Thursday 24 September 2009

Cowon iAudio 7 MP3 Player

I resisted the MP3 player fashion for a long, long time, but then I bought my daughter one and decided it was actually pretty cool and that I should get one too.

I originally got myself a Sandisk MP3 player for under £20. It was, frankly, great. It only had a GB of memory, but that was plenty for me and it used a single standard AAA battery, which I could buy more or less anywhere in the world, which I thought was a great idea. I got some Phillips earphones as a gift and I was all set.

I listened on the train,
I listened on planes,
I listened in hotels when away on business
and I even listened as I skiied.
It was great.

(Is there a song lyric in their somewhere?)

But then I stupidly left the damn thing on an airplane on the way to the US for a skiing holiday and that was it...

For some reason the same unit had become insanely expensive (some people wanted £90 for it!), so I settled on a Sony which seemed fine until, 3 months later, it stopped playing and completely refused to restart, so it went back to Amazon and I got a refund.

This time I decided to think long and hard about what I wanted.

The herd said iPod, but I was put off by the need to use Apple's software, reports of unreliability and relatively short battery life and the cost (The Shuffle was cheap enough, but I like to see what I am about to play, so they lack of a screen killed it).

My requirements were:

1. Primarily a MP3 player - Just for music, but with the ability to select tracks from a menu.
2. Small - I wanted it to slip in my pocket without trouble.
3. 2-4 GB - Didn't need tons of memory and certainly didn't want a disk drive model.
4. True 'drag and drop' with Windows - No fiddly software to transfer tracks on and off it.
5. Good quality sound - I'm no audiophile, but I didn't want a tinny piece of junk or a muddy bass dominated sound.
6. As affordable as possible - Less than a similar spec iPod if possible.

I looked at the iRiver Clix, but decided I didn't need a big screen and I didn't like the format much.

I considered things like the Sansa Clip and Creative Zen Stone Plus, but then I started coming across reviews for the Cowon iAudio 7.

Whiist some reviews moaned the controls were harder to use than an iPod, I was impressed by the universally high praise for the sound quality, the compactness of the device and the impressively long battery life per charge.

I ended up buying a 4GB model from and it arrived the next day (although the polycarbonate protective case I ordered at the same tim took another 2 months to arrive!).

The iAudio 7 is about as big as the remote control key for my car and features a roughly 1 inch square full colour screen. I wouldn't want to watch a film on the screen, but it's plenty clear enough to display the menu and cover art of the tracks playing.

The unit is mostly 'piano black' plastic, but features (in my case) a red metal band around the outside. They do silver and black too, I believe, and an 8GB and 16GB version.

It weighs near enough nothing to not matter (The official spec says 53g) and when you connect it to a PC via a standard mini USB cable, it shows up as an external drive, so you can drag and drop MP3s (And lots of other media types) onto and off it.

So, that's requirement 1, 2, 3 and 4 ticked off. So far so good.

The controls divide people, but I personally find them an endless source of entertainment.

There are 3 dimples to the right of the screen on the front. Two are round and the third is a rounded groove.

In usual MP3 play mode the top circle is a kind of 'function' button (We'll come back to that) and the lower one is a play/pause button. The groove allows you to scroll up and down between menu settings (such as between tracks) or through a track in FFWD/REW mode.

They achieve this by being touch sensitive and work really well. People moan the interface is fiddly, but it really isn't and if you just want to play tracks and switch between them, then you'll be at ease with the controls in half an hour. Maybe not as idiot-proof as an iPod, but who wants to be thought of as an idiot?

On the top edge, as you look at the front, are a -/+ switch for volume (not controlled by the touch control, probably sensibly), a M (menu) button for selecting the menu system and a power/lock button (push left for on/off, push right to lock the controls).

The touch control can be a bit a sensitive, even to the point of it scrolling between tracks in your pocket so the 'Lock' feature gets a lot more use than I've ever given it on the other devices (in fact I NEVER used it on the other two).

So how does it stack up on requirement 5, good sound? Well, brilliantly in my view.

The sound is rich, rounded, clear and powerful. The iAudio 7 has a highly configurable Graphic Equaliser, but I often switch it off completely and just turn the volume up and it sounds excellent, with no messing with the original sound of the tracks as recorded. A number of reviews have commented how it is almost unique in having enough power to drive full size headphones intended for home hi-fi units.

Battery life is excellent too. It's NEVER shown less than 3 (of 4) bar so far as every time I plug it in to add tracks it recharges itself too! Various reports on the web suggest up 60 hours of play is possible on a single charge - far more than most other players (especially of such compact size).

Final requirement - Affordability? Well, my 4GB version cost me just £59.99 - Much less than a compatible iPod (or anything else of similar quality), but I found AdvancedMP3s were by far the cheapest retailer (they sell through Amazon too), so check them before buying elsewhere.

The iAudio 7 will record sound too (there's even an input for a microphone for better quality than the built in delivers) and play FM radio (I've never used either, though personally).

What don't I like? Well, I would've got the 8GB version instead (it was only £20 more) and the piano black does pick up greasy fingerprints (like the PSP for example), but they wipe off easily enough.

I also find that the white text of the track playing is sometimes a bit hard to read on the cover art on the screen and I've not found a way to change that at all.

Otherwise, it's a wonderful bit of kit (it's had a lot of use in the 3 months since I bought it) and I would recommend it to anyone.

PS September 2010 - Advanced MP3 Players ran a poll on who make the best sounding MP3 players and (when I posted this link) Cowon were way out ahead of everyone else - see the poll here.

No comments:

Post a Comment