Battery Swap Keeps Sansa Clip+ Chugging

You’d be forgiven for not realizing there’s still a diehard group of people out there carrying around dedicated MP3 players. While they were all the rage a decade or so back, most consumers have since moved over to using their handy dandy pocket supercomputer for playing their music. Plus controlling every other aspect of their personal life and finances, of course. Though that’s another story entirely.

But as [Conno Brooks] explained to us, there’s a sizable group of open source fanatics who prefer to store their jams on devices running the Rockbox firmware. Only problem is, some of the desirable Rockbox-compatible players are from the Golden Age of dedicated players, and aren’t getting any younger. In a recent blog post, he briefly goes over his ultimately successful attempt to put a new-made battery into his Sansa Clip+, a particularly desirable player that was released in 2009.

There are a few problems with the procedure that has kept it from being very widespread, according to [Conno]. For one, the Sansa Clip+ is tiny and not easily disassembled without destroying it. Worse, the diminutive 30mm x 36mm x 3mm OEM battery is effectively unobtainium. But ironically he was able to find an even smaller battery which seemed like it should work, assuming he could get it wired up.

The OEM battery on the Clip+ uses three wires, which [Conno] presumed was part of some thermal protection system. He first tried to take the circuit board off the original dead battery and graft it onto the modern cell, but something must have tripped because the resulting Franken-pack didn’t output any voltage. On his second attempt he simply ignored the third wire, and luckily the Clip+ didn’t seem to complain and started up as expected.

[Conno] says there’s some careful flexing required to get the new pack installed and the Clip+ closed properly, and the device’s runtime is somewhat diminished by the new battery’s lower capacity. But if it means another few years of keeping Big Brother out of your digital media habits, he figures it’s a worthy trade.

We’ve actually seen a few hacks now for the Sansa Clip line of players at this point, thanks to its second lease on life as an open source darling; from a slightly less stock-looking battery replacement, to adding a line-in option. When you get sick of listening to Hanson’s discography, you can even boot up what is perhaps the world’s worst port of DOOM.

40 thoughts on “Battery Swap Keeps Sansa Clip+ Chugging

  1. Is it the rockbox software specifically that’s the draw here? As much as one generally likes upgrading things, sometimes technology just gets better almost across the board. That commonly makes it more work to DIY and you wind up with a poorer result even if it all works and your time is worth $0 or you enjoy doing it and don’t care how long it takes. In short, the end result is just better to upgrade in almost every single way though it certainly is still nice that you *could* modify it.

    There are much better devices out there today that support things like USB 3.0, will play actual high end audio, have modern low power bluetooth and also have much more battery capacity as well. The somewhat nicer, low level professional offerings tend to cater to the slightly higher end community (so price points are closer to $75 to $100 USD compared to the really cheap portable music player options). But you also get a color screen, touch in some cases, FM tuner and support for up to 512 GB of data on a removable card as typical standard offerings as well as a number of more professional audio features as well.

    The downside, of course, is that I am unaware of any that are fairly modern but are also open source but I would certainly enjoy hearing about some if anybody knows of any.

      1. id love to see a raspi port of rockbox. nobody in the rockbox community seems interested in making one though.

        my 5th gen ipod isnt going to last forever. sure you can still get parts for it, even drive upgrades if you want to pay for them. i kind of also want to use bluetooth headphones which my ipod doesn’t support but the pi zero w should in theory. then its just a matter of slapping on a touch screen (though id put the bare minimum of physical controls necessary to play doom).

        1. The RasPi is comparatively power hungry. So it’s not a great match for a battery-powered device running Rockbox, which at least attempts to sip rather than guzzle electrons.

          The Clip+ with Rockbox gets typical runtimes on the order of 15-20 hours ( rockbox dot org/wiki/SansaRuntime ) on a 290mAh battery; let’s call that 80mW. At absolute minimum, the RasPi0 takes about 400mW ( pidramble dot com/wiki/benchmarks/power-consumption ).

          Plus the RasPi0 doesn’t natively come with any better audio hardware other than its own PWM outputs; a listenable design would either require adding a I²S DAC or writing a USB stack from scratch (Rockbox hasn’t needed one!) — and the RasPi’s I²S output is dramatically compromised due to not exporting its reference clock ( dimdim dot gr/2014/12/the-rasberry-pi-audio-out-through-i2s/ )

          And for a mains-powered design, something like Kodi will be a bit more useful.

