How to Revive Your iPod with Rockbox in Linux

If you owe an old iPod and are running Linux on your computer, you can use Rockbox to breathe life to your old music player. It enables you to use your iPod without iTunes while also improving on the default sound quality of the iPod. Rockbox is also customizable and really easy to install. Here we will show you how to use Rockbox in Linux.

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What is Rockbox and Why Install It

Rockbox is an operating system for classic iPods. It is an open source alternative to the iPod's default software and it aims to improve on the original system's deficiencies.

Rockbox Install Rockbox Website

In order to achieve that, Rockbox includes a better API for third-party applications as well as high resolution audio support. This means that, unlike the original, it is possible to run games and use higher quality codecs such as FLAC, Ogg Vorbis and Opus with your iPod.

Rockbox Install Doom In Ipod

Not only that, Rockbox is constantly up-to-date with modern audio technologies. For example, it supports a Parametric Equalizer to allow you to adjust and balance your headphones.

Lastly, Rockbox also has features such as Binaural Crossfeed and Gapless Playback. This can be useful if you are listening to classical or live music where concert albums are often split as separate tracks.

Also read: How to Improve Your Linux PC Audio with PulseEffects

Which iPods Are Compatible with Rockbox

One important thing to note, however, is that Rockbox is not available for all iPod models. At the moment, it only supports up to the sixth generation of the original iPod and the first two generations of the iPod Nano and Mini.

Rockbox Install 24 List Of Supported Ipods

This means that you will not be able to install Rockbox on either an iPod Touch or iPod Shuffle. The reason is because these models either use an entirely different firmware or operating system.

How to Obtain Rockbox

Obtaining Rockbox is incredibly simple. To do that, you can go to their releases page where you can pick between an Automatic and Manual installation.

Rockbox Install Download Webpage

The Automatic option uses a program that was created to streamline the entire installation process. It's meant to reduce the amount of guessing that you might have to do and potential errors that you might encounter while installing. Because of that, the Automatic option recommended method by the Rockbox community.

On the other hand, the Manual option provides you with a set of archives that you can download and extract to your device's root folder. This gives you the most amount of flexibility during installation and it can also be useful if you are using an operating system that the installer does not yet support.

Rockbox Install Supported Devices

Here we will focus on installing Rockbox through the Automated installer using Ubuntu Linux 21.10. Knowing that, you can begin by clicking the large "Download Installer" button in project's releases page.

Rockbox Install Automated Download

This will then bring up the "Rockbox Utility Page" with a small table showing the operating systems currently supported by the program. From here, you need to click the link for the latest version of the Linux installer. In my case, it is the third row under "Current Version".

Rockbox Install Highlight Linux Download

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How to Install Rockbox in Linux

  1. First, make sure that Ubuntu would be able to run the installer. Run the following command to make the installer executable:
chmod +x /home/$USER/Downloads/RockboxUtility-v1.5.1.AppImage
Rockbox Install Change Permission Bits
  1. Next, type the following command to directly run the installer from your terminal:
sh /home/$USER/Downloads/RockboxUtility-v1.5.1.AppImage
  1. The Installer GUI will load up, displaying a brief summary of the changes made to the program. From there, you can then press "OK" to load the "Device Configuration Prompt".
Rockbox Install Utility Welcome

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Detecting Your iPod in the Utility

The "Device Configuration Prompt" is a small window that allows you to tell the Rockbox Utility about your specific music player. In order to do that, you need to first connect your iPod to your machine through USB.

Rockbox Install Utility Configuration

Once connected, the "Device Configuration Prompt" will attempt to automatically detect your music player. However, this feature does not always work. In order to fix this, you can press the "Autodetect" button to force the utility to redo the check.

Rockbox Install Configuration Autodetect

Setting up the Rockbox Configuration Utility

  1. From there, you can choose between four different functions in the utility. For the most part, you will only need to check either the "Installation" or the "Backup & Uninstallation" tab.
  2. The "Installation" tab manages all of the components that you can install to your device. In here, you can choose to install fonts, themes as well as plugins and programs. Not only that, you can also update your current bootloader here.
Rockbox Install Utility Installation Tab
  1. The "Backup & Uninstallation" tab allows you to manage the snapshots that you made as well as the option to wipe your device clean. This can be useful if you are either writing plugins or you want to turn your device back to stock.
Rockbox Install Utility Uninstallation Tab

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Install Rockbox to Your iPod

  1. First, you need to go to the "Installation" tab. From there, pick the version that you want to install from the drop-down menu. In my case, I selected the "Stable Release" version of Rockbox.
Rockbox Install Version Select
  1. Once done, check the boxes for the parts of Rockbox that you want to install to your device. Some of the components in the list are optional. For example, it is not necessary to include the fonts, themes and manuals to be able to have a working installation.

