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Digital Audio (FLAC/MP3/etc) Players (DAPs) item created by jacksonchansf, Dec 1, 2012
Pros - Super Cheap Refurbs! Good sound. microSD slot. Nice screen.
Cons - Touchpad control won't suit some.
Purchase and receipt:
I paid £20.98 (US $32.51) including delivery for a manufacturer refurbished 8GB Sansa Fuze+. It has an "R" stamped on the back to show its refurb status. It was supplied in plain package with only a USB cable and arrived with the battery at about 40% charge and all settings at default. It has a 90 day warranty.
I bought the Fuze+ to replace my Clip+ which died on me last week. The Clip+ had taken a two and a half year battering including numerous drops and even immersion in sea water so I can't complain. I chose the Fuze+ because I prefer to run Rockbox. The Clip+ and Fuze v2 I owned had some noise issues and the Fuze+ uses different hardware and has a nice big screen which is great for album art and metadata so a change of hardware appealed to me. The Fuze+ new is badly overpriced imo but refurbs are super cheap, cheaper even than Clip Zip refurbs.
I had read the Sansa Original Firmware is very bad but don't mind much as it won't be getting used, however for the purpose of review I'll devote a couple of paragraphs to it.
The Fuze+ looks quite nice. It's hard to say anything about build or component quality except that the front and back of the plastic casing are glued or attached very neatly. The screen is 2.4 inch 240x320 but looks nice and can easily go bright enough to be useful outdoors. Text looks crisp and colours look very good. I like that there is a physical volume control and a single power/screenlock button. I was open to the concept of touchpad control as my old Fuze v2 died when its button wheel died and my Clip+ always made a click when a button was pressed. If the Fuze+ had a similar wheel or Clip+ type button pad I probably wouldn't have bought it. MicroSD cards sit flush in the card slot, unlike the older Sansa models.
The Fuze+ uses the common Micro USB connector so no proprietary cables needed nor docks available. This is not the right player for people who like esoteric boxes held together by S&M straps, connected by cables from the engine room of the star ship Enterprise.
Sansa Original Firmware:
Sansa's UI is pretty. That's the all positivity done in a mere four words. Despite having about three years experience of using Sansa Clip+ and Fuze v2 players I had to read the manual to work out how to use the damn thing. Even then the touchpad experience is incredibly bad with navigation and button press actions so poorly thought out that using the player is frustrating, uncertain and slow. Lots of others have detailed the problems so I'll just say that every bad thing you heard is true. The responsiveness improved a little with background image disabled.
Other problems with the OF: it didn't recognise my microSD cards even though these are genuine Toshiba and Lexar models (class 2 16GB and class 10 32GB respectively) which read/write at or above their rated speeds and work flawlessly on every other device. I even formatted them in Windows using the SD Association's SD Formatter 4.0. I also ran chkdisk on them. The Sansa still rejected them as having faulty file systems except once when I used Windows Media Player to load a 16GB card with a few mp3 albums autoripped from Amazon CD purchases. As I usually run Debian and prefer flac this is about as encouraging and useful as a verucca. The other big problem with the OF is that when connected to PC with the USB cable it usually freezes. Sometimes it freezes on being connected and sometimes it freezes after being ejected, but it almost always does freeze or crash. The OF is slow to boot so this gets very irritating very quickly.
Sansa supply a firmware updater which can also fetch and install a dedicated media converter. I had used the older version of the Sansa Media Converter with my Fuze v2. The new version is equally lousy, being slow, unreliable, prone to crash and only works while the player is connected. Sansa seems to be incapable of producing stable software.
That's enough about the Sansa firmware. I feel annoyed just thinking about it and I'm not even planning to boot it or run it again. Sansa won't be fixing those problems, the firmware updates stopped two years ago so if you don't intend to run Rockbox do not buy this player.
Real review starts here:
I installed Rockbox using the Rockbox utility. It was easy, taking only a couple of minutes.
I don't propose to write a full review of Rockbox but will mention things which are specific to this hardware and experience and how it compares to the OF and to other Rockboxed players I've owned.
The touchpad does work after all! It's very nice and perfectly useable. Navigation is simple and bottom right and left presses let you jump up or down a page so scrolling through directories or files (or tag database) is really fast. Anyone familiar with Rockbox will be up and running right away and new RB users shouldn't have any difficulty either. Unlike the OF most stuff is discoverable through the good old "try it and see" method. Usually it does what you expected and wanted. The Rockbox manual is well written and has a Quick Start section for new users.
