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  • Modding: Audiophile meets iPod (diyMod)

13th January 2009

Modding: Audiophile meets iPod (diyMod)

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Foreword

Amongst the modding audiophile community there is a small band of people who are after the best possible sound from their portable audio players. The concept is simple, bypass all the poor quality SMD components and feed the DAC (Digital to Analog Convertor) output directly in to an external high quality headphone amp.

While the concept is simple, execution is another matter – The player needs to be opened up and the DAC output needs to be wired to the nearest conveniant output connector, most people opting to use redundent pins on the docking ports. Due to the presence of DC voltage on the output of the DAC this neccesitates the need for capacitors in-line. To maintain the quality that you are trying to achieve this means using bulky audio grade capacitors which would never fit inside the player, hencing leading to special docking connector, etc, etc, etc.

I stumbled on one such thread where a gentleman by the name of Eric Guerizec from France had combined using my iFlash adaptor with his pursuit of audio fidelity. The quality of his workmanship was so good I invited him to write an article about it.

Here is his story……

Tarkan

Introduction

After spending many days looking for my mp3 player, I decided to buy the 30Gb 5.5g iPod but I did not want to use their propriety ITunes. I bought the iPod because I discovered Rockbox  (www.rockbox.org),  the free software replacement for iPod, Iriver and other mp3 players. The first thing I did when I received my iPod was to install Rockbox. Using Rockbox is fun.

I can manually transfer songs without any additional software. Some of the Rockbox features are great: FLAC Support, equalizer, cross fader, user-definable interface, and gapless playback. But there are so many things we can do with the iPod :-)

I wanted very much to replace the hard disk with a memory card. The fall in prices of Compact Flash cards was the opportunity to have a nice mp3 flash player with 32 Gb of memory. I used Tarkan’s adapter to perform this first hack : the famous iFlash adapter. I was not disappointed! The build quality is excellent and this adapter fits perfectly into the iPod. I bought a 32Gb CF card on eBay and it works great with the iFlash adapter.

32Gb CF iFlash

Installing the iFlash adapter and the CF card into the iPod is very easy. Be careful not to damage the iPod when opening it. The first time, I used a faulty iPod to have a try and I broke the LCD screen, oops! So the second time, I took one’s time to open my iPod successfully. This mod truly rocks : the user interface is smoother and there is no waiting normally caused by the hard drive.

I spent some serious time reading the Apple diyMod thread on the Head-Fi forum. Take a look at : http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f6/apple-diymod-my-take-famous-imod-56k-killer-featuring-3g-4g-5g-nano-1g-269604/. The author Joneeboi has done a very good and interesting job. The aim of the diyMod is to run the audio out from the Wolfson DAC and bypass the “poor” onboard components.

Usually, most of the head-fi’ers use a special cable with a pair of 47uF Black Gate capacitors. The Black Gates have probably the best size to performance ratio. The disadvantage of this method is that there is not a good way of playing the iPod through the line-out without building a custom dock connector.

The iFlash adapter is the solution to performing the audiophile hardware hack with internal caps. When you replace the hard drive with the iFlash adapter, you have enough space to fit two capacitors. Only small capacitors can be used like Black Gate NX Hi-Q 6.3V 22uF or 47uF. The advantage is that you have a really portable diyMod iPod that can be used with a regular line out dock. The disadvantage is that obviously you couldn’t use better caps than the ones that fit internally.

If you want to do this mod, I recommend you to read carefully the first page of Joneeboi’s thread on Head-Fi.org. You will find all the information you need and links to excellent tutorials.

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Posted on Tue, 13th January 2009 at 3:44 pm under Modding, Tutorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are currently 44 responses to “Modding: Audiophile meets iPod (diyMod)”

Comments? Suggestions? Help? Well here's your chance! Leave a comment.

  1. 1 On February 6th, 2009, Eric said:

    Hi Tarkan,
    Thank you for your great article :-)

  2. 2 On February 6th, 2009, Tarkan said:

    No. Thank you, Eric. :)

  3. 3 On February 14th, 2009, Brian said:

    Hi Eric & Tarkan,
    Thanks for the article. I wonder, do you think you could use bigger or better caps if you use an 80gb back plate? :) Would it be worth it?

  4. 4 On February 19th, 2009, Tarkan said:

    Brian,

    When you say size do you mean electrical size or physical size??