          1. I should amend that: a USB host stack. It already has a USB endpoint stack to implement USB MSD (and this has been extended to a goofy USB HID mode where it pretends to be a mouse or keyboard )

          2. NiHaoMike: They really prefer to target 100% complete systems and distribute final builds. So for a rockbox port they’d really like something that someone can buy off-the-shelf that already has a screen, buttons, battery, and a 16 bit DAC.

            There don’t seem to be many things that tick all the boxes. On a very cursory search, only the ODROID GO seems to be close … but it doesn’t have a headphone jack.

    1. I have two Sansa clips in case one of mine fails. They’re great because the battery lasts an extremely long time and they are extremely small. You can put it it any pocket and not feel it. It doesn’t have wasteful things I don’t want or need like bluetooth.

      No new dedicated player has all these things and only these things.

      1. Exactly!

        My Sansa Clip+ is long gone, but there’s a Clip Zip in one of my boxes with a wonky flash chip (can’t add or delete files). Can anyone point to a guide how to replace it, and which chips are compatible?

          1. ^^^^ That’s pretty valid, it’s easy to hammer down the battery life of a phone to a few hours if it’s your only thing to do while travelling or waiting around for appointments etc. I use my old phone, with all the radios off for entertainment duty, preserve battery on the one I actually expect to be able to receive and make calls on.

      2. I have several older dedicated MP3 players. I use them when working outside because there will be significantly less swearing if it get damaged as opposed to my pocket supercomputer.

    2. I have a Sansa e250 that came with a box of free electronics and some brass shell casings from a Craigslist free listing. Wound up taking apart since wasn’t charging and the screws were already missing. Flipped the battery around which allowed for a full charge eventually and now works with no noticeable issues. Seems handy, compact and reminds me of someone elses comment I read somewhere else recently inline with cell phones being huge now and not as compact as like the old Motorola flip top I used to use about the size flipped open of the e250. I have a RIO Cali Sport that I used to use when I flew and road bikes. That seems to have stood the test of time also. That has an elastic arm band attachment that was useful in hot weather with no pockets.

      1. I bought my first E250 second hand a few years ago, and was so impressed with it, that I bought a few more on eBay.
        Then Rockbox came along, and just made it the best music player I would want, with an impressive battery life.
        I travel a lot for work, and always have 2 with me at all times; I use them while flying, to keep the aeroplane noise out, and make the time go past with music and the games. I use it, because it works, and stops me wasting precious phone battery life, which I find more useful to use when landed to get in touch with the person who is supposed to pick me up.

        I will keep my Sansas running as long as I can. One is already dead, due to a dodgy flash, but the others are still going strong.

    3. Much of the draw for Rockbox is for MP3 players that required proprietary software to copy music to them. Often the software did wonky things to the tracks and/or had limitations like being unable to copy *from* the player to a computer. Many of those players had hardware capable of playing ordinary MP3, it was just stupid software shenanigans to pacify Sony, EMI, and the other big music publishers.

      Another reason for Rockbox is most of those proprietary music loading programs don’t work on anything other than Windows, and often will not run on anything newer than XP, or if they will run on Vista and later will not run on 64 bit versions, even if the program is 32bit.

      If you happen to have the first USB connectable MP3 player, the RIO PMP500, you may remember RIOsitude and Dreaming of Brazil. Those were two 3rd party programs that bypassed the need for the special version of MusicMatch Jukebox that shipped with the player. They not only allowed copying music from the RIO, they also allowed using the RIO to store any other kind of files. Sadly, those programs wouldn’t work with XP or newer. :(
      But now there’s RioFXP. (Rio For XP) It’s no longer in development as the author doesn’t have a PMP500 anymore, but the software and source are still available for free. It should run on newer versions of Windows.

      Now if someone would make the recovery/reformat software work on anything newer than Windows 9x… it may only work on 95 OSR2 with the USB update. Someday I’m going to have to setup an old PC with 95B+USB (or 98 if the software will run on it) just to see if my corrupted PMP500 can be recovered.

    4. It’s definitely about rockbox, I’ve always used some kind of media player since they were available and rockbox just does it all, it has every option that you would possibly want and nothing else I’ve tried comes close to it. I couldn’t source a replacement device when my clip+ died so I’m using a more modern alternative but I definitely still miss rockbox.

  2. A ‘pocket supercomputer’ might be well capable of playing a few MP3s, but one thing they *universlly* lack is tactile buttons. When I’m half asleep I can gently squeeze the ‘next’ button, or adjust the volume, while keeping my eyes closed and my head on the pillow.
    With my ‘supercomputer’ I have to look at the screen to see where the button is, and make sure it registers my touch, and then if I accidentally rest my finger on it, it triggers what will likely be an unwanted action.

