The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'archos jukebox recorder'


The first MP3 player I owned was an Archos Jukebox Recorder. This was a relatively bulky unit consisting of a low-power CPU, monochrome bitmap display and notebook hard drive (20Gb, though it was easy enough to open it up and swap the hard disk for a larger one, at least until Archos started soldering their hard drives into cages of circuit boards).

Just under a year ago, I bought an iRiver H340; this is a smaller unit, with a more powerful CPU (Motorola ColdFire; it's powerful enough to decode MP3 and OGG in software, and someone has gotten an iRiver emulating a GameBoy), a colour display, two USB ports (device and host), and based around a smaller (1.8", i.e., iPod-sized) hard drive. Like the Archos, it could record to MP3, from a (crap) built-in microphone or line in (I think it even has a microphone preamp built in, unlike the Archos). However, it seemed to have one crucial missing feature: no real-time clock.

Why is that such a big problem, you ask? Well, when you suddenly record something on the go, how will you know what it is that you recorded later on? The files it makes are named VOICE001.MP3, VOICE002.MP3 and so on, which doesn't say much. There is no keypad, touch screen or other data-entry method to give them names either. Of course, if the device has a real-time clock, you can look at the timestamp of the file to see when it was recorded, but with no such clock, all files created get an arbitrary creation time such as midnight on 1/1/2002, so you're left guessing.

Mind you, now it emerges that the H340 hardware does have a real-time clock, just that the firmware didn't use it. I just found out the most recent firmware upgrade adds a clock function, displaying the current time, and adding sensible timestamps to any files recorded. Which makes the iRiver slightly more useful for things other than listening to music.

(Of course, the firmware is still annoyingly clunky when it comes to doing some things; though now that it is confirmed that there is a clock inside the unit, Rockbox can make use of it when it is ported to it.)

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When I last went to recharge my Archos Jukebox Recorder, I noticed that the DC IN socket wasn't there. It had snapped off and was rattling around inside. I opened the unit up to take a look, but it turns out that the socket is inside a box of soldered-together circuit boards, and impossible to get at without serious disassembly, something my electronics kung-fu isn't quite up to.

Anyway, this suggests that it's time to buy a new MP3 player. Can anybody recommend a good hard-disk-based unit with at least 40Gb of capacity, USB 2.0, USB Mass Storage capability (i.e., if you plug it into a computer, it appears as a hard disk to which you can copy MP3s, and doesn't require custom drivers or software), recording from microphone/line in to MP3 files, decent firmware and decent sound quality? (Has anybody had any experience with the iRiver H140?)

(Alternately, I could join the white earphone brigade. The problem with that is that iPods are a hassle to get files onto under Linux because of the custom database they use, and my PowerBook's hard disk (or at least the OSX partition) is far too small for me to carry a copy of my music collection on. I could at most feed an iPod Mini from it.)

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As of today, I have a 40Gb* Archos Jukebox Recorder 20.

This Sunday, I went to the computer swap meet and picked up a 40Gb notebook hard disk (a Hitachi TravelStar, for what it's worth), along with a notebook-drive-to-IDE-cable adaptor. Yesterday, I wandered down to Jaycar and bought a set of Torx screwdrivers (that's the funny hexagonal screws used to fasten things that people with ordinary household screwdrivers have no business in opening) and an antistatic wrist strap (just in case).

First, I copied the contents of the Archos to the new disk; I used the adaptor to attach the disk to my Linux box (as /dev/hdb; to make it into the slave device, I borrowed a jumper from an ancient SCSI hard disk I have lying around whose exact origins are lost in the mists of time). I then partitioned it (making one big FAT32 (LBA) partition, as on the Archos), and copied the Archos' contents to it in one gulp, with:

dd if=/dev/sda1 of=/dev/hdb1

Then I used GNU Parted to resize the partition (and the FAT filesystem on it) to take up the entire span of the new disk.

Then came the hardware modification; off came the "Warranty Seal" sticker, and the rubicon was crossed. I was working from this guide, which, whilst written for older Archos units, was quite accurate. The operation was easier than I feared; I was half-expecting the Archos hardware to be next to impossible to take apart without destroying some delicate connection or other, but this turned out not to be the case. The most tricky thing was putting on the black rubber bumpers when putting the case back together (obviously, whoever designs cases for Archos is not the same person who designed the Apple Macintosh G4 case or any similarly hacker-friendly hardware enclosure). In any case, everything went smoothly and without a hitch. I'd say that changing the hard disk in an Archos Jukebox isn't much harder than doing so inside a generic PC; if your warranty has expired (or would involve shipping the unit to France by courier or something similarly useless), it's worth a try.

