5 Ways to copy music OFF your iPod (Windows / Mac OS X)
March 9, 2007
It doesn’t matter how you got in this predicament — maybe you’ve lost a hard drive (or an entire computer), or you’ve accidently deleted just a little too much, and for one reason or another, you don’t have the original source of the music.
If any of that sounds familiar, the time to fix it is now — before you lose your iPod (and your music), or iTunes manages to get set to automatically sync your entire library (its default state, if you have to re-install it) and starts deleting all of the songs it doesn’t know about.
Unfortunately, the standard tool for transferring music between your iPod and your computer (iTunes) is one-way — it’ll put music (or videos, etc.) onto your iPod, but it won’t retrieve it back. Why? Uncle Steve wants it that way, I suppose.
The good news is that there are several ways around this, for both Mac and Windows users, ranging from free to cheap ($30 or so).
Method 1: Windows – Free, Down & Dirty
Unusually enough, this is one place Windows users have an advantage over Mac users. If you have a Windows formatted iPod, Windows actually treats it as a removable drive, and you can go in and copy the files off if you know where to look.
- Connect your iPod — Warning! if iTunes loads when you plug in your iPod, and is set to automatically sync your entire library (erasing your iPod), you MUST stop it — hit the little “X” in the upper right hand corner of the window.
- Open your iPod — It should show up on “My Computer” as a “Mobile Device”; right click and choose “Explore”. Alternatively, go to the Control Panel, Portable Media Devices, and double-click your iPod.
- Unhide the files — By default, Windows hides hidden files and folders (thus the name). Go to Options (in the Tools menu), and on the View tab, check “Show Hidden Files and Folders”.
- Find the Music — The music is stored (in current iPods) in the directory “\iPod_Control\Music”. This may have a lot of odd looking stuff in it — it doesn’t matter; select everything and drag and drop them to a folder on your hard drive.
- Configure iTunes — Go into iTunes Preferences, and under the Advanced tab, check “Keep iTunes Music Folder Organized” and “Copy files to iTunes Music Folder when adding to the library” (settings move around a bit between versions of iTunes, but these settings will be there somewhere).
- Add Your Files — In iTunes, select File, Add Folder to Library, and select the folder where you copied the files from your iPod. Alternatively, just drag and drop this folder onto iTunes
Once you’ve done that, iTunes should sort out the files from the iPod folder structure, put the artist and album information back from the ID3 tags in the music files, and reorganize the whole thing in the iTunes library folder.
The one caveat with this is that what you won’t get back is any “metadata” that isn’t stored in the files themselves, such as ratings, play counts, last played and modified information, etc.
It’s also very difficult to select individual files or groups of files doing this, as it’s not terribly obvious which file is which just looking at them in the way the iPod stores them.
Last but not least, I’ve never seen (nor read about) this trick being tried with any of the “new” iTunes data types, such as pictures, video, games, etc., so I don’t know how well it would work to retrieve that information, nor whether this will retrieve purchases from iTunes Music Store intact.
Method 2: Windows – Anapod CopyGear
Red Chair Software makes a program called Anapod CopyGear which will retrieve pretty much everything from your iPod, including all of the metadata, videos, TV programs, pictures, iTunes Music Store and Audible purchases, etc., all intact.
It’ll even let you select which files to transfer (but it would be wrong to use this to snag a couple of files from your buddy’s iPod).
The downside is that it isn’t quite free — there is a free trial version that will let you retrieve up to 100 items (which you could probably use several times if you’ve just got a few hundred things to retrieve), but if you want to do the whole thing, you’ll need to purchase Anapod Explorer, their full product for managing your iPod outside of iTunes; this comes complete with a licensed copy of CopyGear.
This runs between $20 and $30, depending on which version of the iPod you want to use it with (the $30 version works with all of them).
Method 3: Mac OS X – iPodDisk (free)
As mentioned above, copying files from an iPod is one of those unusual circumstances where things are actually a little simpler on the PC. The Mac recognizes an iPod as an iPod, and masks the ability to open it up like an external disk. Of course, it can be done, but it takes a little fiddling.
Fortunately, short of getting your hands dirty, there are some pretty workable freeware alternatives.
iPodDisk is an elegant little free (as in beer) utility that opens your iPod up in Finder just like was a normal drive.
Unlike opening an iPod in Windows, iPodDisk turns all of the odd file structures into an easy-to-navigate layout that lets you sort down through your artists, albums, playlists, etc. — drag whatever you want off and put it in your iTunes.
It’ll even open a Windows-formatted iPod just fine — which makes this a rather convenient way to get from a Windows iPod to a Mac formatted one (drag all of the files out with iPodDisk, reinitialize the iPod with the Mac iPod Updater, load the files into iTunes and let it stick them back on your iPod.
iPodDisk is a Power PC program, but it works fine on Intel Macs (at least it does on mine), and it supports all current iPods.
Method 4: Mac OS X – Expod (free)
Expod is a simple, free (open source even) utility that opens your iPod and lets you select songs to extract. Once you’ve selected them, you can tell it where to copy them to on your Mac, and even specify how you want the filenames created.
Expod is a Universal Binary (works on Power PC and Intel Macs both), and requires OS X 10.4 (Tiger), although it’s been reported to work under some versions of 10.3.
Method 5: Mac OS X – Anapod CopyGear
The same Anapod CopyGear mentioned above for Windows is also sold for Mac.
This has the same feature set as the Windows version, but is only $15 (since it doesn’t come with Anapod Explorer).
CopyGear for the Mac is a Universal Binary, and runs in OS X 10.2 and up.
So there you have it — no more excuses for not having your iPod music on your computer.
If something tragic happens to your iPod (such as this sad tale of woe from Susi at Shiny Shiny), and you don’t have a backup, then don’t be the one to say that we didn’t warn you..