On the strength of the review on anythingbutipod.com (Clip Review), I recently purchased 4 Sansa Clips. Imagine my chagrin when I discovered Sansa’s off-pitch bug (great sound quality indeed!). So I decided to return 3 of them to the store and keep one for audio books. But it didn’t take long before I stumbled upon further Sansa Clip bugs.
First, about my audio books. They are all basic, DRM-free, MP3. I do not use NetLibrary, OverDrive, Audible, and so on – on one hand, their audio quality is, AFAIC, rather poor; OTOH, I like to be able to play my books whenever I choose on whichever player I choose. So, the only difference between my audio books and my music files is that the former are more compressed (typically 64k or 128k) than the latter.
I came across three issues while playing my audio books on the Sansa Clip.
(1) THE BUTTONS.
The Left/Previous and Right/Next buttons behave differently for MP3 files placed in the Audiobooks folder. For files in the Music folder:
press = skip to previous/next track
press-and-hold = rewind/fast forward
But, for files in the Audiobooks folder
press = (a) on play - no action, (b) on pause - skip to previous/next track
press-and-hold = (a) on play - rewind/fast forward, (b) on pause - skip to previous/next track
I suppose that, in the classic phrase, this is “a feature, not a bug”, but it’s not explained in the manual; I find it counter-intuitive and quite annoying.
(2) THE BEEP.
On some audio books, the Clip generates a beep, something like a loud digital hiccup, right at the end of one track and before loading the next track. The beep is present in all files in the audio book, but it sounds slightly different in different files. It happens only with some, not all audio books, and if these have anything in common which they don’t share with the others, I can’t tell what it is, except perhaps that they are ripped from CD.
I recorded one of the beeps and I slowed it down in Audacity by 400%. The freq spectrum shows a very regular toothcomb-like pattern, with peaks spaced at 348 or 349Hz, the average amplitude decreasing from -14 to -70 dB. What this means is beyond me.
I tried the same file on other, non-Sansa players; none generated this beep. I checked the MP3 file with EncSpot and mp3val, they found no problem. I decoded the file to WAV with Audacity, no problem, no beep. I used MP3 Repair Tool to remove all tags; didn’t seem to make a difference. I used MP3 Trimmer to remove the last frames of the file, and the results were curious. When I removed the last 3 frames, the beep was much shorter and lower. Remove the last 4 frames, and the beep is almost inaudible. Remove the last 5 frames, and the beep is back in all its glory. It would seem then that the Clip’s problem is not related to a specific frame, but to the number of frames in the file.
(3) THE TRACK NUMBERS.
I copied an audio book to the Sansa Clip. It consisted of 142 files (tracks), neatly, fully, and correctly tagged with ID3v2.3, ie, “Book1 ”, “Book1 ”, … , “Book1 ”. The tag contained track numbers (1/142, 2/142, …, 142/142); the disc frame for all tags was 1/1.
And the Clip began to play them in the following order:
Book , Book , …, Book , Book , Book , Book ,… and so on.
Strange days, indeed. But another book, tagged in precisely the same manner, played in the correct order. However, it comprised only 98 files. So I used a tag editor to delete all data in the TRCK frames of the ID3 tags of the first book, and, sure enough, this time the Clip played it in the correct order.
So it seems pretty clear that the Clip becomes dazed and confused when it comes across 3 digits in the TRCK frame. There may be historical reasons for it – the Red Book (CDDA) standard allowed for a max of 99 tracks/disc; hence, unless changed afterwards, tracks ripped from CD could not have track numbers higher than 99. But that was then, and this is the 21st century. If Sansa Clip uses ID3 tags to order the tracks, it should follow the ID3 standard, not the Red Book; and there is no such limitation in ID3 (see ID3.org).