The iPod was an instant classic — killed off in an instant by the iPhone.
But the iPod has a Dr. Frankenstein in Remy Sternbach. The San Diego tech repairman is determined to bring two to life each week with shiney new bodies, solid state drives, new high-capacity batteries and a full terabyte of storage.
What Sternbach has discovered is the obsolete hardware has an enduring cool.
“I know this is a niche market, but there are people who really like the iPod and like Apple nostalgia,” Sternbach told Cult of Mac. “We also get a lot of audiophiles and people who travel a lot to places with patchy cell service. They want their music.”
The iPod, a huge and brief history
The iPod was hailed as a “21st-century walkman” when it was released in October 2001, a 5GB music player that put 1,000 songs in the pocket. The public was slow to embrace it largely because of the price, but it went on to sell more than 400 million and have an immense cultural impact.
Advertising featuring silhouetted dancers with white earbuds sparked excitement in owning the device. It wasn’t just for cool kids. Oprah Winfrey declared it one of her favorite things and President George W. Bush, in one interview, talked about his iPod playlist.
Apple released iPods in different sizes for a variety of budgets and later versions came with colors screens for watching videos and playing games.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs appeared on a 2004 Newsweek cover with an iPod alongside a headline that called America an “iPad Nation.” Three years after that cover, Jobs unveiled the iPhone. With a built-in music player, it sent iPod sales in a year-over-year decline with every new generation of iPhone.
Apple still manufactures a version of the iPod, the iPod touch, but with worldwide adoption of smartphones, the iPod and other music players have practically disappeared.
1TB iPods, an accidental idea
Sternbach started an electronics repair store in San Diego two years ago called iRefresher. He repairs most anything with a motherboard and he enjoys a steady business fixing broken iPhone screens, replacing batteries and making other fixes to extend the life of the iPhone.
He fixed iPods but got the idea to do a bionic overhaul when searching for used iPods and other components on eBay. He accidentally clicked “high to low” price in his search and discovered modified iPods were selling for hundreds of dollars.
“I saw I could make even more money than from just refurbishing them,” Sternbach said. “I at first I thought that these iPods would just be bought as a novelty… but there are people that still very much like the user interface of classic iPods. Also, the DAC (Digital Analog Converter) creates sounds that most people prefer over cell phones.”
Sternbach sells them on his website and under a separate name, iUpgrader, on Amazon. He sells two different modified iPods, a 1TB iPod Classic 5th gen for $759.97 and a 7th-gen Classic for $809.97 (additional specs can be found here).
Sternbach’s customers have come from Canada, South Africa, Asia, Australia, and the U.S. He rebuilds the iPod’s motherboard and thanks to a tenacious components supplier in Canada, Sternbach is able to get body plates that have been polished to look like new and re-engraved to say “1TB.”
That’s about 50,000 songs, Sternbach said. The increase in storage space, he said, allows audiophiles to store larger raw music files.
“I want to help people who need that,” he said. “I’m making (iPods) relevant again – at least for some people.”