My love affair with the Zune 80

D Vautier 6/2014

What is music if you can't take it with you.  I donít remember how long I have been using zune 80s but it certainly has seemed like a long time.  I still have dreams about my first red zune 80 slipping out of my hands while on the tread mill and crashing on the floor.  Thereafter all my zunes were dressed up in smart sharkskin jackets.  And I love to go with them just about anywhere.  With a good set of earphones the music is delicious and takes me to unseen places.


I do my PC music quality at max or just about as close to it as I can get.  I like either the MP3 or the M4A format which can use less space.  Old music from 1940 or so can be recorded at lower bitrates since there is no advantage in recording at higher quality.  File size is not a particular problem since I get approximately 10,000 songs into 40 gb, enough for a lifetime.


Here are my recording specs.  the first figure is the bit depth, the second is the bit rate.

Capture frequency: 16/44.1 Khz.

Compression for LP and CD for MP3 320 stereo vbr.

Compression for 78 rpm records: MP3 160 mono vbr.

VBR is the variable bit rate.  It uses less bits to store lower context music areas.  If you do classical there can be a lot of empty time.

The zune PC software is available free from Microsoft and can be a good tool to clean up song tag information.  All mp3 and m4a song files have a bunch of information tags that document the music.  Mp3 and m4a are what is called a lossy format which means that some information that you can't hear is discarded.  This may matter if you want to edit the music but is fine for simple playback.  Some claim the unheard music contributes to the heard music.  It's called the nyquist theory and says that these higher frequencies effect the auditable ones.

When I sync these to zune I make sure there is good data in the title, album artist, contributing artist and genre fields otherwise the indexes on zune do not work correctly.  All songs should have cover art.


The zune device is basically divided into four main pieces.  The first is the hard disk which has just one snap connection and is real easy to get out.  I'm mot going to discuss zune disassembly because all that is well described elsewhere.  A bad hard disk can be detected by a repeated clicking noise when booting or no noise at all.  When a zune device is booted the hard disk should click.  If it doesnít you are not getting that far and error 5 will probably appear. You may have a bad hard disk, but not necessarily.  Error 5 can mean just about anything at all.  I wish I had programmed the device myself because it does not have very good firmware and the error recovery is poor.

The second part and the real soul of a zune 80 is the motherboard which consists of the board itself and a soldered battery hanging off it like a broken leg.  The board has three connections, one for the sound card, one for a ground and a third underneath for the screen.  It is held firmly against button contacts in the case by four t-4 star screws that usually have blue thread locker and can be very stubborn so get a good t-4 star driver.  Each case has a revision number on the inside so all motherboards donít match all cases.

The third part is the screen which just about never goes bad and the forth part is the case with its buttons which also never ever fail.  Another part is the sound card which can sometimes fail, but usually in the micro socket.

Just about every failure I have ever worked with involve problems with the MB or the firmware.  Broken hard disks are not that common it seems. 

The motherboard keeps a lot of information inside of it so if you change the hard disk and the zune does not accept a new hard disk or comes up with error 5 you may have to put new firmware on the device.  This is kind of risky.  If you can connect your zune to the PC you probably donít need new firmware.  If you canít connect to the PC, then there are a number of things you can try in order to overcome the error 5 which totally prevents you from connecting or doing anything.  Do not remove firmware (back left ok) unless you can connect to PC because that is the only way to load firmware.

The MB has memory built into it because all those options on the screen are not on the hard disk.  They are buried somewhere in the MB memory.  Zune MBs are very fussy animals.  Once the firmware settles down and figures everything out it works well. 

Try a reboot.  Hold down the back and up buttons at the same time.  See if you can reboot.  No luck.

Remove the hard disk, reboot and wait for the error 5.  Reconnect the hard disk and reboot.  Press the back and down buttons at the same time (reboot).  In a last attempt try back, left and ok buttons which will remove firmware.  Donít do this unless you can connect even if you get an error 5.  If you are successful removing firmware then you should be able to still connect to PC and it will automatically go through a procedure and load new firmware.  If you get this far there is a good chance that it will recognize your new hard disk.  No luck.  Try another hard disk like the bad one.  Try to recharge by just leaving zune connected to PC.  If your MB does nothing after a few hours it is probably gone.  Itís a dead MB.  But wait a few days and try again.  I have actually been successful in bringing back Lazarus.  If you leave the MB connected and it gets hot your MB has been fried.  The charging circuit has blown out. 

You can connect just the MB and screen and see what happens.


All those pins.  Yakes! See here.