Now I've got a 20Gb hard disk full of MP3 files, waiting to be recycled. In an ideal world, someone would sell external USB drive enclosures (like the ones you can buy for hard disks) with built in MP3-player functionality. (I believe there are all-in-one MP3 decoder chips that can talk to an arbitrary IDE disk.) Though if those don't exist, I may just end up using it as a backup device or somesuch (the usual fate of old hard disks).

* That's in marketing gigabytes. It actually has 37Gb or so of space, though that is still twice its former capacity.

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Tips for recording live music gigs with the Archos Jukebox Recorder:

  1. Don't bother with the internal microphone, unless you like having the sound of hard-disk noise over the top of the recording every few minutes (perhaps if you're doing lo-fi glitch electronica or some form of sound-art it could add to the overall ambience). Yes, it's convenient, but it's also useless for anything other than voice notes and the like.
  2. As the Archos doesn't have a pre-amped microphone socket, you'll need an external preamp. The only pocket-sized battery-operated one I've seen that doesn't cost an arm and a leg comes with the Archos stereo microphone, so get that.
  3. Once you've got the Archos stereo microphone, throw out the cheap dynamic microphone that comes with it and, in its stead, plug a decent-quality condenser microphone into the preamp. Otherwise, no matter how you adjust the gain, anything recorded in a band venue will be distorted horribly.

I recently got the Archos microphone/preamp combo in the mail, and decided to test it this weekend. I tried recording last night's Ninetynine gig with the dynamic tie-clip microphone that came with the preamp, and ended up with a horribly distorted, and ultimately unlistenable, 60Mb MP3 file. This evening, I went to the Bidston Moss gig with the Sony stereo microphone I bought some years ago for my old MiniDisc and the recording came out sounding surprisingly good.

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The Archos Jukebox Recorder arrived today. My first impressions are pretty good. It's reasonably small (larger than an iPod, but smaller than the cassette Walkman from my childhood), a bit better-looking than in the photos (they replaced the light blue with a tasteful charcoal grey), and feels fairly solid (the case seems to be made out of a light alloy of some sort). It came with a USB cable (A-A male-male, for some odd reason), a carrying pouch (which doesn't look quite as flash as the unit), a pair of cheap-looking headphones (which don't sound too bad, actually), a power adaptor (despite the fact that there's no Australian distributor, the unit shipped all the way from France packaged with an Australian power adaptor), and the obligatory headphone-plug-to-2-RCA-plugs cable.

Plugged into a computer, it looks like a USB Mass Storage device (as expected); in particular, like a hard disk containing one VFAT partition. It came with about 4 MP3s preloaded onto it, including the Thievery Corporation remix of GusGus's Polyesterday, as well as some naff country song, a generic electronic number and a track by a (presumably) French band which I've yet to listen to. (Aside to indie musicians: now there's an idea for a promotional technique...) With USB 1.1, it is rather on the slow side, but the device does USB 2.0 as well; time to get a USB 2.0 card, methinks.

Taking it for a spin, the sound quality (from 192kbps MP3s) is quite good, and the interface is quite usable too. (In case you're wondering, the first thing I played on it was Minimum Chips' Freckles EP.) I haven't tested the recording function yet. I've installed the Rockbox firmware on it, and it works quite nicely.

The only drawback I've noticed so far is that the manual seems a bit vague and short of information; for example, it doesn't tell you what the two LEDs mean, or indeed whether the S/PDIF socket is optical, coaxial or both (as it is on my old MiniDisc).

The unit ended up costing me some AUP650 in total, including shipping from France. (There was no import tarriff, as recording devices are tariff-free in Australia. If you decide to buy one and UPS tell you Customs want money for it, remind them that it's a recording device and they'll let it pass untrammelled.) That's almost 400 pesos less than an iPod costs here (and that's not counting the cost of a FireWire card one needs for talking to an iPod), and unlike the iPod, it does recording too. All in all, I'm quite pleased with it.

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The Archos Jukebox Recorder is sort of like the iPod, only not quite as light, sexy-looking or fashionable, but it is considerably cheaper and can record directly to MP3 from a microphone or line in. That's right; take it to a gig, press record, and it makes a MP3 file you can copy onto your computer when you plug it in at home. (It also speaks USB, for those of us who don't have an IEE1394 card.) And now some enterprising hackers in Sweden have written custom open-source firmware for it, which adds lots of features (and extends the battery life somewhat too), which makes it an even more attractive proposition. (Mind you, it's not really firmware; more like a kernel that gets loaded off the hard disk; there's even a Lilo-like boot menu program to select from different boot options.)

(Has anybody here had any experience with Archos MP3 units? Are they as good as they look on paper?)

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