iPod Music Liberator v4.5, by Zelek Software
Posted: 10-May-2006

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Zelek Software Type: SHAREWARE

Reviewer: Dan Schneider Class: UTILITY
     
$34.99   Download

Overview
Zelek iPod Music Liberator is a small utility that facilitates copying the music loaded on an iPod back to your computer. Apple, probably as an olive branch to the music industry, built in some restrictions as to what could be done with the music loaded to an iPod. There is no way, through the iTunes software, to copy music back off the iPod, one can only add or delete. Fortunately, the iPod is not totally locked down, as the music folder is simply marked as "hidden" and with some minor effort, it is possible to retrieve the music files from the iPod. That is not the end of the story, though, as the folder layout and filenames on the iPod are all just garbled letters and it's pretty useless without going through and re-organizing and re-naming all the files. Additionally, with this method you will not retrieve track ratings or playlists. While this does make casual copying ("piracy") difficult, it can be the source of serious headaches when your hard drive crashes and you've lost all your original music files on the computer or you want to load your music to a new computer and do not have a network between them. Zelek iPod Music Liberator was designed with these issues in mind and has a few extra features to spice things up.

The primary function of the software is to copy the music off of your iPod, retrieving the meta-data (album, artist, track name, etc.) from the iPod's own database and then organizing the music folders on your hard disk and naming the tracks in the manner you specify (e.g. for folders you can pick layouts like Artist-Album-Track or Genre-Album-Track, for track names you can choose which info should be included in the filename itself.). The rating and playlist info is captured to an XML file that iTunes can import.

Features

  • Playlists - copy your playlists from your iPod to your computer
  • Ratings - recover your songs' ratings from your iPod
  • Automatic File Renaming - automatically rename your songs using any combination of the artist, album, and song name
  • Organized Copying - automatically organize your music into folders labeled by artist and album
  • Intelligent Copying - copy only the updated songs from your iPod to your computer
  • Powerful Searching - refine songs restored using search criteria
  • Simple User Interface - simple user interface to allow easy navigation
  • Quick Song Listing - uses the iPod's own internal database to quickly list your songs
  • Music Player - can directly play your music from your iPod to refresh your memory about which song you want to copy


Installation
Installation on the Mac was a breeze: one need only unpack the download archive, copy the app to your Applications folder and double click. On first run, it will ask if you want to evaluate the software or enter your license info. Other than the fact that I had an old license at first that would not validate the latest version of the software, once I got a valid license key, the install went without a hitch.

In Use
Once the software is up and running it will detect any iPod that is plugged in. The interface is clean and to the point. Using the browsing interface provided by the software, you simply select the music to retrieve from the iPod and click "Copy". In the preferences you can set the desired destination folder, the hierarchy layout and file naming scheme and that is about it. In my case, I left the default settings, since they matched iTunes default music layout. Note that copying music and getting it back into iTunes is a two step process. First, iPod Music Liberator (IML) copies the music to your hard disk, then you need to tell iTunes to import the newly recovered data. Fortunately, IML generates an XML file, readable by iTunes that includes all your rating and playlist info and paths to all the music files so you simply instruct iTunes to import that file and it takes care of the rest.

When first using IML, it's important to change a setting in iTunes preferences under the iPod tab. You need to checkmark the "enable disk use" option; otherwise, you can get problematic behavior from IML.


Enabling disk use within iTunes


Once an iPod is recognized, iPod Liberator displays your library as well as your playlists in the left window pane. In the primary pane to the right is a list of all the songs located either in your library, or the selected playlist.


Displaying the "5 Star Music" playlist from the iPod "Black Diamond"


You have the option to restore the entire library from your iPod, or you can selectively choose specific playlists and/or specific sounds. Once your selection has been made, you just click on the "Copy" button, and IML begins downloading the music off of your iPod onto your hard disk. You can even use the search field to select specific songs only to copy. In the example below, selected just the U2 songs from their Rattle & Hum album.


Copying songs from iPod to hard disk

There is a progress bar on the bottom left of the window indicating the status of restoring your songs. After it is completed, the songs are organized in the destination folder you selected after pressing Copy. IML first creates a "Music" folder where the actual songs are stored, and it also creates an XML file that includes your song ratings, and other meta data that is not stored with the actual audio files. This is helpful for loading into iTunes.


