RioVolt SP90/100/250 Unofficial FAQ

NOTE1: This FAQ will not likely get updated a whole lot more in the future (being dates beyond 31OCT02). I am now using iriver's iFP-180t more often than I do the riovolt. Please see my start of an iFP FAQ.

NOTE2: Essentially much of what is reported here can be equally applied to the riovolts’ Korean brothers at contact for suggested updates to this FAQ)

Also note, This FAQ is UNOFFICIAL and contains information that Rio will not substantiate, warranty or even like very much--though they've yet to threaten me in anyway (and I admit, I half expected them to when I prompted world revolt over already-coded features they refuse to include). If the advice here is applied correctly it will, however, go a long way toward solving world hunger.

  1. What are they?
  2. All three are CD players that also play MP3/WMA/ASF sound files on CD/R/W media. In fact, you can say they are primarily MP3 CD players that happen to also play regular audio CDs and other formats. You can get the official scoop at Rio’s home page. The SP90 and SP100 are very similar—both use the same circuitry and design. The SP100, introduced early 2001, has additional features the SP90 lacks, such as remote, backlight (nope sp90 has no light--see item near bottom), external selectable audio-CD antishock time (set in menu on sp90), official firmware upgrade ability (sp90 unofficially can) and comes with an AC adapter (comes w/ additional cost to sp90).

    The SP250 is the next model introduced late 2001, and includes upgrades to the SP100 such as much improved LCD, FM radio, louder sound output, LCD remote (optional), and rechargeable batteries. For more information on sp250, please visit my photoless archive of alfmeister’s review1. alfmeister’s review2. For details about the SP90, please look at this MP3 sp90 site.

  3. Which one is best?
  4. That depends on what you need. Economy? SP90—it has all the basic features and is the least expensive, ranging from nearly $80 - $100 late 2001, just after release. It will not include official firmware upgrades, but you can purchase the SP100 remote and AC adapter separately at SonicBlue’s online store. Feature –rich? SP250, which only lacks the LCD Remote.. Something in between with expandibility? SP100.

    Please review information about the various units before making a purchasing decision. Start at this archive of alfmeister’s review page (look in his sp250 review, down at the comparison section) or by reading and asking at’s hardware forum. A great review with comparison by a user (SilverM) of both SP100 and SP250 can be found here.

    my own feature-list comparison is here

    This site has a large database of features across many, many CD MP3 players

  5. Can I get the manuals or more information before buying?
  6. Yes. They are here. SP250 manual.SP100 manual.SP90 manual.

    There are also official FAQ for each. Go to the Support Page at Rio’s site. Click on the appropriate model name to get FAQ, warranty information, Troubleshooting pages, specifications and more.

    IRIVER also has manuals for their IMP versions of these three players. Find them on the last page of iriver's download area.

  7. Can I use the accessories from one model on the other?
  8. Yes and no. The AC-adapter from all are fairly interchangeable, even though the sp250's adapter is rated as 300ma, and the sp100's is rated 600ma. Users have tested it both ways, and from reports, they're interchangeable.
    The sp250 remote is not compatible with the other two models, or vice-versa. The sp100 remote will work on the sp90.
    The rio cases are interchangeable. The best one is clearly the one included with the sp250.

  9. What is a firmware?
  10. Two models, SP100 and SP250, can have their internal programming updated. (The sp90 is rumored to be hackable, see below.) The Rio players do not have compressed music codecs hardwired on chips. Rather they use an ARM processor and have codecs installed in a firmware that can be updated. The upshot of this is, they are software expandable. During 2001, the SP100 underwent over a dozen improved firmware updates. Its feature list went from barely over 10 features to supporting more than three times as many; including playlists, 10 CD resume memory and much more. Details of older firmware upgrades can be found at archive 1 of alfmeister’s imp250 firmware page. and archive 2 of alfmeister’s riovolt firmware page. Latest information is found below.

  11. Does firmware have bugs?
  12. Yes, but most of them have been fixed. The remaining ones are only slightly annoying and overall, there is no other player that can match the rio/iriver/avc players for feature richness.

  13. Can the Rio sp100/250 use the iriver equivalent firmware?
  14. Yes, for both. If you didn't already realize it, Sonic/Rio is VERY slow about updating the firmware of these players. The original OEM, Iriver in Korea, updates firmware regularly for its version these players. And they are compatible, for the most part, with rio's US players. As of the latest iriver firmware, the sp250 has all the features Iriver puts in the firmware. Historically, while the iriver firmware could be placed on the riovolts, not all features worked as they would on iriver players (imp100/250) because Rio decided for a bizarre reason to have STUDY and BOOKMARKS turned off on their machines. Though, rio firmware 1.11 for sp100 did have STUDY, but it was removed thereafter for reasons not fully understood by mere mortals of the non-rio corporate ethreal enviro.

