nive volts though.)

  9. 5th generation ipod (up to 80GB) plus rockbox works for me.

    If you are happy with how your music files are structured, you use rockbox to navigate the folder structure to play files or at any place, play a directory and optionally recurse subdirectories.

    If you get into playlists, it allows you to create them and save them and stuff.

    If you get into properly tagging all your files (a program called foobar2000 lets you do this really easily), rockbox can build a database on the ipod that lets you browse your music by various fields, search, etc, etc.

    I tag my music through Foobar2000. It can get metadata through cddb and stuff, or you can set it up to get it through the file and path name of the files by setting up %variables% to map to the meta fields (would solve your problem). After it’s tagged, I move the files over to my rockbox’d ipod. I have foobar2000 setup to rename the files “%album artist%\[%date% – ]%album%\[%discnumber%.]%tracknumber% – %title%” so it’s easy to browse. The database on rockbox is cool, but I prefer navigating my actual file structure that I’ve dictated and is consistent with my local copy of the files.

    No lameness of itunes and the ipod confuscating filenames in the interest of DRM, etc..

    Can you tell I’m fan? 🙂 Being a geek, I’m sure you’d also have a bit of fun developing a custom theme for it as well (which is pretty damn easy with their markup language).

    Mike

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