Dear Lazyweb, what is the maximum number of tracks you can load onto an iPod 5?

I picked up a refurbished iPod 5 with 1TB of storage. I am trying this experiment because the iOS "Music" app just gets more and more annoying with every passing month. It barely seems to acknowledge that one might play music from files that one owns rather than whatever streaming clown nonsense.

Anyway, I got this iPod and then I immediately bricked it.

I verified that it was working with a few dozen songs; and then I copied around 67,000 tracks onto it, which took two days. This caused it to become permanently stuck at the white-on-black Apple logo boot screen. It would stay there for several hours, then run out of battery (even while plugged in), shut down, charge for a bit, reboot, sit at the Apple for several more hours, and repeat. The only way you can do a wipe-and-reset on these things is via iTunes / Finder, and it wouldn't even boot far enough to connect. Bricky brick brick.

Thankfully the person I bought it from let me exchange it, but I'm eager to not repeat that mistake, so my question is: how do I determine the actual maximum number of tracks I can load onto this?

If you do the same googling that I did, you will find some people saying "about 50,000", but "about" is not a real number. Further searching shows some people theorizing that the limit is based on the size of the files, not the number. These people are claiming that having album art inside the MP3 files reduces the number of files you can load. Presumably bitrate would as well?

I would like to avoid the scenario of, loading 49,000 tracks, then trying to load 5 more, then it's bricked again. If it was failing in a non-bricky way, some amount of trial and error would be fine, but this is a very unforgiving failure mode.

Anyone have experience with this?

Update: To spell out what I didn't think I had to spell out, a helpful answer here might take the form: "The actual limit is ██ MB of files. If you add up the bytes in the set of files you want to sync and it's more than that, don't." Answers of the form "buncha thousand, plus or minus 30%" would only be helpful if guessing wrong didn't permanently brick the device.

Update 2: With 32,000 songs:

  • Everything seems to work fine.
  • But Shuffle Songs takes around 25 seconds before it starts playing.
  • But Play and Next within the current shuffle set are instantaneous.

But with 33,000 songs:

  • Shuffle Songs makes it crash and reboot.
  • Play All from an Artist or Album page works.
  • Sometimes Next freezes the UI for a few seconds.
  • Play All, either via the All Songs or All Albums pages, freezes for a couple seconds then does nothing.
  • But at least it did not brick itself!

I still do not know how to determine this number other than by trial and error.

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60 Responses:

  1. Dave Polaschek says:

    I have a similar 1TB iPod (the video one, I think).

    With 17,500 songs loaded on it, it was “bricked” for about 18 hours after loading the songs. My best guess is that “sound check” was running, but I really don’t know. I do know that before the vendor could issue a return label, it had finished whatever it had been doing and has worked fine ever since.

    So I suggest you plug the thing in with all the songs and let it think to itself. Four or five days if the bricked time is proportional to the number of songs.

    • jwz says:

      Well... I did leave it plugged in doing its thing for 2+ days after loading the songs. However, it was pretty clear that it was running out of battery, rebooting, and starting over. After a few hours the Apple screen would switch to the "battery very low!" screen, then it would go blank for a while; then repeat. So this does not appear to me to be a scenario where it was gonna recover on its own.

  2. CSL3 says:

    I'm interested to see the answers to this one. The above is why my music (90-plus per-cent of which is ripped from CDs into uncompressed FLAC and WAV files) is on a 1TB microSD on my Android phone.

    (For what it's worth: the 5,000+ FLAC & WAV files I've loaded thus far take up 124GB, which has barely broken the 13% capacity mark. But that's probably not relevant since it sounds like you're describing an Apple-specific software problem?)

    • 4

      That's assuming you can still find a decent Android phone that still accepts a micro SD card. Google is doing their level best to murder them off, too.

      • CSL3 says:

        I wasn't aware of that. Mine is a Samsung A32 5G, which I plan to have for some time (I'm as serious about phone protection as I am about masking). Though, it looks like Motorola's still doing microSD-compatible Androids, should I ever need to switch out my Samsung and can't find a similar model.

        • phuzz says:

          Sony still seem to have MicroSD support too, and they have a factory jailbreak option (if you don't mind giving up your warranty).

          • CSL3 says:

            Whoa... seeing as how Sony phones appear run $1,000 on average (some marked down from $2K), I'd either have to wait years for one to drop in price, wait for one to "disappear" from a factory truck, or just keep an eye on prices & specs for Motorola, Nokia, or even TCL.

            Again, that's if 'n when my Samsung needs replacing.

