So recently a fellow fedizen Tychi posted this about looking for a new MP3 player. It got me thinking about actually getting an MP3 player for myself. Usually I would just use my phone, but through years of abuse while farming the aux jack is, unreliable, to put it nicely. Inspired by Tyler’s call I decided to do some research into the possibility of getting a FOSS music player. I already had a good idea where to start as well.
Enter Rockbox, a project to create open source firmware for classic iPods. Now I first heard of Rockbox from the youtube channel DankPods, specifically his Playing DOOM on an old iPod video, where using Rockbox he of course plays DOOM, because if it has a screen and user input someone has managed to run DOOM on it. So I went poking around Rockbox’s site to see what devices it supported. While iPods were obviously the main attraction it supports other devices. Not to mention old iPods (especially in good condition) are expensive nowadays, and I don’t have any just lying around. Perusing the site I saw a familiar name, FiiO. For those who don’t know FiiO makes super high end FLAC players often running a custom Android ROM on their hardware. However the one supported device wasn’t quite that capable. Nope the only port was for the more reasonably priced M3K. And even better, the port allowed for dual boot, so I could run the proprietary firmware if need be. Needless to say off to Ebay I went.
Rockbox on the FiiO M3K
The FiiO M3K technically only has unstable support, and as such installation has to be done manually. Of course the rockbox docs are amazing so even manual installation was a total breeze. I got it all up and running in about 10 minutes. Actually moving my 40 GB of music was the part that took a while.
After using Rockbox on the Fiio M3K for a week I can officially say it’s great, but not perfect.
So firstly the whole playing music thing just works. It handles my large music library flawlessly. It works with pretty much any file format be it FLAC, MP3, AAC/M4A. M3U playlists also just work, it even use #EXTINF tags so it is file path agnostic. Battery life is great lasting me easily three days without charge on intermittent use. It also has a ludicrous amount of settings. Like pretty much any part of it can be customized, from adjusting the EQ to full blown themeing. I really wish I could say more good things but they would all be “Yeah this thing works how you would expect, like a normal music player.”
These are mostly going to be pet peeves rather than actually bad things. Firstly, the fact that volume remains the same no matter what type of AUX cord is plugged in. For context my car requires a lot more volume on any AUX connected device to play than say a normal pair of headphones. As such when I used my phone I would have my car AUX jack be a 4-connector i.e. a microphone inline, and my headphones as a standard 3-connector. My phone would detect the difference between these two and adjust the volume based on the previous connections, so my car would be high and headphones low. The M3K is unfortunately not that smart, so I sometimes forget to turn down the volume after getting out of the car and blast my music way too loud in my ears.
Also, sometimes when trying to resume playback after the device shutdowns to preserve battery I get a Out Of Memory error, but just clicking the resume button again works as expected. And lastly, songs with weird special characters in their title, like Breathe A•gain by Couros, will not be able to be played from M3U playlists, but can be played normally.
Oh and DOOM doesn’t play on it… yet.
Two things here.
- The interface is very small, which is expected because the M3K is very small. Here is a size comparison for you, on the left the Pinephone, the right an iPhone 5S, and the M3K in the middle.
- Japanese Kanji is not supported, which means many song titles are the classic blank error box. Not great.
All in all I think Rockbox is a great FOSS tool, and if you have a spare iPod lying around that isn’t dead, consider giving it a go. Or buy a whole device for it like I did. You do you.