Note: it's good practice to install all the components listed in the utility. This is to ensure that your device has all the files that it needs to run. This will make updates easier later on.

Rockbox Install  Components Select
  1. With that, the last thing that you need to do is to click the "Install" button to start the installation process. It should only take a few minutes. Once it is done, the device will automatically reboot to the new firmware.
Rockbox Install New Rockbox Install
  1. From here, the Rockbox device should automatically mount itself as a normal USB drive. You should now be able to add music and files to your iPod as if it is a regular MP3 player.

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Backing Up and Removing Rockbox

It is also possible to use the utility to create a backup of your current installation as well as completely uninstall Rockbox. Not only that, the process of doing either one of those is incredibly simple.

Backing Up Your Installation

  1. In order to create an archive of your current installation, you need to first go to the "Backup & Uninstallation" tab.
  2. From there, you need to then click the "Backup" button from the options.
Rockbox Install Highlight Backup Button
  1. Doing that will, in turn, open the "Rockbox Backup Prompt". In this, the utility will display the current size of your installation as well as an option to select where you want to save your archive. In my case, I will leave the options to their default settings.
Rockbox Install Backup Options
  1. With that, the backup utility will then compile all of the Rockbox files in a single archive. Once done, it will then provide a small prompt telling you that the backup has been successful.
Rockbox Install Backup Progress

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Uninstalling Rockbox from your iPod

Similar to creating a backup, you need to go to the "Backup & Uninstallation" tab to remove Rockbox in your device. Once there, you can then choose between two removal methods for your iPod:

  • The first option only removes the bootloader from your installation. Doing this will turn your iPod back to stock but it will not remove the Rockbox files inside your device. This is only useful if you intend to update your system to a newer Rockbox build.
  • The second option removes all of the associated Rockbox files from your device. This is the option to completely wipe your device clean.
Rockbox Install Two Uninstall Methods

In my case, I will choose the second option since I want to completely remove Rockbox from my iPod.

Rockbox Install Uninstall Prompt

From there, the utility will then display a small prompt where you can choose between "Complete" and "Smart Uninstallation". As described above, in order to fully remove Rockbox you will need to select the "Complete Uninstallation" option.

Rockbox Install Complete Uninstallation

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to use Rockbox for players other than the iPod?

Yes, you can certainly install Rockbox on other music players. It is possible to install Rockbox on almost all of the Sandisk Sansa players as well as iRiver's H-series of devices.

Is it possible to switch my stable Rockbox install to the development branch?

Yes! It is relatively simple to turn your stable Rockbox install into a development one. To do that, you need to first uninstall the bootloader for your device by going through the utility's "Backup & Uninstallation" tab. In there, you then need to click the "Remove Bootloader" button.

Once done, you can go back to the utility's "Installation" tab and pick the "Development Branch" in the version drop-down menu. From there, you then need to select and install both the bootloader and firmware components for your device.

Is it possible to switch back to the stock iPod without removing Rockbox?

Yes! Due to its design, Rockbox only overlays itself on top of the original device's firmware. This means that, the factory firmware files are still present in the device.

To switch back to the stock iPod, toggle the iPod's lock switch on immediately after cold booting. Doing this will, in turn, tell Rockbox to disable itself and directly pass the control back to the original firmware.

One important thing to note, however, is that you will not be able to access any files that you placed in the iPod through Rockbox while running the original firmware. This is mostly due to the fact that the original iPod uses a proprietary database format that only the iTunes program understands.

Image credit: Unsplash | All screenshots by Ramces Red

Ramces Red
Ramces Red - Staff Writer

Ramces is a technology writer that lived with computers all his life. A prolific reader and a student of Anthropology, he is an eccentric character that writes articles about Linux and anything *nix.

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