      • k3ninho says:

        I don't know if you can get Sony Xperias in your location, but they're SD Card + headphone jack + good lenses (and the high end vs mid tier differentiate on how well the cameras are calibrated.


  3. Pronoiac says:

    I modded my iPod with a board from flash.xyz, which has a page which suggests 50-60k maximum tracks - https://www.iflash.xyz/store/iflash-compatibility/ . Using Rockbox might let you go nuts, but I'm unsure about iTunes interoperability; I haven't personally done this, yet.

    I couldn't link that page from the editor - either "you're posting raw html" or, on linking, "[ERROR]".

    • jwz says:

      If you saw [ERROR] you used the embed button instead of the link button.

      • Pronoiac says:

        Oops, you're right re: embed vs. link.

        Because I posted then re-read the original post, some relevant reasoning from that page:

        The track limit’s [sic] shown are only approximate, the actual limit will depend on your iTunes library and the amount of meta-data stored within (e.g. artist name, track name, genre, comments, album art, etc, etc).

        The track limits are a function of the iTunes database size and the memory (RAM) on the iPod motherboard, it is not a limitation of the iFlash adapters.

        Wikipedia thought the last couple generations had more memory - 64 MB, instead of 32 MB. Looking at the table on that page again, I think those 64 MB models are the 50k limits, not the 20k limits. Looking at that Etsy page, I can't pin down the model well enough to definitively tell how much memory it had.

        Note, this part feels like a ridiculous tangent, really, feel free to point, laugh, and dismiss: Squinting at the model numbers in the preview images gave me a1136. Everymac shows some models with enough space to get the memory bump, and Apple's Support page only showed U2 editions too limited for the memory bump.

        • jwz says:

          It appears to be model MA450C version 1.3, but I'm not sure how to tell if it has 32MB or 64MB. The About page on the device doesn't say.

          • Pronoiac says:

            I tried using Music and failed; I'm not going to look for a machine with iTunes yet. I got my serial number from the same Settings screen, and entered it into Apple's "Check Coverage" page, which worked.

            • jwz says:

              It's not in "Music" any more, it's in Finder, in the sidebar. You have to turn on "show devices" in Finder preferences. When I enter my SN there it says "We’re sorry, but this is a serial number for a product that has been replaced."

              • Pronoiac says:

                I'm on Catalina; I finally got it to show the serial in Finder by clicking on the capacity in the header.

                My iPod Classic is newer, but Apple was still polite enough about how support and coverage is expired. You could try, and this is from googling, applesn.info? (Not that I have any idea what kind of mischief could come from them having my iPod serial.)

                • jwz says:

                  Yeah, that says it's 80GB.

                  I doubt there's much mischief they can get up to with the S/N of a device with no network interface!

                  • Pronoiac says:

                    Warranty hijinks, I guess, if they have a time machine and exactly no sense of scale?

                    I have a 7th gen, currently upgraded to 512 GB from 160 GB. Would testing against this be helpful?

                    I'm checking to see if Disk Mode is helpful with the original "bricking".

                  • jwz says:

                    When it was bricked, it also did not get as far as advertising itself to the Mac as a drive.

                  • Pronoiac says:

                    Huh, we've hit max depth on replies. Sorry.
                    The Disk Mode I'm talking about:

                    • hold Menu & Select for a few seconds to reboot it
                    • hold Play & Select at boot for Disk Mode
                    • when you're done, Menu & Select again

                    The iTunes database is in iPod_Control/ , which shows up at the command line, but not in Finder. Doing something with iPod_Control/iTunes/iTunesDB would likely unbrick it.

                  • jwz says:

                    Well I wish I knew to try Play+Select the last time it was bricked. But I'd rather not brick it again just to find out that that doesn't work.

                  • Pronoiac says:

                    I have enough confidence in Disk Mode that I'm comfortable - once I back it up - of loaning you my iPod. Worst case, if that doesn't work, I can open it and plug the microSD cards into something else and bang on them there.

                  • jwz says:

                    For those following along at home, engaging Disk Mode is a three step process:

                    • Toggle the Hold button on and off;
                    • Hold Select+Menu for 6+ seconds until it reboots to the Apple logo;
                    • Immediately switch to holding Select+Play until the screen changes.

                    Skipping that first step makes it not work. After that it takes another 20+ seconds before it mounts as a disk.

                    Oddly, Finder shows both the disk and the iPod in the sidebar, but selecting the iPod panel just shows "Loading..." forever.

        • jwz says:

          This page seems to say that the MA450 model that I have is 80GB and again reports the not-actually-a-number of "about 50,000 tracks" and then later says "but hey maybe we mean 30,000". Helpful.

          • Pronoiac says:

            Oh, the fun of having multiple "model numbers". That's not confusing at all, nope.

