Using a Sansa Clip music player under GNU/Linux

Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Jul 25, 2009 GMT
Bruce Byfield

Having arrived in middle-age far too starry-eyed for my own good, I always go to some lengths to find hardware or software compatible with GNU/Linux. My search for a portable music player was no exception. Eventually, I found what I wanted in a Sans Clip 4 gigabyte player, but at times I wondered if the manufacturer was trying to hide the compatibility.

My demands were simple. I wanted a player that supported Ogg Vorbis format, which is not only a free standard but -- so far as I can hear -- superior in sound quality to MP3. I also wanted one that included Ogg support out of the box; I knew that I could use Rockbox or iPodLinux to liberate an iPod, but I was no more eager to give my money to Apple than to Microsoft. Besides, as usual with Apple, iPods are overpriced compared to similar hardware from other manufacturers.

However, I would have been missed the fact that a Sansa Clip was a candidate for my purchase if I had no resource except the manufacturer's product page. Although the Sansa Clip's firmware has supported Ogg for a year and has always worked on GNU/Linux, SanDisk still hasn't got around to mentioning the facts consistently in its advertising -- never mind that mentioning them would take less than a dozen words and might increase sales by a percent or two. I only found the information here and there at various vendors. Even, then, the information was so intermittent that I researched the fact carefully on the web before I trusted it.

I had to do equal research to find out whether the Sansa Clip required special software to operate, or could be mounted under GNU/Linux like any other external USB drive. Eventually, I discovered that it could -- but why didn't the manufacturer bother to mention the simple fact?

Once I researched the purchase and brought it home, I thought my troubles were over. It turned out, however, that the efforts to use the Clip with the operating system of my choice were not quite over.

The Clip recharged under GNU/Linux just fine (although products that can't be used for three hours until they recharge are a gripe for another day). However, a little experimentation soon showed that the automatic detection for supported USB protocols would always default to MTP, a DRM-supporting standard developed by Microsoft. I could use MTP under both GNOME and KDE, but naturally I preferred the more standard and less restrictive MSC protocol.

To use that by default, required me to go into Settings -> System Info ->USB Mode to adjust the default
That change meant that files I had transferred under MTP were no longer visible, except in the memory that they occupied, which lead to more puzzlement. Discovering that fact added another twenty minutes to setup.

Yetl another problem occurred when I decided to upgrade the firmware. If you are a Windows user, you are provided with a script called Sansa Update for automating the process, but in GNU/Linux you are on your own.
Here are the steps I learned after another search on the web:

  1. Check your firmware by going to Settings -> System Info -> Version # on the player, then checking the release of the latest revision online (the Wikipedia entry lists it, if the Sansa download page doesn't). If a more recent revision is available, you need to make sure that you download the right version, since a player that uses 1.x release of the firmware cannot use a 2.x version.
  2. Prepare to install the new firmware, by locating a copy on the web and then downloading and unzipping the .BIN file it contains. Make sure that your battery has at least a 50% charge, so that it doesn't run out of power in the middle of the upgrade.
  3. Set the player to Hold, then hold the center button while plugging the player into a USB port.
  4. Once the player mounts, copy the file into the root directory of the clip. Disconnect the Clip and restart it, and the firmware updates.

All in all, a straight forward process. But that was the third bit of research I needed to do just in order to set things up.
As a long-time GNU/Linux user, I am probably better able to do such things than most computer users. If anything, I have come to take for granted that I will have to. Still, I have to add that the effort considerably reduced my pleasure in the new player, because nothing indicated that I would have to make it. From the little product information that I could scrape together, I assumed that the support was out of the box.

SanDisk deserves credit for supporting Ogg and multiple operating systems, and for not obfuscating things by requiring unnecessary proprietary software to connect to its player. But, after having made these efforts, why is the corporation apparently so reluctant to receive credit?

