Thursday, December 29, 2005

RockBox Firmware Enhances iRiver Recorders

Though I don't own one of these devices, I thought it would be good to post my summary of the state of iRiver software here, since I have been covering comparable consumer recording devices. I hope you find this useful.

RockBox is open source replacement software for that which comes with various hard disk MP3 players. Up until recently this wasn't of real interest to those who want to do recording. But now they have a release ready for the iRiver recorders, which opens up the possibility of high quality recording on those devices.

The iRiver iHP-120 is a 20GB hard disk player/recorder which supports MP3, WMA and Ogg files. It has siblings in the iHP-110 and iHP-140 (no prize for guessing their capacities). It has both analogue and digital I/O rated at 96 dB SNR and 2.5V plug-in power for small condenser mics. The battery is good for 4 hours of WAV recording, and the device does a soft shutdown when the battery expires, so you don't lose your file. So far so good; this sounds like a decent replacement for a minidisc recorder.

Unfortunately the original firmware made it a less than ideal solution. Though it has a radio there was no way to record from it. Likewise there is no timer recording. WAV file recording is limited to 795MB (~75min) in a single file. Worse yet, there is no on-the-fly record level adjustment and a small recording glitch occurs about every 30 seconds, as the hard drive spins up. This adds a noise spike to the recorded signal which makes the recordings unsuitable for precise tasks.

RockBox looks to expand the capabilities and remove the limitations. It is not easy to track the changes from the website, since easy documentation is not the forte of the crew working on the project.

However at this point it seems that WAV recording at 44.1 KHz is supported from mic/line-in and the radio with full monitoring. Automatic time and byte splitting is possible to get around the file size limitation (which has been increased to 2 GB in any case).

Playback enhancements include the addition of FLAC and Wavpack CODECS, auto-crossfading of tracks, and support for gapless playback of MP3 files encoded with LAME. The peak meter has been improved and now works in dB scale.

All-on-all this looks like a great update to an already good piece of hardware. However, since these models have been superseded by the 3xx series, you may have to find units on the after-market (eg: EBay). And in answer to the next obvious question, RockBox is also developing firmware for that newer line of units.

There is a wiki page with installation instructions. There is also a helpful article on MisticRiver, the iRiver user site, which has special fora for RockBox.

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