Join Date: Jun 2005
iAudio X5L, Cradle & Case Review by Smigit
As promised here is my review of the iAudio X5L 30 gig digital audio player that I recently acquired along with comment’s regarding the additional Sony MDR EX71SL Headphones, Case Logic MPC5 Case, MisticAudio Case, iAudio x5L cradle and the general service I received from Mini Disk Australia.
As anyone who has read this site will know, I had actually intended on buying an iRiver H10 20Gig player up until two months ago. My motivations for doing so were much the same as those that lead to me eventually getting the iAudio x5. Namely I wanted a high capacity (20gigs +) portable audio player with a color screen and support for WMA files. The interface had to be intuitive and the product priced competitively. Audio output was also a priority and radio was essential.
I had originally chosen the iRiver as it struck me as being quite a beautiful player with an good amount of attention paid to detail. The iRiver H10 5/6 gig versions are in my opinion one of the most elegant player’s going and although the 20gig version had yet to appear locally in Australia I had my eye set on getting one. In the end though I heard a lot of horror stories regarding issues with the 20gig version and iRiver’s support while at the same time a player that accomplished all I wanted and more had just hit the scenes, the iAudio X5. I debated for some time over which player was for me but eventually settled for the X5 as it appeared to be the higher quality of the two players despite the fact that the H10’s touch pad had struck me as more appealing than the x5’s joystick. What’s one feature but.
Mini Disk Australia
I came into contact with Mini Disk while trying to find a local distributor for the x5. I already knew of mp3direct.com.au but at this point the x5 had yet to be released and when it eventually was it was as a rather hefty price so I made my decision to hold off (which then bought me time to get the x5L which came out about a month and a half later). Anyway, mp3direct had seemed like the place to shop at until I stumbled across another promising store by the name of Mini Disk Australia while browsing on iaudiophile.net (an iAudio fan site). What stood out was the fact the owner/employee of minidisc.com.au was actually posting on this site, not selling his service but updating us members of the current distribution situation in the local market.
The employee who went by the handle “Sefu” on the forums was both friendly and approachable and offered me a deal on the x5L once it was released. Their support was superb, at no situation did I feel in the dark as after I had committed to purchasing the yet to be released x5L they made the effort to contact me regarding any important information regarding the players availability. The fact I didn’t have to chase them speaks volumes. They also offered me a discount due to the fact I was buying multiple items and went so far as to change that offer without my request to a cheaper deal when they realized the speculated rrp of the X5L was less than we had initially thought.
The service and dedication shown by minidisk.com.au was superb. I would recommend their services to anyone; they were approachable, easy to talk to and friendly. I never waited more than 24 hours for an email reply and sometimes as little as ten minutes. Their deliver was spot on, free and the package arrived less than 24 hours after I made the order in perfect condition. Again, I would highly recommend this store to anyone buying any audio equipment. I have read a lot of positive feedback on their services and I agree 100% with what has been said.
The x5L is one sleek player. Although not the smallest player on the market (probably close to the size of a 20gig iPod if not slightly larger at parts), the X5 makes up for that with sheer style. The matt black scratch resistant aluminum finish provides a strong and stylish housing for the player while other components are also of a high standard.
Firstly let’s look at the 5 direction joystick. This component has perhaps drawn the most attention and criticism from nay-Sayers but my personal opinion is that the x5’s joystick is quite a pleasant way to navigate files and menus. One drawback for some may be that the stick itself is extremely small meaning people with larger hands may be slightly out of luck. If you can overlook that then you should find that the control stick is quite an intuitive way to navigate the player and that it alone gives you access to about 80% of the players functionality. The other buttons found on the side are occasionally used, although it can be a hassle some time’s adjusting one’s hand so that these buttons can be pushed (rarely is that needed though).
The player comes with a vibrant 260,000 color 160×128 screen. While it could have possibly been larger had the “Color Sound” logo been removed, the screen is still large enough to fulfill pretty much any task you can throw at it, including video and image viewing. While it may not be the sharpest screen on the market, the x5’s display certainly rates up there with the best.
The only real design flaw as is the inclusion of the sub pack instead of having connections built into the device. To ensure the X5 was as small as possible, Cowon has opted to include a small device that attaches itself to the underside of the player and act’s as an extension of the unit so that one can attack line in, out, ac adapter and the USB cord. This presents the problem in that if the sub pack is lost, you are up a creek without a paddle as you can no longer charge or add songs to the player. Fortunately Cowon has addressed this somewhat by allowing the USB host connection (found on the device itself) to be used to transfer songs from the pc. This still leaves the issue of charging but and new sub docks, while available, seem to be forever sold out (and only available on iaudio.com).
One final design gripe that some people may have is that the headphone jack is on the side of the player. I myself use ear phones with an “L” style adapter so this is not an issue for me, although I can see why some people may complain. Most electronic stores sell “L” adapters so it’s not a large issue, and at time a side mounted port is more convenient than a top mounted one.
Audio playback on the device is effortless and of a high standard. While I am no audiophile, I must say that I have been very impressed with the level of audio produced by the player. It supports a five band equalizer along with a variety audio effect to improve the sound quality. For those interested the player has an s/n ratio of 95db, which is quite high although slightly behind Creative’s top offerings.
I did run into a small problem though. Since all my WMA's had been in the highest quality VBR on my computer I had made the (bad) decision to simply transcode them to a lower format to save on battery. Being 500kb files I assumed I wouldn't loose a lot of quality and I was right there. What I didn't count on was the transcoded files "corrupting" the screen of the X5 when specific files were being played. I don't know if it was a problem with the X5 or the files themselves (most likely) but they definitely caused the image on the X5 screen to distort and couldn’t be fixed without turning the player off then back on. Eventually I re ripped my CD collection, but at about 120 CD's this took me approximately ten hours.
