Sandisk Sansa Fuze….Finally a portable FLAC player that works

I admit up ’til a couple of days ago I was a IPOD fan. I personally own 4 Ipods (30 GB 3rd gen, 80 GB 5.5 gen, 16 GB Touch and a 2GB Shuffle). I generally like their sounds quality, build and their user interface. I have also tried a bunch of other MP3 players in the past (Archos, Lexar, Nokia N95, PSP, RCA MC2020). The one thing I’ve always wanted was a expandable, small, solid state, good sounding player that would also play FLAC files. I’m a sucker for good sound and short of ordering a COWON player from US there was no real choice in this market.

That was until Sandisks surprise firmware upgrade for their Fuze and Clip player last week. They’ve added amongst other things, support for OGG/Vorbis and FLAC playback. Upon discovering this I dropped by the local Future Shop and picked up a 8GB Fuze to play with (plus a 8GB MicroSDHC card). This little guy is an absolute joy to use. Super simple interface that mimics the good parts of the original IPOD (I love the scroll wheel), Excellent sound quality (not a COWON , but very close) and a tag based browsing system which integrates the internal and external memory seamlessly.

One of my major beefs with other (read non-ipod) players has always been that they treat the external storage separately. You have to manually switch to the memory card if you want to listen to the music that’s in there. This is a pain and SanDisk has fixed this by presenting the user with a unified tag-based database. You stick a 8GB Micro SDHC card in the device and you’ve literally upgraded your device to 16GB (if you start with the 8GB device). There is no distinction between internal and external storage, it just works.

Of course the other major plus point for me was the ability to play FLAC files. I have to admit that I wasn’t prepared for how well this little guy plays flac files. It’s absolutely mind blowing — for a portable player — no hissing, popping, clicking……just excellent sound. I’ve tested the player with my Sennheiser HD600 headphones and although they are a bit too heavy for this little guy to drive — you have to turn the player up to about 80% volume — the music sounds fantastic. I also tried the super sensitive Sony MDR-V700’s and I have to say the Fuze can literally blow your head right off with clean undistorted sound. I normally use a pair of AKG K26P’s for everyday subway ride and they pair quite nicely with the Fuze as well.

Anyways, If you want a great player — even for mp3/compressed music — you have to give Fuze a listen. I think you’ll be surprised at how good it sounds, not to mention the fact that it’s cheaper than similar Ipods. And as a bonus the player can presents itself as a MTP or MSC device. This makes it simple for people who want to use Windows Media Player to organize their music (MTP mode) or those who just want to treat the player as a USB Storage device and manually copy folders of content over to it (MSC mode). This simply means that all three major platforms — Windows, OSX and Linux — are supported.

My way of upgrading the firmware was to charge the battery to full first (couple of hours), download the actual Fuze firmware (not the upgrade utility that runs in windows only) from the forums, unzip and copy the firmware file to the root directory of the device (device must be in MSC mode). Eject and disconnect the device and let it upgrade the firmware followed by a power cycle (push the power button up and hold for a couple of seconds).

28 thoughts on “Sandisk Sansa Fuze….Finally a portable FLAC player that works

  • Peter

    Thank you so much for this info! I just bought the sansa fuze (based on what you wrote) 8gb + 8gb mico sd and the sound is amazing!
    Thanks very much for this indeed.

  • Many

    Peter,

    Your welcome…..It’s been a long battle, but for me the Fuze is awesome. Flac player the size of ipod nano :-). Now all we need is bigger MicroSD cards.

    TTYL
    Many

  • chuck

    hey many how about a cowon? can u add memory to those two? is their a distinction between hard space and external like you mentioned? like a FLAC cd would have how much space on average. im intotop quality lossless too and i wish to play this on a portable player i have not yet bought?

    suggestions? i want something sweet with alot of capacity expandable or whatever?

    sciencebooking@gmail.com

    chuck

  • Many

    Hey Chuck,

    I don’t own a Cowon, but I’ve compared the two side by side. Cowon beats this by my ears and a pair of Sennheiser HD600 headphones. BUT it’s a very tiny margin and cowon is more expensive. If you’re using a regular set of cans you will not notice. I’ve tried it with sony MDR-V700 and AKG K26P’s and no difference.

    On the sansa the internal and external storage are one since the device scans for tags whenever it’s hooked up via usb (takes about 10 seconds). The listing is NOT based on folder names. It’s like the IPOD in that it has artist/album/genre. FLAC is generally about 1:2 compression (ie: 650MB CD will compress to about 300-350MB in Flac).