    The capacitors sole purpose is to block the DC component of the DAC output. The capacitance, source resistance, and load resistance go on to form a high-pass filter. Unless you are feeding the output in to a very low resistance input then any capacitance above 47uF will be more than enough.

    However, we are talking audiophile here!!! so rational discussion is really thrown out the window – so buy whatever is the in-thing and buy the most expensive and biggest that will fit :)

    I personally think the capacitor Eric used is fine, sonically and physically – unless you are trying to ring out the final 0.000001% of quality improvements then it will be ok!!!

  5. 5 On February 24th, 2009, Eric said:

    Brian,

    I think there is two approaches for the mod :
    – portable solution with BG capacitors or similar, the 47uF BG is good for the size. Perhaps, you could use bigger caps with 80gb plate but I am not sure because the size is always limited by the CF adaptor! The improvement will not be significant.
    – less portable but more audiophile solution with big capacitors outside the ipod (nichicon, blackgate, sonicap, etc.). See the headfi thread for examples.

  6. 6 On March 7th, 2009, The Apple diyMod: My Take on the Famous iMod [56k killer] Featuring 3G, 4G, 5G and nano 1G! - Page 119 - Head-Fi: Covering Headphones, Earphones and Portable Audio said:

    [...] [...]

  7. 7 On May 29th, 2009, Need Advice on Mp3 Player - Overclock.net - Overclocking.net said:

    [...] help the sound quality but would only be recommended for people comfortable with a soldering iron. http://www.tarkan.info/20090113/tuto…ts-ipod-diymod [...]

  8. 8 On December 8th, 2009, 5 year old iPod may need to be replaced - Overclock.net - Overclocking.net said:

    [...] quality FLAC files it sounds a hell of a lot better than any of the newer players on the market. Here's a guide for the diyPod if you're interested. [...]

  9. 9 On April 6th, 2011, Matt said:

    Quick question: I have no confidence that I could do this kind of soldering, but I want this badly… Would an electrician be able to do this? Is there anyone in the US that could do this for me if I supplied the logic board?

  10. 10 On April 10th, 2011, Tarkan said:

    Hi Matt,

    I would suggest posting a message on the original head-fi.org forum thread.

    There many people who have done this mod and many people who have refined the procedure. I am sure you will be able to find someone willing to do it for you for a small cost.

    Good luck.

  11. 11 On June 19th, 2012, Marco said:

    Hi.
    Thank’s for the nice guide.
    But i would like to ask you something: you wrote in the third page that this mod: “this mod will also allow you to use your headphones through the headphone jack.”
    Does it really mean that i can use the headphone jack and the “usb” port like music source?
    Basically i don’t understand how you will connect your diyMODde Ipod to the AMP: with the 3.5mm jack or with the custom apple usb-out?

    Thanks from Italy

  12. 12 On June 19th, 2012, Tarkan said:

    This version of the mod keeps the internal audio path for the headphone jack working, so you can still use the iPod with headphones.

    Audiophile routed audio via the Blackgate Caps is only for use with a custom breakout usb lead, which you would then plug in to your amplifier.

    Hope that explains it ok.

  13. 13 On June 20th, 2012, Marco said:

    Thanks for the reply.
    The first part is ok, but the second one (of your answer) not too much.. ;(
    Could you please re-explain it again?

    Excuse me for the drawback..
    Thanks again!

  14. 14 On June 26th, 2012, Marco said:

    [QUOTE]Thanks for the reply.
    The first part is ok, but the second one (of your answer) not too much.. ;(
    Could you please re-explain it again?
    Excuse me for the drawback..
    Thanks again![/QUOTE]

    Up!;)

  15. 15 On July 7th, 2012, Tarkan said:

    Hi Marco,

    Sorry for the delay in replying. You can use a standard 5g iPod lineout lead. This plugs in to the iPod socking connector and gives audio lineout to plug in to your amplifier

  16. 16 On August 22nd, 2012, Will said:

    I’m very interested to try tis myself, but even though the photos are good, I cannot work out which wires lead where. Can you or Eric help, say by posting a diagram that shows where each wire starts and finishes? Thanks

  17. 17 On August 22nd, 2012, Will said:

    Further to my last comment, wish to be notified as indicated below. Thanks

  18. 18 On January 10th, 2013, Tom said:

    i found an old ipod 4th gen i’d like to mod. it appears that the Black Gate NX caps are no longer made. anyone know an alternative w/ the same size that can easily be sourced?