          • Glaurung says:

            Unfortunately, the limit ram based, not storage based, and depends on the size of the music's metadata, which means if you have lots of large album art, the limit will be lower than if you have small album art or no art.  Someone with OCD who has loaded nice retina quality scans of every album cover into every track is going to be able to load less music than someone who hasn't bothered to add album art to any of their rips.  

            You are not going to find the hard and fast number you are looking for because it doesn't exist.  :(  

            • jwz says:

              Of course it exists. This is deterministic and computable. You are just repeating the same vague shit that I and everyone else reading this post has already googled.

              • Glaurung says:

                Yes, it's deterministic, if you compute the total size of the metadata for all the tracks in the music you have loaded into it, and know exactly how the ipod turns that metadata into a database (which it loads into RAM for a lag free experience).

                To get the hard and fast number you are looking for, you need the total RAM in the device that can be allocated for the library database, and the total size of the database, as generated by the ipod's OS, for your particular music library with its particular set of metadata. The documentation for the first number and the algorithm for generating the second number are naturally proprietary secrets. Yay capitalism.

                • phuzz says:

                  By the time we're talking 50,000 tracks then the main factor is just the size of the metadata. I'm going to guess that Apple don't bother to convert the album art to a different format, so a good first approximation is just "add up the size of all the jpegs then add a few MB to account for everything else".

  4. John Brown says:

    I have no personal experience or any useful information as to the stock FW, but I used to use an iRiver player with Rockbox, which started off on iPods. I understand some iPod users switched to Rockbox due to problems with 'too many tracks'- RB handles 50,000+ songs fine on much worse hardware than yours, and it fails gracefully.

    It is pretty ugly though.

  5. MrSpookTower says:

    I played around with the Music app for a while a few years ago before giving up on it.  I had the same problem you did -- it would prefer streaming over files, which was really annoying because I like to fart around with remastering already-finished tracks (which is dumb, I know, but everybody's got to have a hobby), and I wanted to listen to the horrors I produced.  I don't know how much more annoying the Music app has become since then, but I was able to force it to not stream anything, and just play files.  It complained to high heaven about it, but it acquiesced.  I unfortunately don't remember exactly what I did to make that happen, but I'm pretty sure it involved unhooking it from my Apple ID somehow.  I also tried just changing the tags in the file tracks to give them different names than the original, which worked, but was a pain in the ass.

    • jwz says:

      The most irritating thing about it currently is that when I grab my phone, put in my headphones and walk out the door, I often have to fuck around with it for several minutes before I can even get music to start playing.

      Sometimes clicking the "play" icon on the lock screen works, but most of the time that just says "not playing". Sometimes it comes back to life after like 30 - 45 seconds and remembers that songs are a thing that exist. But sometimes I have to go into the Music app, navigate past a bunch of bullshit, find my songs, press play, wonder whether shuffle is on or off, and cringe at the first few seconds of that stupid "à;Grumh" song that is lexicographically first in the list.

      I suspect that what is happening is that any time the Mac syncs new tracks onto the phone it has to re-generate some database, defers that until the first time it wants to play, and said generation has gotten orders of magnitude slower within the last few years, because all of the iOS developers are people who do not have tens of thousands of MP3 files on their phone so they don't test that mode of operation.

      Oh, and sometimes hitting that "play" icon on the lock screen starts playing the audio of the last YouTube video I watched instead of my music, yeah, sure, that's totally what I meant to do.

      Ages ago you could just hold down the button on the headphone cable and say "play music, shuffle" and it would do the thing. That hasn't worked in years. That was literally the only thing I have ever used voice control for, and it's gone.

      Possibly there is some non-Apple iOS music player that sucks less. But I'm not sure that's even theoretically possible, since the thing that makes playing music on an iPhone even remotely tolerable is its integration with iTunes (auto syncing) and the lock screen controls (to go from "off and locked" to "playing music" with as few gestures as possible), and Apple does not allow third parties to do those sorts of things.

      • Michael says:

        When Music came out I gave up on it, moved all my music (and audio books) into Plex and now use Prism to play my own files on the phone.

        For external players I picked up a dedicated Fiio M11 Pro, not the cheapest dedicated “MP3 player” out there, but the UI doesn’t get in the way. It uses standard MicroSD card and I just have a filled 1TB card in it. It’s an Android device, so you can use an Android player you like or their decent built in one. It also as a “music mode” where all but their own music player is hidden from you and works well without the need for WiFi etc.

      • Carlos says:

        I'm glad it's not just me that finds the music player in modern IOS amazingly bad and frustrating to use.