Admittedly, GNU/Linux users must be a minority of Clip users But they may be more numerous than anyone expects, because the Clip is one of the few current players that can meet their needs whose storage capacity is not hopelessly outdated and small. Moreover, adding the instructions I've given here would mean less than a page or an hour's effort for the Clip's product managers. Is it really too much to expect out of the box support for GNU/Linux when a product is halfway there? Because it creates high expectations, in some ways such a product is more frustrating than one which makes no claim of support for me or mine.


  • Gratitude

    Thanks for the post. Worked great (ubuntu 10.04)!
  • HUH !!!

    I must have a different SanDisk sansaclip+. I prepared a screenshot of this message on the web site:

    "Sansa Firmware Updater and Firmware defined
    What is a firmware, and what does a Sansa Firmware Updater do?

    Firmware defined
    Firmware is the software code that powers your Sansa player. SanDisk actively and periodically updates the capabilities, functionality, and reliability of your Sansa player through this firmware. For optimal experience with your Sansa player, SanDisk recommends that you update your firmware with each new release. Firmware updates are free.

    Sansa Firmware Updater
    The Sansa Firmware Updater is an application designed to deliver the latest firmware, software support, User Manuals right to your desktop.

    Download Sansa Firmware Updater.

    Sansa players supported by the Sansa Firmware Updater:
    - Sansa c200 series
    - Sansa Clip / Clip+
    - Sansa e200 series
    - Sansa Express
    - Sansa Fuze
    - Sansa Fuze+
    - Sansa View

    Supported OS:
    Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 2000 SP4

    NOT supported:
    Mac & Linux " (dont know how to place the screensot here.)

    My device will plug in and be seen on my machine but no files show up in the folders. I triied the MSC thing to no avail. And the only firmware I found (see above Sandisk says there isn't any for linux) is an .exe.

    Did I miss something ? Must I wrestle with WINE or what?

    In Ubuntu 10.04, Auto-Detect mode fails to work. Thanks for the tip on MSC mode. That works perfectly.

    Haven't tried ogg or flac yet.
  • sansa player and Ubuntu 10.04

    Thanks for this article! I just got myself this player and was confused how to pull music on it.
  • Leaving money on the table

    Surprising indeed that they would build a Linux-friendly device and then not tell anyone. Player makers seem to all ignore Linux users. (What else is new?) Okay, we are a small market segment, but would SanDisk like to have ALL OF IT? Would they like to get us used to SanDisk products, so that we prefer their brand in other product lines? Would they like customers who zealously promote brands that treat them well? Is anybody in Marketing listening?
  • Thanks

    Mr Brian, Thank you so much for the hold and press tip.
    When I changed my processor, and thus my hard disk, all sansa settings were lost.
    Now, after I put the clip in hold mode, and held the center button, windows recognized sansa clip!
    Thanks for the info.

  • Sansa and Linux

    Thanks for that - it helped me solve my current problems - well some of them - on my Sansa Furze.

    I have found Sansa support much better (responsive) than Creative, but I must admit I have not told them about Linux (yet) - however they have usually got back with 24 hours for any calls I have raised, with links to solutions.

    I am now left with the problem of duplicate in my playlists - that is if I add an item in Linux and update it in Windows then there are sometimes duplicates.
  • Sansa Clip

    SansaDisk are an odd bunch, nowhere does it say .flac is supported. The website and packaging don't mention it, yet the manual does, once..

    You get a strange situation though, where the matching Sansa Clip you've just unpacked has old firmware that needs updating before it can play back .flac files.

    I'm using Rhythmbox with Linux Mint. I also use the player with Foobar 2000, under Windows.

    I find the player's audio has more space and depth, compared to a comparable Apple device, Shuffle, Nano etc. There's a very simple user interface, with the added utility (thankfully!) of a dedicated volume switch and sensible touchwheel controls.

    It's a pity SansaDisk seem half-hearted about promoting the Fuze and Clip.
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