It's not just the touchpad that has been magically transformed. My microSD cards have returned to the reality where they work perfectly, just like they always did before their encounter with Sansa's "Designed on Ketamine"(™) firmware.
The default Rockbox UI looks good on the Fuze+ and there are over 60 other Fuze+ themes available. It's easy to modify existing themes to your needs.
The Fuze+ has a much more powerful CPU and more RAM than all the other Rockboxable dedicated music players I've owned (Sansa Clip+, Fuze v2, iRiver H140, iRiver H340) and the biggest and best screen. The PictureFlow plug-in (think iPod Cover Flow) works brilliantly. It's the first player I've had which runs this without lag or muddles like mixing up the images. It looks excellent and is nice to use.
The FM Radio works very well. It's an improvement over the Clip+ radio, grabbing weak signals probably better, and making less noise. It scans quickly, can save lots of presets and has basic RDS which is very welcome. I live in a built up area without line of sight of the local FM transmission antenna; signal strength is usually poor and the Fuze+ radio does suprisingly well. My other Sansa and iRiver players' FM radio use is marred by noise from disk and CPU activity but the Fuze+ doesn't have this problem.
I didn't try the following as I don't have the hardware but you can use the Fuze+ micro USB port to attach a keyboard and control the player with it.
You can also attach the Fuze+ to a PC or laptop and use its touchpad to control presentations (PowerPoint and similar I suppose) or as a wired remote for your PC media player or as a basic Synaptics touchpad. edit: I had some trouble with this earlier but that turned out to be a driver issue on the PC (it didn't support composite USB devices). Plugging the Fuze+ into my laptop (generic kernel with a ton of drivers in it) everything worked: the touchpad could act as a laptop trackpad/mouse or a simple multimedia controller or control a presentation app. You toggle between the different modes by pressing the power button.
I don't have any measuring equipment so the following is mostly subjective:
A while ago I level matched my Clip+ and iRiver players by connecting headphone jack to recorder input and playing a tone and adjusting volume so that levels matched to within a small fraction of a decibel. I did a quick level match with the Fuze+ and H140 and it seems that the output levels of the Fuze+ are exactly the same as the Clip+ (or close enough that proper measuring kit is needed to show a difference). This is confirmed subjectively by listening to music in a level matched and sighted listening comparison.
The Fuze+ produces a slight hissing sound with low impedance IEMs, for example my Sennheiser CX 95 which are 16 ohm with SPL 113 dB claimed. I tried several other IEMs, ear buds and headphones and with anything with impedance 32 ohms or greater there is no audible hiss. My iRivers hiss as well, and quite a bit louder than the Fuze+. My Clip+ and Fuze v2 didn't hiss at all but did make a variety of random and extremely unwelcome squeaks, buzzes and clicks, sometimes even during playback. A very faint hiss from the Fuze+ with highly sensitive IEMs is perfectly acceptable to me. It is otherwise silent and well behaved. There are no physical button press sounds and no noises caused by CPU load or disk access or caching or whatever it is that the older Sansas do.
My older players struggled with m4a files. They would quite often skip to the end or to the next file and the iRivers could even freeze completely. The Fuze+ is playing them back without any problems, even 320 kbps files 100s of MB in size (BBC iPlayer Radio 3 streams). This is a big improvement.
Listening to music with my Sennheiser CX 95s I'm not sure there is any difference in sound quality between the iRivers and the Fuze+ except the iRiver hiss is a bit louder and I do notice it in quiet passages. With relatively higher impedance and less sensitive 'phones there is a difference in sound. None of my portables sound as detailed and natural as my big Yamaha HT receiver but the iRivers and Sansas differ differently if you see what I mean. With higher impedance 'phones the Fuze+ loses some bass and sounds a bit too smooth and less detailed with higher frequencies whereas the iRivers sound very detailed but slightly harsher than the Yamaha's DAC+amp combo. The Fuze+ doesn't have the power to drive less sensitive 'phones to realistic levels with music with a full dynamic range while the iRivers do a decent job of this. Loudly mastered amplified music mostly masks the issue. In this respect the Fuze+ is just like the Clip+ and Fuze v2: great with IEMs and headphones designed for these kinds of devices but a bit less good with headphones designed for domestic audio. This is hardly objectionable and many people might never notice or care if they do. Use the Fuze+ as intended and it sounds fine.
I don't have a portable amp so have nothing to say on using the headphone output as a line out except I'm not tempted to do so with such a low power device.
The voice recorder works. The mic seems really sensitive, much more sensitive than my other players, so this could be very useful. The recordings it produces are more than acceptable for dictaphone type use.