Video and images are also better than I expected from a DAP. Video is clear and runs smoothly, although it does need encoding by a separate program (either the included jet audio or free iriverter) for the video to be able to be played back. While not perfect, it is a nice feature to have. If video is a major requirement for you though consider looking elsewhere (PMP) as while the X5 plays video well, the screen is quite small for extended viewing. The same applies for when viewing images.
Lastly the battery life is very good. The X5L I have is rated at 35 hours by Cowon under ideal conditions. While it is unlikely this length will be achieved, you still will get a lot of play time from the “L” series, about twice that from the standard models. This extra playback does come at a cost but. Not only are the X5L models larger than the non “L” ones by 4mm in depth only, they are also slightly heavier and more expensive. In the end no one can say what you should go with, you must decide for yourself whether battery life is more important or if size is. I can live with 4mm extra so naturally I chose the X5L.
In terms of accessories there’s not a lot to say. The X5L doesn’t come with a case and the stock ear phones, while ok really should be replaced if possible. You get a manual, a quick start guide, two screen protectors, cables and one sub dock along with a CD containing Jet Shell and Jet Audio VX (A non pro release) for audio management. Nothing special here although you don’t need much software wise due to the fact the X5 is recognized as an external drive in windows making drag and drop file transfers effortless.
On a final note, the X5L currently does NOT support playback of protected files. This was meant to be addressed by the end of last month but it seems the date has been put back by the end of August early September. In any event DRM stores such that Napster will be available in the not too distant future.
iAudio X5L Cradle
The iAudio Cradle is more or less a desktop replacement for the sub dock. The player sits in the unit where it will charge and connect to a pc so that files can be transferred. Disappointingly the unit does not come with its own cables, meaning that to use the cradle you must either purchase a new set of cables or use the ones that shipped with the player, leaving you none to use with the player. I knew this when making my order so it wasn’t a shock and I don’t regret this purchase; there’s nothing sexier than a jet black cradle holding up your sexy X5. Definitely not an essential purchase, but it is a very desirable one.
Sony MDR EX71LS
These are my first real pair of ear buds I have ever purchased. My previous headphones were of the “Street Style” behind the head variety that proved problematic when I wanted to lay my head against something solid. Well, they have long since aged so it was time for a new pair of earphones and since I couldn’t justify the money for the Shure's I went with the next best things. The top tier in ear phones by Sony have received mixed reviews ranging from “perfect” and “awesome bass” to “damn right awe full” and “crappy highs”.
My opinion is that for $80AU these were a great purchase. Yes, they are extremely bass heavy, but that can be combated by modifying the equalizer. In regards to highs they don’t appear to be the best but as I have nothing to compare these too it’s purely based on other people’s word. Based on opinions, yeah, they may not be as good as the Shure range but then again they are ALOT cheaper so for the average user these are a great buy. The in ear design creates a good amount of sound while blocking outside interference (which may be bad if you are on a bike or crossing a road so beware), but for sitting on a bus these earphones are more or less perfect. If you can afford Shure’s or ER-6’s, get those, otherwise these are probably as good as it’ll get for in ear design.
The included case is a bit wimpy as is the pouch but they are better than nothing. Also make sure you treat these phones well as they do have a thin cable and I suspect mistreatment could lead to the cord tearing. Also make sure when you purchase the earphones you check for the various models because they all have different length extension cords. The ones I chose are 0.5m with a 1m extension provided. Other models don’t have this extension so be warned.
Case Logic MPC5
This is a light case that turned out to be a lot smaller than I expected. It holds my player, the two pairs of headphones along with all my cables and accessories although I’m not sure how much more it could fit in. There isn’t a lot to say, it’s a zipper design with 4 pouches inside of it. I can’t tell but it seems to be somewhat water resistant (don’t take my word for it) and it features a slight hole just large enough to fit a headphone cable through should you wish to listen to your device while it’s in the carry pouch. I recommend it if you want a light weight and cheap carry solution.
This leather case was bought from overseas via misticaudio.com during their now ended free shipping offer. The case is made of a high quality leather and includes a detachable belt clip and velvet inner lining to protect the player as well as a built in screen protector. The case isn’t form hugging like some others; instead the front part where the hump would be is padded so that the face becomes flat. This does add a bit to the size of the case but it doesn’t detract from it. There are holes where needed and even the sub pack can be inserted unlike the official Cowon case.
I do have two complaints. Firstly the joystick doesn’t align 100% with the hole. It’s close to perfect, off by 1 or 2 mm which in no way affect’s the operation of the unit and is only noticeable on close inspection. The other problem was with the removable plastic protectors protecting actual cases screen protector. While the plastic “cover” on the back was easily removed, the front one wasn’t. It was somewhat sewed into the unit and teared away. This wasn’t easy and I have heard reports of it not tearing well and when they went to remove the excess plastic they have in-advertedly scratched the cases protector with their scissors/whatever they were using. Take care when removing the cover and luckily mine came off pretty much fine.
Despite the slight niggles I do love this case. It’s stylish, well made and makes my player feel safer and easier to hold. I would recommend it over the official case, although I’m sure that would do the job fine also. Something to protect your player should be considered but. MisticAudio’s service was great with the case taking approximately one week to ship from the United States.
All up I am extremely happy with the product’s I received and the manner in which I received them. In the end my initial requirement's were met, besides perhaps getting a cheap product but that is only due to me upgrading to the X5L 30gig from the 20gig X5. All in all it cost me approximately $700AU, which some people may consider steep but when you look at how much each component cost individually comes out at quite a good deal based on current prices. Would I change anything with this purchase? Well no. I love the player, head phones case and the service I received. I think I can happily say I am one happy shopper all round and hopefully will be getting years of value out of this purchase.
Original review is available here.