  19. 19 On January 10th, 2013, Tarkan said:

    Depends on what you are after – for a big improvement over the internal SMD caps, then you can pickup Panasonic FC types which are about the same size as the Blackgate NX.

    For cutting edge audiophile improvements then have a look at the ELNA range of Audio electrolytic capacitors, they have many in various sizes – they have even introduced them in SMD packaging which can be used with some careful soldering.

  20. 20 On January 11th, 2013, Tom said:

    thank you

  21. 21 On February 24th, 2013, Casey Friday said:

    I want to do this mod on my 5.5G iPod. Does this simply clean up the signal coming out of the dock connector? For instance, I have a dock connector attachment (30pin dock –> 3.5mm) in the car; could I still use that?

    The article states:

    The disadvantage of this method [larger caps than in this article's method] is that there is not a good way of playing the iPod through the line-out without building a custom dock connector.

    So am I to assume that the way the headfi’ers are doing it requires some sort of re-routing the line out on the dock connector?

  22. 22 On February 24th, 2013, Tarkan said:

    The purpose is to provide you with a higher quality audio out on the lineout – DC blocking capacitors do introduce distortion and colouration, so in effect you are upgrading the cheap poor quality OEM capacitors with higher quality audiophile capacitors.

    Yes, doing it the way this article demonstrates then you can continue to use your existing line-out dock connecter/lead.

    As you mention the Headfi’ers are using the same lineout lines but having the capacitors installed externally (so a standard docking lead cannot be used) or they are sending the pre-capacitor line signal out on different pins on the docking connection and rigging up a totally custom docking lead.

  23. 23 On March 4th, 2013, Casey Friday said:

    That makes perfect sense. I run a business refurbishing old iPods, and I want to introduce an audiophile line, so I’m going to use this technique on the 5/5.5G iPods. Thanks for your response!

  24. 24 On April 29th, 2013, Peter said:

    Does the line-out still go through the internal DAC with the iPod? I thought that was supposed to be the clean signal? If that’s true, would it mean that hooking up my Classic 7th gen. to a headphone AMP/DAC combo via LOD the audio still gets screwed over by the internal DAC?

  25. 25 On April 29th, 2013, Michael said:

    First off, thanks for creating the CF adapter, it is awesome. If I do this mod will I still be able to control my ipod (switch songs) with the remote controlled dock attached to my stereo?

  26. 26 On April 29th, 2013, Michael said:

    Oh yea, and what kind of soldering iron would should I use?

  27. 27 On April 29th, 2013, Michael said:

    Sorry, to use several posts but I just keep thinking of questions while I wait for my caps to get here (ELNA Cerafines). My ipod doc is connected to a vintage JVC amp that sends 100 watts per channel to a set of modern pioneer towers and I think the sound is fantastic, but since I’m unemployed I need a project. My music collection consists of 320kps mp3s that were recorded from flac using winlame. I can just barley hear a difference between flac and 320kps mp3s, would I get a noticeable improvement in sound quality from this mod? Would I have to re-transfer from flac into apple lossless to make this mod worthwhile or would it improve the sound of my high quality mp3s? Thanks!

  28. 28 On April 29th, 2013, Tarkan said:

    Peter, yes the line-out is still Audio via the internal DAC

  29. 29 On April 29th, 2013, Tarkan said:

    Michael,

    Yes the iPod will work exactly as it did before – just better.

    The capacitor mod improves the sound by improving the transparency and warmth of the audio signal – I think you will notice a difference regardless of the music formats you are listening to.

    The mod will not however create detail where there is no detail – so go for the highest quality file format you can – I personally have been happy with 320Kpb mp3s but I do not spend as much time as I used to critical listening….

    Soldering iron wise, something you are comfortable with – for a mod like this something which has a chisel point of about 0.8 to 1.6mm will be ok (as long as you have a steady hand and decent soldering skills)…

  30. 30 On April 29th, 2013, Michael said:

    Thanks for your super fast response, I have actually never tried working on a circuit board before. But this looks like something I think can do, since I have a spare ipod with a broken screen there is no reason not to give it a try.

  31. 31 On May 13th, 2013, Michael said:

    I’m trying figure out mod, do I have to de-solder the original connections or can I just solder my new wires on top of the old ones? And which is a better place to start from: the pads shown in this article straight from the z pads? The reason I ask is that this guide gives a slightly different & slightly simplier method of doing the mod.

    http://www.ualberta.ca/~jple/diyMod/index.html

  32. 32 On May 13th, 2013, Tarkan said:

    Michael,

    I am confused by the note on that link saying not to remove the components – but you have to remove the components if you want the audio to flow via your upgraded capacitors.

    I suggest removing the Z caps, the inductors can be left in – solder to the test pads as shown on that site.

  33. 33 On May 13th, 2013, Michael said:

    Thanks, that’s what I will do

  34. 34 On May 15th, 2013, Michael said:

    How did you go about removing the z caps? I’m afraid of damaging the pads. Did you use a desoldering braid to remove the leftover solder or can I just solder over it?

  35. 35 On May 15th, 2013, Tarkan said:

    Well if you do not have SMT soldering equipment, the easiest would be to melt the solder on one side of the cap and using the soldering iron tip, push against the capacitor and lift up that side of the capacitor – then it is a matter of melting the otherside for the cap to leave the board – it is safe to do this as the connections on these capacitors dog leg underneath the capacitor body.

    If you are not comfortable doing that – if your soldering iron is hot enough, add more solder to each pad and then quickly melt each pad quickly back and forth and the component will get hot enough for you to push the cap off the board with the iron.

  36. 36 On May 18th, 2013, Michael said:

    Tarken, can I file your iflash adapter down just a tiny bit? I would only do the bottom where the new capacitors go. My ipod fits together put just barley with the bottom being pushed out. I would only need to take 1mm off of each side. Would that interfere with the electronics of the iflash?

  37. 37 On May 18th, 2013, Tarkan said:

    Yes you should be ok up to about 2mm from the bottom sides. be carefull of the left side (assuming the iPod dock is at the bottom) as the power filtering traces are in that area.

  38. 38 On May 19th, 2013, Michael said:

    Alright one last question; which terminal of the capacitor is connected where? Is the negative terminal connected to the dac and positive to the line out or do I have that backwards?

  39. 39 On May 19th, 2013, Tarkan said:

    The positive side of the capacitor goes to the output of the DAC and the negative goes to the line out.

    Due to the single supply the iPod runs off, for the audio section to reproduce AC ( alternative current) signals, the audio signal lines have a DC bias voltage – hence the need for the DC blocking caps.

  40. 40 On May 29th, 2013, Michael said:

    Status Update: FAILED
    First off thanks for all your advice, the SDXC card is much faster than a CF card. As a result of my sloppy soldering I couldn’t get sound from the left channel and on one of the numerous openings I broke the battery ribbon receptor. Needless to say that logic board is now worthless. I still have one working logic board but I am not willing to risk it, based on my previous expirence. Would you or someone you know be willing to do my soldering for me in exchange for my excess supplies (20 feet silver wire, 2 Elna sismic 2 capacitors, 9.5 feet cardas quad solder) and of course a small fee. I’m sure you get asked this all the time and won’t get my hopes up, so no hard feelings if you turn me down. But if you or anyone else would be willing to help my I would be VERY VERY grateful.

  41. 41 On May 29th, 2013, Tarkan said:

    Hi Michael,

    Sorry to hear you had problems, I am sure the situation can be salvaged. I would like to see pics of the broken battery connector and the board if possible – it may be possible to repair that board.

    I have sent you an email.

  42. 42 On February 14th, 2014, Calvin said:

    So in summary (haha, sorry, I read your reply above but I want to clarify again in my own words): Replicating (successfully), this mod with the capacitors internal (as opposed to having to build a custom LOD with the capacitors connected somewhere inside that), will allow the iPod dock to still be used normally in things like those stereos that have a dock for iPods (eg. Logitech mm50) and other connections like to a car stereo via a 30-pin connector to 3.5mm (as said above in an earlier reply)?

    Click wheel volume control still works for standard headphone output for those grab and go days that don’t want to carry an amp, but would not affect volume in the modded line level output if an amp is used (does it still click when you move it but not affect volume?)?

    Thanks :)

  43. 43 On February 14th, 2014, Calvin said:

    (and charging/transferring music via USB or wall adapter for the modded dock?)

  44. 44 On February 14th, 2014, Tarkan said:

    Yes, the internal capacitor mod does not change how the iPod functions – docks, car stereo’s and headphones will all work as before.

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