At first I wasn't impressed with video playback but problem was down to the encoder settings I was using. I've now converted the same video and some others but using better settings in ffmpeg and the playback is absolutely fine. Video plays smoothly at 25 fps and sound is in sync.
Battery Life and Charging:
After a few days use I'm certain that battery life is much longer than a Clip+ but I didn't benchmark it yet. People report getting huge times on benchmarks but in the real world when you have software equaliser, a colourful display that renders text nicely, some games and utilities on board and video playback capability you are probably not going to be hitting 35+ hours. If I get 20 hours in real use I will be delighted. By seeing which way the wind is blowing and reading my tea leaves I think over 15 real world hours is perfectly likely and will be disappointed if it is less.
If you install the latest Rockbox bootloader (see page 43 of the Fuze+ developer thread at rockbox.org) the player will charge on USB without being powered up first.
edit: initially I described having trouble with the USB connection in Rockbox but this was in fact an issue with my desktop PC not supporting composite USB devices. Connecting to another PC with the full complement of drivers everything is fine. This is another big improvement over the Sansa firmware which appears to have been designed to demonstrate all the different ways a device can crash. The hardware seems to be reliable in Rockbox.
Another edit, an addition this time: after a few days use I now notice a design problem: The headphone jack is at the bottom of the player while the power/screenlock button is directly opposite at the top. Inevitably the player sits in your pocket upside down with the headphone jack topside and the player resting on the power button. Occasionally there can be enough pressure for the screenlock button to activate, unlock the screen and do something random and unexpected like stop or pause or skip tracks or even switch to the FM radio.
The Rockbox Fuze+ port is still unstable, meaning still in development and subject to change, which is to say that the version I installed this week is very usable but tomorrow's might be different and that could be better or more features, important bug fixes or annoying new bugs or all of the above. I've been down this road before with hardware that ran unstable builds and which eventually became stable and mature. I would recommend the Fuze+ with Rockbox unstable to anyone who has the sense to retain a copy of a known working build before updating to a new version.
The negative issues I initially described (before edits) with the player Rockboxed turned out to be issues with my PC not having drivers for USB composite devices and my ffmpeg video encoding settings not being ideal. The only issue left is the power/screenlock button being activated inadvertently but this should be solved by using a flip case. I had rated player 4.5 stars and I'll now change that to 5 because a refurbished Fuze+ running Rockbox and hooked up with some good quality IEMs is an amazing bargain at the moment and a very good player overall.
Pros - Plays FLAC, MP3 320kbps, WMA, etc. Also plays videos converted to its format. Good res screen. Many EQ presets. Expandable upto 32gb via micro SD. Folder browsing included in last update.
Cons - Video has to be converted. Viewing angle bad from top. Only 1 custom EQ. Micro SD card exposed a bit. Screen gets scratched up. Extremely clunky UI. Useless ebook reding feature for txt files. Battery drains quickly.
Hi! This is my first review. So please bear with my mistakes if any and do let me know...
Sansa Fuze+ is the update for the very good Sansa Fuze player. the plus is a bit bigger and has a higher resolution display (320*240). I bought this since i had some credit left with the shop and they didn't have anything else that fit my budget that had expandable memory. I am coming from the Sansa Clip and i can honestly say that the UI of this player is the WORST! I mean all touch buttons! Really Sandisk? I would prefer touch screen or atleast some tactile feedback. It is very annoying while travelling. The song can change even through the pressure of the provided velvet pouch. I had to hold the screen lest i accidentally change the song.
You may think why i didn't use the hold feature. Truth is i did. And it sucked! You gotta press the power button at top to hold. Only problem is, that button is hard to press and has no tactile feedback! Really annoying! And to think i paid about $103 for it!
Coming to SQ, it was decent. After my Sansa Clip died a few years ago, I used my Samsung galaxy ace for music. Not the best, but gets the job done with my trusty Fiio E6 amp. My phone died and i got the Fuze+. Not the smartest choice. But it looked good on paper. SQ is very good with my Signature Acoustics C12 Wooden Elements IEM. Didn't even try the bundled earphones because they will be bad by default.
I have a bunch of FLAC and 320KBPS MP3s in the player and it plays them flawlessly. 60% volume was good enough while travelling in a noisy, rattling bus. EQ on Jazz worked really well with my IEM.
Video playback with the bundled video files was good. Didn't try converting videos and playing them on the player yet, since i bought this only for audio. Will post a review if i do try it.
I conclusion, if you need a good player, get something else. Cowon players are pretty good and cost a bit more than Fuze+ in India. But Cowon are worth it!