Most MP3 players
available today are firmware upgradable,
meaning as it becomes available, new software that runs your player can be loaded onto it to improve its feature set or performance. In most cases, a firmware update will fix bugs or any playback or navigation issues, though it can sometimes also mean improved battery management, compatibility with new audio formats, and the addition of useful features such as album art support. In a few cases, a firmware update can completely change a player's looks and abilities.
Upgrading firmware is analogous to updating your computer's operating system with patches and fixes, and it often happens semi-automatically. Though not necessary for the majority of players, a firmware upgrade for your MP3 player will nonetheless make your unit the best it can be. Most manufacturers will offer a periodical firmware upgrade, though you'll often have to find these updates yourself on the manufacturer's Web site (or check out CNET Music Center's Firmware Watch
). Since each manufacturer has a different method for upgrading a player's firmware, we've offered a few easy upgrade steps for the most popular brands: the Apple iPod and the Creative Zen, as well as iRiver and Cowon players. Required attention span: About 10 minutes Ingredients
Before you start, you'll need to gather these elements:
Windows or Mac computer
Your MP3 player and transfer cable (typically, USB 2.0)
An Internet connection to download the firmware or updater application; in some cases, you can get a firmware updater on a CD Apple iPod
Updating the firmware on your iPod is for the most part an automatic process. Updates for the iPod usually unlock a cool new feature, such as compatibility with accessories such as the Camera Connector.
Part of the reason the iPod is so popular is because of its simplicity and its seamless relationship with iTunes. In most cases, iTunes will automatically notify you if you'd like to update your iPod with the latest iPod software. In this case, you simply select Yes.
If you'd like to update your software manually, you can do so by downloading iPod Updater software
if it's not on your system already. At the time of this writing, the latest version is 2005-10-12, and it includes the latest firmware for every iPod ever made. You'll find it by default in Applications > Utilities > iPod Software Updater. Once you plug in your iPod, you'll get a choice of updating to the latest firmware or restoring (or erasing) your iPod to factory settings.
Creative Zen and MuVo
Don't unplug the device.
Just remember to never unplug your iPod or any other device while the firmware is updating. In the playback info area of iTunes, you'll see the update's progress.
The company has a long list of players, including the Zen and MuVo series, but updating firmware is no hassle at all. And you should update, as Creative adds features and improvements to its players often.
Visit Creative's support page.
Select Downloads, then Region, Country, and Language (here's a quicker way
for U.S. users). Then select MP3 Players and your make of Creative player. We chose Zen, then Zen Micro Photo for this example.
Designate your language, operating system, and type of file.
Select Firmware. You'll get a page with at least one version of the firmware with the version number, the date, and a brief description of what the new firmware does. Click Details if you want a more detailed look at the enhancements (recommended).
In the case of Zen Micro Photo firmware 1.20.01 dated November 5, 2005, it improves playback performance of protected WMA tracks, which is a considerable upgrade. It also improves support for Japanese and Brazillian-Portugese languages--not so big a deal.
Download the update, and save it to your desktop.
Alternatively, you can save it in whatever folder you normally use for temporary apps. Simply connect the Zen Micro Photo to your PC via USB, then open the update application (click Run, then Update). Whatever you do, don't unplug the Zen Micro Photo while it's updating. The process is automated, and it took us less than a minute for our update.
Make sure the firmware is installed.
When the update is finished, double-check your firmware version on the device. In the main menu, go to System > Information.
It used to be somewhat of a pain to update iRiver firmware, but it's become much easier. Occasionally, you'll run into firmware for an international version of the device that can open up new features (such as video on the H300 series), but iRiver does not recommend this.
Visit iRiver's support page.
International users can go here
Select player type.
If you have a flash player such as the iRiver T10, click the bar for Ultra Portable Players. On the resulting page, select your player.
Find the firmware.
Scroll down and you'll see the firmware section, which has a link for the latest firmware. Click the firmware file for graphical instructions on how to update your firmware; in our case, it's version 1.53 for the T10 series. If you have an older non-MTP player (not the T10, T30, H10, and U10), the process is slightly different. Also if you have an H10, there are special instructions that include a bizarre step where you need to reset the device. For info on how to update an older iFP player such as the 700 or 800 series, click here
. This process is a little more complicated and requires a formatting of your player.
Download the iRiver Firmware Updater.
Make sure you download it somewhere accessible, such as the desktop. Unzip the file, then open it.
Follow the wizard.
The wizard will guide you through the process. You'll be prompted to connect your player, which will be autodetected. Conveniently, the updater application will display your player's current firmware version and the new one, and it will give you the opportunity to format your player (erase all data) or simply update the firmware.
Cowon iAudio Unplug the T10 and power on.
The updating process took 10 seconds on our iRiver T10, and the new firmware allows the user to delete a song from a playlist, create a playlist on the fly without a computer, and improves VBR playback, along with fixing other some bugs. See the complete list here
Cowon may not be a famous brand, but MP3 insiders definitely know that the iAudio series includes some of the most technologically advanced and best-sounding MP3 players available. Updating Cowon's firmware takes a couple of extra steps, but it's pretty easy overall. Cowon is particularly proactive about updating its firmware, so check for updates regularly.
Visit Cowon America's download page.
In the left-hand column, under the heading JetShell/Firmware, select your player from the drop-down box. In our case, we're updating the iAudio X5.
Find the latest firmware.
The page is arranged into types of downloads. Find the listing that has Firmware in the Type column and the most recent date in the Date column. Down below, you'll see what the firmware adds and fixes. In our case, version 2.10 beta 7 doesn't do much (a couple of fixes), so we might decide not to update. Below the description is a step-by-step tutorial offered by Cowon.
Download the firmware.
Click the Download button next to the most recent firmware. Unzip the firmware update file to your desktop. Make sure your X5's clock is set to the current time.
Connect the X5 to your computer via USB.
Copy the X5_fw.bin file to the Firmware folder of the X5 (go to My Computer and double-click the iAudio X5 drive icon to gain access to the Firmware folder).
Wait for the update to take effect.
Disconnect the USB and power cables from the X5, then connect the power cable. The firmware upgrade will automatically happen on the player; it takes about 30 seconds.