        I've long used a first-gen Ipod Touch for music (only).  Came with IOS v1, upgraded to v2 shortly after getting it, and then never touched the software again.  Worked perfectly for the last almost-20 years.

        Battery capacity dropped over time.  It was still okay, but I was debating getting the battery replaced when Apple suddenly announced the death of the Ipod Touch.  I figured what the hell, and ordered one of the last 32GB models.

        And this thing ... it blows.  Like jwz, I can't reliably make the thing actually play on command.  Open the music app, fart around until I can get it to show me playlists, pick a playlist, hit "play" and ... nothing.  "Shuffle"?  Nothing.  Acts like you didn't do anything.  Try futzing with songs shown at the bottom of the screen, embedded play button there, the odd time it will start playing.  Usually?  I have to hit the power button to make it sleep, then re-awaken it, and then, 80% of the time, it will start playing music shortly after the screen lights up.  The other 20% of the time I have to fart around more and maybe do the sleep-and-wake thing 2 or 3 more times, then it plays.

        It's fucking aggravating.  And the worst part?  This brand-new Ipod gets less battery runtime than my clapped-out 20-year-old first-gen one.  But it's a couple of millimeters thinner, so I guess there's that?

        I really hope these are just bugs, and that they get fixed.  But I want a fucking unicorn too, and I don't think I'm getting that, either.


      • Nicholas says:

        For many years, I've used Picky as my iOS music player.  It started as a replica of the Music app from... I don't even remember, something like iOS 7, back when it did nothing but play tracks stored on-device.  You might like it, and since it uses the standard on-device music library, it changes nothing about the iTunes workflow - but as you note, that also means the lock screen controls aren't any different.

        I mostly bring it up to support another observation: the first time it's launched after any change to the track library, it does indeed spend several seconds regenerating some internal database.  At least it has the decency to pop up a progress circle, so you can tell what it's doing.

  6. Zygo says:

    I once discovered accidentally that my car had a ~3500 track brick limit.  I had to have it towed and parts replaced after plugging a mere 4GB of tunes into the stereo's USB port.

    The bug broke the stereo's power management, so it would drain the battery when the car was off, which in turn is bad for a lot of other parts of the car.  "Disconnect the USB device" and "turn it off and on again" is not how modern car stereos work.  I'm guessing there was a buffer overflow somewhere in the firmware that leads to the bricking, because there's always a buffer overflow in the firmware.

    That stereo had other more entertaining, less expensive bugs, like a homebrew decimal-to-ascii formatting function that would report a track time of 100 minutes as ":0:00" (where the first ':' is the ASCII character you get when you add 10 to '0'), 110 minutes was ";0:00", 120 minutes was "<0:00", and so on.

    • Not Frank says:

      Erm. Make, model, year of your car?

    • thielges says:

      Wow, that’s a bizarre failure mode.   Entertainment electronics are allowed to meet the most lax verification standards (ASIL-A) because nobody considers the stereo being on the fritz being a serious safety problem.

      You’re on the right track with overflow+firmware.  In the old days the factory firmware image was stored on an honest to god actual ROM chip that was impossible for a software bug to damage.    Nowadays to save costs a “protected” partition of the NVRAM is used to store the firmware which is then initialized at the factory.  I suspect what happened in your bricking and JWZ’s iPod is some data structure that “can never overflow “ indeed did overflow into the “protected” firmware partition, bricking the device.  The likely repair is to mount the NVRAM as raw disk memory and overwrite it with a new factory image.  

      • jwz says:

        The iPod bricking doesn't need so sophisticated an explanation:

        • Certain sets of data prevent boot;
        • The only way to issue a "wipe' command is after boot has completed.
        • thielges says:

          > Certain sets of data prevent boot

          That extreme generalization is of course true.  I’m asserting that the “certain set of data” is specifically a corrupt firmware image.  

          This might be an old bug inherited from the original mechanical hard drive ipods.   The bulk data, including metadata, was stored on the hard disk.   Since that is a completely disjoint address space from the NVRAM where the boot image lives, any bulk data overflow would never run over to the NVRAM.   Back then, the bug might trash your music but not brick the device.   Combining bulk storage with firmware into the same address space enabled the bug to do greater damage.  

          • Doctor Memory says:

            I'm pretty sure that the iPod 5 being discussed here is still one that came originally with spinning-rust microdrive storage, possibly upgraded by the seller to use an SD card but in any case still entirely separate from whatever the firmware was kept on.

      • Zygo says:

        This car was a 2011 Equinox, so it would have been in development at the same time as ISO 26262.  Definitely not designed to an ASIL spec, not even a draft version.