    The nice thing about this is that as long as there is bigger microSDHC cards there will be more space in the device. I got a 8GB one in there and I’m thinking of upping it to 16GB (for a total of 24) :-).

    Goodluck with your search….I have settled on the sanza

  • Anonymous

    Just curious why you chose FLAC and not Apple Lossless. I realize that the Fuze can’t play Apple’s format, but the iPod and Cowons (some of them, I believe) can and you can use iTunes’ nice 8.0 interface, which is not possible with FLAC. That’s the one thing stopping me from FLAC…I don’t really care for the jukeboxes out there for Mac with the exception of Songbird, which in my opinion isn’t ready for prime-time yet (lack of decent album art browsing, etc).

    Mark

  • Many

    Cause it’s hard to find Apple Lossless stuff on the net. FLAC is all over :-). The other problem is that Apple Lossless will only play in itunes and ipod. FLAC will play even on my old XBOX with XBMC running on it.

    TTYL
    Many

  • Anonymous

    This appears to be the ideal solution for audio files looking for lossless audio use in their cars equipped with a Ford/Microsoft Sync system.

  • Anonymous

    You wrote>"… since the device scans for tags whenever it's hooked up via usb (takes about 10 seconds). …”

    Did you mean to write UNHOOKED. I believe that is when the Fuze updates its database using tags.

  • Revan

    I actually bought this yesterday, because I needed to upgrade from my old Ipod. (lol 2nd gen nano…) I chose it because of the microsd card slot, and the radio. Finding out it could play FLAC files, was a dream come true, I spent all of today listening to it, and you're right, the quality is awesome!!

  • Mark

    Hey, thanks for the info. Would you mind saying whether the Sandisk Sansa Fuze supports *gapless* playback of FLAC files? Are there obvious gaps between tracks? From what I understand, this is an issue on some of these FLAC players. My old iRiver H120 died, and I'm looking to get something new. Thanks…

  • Many

    Hey Mark,

    Yes there is a Gap, but it's as long as the flac file….the player doesn't add a noticable gap from what I've heard. You can always rip the CD as one giant flac file if that's needed (ie: for Pink Floyd Albums)…..

    Hope this helps….

  • ufukcc

    Well i am a flac format fan myself and i own a 4th gen ipod. i hadnt touched it since i found rockbox. it's an open source firmware for ipods and many other (older) players. i cant tell you how happy i am with it. try it, its as simple to install as drag files into a usb stick.

  • LezDawson

    Nice review. As a FLAC fan myself, I'm seriously tempted by this baby. I get sick of idiots that claim it's all subliminal and 'in tests most people can't tell FLAC from good mp3" – that's 'most people', not me! And 'most people' don't really listen that deeply, hence why so many can happily listen to crappy 192kbps mp3!
    Could you possibly test it for gapless playback please, and let us know if it is gapless or not? Also, could you advise if it supports CUE files? If so, then it will surely be gapless, as you can import one long FLAC file (as you suggested earlier) with a CUE file to mark the tracks. I doubt it does support CUE files, but it would be nice if it did…

  • Many

    Hi LezDawson,

    Sorry, but the Fuze is as close to perfection as you can get now……BUT, those Pink Floyd Albums WILL have to be played with gaps……YUCK :-)…..

    No support for Cue files and or gapless play. Now, that said you should check out the Sandisk website and see……maybe the latest firmware has this. I have not upgraded the firmware since I wrote the review.

  • LezDawson

    No problem – I'm going to get one anyway, as they are so reasonably priced, and I love the ability to just add extra memory that easily. I do listen to a lot of Beatles and early Genesis (both known for lots of segues from one song into another, ala Floyd) but I've been living with those little annoying gaps until now, so I can live with them for a bit longer! Next stop: Amazon! :)

  • Many

    Another thing you can do for these Album oriented artists is to rip the entire album as a giant FLAC file. I've done a couple of them that way and it works like a charm. Although I yet have to find a tool that can "stitch" a bunch of flacs into a single flac file.

  • LezDawson

    Yeah, I could do that – but I think I'd rather suffer the little gaps for now and enjoy the navigational ability between tracks. Looking at the official forum, I get the impression gapless ability will be coming in a future firmware update. Weird that something so obvious isn't implemented as standard – maybe this *is* rocket science.
    Hey man, I should mention – I got my Fuze today. Downed the latest firmware (via the handy firmware updater software) and have just dragged my Rubber Soul [FLAC] folder onto it to road test it. FLACtastic! I have reasonably high-end gear here, so am able to do some A-B testing for sound against nice-ish gear. It sounds very good – there is just a little rounding off of the toppermost frequencies, so it's not the very most transparent player I've heard – but this is *subtle*. Similarly, the bass isn't quite as tight as the Sony. I've not tried using the EQ yet (non-parametric EQs are generally rubbish, too limited, but we'll see). All-in-all though, I second your recommendation. It cost me around £60 on Amazon (as compared to my Sony Hi-MD player that cost £200!). This obviously doesn't sound as nice as the £200 player, but for features (memory add-ons, FLAC) the Fuze will be my new player of choice, and the Sony stored away. :)

  • Many

    Hey Lez,

    Good to hear you're enjoying it. Yes, it's not quite my Naim/Royd/Micromega setup, but nice for the price (and portability).

