Resurrecting a water-damaged Sansa Clip+ MP3 player

Posted by Howard Richardson (comments: 0)

The Sansa Clip+ is my MP3 player of choice. With the custom Rockbox firmware on it, it's features are unparalleled in any player so small. The battery lasts a good 12 hours and the sound quality is pretty top too.

It's a real pity, therefore, that Sansa have discontinued making them, and I have to survive on ever dwindling supplies of second-hand ones from Ebay. It's a double pity when I take the things outside and they happen to get splashed by rain and refuse to work afterwards.

Yes, the Sansa Clip+ has to be a strong candidate for the world's most sensitive to rain MP3 player. Even with its silicone jacket on, a couple of splashes can seep through the cracks in the cheap plastic case and totally ruin your Clip. First the thing will shut down, and then it will refuse to turn on or charge. At this point you're into damage control.

I've had this problem now enough times to figure out the best course of action to resurrect one from its watery grave. The first thing you need to do is to turn the Clip off and bury it in a bowl of rice overnight, to soak up the water. If possible, take the circuit board out of its plastic shell first.

This may be enough to get the thing going the next day, but if not, what you'll probably find is it is extremely random whether or not you can get the thing to light up or not, through a combination of plugging it in to USB power, flicking the power button, and holding down the power button 15 secs to reset it. If it does light up, it'll probably shut down immediately too.

The problems you will have to deal with here is first to reset the thing so it can be booted, then to keep the thing going so that it doesn't switch itself off, and finally to get the battery to hold a charge again.

With the circuit board out of its plastic shell and unscrewed from the base, you should examine both sides for corrosion or water damage. This will probably look like some white powder or film over some of the contacts. You should wipe this away with an alcohol wipe anywhere you see it. If you suspect that corrosion may be shorting any contacts or pins on the board, try gently scraping the affected areas with a craft knife to loosen the corroded material, and then wipe again.

By a combination of hard resets (hold power for 15 secs) and plugging the Clip into USB power, you should aim to get the thing booting at least semi-reliably.  It may be worth spraying contact cleaner into the power (and any other affected) microswitch, because one possible problem is that switch itself can stop functioning reliably.

If you can get it this far then your final challenge will be to get the battery going again. Having likely shorted out, the charge of the battery may be so low that it refuses to charge from Rockbox, instead immediately shutting down. This is a bit of a catch 22. Leaving the Clip attached to USB power overnight seems to do nothing, but I did find that I could force the Clip to stay on a few minutes - enough to take an initial charge - by holding down the left button when connecting it to power. The Clip will then boot into the Sansa firmware and as long as you hold down the button, it will continue charging and not switch itself off again. A few minutes of this may be enough to get the thing charged to a base level so that it will then continue to charge normally.

I'm not sure if this charging issue was related to a short across the battery which eventually dried up and went away, or if it's just how the charging circuit and firmware work when the battery is extremely discharged, however a combination of persistence and trying the technique above managed to resurrect my Clip in the end.

I'm happy to report now that my last water-damaged Clip now lives to brave another rainstorm. I hope yours will too!

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