    Here's how to put iriver firmware on the riovolts.

    The SP100 is easiest for using iriver FW. Just download the latest firmware at's firmware page (I use internet explorer for this because netscape gives errors). GET TYPE 1. (not type 2--chinese version) The chinese version, type 2, toasts all other machines.

    For the SP250, it's a bit trickier. Follow these steps.

    1) Download the latest and proper iriver firmware. GET TYPE 1. (not type 2--chinese version) The chinese versions will kill your player!

    2) using a HEX editor, edit IMP-250.hex the first seven bytes from "IMP-250" to the six byte "SP-250" and the remaining (seventh) byte must be identical to the eigth byte, name 00h. For example, in my hex editor, it has the hex codes:

    49 4D 50 2D 32 35 30 00...

    which corresponds to IMP-250 ...

    Needs to be changed to hex:
    53 50 2d 32 35 30 00 00...

    which in ascii is SP-250 ...

    3) save this hex-edited file as SP-250.hex, and update your riovolt sp250 with it as usual.

    NOTE1: for the SP90, you could do the same thing with the imp-100.hex file. With a hex editor you would replace IMP-100 with SP-90 inside the file, and rename the file to sp-90.hex. For more information, see the item far below on hacking the SP-90 firmware.

    NOTE2: To take the SP250 currently using the IRIVER firmware back to a riovolt firmware, you must reverse hack. (see the section What firmware is the latest? below.) That is hex edit the riovolt firmware hex codes:

    53 50 2d 32 35 30 00 00...

    ascii for SP-250 ...

    Needs to be changed to hex (starting from the same beginning point):
    49 4D 50 2D 32 35 30 00...

    ascii for IMP-250 ...

    and save the edited riovolt firmware with filename IMP-250.hex, etc. To get the details on this reverse upgrade, see the following post at Please don't blame me if you toast your riovolt.

    Historical Note: here is the link to where I announced the trick above. The first hacked IRIVER firmware.

  15. Is there anyway to get RIO to include STUDY and other firmware features?
  16. Update: The new IRIVER firmware 2.02 now works to add STUDY and Bookmarks for all players (hacked, of course). Please see the next two questions.

    (OLD note) Maybe. We have (well, I) tried getting some to contact people at rio, you can see some results here This nearly caused world-wide revolt, and Rio was not happy. Before all of this, I had cold called J. Sasse at his office, and he was NOT happy with me. But, hey, I'm still here...

  17. How do I get into the menu for changing options on the SP90/100?
  18. It has been in the manuals, but the Iriver manual seems to have hidden or left out this info. To go into the menu that allows changing of options, press and hold EQ button for three seconds. On the sp250, there is a specific button labeled "navi/menu" which is press-held for three secs.

  19. How do STUDY and BOOKMARKS work?
  20. Study mode provides ways to do a quick review/rewind of the track currently playing or upon resume. It is set on the sp90/100 in the General menu, and under the Mode menu of the sp250. One of its modes also allows for up to 20 bookmarks (resume positions) per disk (up to 10 CDs). There are four modes for study within Iriver firmware 2.0 or higher: Off, 5 sec, 10 sec and Study Beep. Off will not use any study features and all buttons should operate as normal (or as set by other mode preferences).

    5 Sec or 10 Sec Study modes.

    Each of these modes allow a 5 or 10 second review/rewind of the current track or a rewind at resume. The STOP key takes on the role of performing a rewind of 5 or 10 seconds. To actually stop the track, you must hold STOP and turn off the player. These modes do not allow for bookmarks. All other buttons perform as normal. (On the sp90/100, in the 5/10sec study modes, the EQ button has been incorrectly mapped to the PROG button. This bug is not a problem on the sp250. Reportedly, Iriver has been told about the sp100 bug.)

    Study Beep mode.

    The study beep mode was created for the visually impaired and for using Bookmarks. If the beep volume is set to anything other than 0, each key press will cause a beep or set of beeps, with the number and pause between the beeps that depends on which key/function is activated. The PROG, +10/EQ buttons are somewhat remapped when using Study Beep mode.

    - Short press of +10/EQ button, the song will rewind 5/10 seconds. (The skip forward 10 tracks no longer works)

    - Long press of +10/EQ button, EQ setting.

    Bookmarks are set in the following manner. (sp250/iriver250|350)

    * To enter Bookmark set/delete/move features, long-press PROG followed by the appropriate key described below. (On the sp90/100, long-press the +10 is the bookmark set key.)