        The safety impact of the stereo bug was minimal, because it was just software living in the stereo.  As long as the alternator was working, there would be sufficient power to the ABS, TC, power steering, headlights, and so forth.  Most cars are designed to run with the stereo and engine operating simultaneously with no safety issues.  After the stereo deep discharged the battery, the battery was destroyed and the car didn't start again, which is one of the safer states that a car can be in.  If the alternator had failed, the electrically powered functional safety systems would have had problems, but they're the same problems that would happen with no stereo in the car (e.g. air conditioning and headlights can break ABS function if the alternator is dead and the battery is undervolting).

        That same car did also have much more serious safety problems (a broken ignition switch locked up the steering wheel while I was on a highway once), but there were recalls to fix those.

        • tfb says:

          These things still happen.  Our van (2017 registration, perhaps slightly older design) has had a bug where some bit of electronics never went to sleep and killed several batteries.  Since then it's had some issue where the EMS (?) loses contact with everything and panics, saying essentially 'everything has gone wrong'.  This has happened while I was driving it, and that was OK – a lot of lights came on but I could still drive it.  More terrifyingly it happened in some more serious way while parked, which resulted in the steering lock being on.  I hope that particular mode can only happen while it's parked, because it would be fatal if driving at any speed.

    • jwz says:

      This is glorious.

  7. Adede says:

    I'm sure you have your reasons, but have you considered a non-ipod device? E.g., an Android phone using a non-Apple music app? Now that they've stopped making ipods, any answer you get here will be a temporary solution at best.

    • jwz says:

      Syncing music out of iTunes and into non-Apple devices sounds like a recipe for pain. Also, Android's UI is just intolerably bad. I avoid Android like I avoid desktop Linux, and for the same reasons.

  8. MC says:

    Is anyone else concerned that this is the JWZ version of preparing for the apocalypse--a musical bunker, if you will?

  9. summersclone says:

    Do you use shuffle?

    This guy loaded a 1TB 5th gen with 41,682 songs and it wouldn't shuffle. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHzFoN8ob-s&t=263s

  10. Eric TF Bat says:

    I may be ten years out of date here, but -- is there a Mac equivalent of Android Studio that lets you run an emulated device on your desktop computer?  In theory, such a tool would have all the same failure modes (ie bugs) as the real thing, right?  Or is it a "good enough" emulation that doesn't provide that level of compatibility?

    • グレェ「grey」 says:

      I think you want the Simulator from Xcode? Alternatively, Corellium offers something similar I think, and somehow didn't lose that $50 billion lawsuit Apple waged against them.

    • Doctor Memory says:

      There is, but it only emulates iOS devices, which the iPod Classic is most definitely not.  AFAIK there was never any sort of public SDK available for it.

      • jwz says:

        Also good luck getting Simulator to do any device that is more than 2 years old. Apple memory-holes those emulators and OS images with great haste.

  11. Jim says:

    You're not going to like this, but if it's anything like mounting an HDFS on a Chromebook, it's scanning your MP3s for CP.

  12. Matt says:

    Update 2: With 32,000 songs:
    But with 33,000 songs:

    This suggests pretty strongly to me that the limit is 2**15 - 1 = 32767 songs, i.e., someone used a signed 16-bit int in there somewhere.

    • Matt says:

      Derp, I know I don't have to explain how signed int's work to anyone here, but just to clarify:

      16-bit signed int means values between [-32768, 32767] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/16-bit_computing), and I'm supposing that someone used a signed int to represent the song count somewhere. Adding one more than that would presumably roll it over -32768 and all hell breaks loose?

      • prefetch says:

        There's another magic number in the original description: "around 67,000 tracks" > 2^16 (65536).

  13. Pronoiac says:

    Now you can easily rate songs on a five star scale, and have fun with Smart Playlists. Like, "songs I haven't listened to or skipped in the past month". You could also probably use them in iTunes - uh, Music - to prioritize adding songs to the iPod, and possibly pruning them.

    With Smart Playlists, I have a workflow for going through something like, say, the SXSW Torrents (RIP) and finding the songs I like most. The first pass through can be a slog, though.

    If you pursue this, there's something dumb about album auto-ratings - if you like a number of songs on an album, the whole album gets a bump? Offhand, I can't remember how to deal with this.

    I'm now morbidly curious about upgrading the RAM in iPods. It would involve soldering. An idle search for previous experiments finds a lot of people confusing RAM and disk space, of course.

    • jwz says:

      Having now used it for a few days, I find the sound quality and responsiveness of the UI to be really good, but find the fact that I can't use the buttons on my headphone cable to change volume and pause/play to be very frustrating.

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