    Sandisk had it right when they made the Sansa Clip with tactile buttons!

    1. Most phones I see have physical volume buttons. Sometimes holding one down works as next / prev. But I don’t need to bother doing that, the Bluetooth headphones have all those controls. Plus answer-call and even last-number redial. I rarely switch the phone’s screen on to play music. If I can’t remember what a track is, my 10 quid Chinese smartwatch will tell me.

  3. I have a Cowon J3 who’s battery one day gave up the ghost.
    I couldn’t find the right size battery in my spares… so I asked work for a couple phone batteries from the spare parts phones that fill up as field engineers drop them.
    I made a metal box out of an old scrap LCD panel metal backing plate and I made the box a few mm to big and thus had room for a couple speakers of the thin yet bassy types. The player would run for just under a week, I forever forgot to turn the thing off as a result.
    The bonus was an impressively wide audio response from the internal speaker amp and my speaker choice that I could pull the player out and show off my music collection without giving people tinnitus. All whilst being able to pick up the player and just resume the music in a hurry.

    Now I have a GPD win for pocket media and on the go computing.. I’m thinking of reusing the speakers in a similar box for adding more bass to my Lenovo T400 to complement the speaker mod I’ve already done to it.

  4. Plenty of volume and quality, but playing FLAC really wins the prize. Who needs rockbox? Print out a back cover that’s deeper and put a bigger cell (needed) in it. Brand new blurtooth junk could be a source of small batteries.

    1. The standard firmware for the Sansa Clip+ takes an absolute age to index all the files on flash if you have a reasonable number of them. It does this every time it boots. Rockbox doesn’t.

  5. Recently I checked eBay for Cowon iAudio X5 player, it seems it costs more now than when it was released. Luckily mine still works, I replaced 1.8″ hdd with CF and also changed battery and installed Rockbox. Works perfectly and battery lasts longer than with original configuration.
    Regarding the featured post, third wire on batteries is almost always NTC resistor, it is used to signal charging circuitry if battery is overheating. Everything usually works fine without even connecting that wire as firmware is written only to detect too low values from NTC, not too high (infinite). But if battery overheats, charging circuitry can’t know that without NTC and that can be fire hazard.

  6. This is a great audio player, especially with Rockbox to get the most out of it.
    I also had to open it (the on/off switch broke), and succeeded, although it’s not easy to open without any damage.
    Here’s webpage where I repaired it:
    I totally recommend this audio player, since it’s still doing its job perfectly after 8 years.

  7. I have an 8Gb Clip+ with Rockbox and a 16Gb card. Most of my music is saved as Ogg Vorbis, and that was the deal breaker for me. Also that it appears as external mass storage on my openSuse desktop! It even works as an external device with the Clementine desktop audio player. The original Sansa software did not like having more than about 10Gb of music to index, and became impossibly slow. rockbox saved the day. As long as the hardware keeps going I will keep using it.

  8. My years old clip+ died on my a couple months ago. online prices for a new old stock one run around $140. Found one on facebook market place for $10 from a little old lady 40 minutes away. it was practically mint. Gave her $20 which made her day. put rock box on it and popped in my sd card from the old one and that was that.
    I did try to fix the old one but i must of fried it somehow. replaced the battery with one from another device which was similar in size. It did turn on but i destroyed the case trying to open it which didn’t bother me because iwas planning on 3D printing another on to fit the battery but it stopped working. Tried several known to be good batteries but its dead.

  9. I’ve got an old sansa clip zip (or something like that). I use it on long flights. That way my phone battery is still charged when I land and need to use the phone. Installed rockbox on it many years ago. MASSIVE increase in sound quality and far superior to any phone I’ve used. Also plays flac wit rockbox…

  10. In addition to the things already mentioned, Rockbox has a load of features. Everything from games to battery analyzer to customizable GUI. When I replaced the battery on mine a few years ago I transplanted the protection circuit from the old battery to the new and didn’t have any problems. Also I put a wrist strap on it.

  11. I’ve got three of these clip+ players and with rockbox they are amazing. For starters the audio quality is actually surprisingly good for how cheap and small these guys are. Also with rockbox you can load up a huge 128/256gb sd card with high bitrate/uncompressed audio. Finally I wired an external 1000mAh cell phone battery that is about the same size as the player, taped to the back and it easily gets 50+ hours of continuous playback (even better is I rarely have to charge it and it just keeps chugging).

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