File organization from iPod Music Liberator

You can instruct IML how to organize and name your fields under IML Options. In the example above, I have the songs organized in folders, and named by artist/album/song.


Organizing files and folders

For the purposes of reviewing this software, IML was used to copy music from two different fourth generation (photo) iPods as well as a 5th generation video iPod. The first iPod had about eight gigs of music that was no longer available elsewhere due to a crashed disk. Having a tool to recover music that has been lost due to a crash is what really makes IML a valuable tool. I plugged in the iPod, selected all the music and hit "Copy". It took awhile (around 60 minutes), but when it finished, sure enough, there was a nicely organized folder layout with a bunch of music in it. The long transfer time is not unique to IML, as even iTunes takes a long time to transfer that much data. When the copy finished, IML reported: "2,398 files copied, 60 errors".

In my transfer of some songs by Zemfira, the Russian names (using Russian characters) did not translate. It appears that non-Latin character language support is not supported by IML. IML reported errors, and converted the names to odd ASCII characters in the view window. On the hard drive, those files ended up with a bunch of question marks in the names.


Clean and simple interface, but not so good with Cyrillic characters.

I was a little bothered by the fact that the interface told me there were errors without providing more information on what those errors were. After contacting the vendor, I was informed that I could generate a log file of the errors by choosing Select File -> Export Help Files. This places a log file on your desktop. This was not obvious, and undocumented, but the vendor was quick to provide the information, and at least there is a way to get a log file.

Errors aside, after starting iTunes and telling it to import the XML file generated by the copy, the music showed up, and, even better, so did my playlists and ratings. The other features of IML, like search and the music player, all seem to work pretty much as advertised. It certainly would not make sense to try to use IML as your standard music player, but if you are looking for a particular file to recover, it is nice to be able to play it right from the browser interface. All in all, it is a very useful piece of software. However, depending on an individual's particular music collection, the lack of international character support may be a critical flaw.

Over all, the IML interface is very intuitive, but it does have some issues. By default, when IML opens up, all playlists and all songs are selected. I just wanted to copy one song, so in the song list pane, I highlighted just the one song. After clicking Copy, however, all the songs began copying. This was not very intuitive. I had to cancel the operation, and after clicking stop, instead of stopping completely, the progress area switched from copying x of y songs to copying x of y playlists. The stop should have canceled the operation completely without requiring further intervention. To make matters worse, in some cases, IML got confused and bombed out with the following error:


Value
Zelek Software offers iPod Music Liberator for $34.99. If you are just looking to copy music between two computers via your iPod, that price is a bit steep. In that case, it is probably easier to just copy the music to and from the iPod using your iPod's Disk Mode, using the Finder, and assuming you have the extra space on the iPod (or simply use an external USB or Firewire drive). However, if you are the victim of a hard drive crash and have lost the original copies of your music, this tool is a lifeline, and $35 is a pittance compared with the investment of time necessary to re-rip all those albums, or convincing the iTunes Music Store staff they should let you download your music all over again.

Summary
Zelek's iPod Music Liberator is a straightforward tool that does its task well: copying music, ratings and playlists off an iPod back onto a computer. The recovered data is easily imported into iTunes. The interface is clean and the software is simple to use. It lets you grab all the iPod's music, specific playlists or selections by search criteria. It has some nice options on file organizing and naming, and let's you play the songs within the Music Liberator. The software does have some flaws, such as lack of language support for non-Latin characters, and a non-intuitive process of retrieving an error log. There are also a few interface quirks, and the occasional application shut down message. However, if you are trying to recover from a crashed hard drive and the loss of music on the host computer, all of these issues are easily forgivable. The iPod Music Liberator is a must-have tool for anyone who has a need to retrieve music from your iPod.

Pros

  • Recovery of not just music, but also playlists and ratings from an iPod
  • Recovered files are well organized and named
  • The recovered data is easily imported back into iTunes
  • Clean, simple interface
  • Critical need when original library gone


Cons

  • Unintuitive error reporting and logging
  • Poor support for non-Latin characters
  • A few interface quirks


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice