Saturday, June 12

Kit: MP3 Player & Battery Recharging in the wilds (Part 1)

I do so like listening to music, and it seems that has always been true.

Now I've nary a musical bone in my body. Ok there was the usual (thankfully short lived) coercion into the school choir. And that brief flirtation with an electric bass guitar (Its true. Lemmy Is God!)

But other than that I sort of spotted a long time ago that I was never going to make it as a Rock Star. Although that hasn't deterred me from living the lifestyle on occasions.

But that's another story, one probably rated Too Adult for this particular Blog.

But my appreciation of music has deepened over the years, a constant through times both thick and thin.

Back in my more youthful days, with frequent flat moves, my record deck, amp & speakers were always the first items to be set on arrival. With my record collection near to hand naturally.

The rest of the furnishings - well they could go sort of anywhere.

But the music set-up had to be just right.

I even survived for many years sans TV. What need had I of that particular conversation killer? Its inanely blinking moving wallpaper subverting the room and leeching the will from its captive audience. I had a cornucopia of so much Damned Good Music to appreciate.
And still do.

Over the years listening to music still remains very much an essential element of my life. Through good times & bad.

In the past I'd trialled portable kit on my outdoor jaunts. Sony Walkman tape player. CD Walkman. Both limited in their durability on a walk. And both bulky & heavy items. Ok for short walks, but useless for anything more.

My fallback for many years was a small portable radio, albeit with its restrictive choice of another's musical output. And that was when I was lucky.

So it was natural turn of events that in 2005 I would delved into the possibilities of MP3 technology.

The random selection of a low cost 1 GB memory stick, powered by a replaceable AAA battery, offered a low cost test.

(Logik 1GB memory stick)

As most of my trips are solo, audio entertainment is one luxury I don't forgo. However, as you probably know, radio reception becomes poor, or even nil, especially during long valley walks in the sort of terrain I regularly find myself enjoying. Even the LW frequency, in 2005 shedding stations like a new Gore Tex rainproof out in its first shower, proved problematical on far too many occasions.

So my first trip with a MP3 player with an instant access to music of my own selection was a moment of sheer bliss.

I went through the player's play list 4 or 5 times on that trip. The player was robust & lightweight.
Even the battery life seemed reasonable providing 10+ hours play time before replacement.

The only downside, that happened just the once, was a build up of condensation on the LCD display during several hours of use in torrential rain & gales.

And that was the only negative I could find.

I wanted more.

Having quickly outgrown the limit of the 1GB stick I tried a few cheap alternatives, all of which proved too fragile for outdoor use.

In 2006 my search eventually resulted in me shelling out around £60 for the Sandisk's Sansa E140, opting for the lower priced 1GB of on board memory rather than the deluxe 2GB version.

The advantage of this model was its use of SD cards thereby providing infinite music capacity. And as the price of these dropped I built up a small stock ready loaded with favourites from my CD collection, or BBC Radio dramas & music show downloads via the web (a topic for another day if any one is interested?) Except for the failure of one card, replaced under warranty, these cards have remained in use until quite recently.

The E140, powered by a single replaceable AAA battery, provided the sort of flexibility I demanded on my trips, proving faultless in standing up to the sort of daily abuse I can give my kit. Battery life 10-15 hours.

Another advantage of the E140 was its integral FM radio, which proved over the years to be a strong feature, rather than a cheap functional after thought (unlike the radio on my mobile phone of that time)

All this weighing in at around 50g, loaded with 1 ultralight Lithium AAA replaceable battery.

But time marches on.

For the last year or so the E140 has been showing increasing sign of wear. I use it on trips, holidays, dog walking, around the house when I want to escape that damned TV, and away on business trips.

In fact there is rarely a day when I haven't called on its sterling services.

Despite lengthy research on the web my attempt to source a replacement player were proving fruitless when it came to finding a model with replaceable batteries, SD cards, & an integral radio.

[Note to Mr Manufacturer: Its no good boasting that newer rechargeable battery technology, typically locked tightly within a sealed player, has a Long Life. On a week long wildcamping trip I want 60+ hours use. Minimum. And no I don't have access to that power socket you always seem to assume is so readily available]

So there was my dilemma preventing a long overdue upgrade. And as the months passed it seemed the number of alternatives were fast disappearing from the market.

Finally, last month, I had no alternative.

The E140 had by now developed an increasing tendency to react negatively to anything than less than Very Sensitive Handling, Its displeasure shown by a sudden volume change.

Sometimes a decrease. More usually an ear bashing leap to Full Power.


Enter the SanDisk Sansa Clip+ 8GB MP3 Player with Radio & MicroSD/SDHC Slot (again the budget model rather than the 16Gb model) for less than £50.

For this I received a MP3 Player about the size of a England Glory matchbox, a short USB cable, a set of headphones & a Get-Started booklet (the full instructions are online)

Still with the facility to handle SD cards (now the mini type, which I fortunately have) and still with an integral radio.

Only drawback - the battery is only rechargeable via a USB port. And despite a claim of 15hrs battery life (still untested) it won't be enough for my needs.

After a few weeks of use I have to say I'm really impressed. File transfer via the USB2 cable is very fast. And once switched on the player is much quicker to settle down ready to play music, compared to my E140.

Sound quality is good, especially after I'd customised the Equaliser. No idea what the supplied headphones are like - I learnt long ago to ditch those supplied and use my own choice.

I applied a couple of firmware updates - which went smoothly.

However one word of warning - I found one very naughty 'feature' included in the upgrades.

Having set the player to 'Europe' when I first configured it I found that the volume level had been auto disabled courtesy of some EU directive applied via a firmware update.

This crippled the unit. If it had been like this when I bought it, it would have been returned by the next post as unsuitable for use.

Showing 25% volume there was no audio. Even on full volume a slight wind would have made it unlistenable.

A few minutes on the excellent Sansa Forum fixed this.

Backing up the music files, just in case, I went into the player's options, selected Factory Reset, & chose 'World' as my choice.

Instant success & happily with no changes to the loaded music. I did need to reselect some of the customised options & rescan the FM Radio Stations for their Presets. The work of a couple of minutes.

Ah. The Radio.

Initial feeling is that its not as sensitive as the E140 in finding stations. The only true test will be out in the wilds - so the jury is still out on that one for the present.

Other negatives?

The colour screen is pretty, but why bother if a black & white one is more readable, especially in strong sunlight, and improves battery life? And it so easily picks up greasy fingerprints (as you can see from the photo)

A couple of the functions seem overkill - why have a WinAmp style visualization of the sound frequencies on a screen so small. And what is the use of it anyway?

But overall I'm very pleased.

I now have a MP3 Player weighing in at only 25g, half the weight of my old model, packed away in an incredibly small package.

But still there's the problem of battery replacement.

Back to the web research. Surely I can't be the only person with this sort of requirement?

Surprisingly it took a few hours before that Eureka moment. Finally I found exactly what I was looking. And at a low cost & lightweight as well.

On which I'll focus in Part 2 of this article.


I have the same player, which I bought to replace my ageing Sansa m260.

I seem to get a couple of full days play on of it, so the 15 hours is probably about right.

Apart from the recharging its a great little player.

As for charging on the go, I have been using a little 4AAA charger bought in a pound shop, this normally gives 2 1/2 full charges from one set of batteries, although I have just bought a new device to charge the mp3 and hopefully the phone, but am waiting on this to arrive.
I'm looking forward to reading the next part, as it's now become almost impossible to get hold of the Creative MuVos which have been brilliant for me over the years, and I'm sure they can't last forever.
Blimey JH! A gear review! I am sure the review is splendid but it all goes right over the top of my thinning pate.

The wind in the trees. The sigh of a beautiful girl. The plash of a brown trout in the burn... They would make up my perfect soundtrack!
Part 2 posted - hope it satisfies your wait

Al - I agree, but I do so like my own soundtrack to life at times
John, as you know I am a non techy type, however, some sort of mp3 player has long been on my mind, prferably one that you can push a button and play. Now I am inspired by your write up, please, can I, if I went for a Sandisk Sansa, just pop an sd card in an play, also, how do I put music on the card? There is a funny slot thingy on the side of my laptop?
Dawn - either join the laptop/player via a USB cable, or you may already have a SD slot on the pc to write to it directly
That Sansa player is HUGE. As tall as a garbage can?!!#$#%$ What are the Asians thinking? I thought they liked small things?


Anyways. You should try Rockbox on this mp3 player.

Two years too late. OH well.
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