    * To Add Bookmark: Long pressing PROG button and short click of PROG button will add the present song to the bookmark.

    * To Delete Bookmark: Long pressing PROG and short click of MODE button will delete the last saved bookmark

    * To Move to the next bookmark: Long pressing PROG and short click of NEXT(>>) will move to the next bookmark. Successive quick presses of NEXT(>>) button will move to the next bookmark, continuously.

    * To Move to the previous bookmark: Long pressing PROG and short click of BACK(<<)will move to the previous bookmark. Successive quick presses of BACK(<<) button will move to the next bookmark, continuously.

    Again, for the sp90/100, Bookmarks are set/deleted/moved by press/hold of +10 instead of PROG, followed by the next key of the appropriate function. For example, to set a bookmark on the sp100: long-press +10, then short PROG. To delete last bookmark: long-press +10, then short MODE, etc.

  21. What firmware is the latest?
  22. For the three players (90,100,250) discussed here, now, it is IRIVER's version 2.12 (see iriver's site). If you've never hacked it for the sp250, it will need to be hacked, as explained above. But that may be the last time you do the hack (see below). As for the sp100, it does not need hacking. (see above)

    Please go to the english firmware page (best with iexplorer for some reason). The changes/details of the FW for each player is listed inside the link for a given firmware at the iriver site. And the last page offers a manual download. These links will give you information on how to use new features, like Study and Bookmarks. There could be some errors or difficult to understand passages in the explanations, so ask at forums if you can't figure something out. Lastly, the new firmware should now have added all features to the original riovolts that the iriver100 was given.

    One of the most interesting developments is that once you upgrade the sp250 to iriver FW 2.00, thereafter it only accepts un-hacked firmware (left as 'imp-250.hex' without editing). This is apparent at boot time after a 2.00 upgrade--the IRIVER2 symbol is displayed promptly after the hard-coded RIOvolt logo. Further, one user reports having accidentally downloaded the IMP-350.HEX (slimX) firmware, editing it from imp-350 to sp-250 and upgrading. His SP250 did not perform properly--it thought it was a SlimX (without the proper hardware to back it up). Still he was able to recover by editing the iriver 2.00 FW, replacing the imp-250 with imp-350, and renaming the file to 'imp-350.hex'--this reverted his player back to the equivalent of the imp-250. In this way, the SP250 pulled an SP90--after hacking the first upgrade, you no longer have to. Be warned, however, if you do upgrade an SP250 to FW 2.00, and then wish to 'downgrade' or upgrade to an official RioVolt firmware later, you must hack the riovolt firmware, replacing the sp-250 with imp-250.

    To get the details on this reverse upgrade, see the following post at Please don't blame me if you toast your riovolt.

  23. What firmware is on the SP90?
  24. When you buy the sp90 it comes with the equivalent of firmware 1.13 from the sp100. It does not include the 10-cd memory, playlists or other extended features of later firmwares, but is still more feature rich than most any other player below the $100 mark. RIO claims the sp90 is NOT upgradeable, but see next item.

  25. What's this about an unofficial firmware hack for the sp90?
  26. Yes, the sp90 can be upgraded with a hack, but it voids warranties, possibly ticks off rio and causes world hunger if you do it. Above, in the item about hacking the IMP-250 firmware for the sp250, I mention what one must do to hack iriver/rio 100 firmware for the sp90. Note also that once hacked, the sp90 "thinks" it is become an IMP100, so all future upgrades do not need hacking--use the IMP-100.HEX file as is. For more information, take a look at this message and at this message if you're interested. Also here is a new site dedicated to SP90 upgrading

    SP90 won't upgrade?.............Some folks get a "NO DISK" when they try the sp90 upgrade hack. I do not own an sp90, so I probably can't help if you email about problems, but read on... I've gotten a lot of email from folks in the last half of 2002 complaining that the sp90 won't upgrade anymore, giving a NO DISK messg. It may be possible that the newest sp90's coming out of RIO no longer allow the secret upgrade. But I also get the feeling from tallying notes about failures that there is a significant link to troubles with writing the CDR when using winXP. If you're using XP, and have tried various CD burning software (Nero, Roxio, etc) to no avail, then you should note that some have reported success after failures by burning with XP's built in CD writing functions. (The built in way is drag and drop and then demanding that XP "write files to CD" from the File menu of the explorer program.)

    Lastly, Speedforneed has a method that might work for you. Find it here.

