27 September 2007

FLAC on your iPod with Rockbox

The list of hardware with native FLAC support on the FLAC website includes quite a few home systems; Slim Devices' Squeezebox and Transporter, the Sonos Music System and wireless media players from the likes of Netgear, Olive and Helios. The list of portable players with native support is less impressive however, Cowon and Rio being the only names I recognise.

Thankfully the very nice people responsible for the Rockbox firmware had the foresight to include a FLAC codec meaning if you own an iPod or one of the other supported players listed below then all is not lost.

  • Apple: 1st through 5.5th generation iPod, iPod Mini and 1st generation iPod Nano (not the Shuffle, 2nd/3rd gen Nano, Classic or Touch)
  • Archos: Jukebox 5000, 6000, Studio, Recorder, FM Recorder, Recorder V2 and Ondio
  • Cowon: iAudio X5, X5V, X5L, M5 and M5L
  • iriver: H100, H300 and H10 series
  • SanDisk: Sansa c200, e200 and e200R series
  • Toshiba: Gigabeat X and F series (not the S series)

I'm normally skeptical of any such warranty voiding activities however, as my iPod is third generation its warranty days are long gone, I thought I'd give it a go. The firmware itself runs alongside the Apple one in a very nifty dual boot setup and the installation couldn't really be simpler. All you do is download one of the builds, copy it to the root of your iPod's hard disk, run a flash utility and it's done.

There are a lot of benefits to Rockbox over the native firmware including folder browsing, playlist editing, skinning and one the audiophiles will love, a proper parametric EQ so you can even out your headphones' response. There does seem to be one disadvantage too in that battery life seems somewhat reduced, possibly due to the increased disk access required for FLAC playback. This is a small price to pay for an impeccable performance from the full quality tracks going through the iPod DAC though.



gychang said...

I have 1st generation Nano, 4GB and also interested in being able to play my flac files. I gather you like it. Is the sound improved from mp3 playing?, you make it sound easy to install rockbox. Appreciate any more comments.


Derek Fowler said...

The sound is greatly improved over MP3 or AAC, yes. As FLAC is lossless it's the same as listening to a WAV on your iPod. Your iPod Nano is supported by the Rockbox firmware although, as it's only 4GB, space may be more of a concern for you. FLAC is about 60% the size of a WAV whereas MP3 is about 10-20% depending on bitrate. You may want to go for higher bitrate MP3 rather than FLAC.