    You're quite right about the upper freqs getting the chop. The EQ is "okay", but I don't use it. I generally don't like EQing stuff (unless it's a bad boot that needs work…..even then I tend to bring the flacs inside audition and mess around in there…..)

    Anyways, Enjoy Flacing and if you find some other player that's better/different let me know :-).

    TTYL
    Many

  • Martijn

    Just kicking up a old post but,
    I`m wondering of this stil works?! I`m also looking to buy a FLAC player and this seems very nice!

  • Many

    Martijn,

    Yep, still works….why shouldn't it? The Clip+ also plays Flac from what I can see on their website.

    TTYL
    Many

  • LezDawson

    Indeed it does still work! Good news is, the Fuze v2 (i.e. the version being sold right now) can now be Rockboxed! For those that don't know, Rockbox is open-source firmware developed to improve on the native firmware of various popular media players. Rockbox have just in the last few days released their firmware for the Fuze. This means, firstly, gapless playback (Yay!) for lossless formats (e.g. FLAC). Additionally, the Fuze will now also handle WV and APE files (just lossless alternatives to FLAC) – and CUE files, which means you can rip a whole album to one file (e.g. using the excellent EAC software) and an accompanying CUE file. This would enable true gapless playback even of lossy files (because the album is really just one long file). On the downside, the Rockbox firmware has some teething problems right now. It plays back just very slightly too slow (although this is NOT noticeable – I only discovered this when doing some clinical testing). I also find the sound to be not quite as smooth as the native operating system – but this is subjective and I know there is disagreement about this on the Sansa forums. Still, overall this is an encouraging development for Fuze owners.

  • Martijn

    Thank you both! I will try to pick one up tomorrow, and i will defiantly let you know if i like it or not! :D

    Btw Many: What kind of micro SDcard are u using right now? Thinking of picking up a 16 GIG, but i read somewhere it might not take higher then 12? Ahhwell, 12 will be fine to ^^

    Thanks!

  • Many

    Hi Martijn,

    I'm using 8 right now and am also thinking of 16, so in a sense I'm hoping you try it first :-) let me know if you do end up with 16 and get it working

    TTYL
    Many

  • LezDawson

    It takes all capacities of micro SD card as far as I am aware. Personally I just got an 8G one as they can be picked up for around a tenner here in the UK – the price leaps up massively as they get larger in capacity. A total of 16G is fine for me – it gives me plenty of variety of FLACs (and now APEs and WVs too) and it's so simple to just drag-drop new files onto it from my PC that it's no hassle to rotate my music on it as my moods change. Also worth noting: new earphones for it are a must. Get some Sennheisers or equally good earphones, and throw the supplied ones in the bin.

  • LezDawson

    Incidentally, regarding Cowons – I recently tried a Cowon D2+, which was somewhat more expensive than the Fuze, and I actually thought it sounded a little worse. I compared using Sennieser HD650 cans. Again, it's subjective. Suffice to say I sent it back and got a refund and am sticking with the Fuze for now.

  • George

    From what I've read online the Fuze will use 16 gb microsd, but for some reason the view has trouble with this. I say this as someone who has been a fan of the Fuze, but lost it in a car accident, who is now looking to see what the best option is (still the Fuze, from what I can tell). I personally have only used 8 gb microsd, but want to upgrade when replacing. Any one with more knowledge?

  • Martijn

    Well thank you both!

    Been rocking the fuze for 3 day`s now and i`m loving it!
    I did buy a 8 gig card to, so i`m not sure if it will work with the 16 GB.

    And i own a set of senheiser cx 500 in ear earphones (that is why i wanted a FLAC player) So no standard ear buds for me!

    I was a bit scared after the firmware update, because i`m dutch etc. The EU had putted a sound control on the fuze so i could not play to loud music. But the sansa fuze forum`s helped me out by setting my region to north America, and now i can enjoy my music prefect again (: .

    Thank you Many! Without this blog i would not have this mp3 player!

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