Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Archos Jukebox Recorder 20 MP3 Player

Here is an older review I did on my FAVORITE mp3 player:

lots more pictures:

There are some very clear advantages to this vintage mp3 player.
- about the size of a 2.5" laptop hard drive but 3x as thick.
- 20 gig hard drive based mp3 player
- discontinued for a couple of years now. you can still find them on ebay:
You should be able to get one for around $100 shipped for a working model if you are patient.
- uses 4 X AA standard nimh. With 2300mah I'm getting about 10-15 hrs (With a good mix of audio books and music I got close to 14hrs). A lot depends on the bit rate of what you are listening to. Higher bit rate means more hard drive access since shorter durations fit in the memory buffer.
- usb mass storage device. no special software needed
- usb 2.0
- requires a usb A(male)-A(male) cable (not the usual A-B). You can get these at fry's for $7-10 or you can buy a A->B adapter for about $4.
- uses a standard 2.5" laptop hard drive formatted to fat32. Pretty easy to upgrade. You want 100 gigs of music? You can do it with this player and for a lot cheaper.
- killer open source OS called rockbox:
Without this there would be almost no reason to even consider this player. It has a ton of features for the power user. Read over the manual to get an idea of all it can do: full customization of almost every imaginable setting, directory navigation, unlimited bookmarks which are saved to the hard drive in a plain text file, resume, better usb support, better charging algorithm, games (even tetris), very flexible on the fly m3u playlist creation, and a ton more. No need to flash. Super easy installation. Just unzip to the root of the HD.
- lots of inputs/outputs. Digital in/out and analog line in. You can record directly to mp3 VBR up to avg 170 kbps. The quality is very good. Visual graph of recording level lets you adjust gain on the fly and also monitor/hear what you are recording on the headphones.

buying an archos:
The only device that meets my criteria of using standard AA nimh, uses standard 2.5" laptop HD, and is usb 2.0 is the Archos Jukebox recorder 20. Only the 20 gig model are you guaranteed usb 2.0. The 15gb comes in both usb 1.1 and usb 2.0 so be careful.

I flashed my Archos with rockbox. This is completely optional. Archos runs just fine from the hard drive. Make sure you read carefully:

It was really easy and pretty safe. It took only a few minutes. I flashed with rombox so rockbox executes directly from flash instead of ram. I now have 1.761MB (up from 1.614) of free buffer memory (about 4% increase in play time - 30min).

The main reason I did it was I was getting tired of the 15 sec boot times. Now I'm enjoying 4 sec boot times!

Hard drive upgrade:
The drive should have the following specs...
2.5 inch
9.5 mm
4200 rpm (I hear lower rpm helps battery life)
Fluid Dynamic Bearing (FDB) quieter.

I picked up this 80gb fujitsu laptop hard drive. It's currently only $104:

Installing it was quick and easy.

create a primary partition.
used h2format to format to fat 32

So basically for around $200 I have an 80gb mp3 player. If you ebay the original 20gb HD that came in the archos (for around $40) then you are looking at about $160 for an 80gb mp3 player! Sure it looks a bit dated, it's a bit larger and heavier but it uses so many industry standard parts (battery, storage) plus open source software. It makes it a dream to tinker with/upgrade for the power user. Overall I think it's a great value.

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