  27. I want ____ feature in the next firmware. How can I get it?
  28. Iriver/reigncom write the firmware for rio. If you want to request a new feature, I suggest that you FIRST, put the suggestion on the or forums. Let others see the suggestion and help improve it as much as possible, or tell you that it has already been requested and should be out soon, etc. Then once it is devised perfectly and written clearly, email IPebble at iriver: Don't bother IPebble with poorly thought out requests. The more junk he gets, the less likely to respond well to the important requests. Use sparingly!

  29. Is there a way to make the SP90 turn on its backlight?
  30. No. It is missing key circuitry on the LCD circuit board. Here is an image of the SP90 board. Compare board location L901, L903 with the SP100 LCD CB (look at the left of the LCD). Also note the "tape" going into the LCD left side on the SP100 board. It would appear the sp90 is missing transisitors, and capacitors found on the sp100 board.

  31. I hear they skip, is it bad?
  32. update: The latest iriver firmware 2.xx (see above) adds "ultra anti-shock" to the sp250. It is started by pressing and holding MODE during playback. The folder icon will change to something of the order of a sunburst/illuminated disk. This mode probably eats the batteries but it has been reported to make the sp250 virtually skip free, once you start the first song. After that, even between songs, it shouldn't skip hardly at all. It's almost as good, according to some reports, as the Sony DCJ101 (which is the most skip-free mp3 cd player at this time).

    On the sp90/100, or without the new firmware, skip-protection will depend on the usage. The skip protection of all units works by reading or buffering part of a compressed track into RAM memory (the SP90/100 both sport about 2MB buffer, and the SP250 has 8MB buffer). The buffer is filled with as many bytes of the current track and, if more room, as much of the next planned track as can fit. Once the buffer is filled, the player stops spinning and is virtually a solid state player until the buffer is depleted. During the no-spin play, it will not skip, blurp or hiccup at all. During moments it fills the buffer (i.e. spins), it is very prone to skipping problems.

    The upshot of this is, most users find they can walk briskly with the sp250, but not jog. The SP90/100 are more prone, and might skip even during brisk walk. However, many users report the SP90/100 do not pose significant problems during walks, street cycling, or for playback in your car on normal road surfaces.

    If this concerns you, there are reports that certain media (CDR brands) work best, and that burning in the most simplest, slowest mode will significantly improve skip-free playback. It is best to ask at’s hardware forum for advice until a list and details are included in this FAQ.

  33. What about battery life?
  34. The riovolts are some of the few CD MP3 players that actually get the advertised battery life. With newer, well conditioned 1600-1800mah NiMH rechargeable batteries, most users see 13-15 hours on the SP90/100, and 11-14 hours on the SP250. Fifteen hours is advertised, and most users do see this once in a while, depending on volume, button use and bit rates of compression. The bottom line is, most riovolt users don’t think much about battery life because it is not a problem with these players. For more information on recharging in the SP250, see the photoless archive of alfmeister's battery link

  35. Can I use other batteries with the SP250 than those in the pacakge?
  36. Yes. You will need to circumcise the off brand batteries. The negative side of the included rechargeables have a segment of the plastic outer layer removed so that the cells can make contact with a third tab located on the inner-side of the SP250's battery compartment. Have a look at the included batteries as you place them in the battery compartment, notice where they make electrical contact with the extra connector tab, and you'll get the idea of circumsizing others...

  37. In MODE, what is the difference between SFL-All and SFL, or DIR-All and DIR?
  38. The diff between SFL ALL and SFL, or DIR ALL and DIR is that the ALL designation causes it to repeat the shuffle (either all songs across the CD or in the current DIR), whereas without ALL it shuffles through them, stopping once they've been played. If you just think of the ALL being REPEAT, you should get the idea.

  39. Then is there a difference between SFL-1 and RPT-1?
  40. Yes. While both will repeat the same track indefinitely, if you SKIP+-, repeat will go to the next/previous track in proper order, while shuffle will go to a random track across the entire disk.

  41. 10 CD memory?
  42. The latest firmwares support 10 CD memory on all machines (hacked sp90 only). This allows up to 10 CD/R/W with compressed track information and program lists (see below) to be stored in flash memory so that playback and programs can resume where they left off. This happens even if you have swapped disks (up to 9 others) since last playing the CD. It is an important feature for audiobook and OTR fans. Also, with iriver firmware 2.xx and higher, the Study Beep mode also remembers up to 20 bookmarks (resume positions) per disk, for a grand total of 10*(20+1)=210 resume positions.

