MP3 Players Are Great (and Rockbox makes them even better)

Recently I got myself a SanDisk Sansa Clip+. Just look at this beauty…

Picture of Sansa Clip +

Even though it wasn’t until recently that I stopped using a smartphone, which was my primary motivation to finally buy a music player, my casual interest in these devices goes a while back. I guess there’s just something cool about having a separate device for music. Especially something like the Clip+ which has most of the benefits of listening on a smartphone (great audio quality, good battery life) with none of the drawbacks (has a headphone jack, microSD card slot, small and lightweight, no Spookify).

A short review of the Sandisk Sansa Clip+

I bought it used on a Polish auction site similar to eBay for around 100zł (20€). The sound quality is great, easily as good as in smartphones, perhaps a bit better. Rockbox, the custom firmware, provides a lot of options for adjusting the audio to your liking.

The player is the size of a box of matches and weighs virtually nothing (25 grams). It has a rather sturdy clip on the back which makes it great for sports. The buttons have a nice click to them but the symbols on them are printed so they’ll probably disappear with use.

The screen is nice and bright, however the top portion displays the interface in orange while the rest of the display is blue. This means that if you increase the font size, you’ll likely end up with the top row of text being half orange and half blue - it’s a pain to read.

On the side of the device there’s a microSD card slot. I don’t know what the maximum storage space of the SD card is for the Clip+ but it takes my 64GB card. The slot holds the microSD card firmly but it’s not covered by anything so if you’re really unlucky, it might fly out never to be found again. Putting a piece of electrical tape over it might be a good idea.

Battery life is very decent. From my experience it lasts about 10 hours. I recommend setting backlight time to 10 seconds or less and disabling screen wake for volume up/down. If the device was just playing music with the screen always off, I think 12-14 hours is achievable.

For me, the biggest drawback is that the Sansa uses an obsolete USB Micro-B port for charging and file transfer. From what I’ve read they’re notorious for failing. If file transfer doesn’t work, however, it’s likely due to the cable being for charging only so it’s worth trying a few cords before concluding the port is at fault.

Rockbox - a free as in freedom firmware for MP3 players

A rule of thumb for judging whether an MP3 player is good - if it can run Rockbox, it probably is. The term MP3 player is a bit of a misnomer in this case because Rockbox supports many more formats, most notably Opus, which apparently is the best lossy audio format at the moment (I mostly use 128k Opus or 320k Mp3, the latter only if I can’t obtain a lossless file to convert to Opus).

Rockbox is absolutely bloated packed with features. The amount of settings, menus and preinstalled plugins is so vast that I’m surprised it doesn’t hinder performance. Some of the most off-the-wall features include the periodic table, resistor calculator and Doom. Yes, that Doom.

The documentation provided on the website is in-depth and the devs are active on IRC and eager to help. My second Sansa Clip+ disconnected from the computer during the installation of Rockbox due to a faulty cable which corrupted the internal memory but one of the devs, bilgus, found a workaround.


If you’re doing sports, want to ditch a smartphone, would like to have a standalone music device or have any other reason for wanting an MP3 player, check out Rockbox’s website for supported devices; maybe you have one in the back of your drawer. Anyway, you can get a good player very cheaply, so why not try it out?