  43. What is this about playlists?
  44. Playlists can be one of two things: WinAmp .m3u playlists or programmed track lists. With the most recent firmwaresthe SP100 supports (.m3u) playlist files. The SP250 supports .m3u playlists. The un-hacked SP90 does not support (.m3u) playlists, but can be programmed with over 100 tracks like the other two. To access either kind of list, simply stop playback (keeping the player powered on) and press PROG. At the top of the list is "PROGRAM" and under that will reside the filenames of any .m3u files you have on the disk in any folder. Select these by moving down (STOP) or up(PLAY) with the jog and then begin one with NEXT(>>). Building a program list is described in the manual. (Older information about the generation of playlists are explained in the photoless archive of alfmeister's site.

    The latest info -- An example of a playlist, file called mylist.m3u would contain:


    A note on the latest firmwares: It used to be that you could just type in the name of the tracks, one per line, with no directory information (firmwares 1.00-1.01 sp250, or pre 1.43_iriver on sp100). That makes playlists easy to build, but with the downfall that if you have more than one track with exact same name, the player finds the first track on the CD only.

    Now with hacked iriver firmware 1.02 and beyond, the player will need correct directory information. The path must match the CD path with any given drive letter (drive letter ignored, in other words). The upside is, this is closer to what Winamp does. (for information about hacked firmware, please ask in the forum).

    Also, note (thanks to Alex Hutton), filenames longer than 59 characters (inc the extension) aren't picked up in m3u playlists. Filenames containing accents (any ascii > 127) aren't picked up in m3u playlists. While the filenames appear fine in the directory listings from the NAV menu, when playing playlists that contain these filenames the sp250 skips those files.

  45. Can I delete my programming?
  46. Yes. A previously undocumented feature allows you to remove programming information. In program mode (consult manual on using PROG) hitting MODE will delete the program currently displayed from the cue. Successive pressing of MODE will remove all programming and start fresh. There is no known way to clear the entire program with a single or few button presses.

  47. Is there a way to build a playlist while listening and cueing with NAVI?
  48. Not exactly. This is informally called 'Dynamic Playlist' building. This has been requested in a firmware upgrade since the latter half of 2001. Right now, you can only cue one song into the current playlist while listening. Do this by NAVI to the desired track while listening to another track, and pressing PROG while the track is highlighted. That selected track will play next, and after that, the program/playlist will continue as before. The dynamically cued track is only temporary in the list. It does not remain there once you move beyond it.

  49. Help, my player has died!
  50. There are many reasons, mostly from improper operation, but sometimes it can be dirty optics or a wet circuit. First of all, check the HOLD switch (on the main player outer edge, just below the main operation button). The HOLD switch will keep the player from turning on unless switch off. The remote has one too. If you're getting the NO DISK message, ensure it isn't a dirty CD or that the CD isn't blank. Try another CD that you know worked recently or a commercial audio CD. If it continues with NO DISK message, try a CD cleaning kit. If it continues to malfunction, or boots but never spins, it could have gotten moisture on the circuit board. Let it dry for 24 hours at least, and then try again. If after a few days there is no improvement, you should contact tech support at Rio/Sonic Blue. If your problem ocurred during a firmware upgrade, you might be able to fix it still. See the point above about the latest firmware.

    Another possibility is just plain contaminents on the circuit board, shorting something. If you're REALLY daring, you could try what I did when my sp100 died in 2001. See this link. Also look at the photo of the circuit board above, in the item discussing the SP90 backlight missing components to see the very board I fixed by cleaning.

  51. What inexpensive aftermarket headphones are best for the Riovolts?
  52. Ah, so you've noticed that the included headphones are not very good. (Are they ever?) The answer depends on your listening tastes, but in general, many users at's forum have suggested a few brands.

    1. Phones: KOSS porto pros. These include models: all 'S/Porta Pros', 35, 50 & 55 and anything matching specs of these. You can get a fairly good model (Optimus/KOSS Pro 45s) at your local Radioshack. (Yes, I know, RS is usually pricey, but not with this one ($20 when on sale).) Most KOSS listeners feel the KSC-35 is best sounding (though discontinued, might be found online for $30), followed by KSC 50/55s, and lastly by the Pros. I feel my Pro 45s are best for blues and lite rock, while the 50s work well for classical and music with mids-high details. Get the KSC-50s at circuit city for $15--best all around deal on phones you'll find.

    2. Buds:Sennheiser MX 400/500 (~$12-$20)

    3. Canals: KOSS The Plug ($15) with modifications found at headwize

    (what, no SONY! Nope. Rio users have a definite anti-SONY bias Okay, okay. Any expensive SONY phones will probably do just as well, at a higher price.)

    If you're serious about getting the best phones for your listening interests, then you should read headwize's headphone FAQ and consult other literature at their site as well. Look at this link: review of buds or at these threads on's forum. thread1 thread2 thread3