Former iAudiophile/DAPreview editor
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Portsmouth, England
Cowon A2 Review
Cowon A2 Review
by Martin Plappert for iAudiophile.net
Cowon, the company behind the popular iAudio series of mp3 players, have finally released their first Portable Media Player (PMP), the Cowon A2. Pictures and rumours of the A2 have been floating around the internet for roughly a year now, and the unit has been available in Korea for roughly three months. Just in time for the Christmas shopping season, Cowon have managed to release their PMP internationally.
In this review we are going to take an in-depth look at the Cowon A2 to see if this player is really worth your money.
The Firmware issue
Okay, so just when you are 98% finished with your review you check your email inbox and you have an email from Cowon: "Hey, we released some new firmware ..."
You think, uh - doh. I wonder what the changelog is and you see it and think "Ahhhrg, not again ..." Now please don't think that Firmware updates are a bad thing. They are great - just not for us reviewers.
Since I have received my unit I have installed quite a few firmware upgrades and these have substantially improved the value and performance of the player.
Now my problem is: Either I spend another few days re-testing everything just to find out that Cowon have released another firmware, or I publish my review now and update it a little later and incorporate a whole bunch of new features and updates. I am publishing this review based upon the 1.39 firmware unless stated otherwise.
This is the 1.46 beta changelog:
• Support for MPEG1 movie files.
Ability to playback mpg, mpeg and dat files.
Some files may play back slowly incorrectly. However, Cowon will try to optimize this feature in future firmware.
• "Folder" play, delete, add to playlist feature has been added.
By pressing the "A" button in the browser you will be able to access the Popup menu.
• Support DivX bitmap subtitle.
• Recognizing SMIL subtitle file.
• Fast access to the Text viewer while enjoying Movie/Music/Radio mode or vice versa
Press "C" button for a moment while playing.
• Added system language setting. (Separate setting with Menu language.)
[setting] - [Display] - [ outlook ] -> system language. You can apply this for SMI subtitle, Music meta tag, text viewer.
• Improved on playlist numbers and file numbers.
Movie : 50 -> 100
Music : 100 -> 300
Photo : 100 -> 300
Text : 50 -> 100
• Improved EQ quality
• Improved MP3 playback quality
• Improved stability of movie playback
• Improved of DivX3.11 playback
• Improved of MP43 playback
• Improved of TV out and TV Recording for PAL systems
• Remove the blinking when you move around a zoomed picture in the Image viewer
• Improved WMA decoder
• Fixed error of MP3 VBR files
• Fixed "next folder" playing bug
The Box it comes in
The A2 comes in a really nicely designed box, boasting all of its features in eleven different languages. Included in the box are a ton of accessories which I will describe later on in the review.
The A2's design is quite simple but still very appealing. The front of the player consists mainly of the A2's screen, joystick and four additional control buttons. Also Cowon decided to drop the rather awful “Color Sound” slogan (thank you for listening to the community). Now they only have their company name in the top left corner and the words “Portable Media Player” written to the lower left below the screen.
The materials used for the A2's casing give a metallic-finish look which doesn't attract any fingerprints – the screen does though.
The back of the player isn't very exciting, but there is one thing that I really appreciate. There are four little “bumps” located in each corner that keep the unit roughly a millimetre off a flat surface thus reducing the amount of scratches to the back plating.
Size & Weight
A player's size is of course an important aspect. Here are the size and specs compared to some other DAPs and PMPs:
133.0 x 78.0 x 22.0 mm weighing 298g Cowon A2 20/30GB
124.0 x 76.0 x 18.0 mm weighing 255g Archos AV500 30 GB
103.7 x 60.8 x 14.3 mm weighing 145g Cowon iAudio X5 20/30GB
103.5 x 61.8 x 11.0 mm weighing 136g Apple iPod Video 30GB
As you can see the Cowon A2 is the biggest of the lot. But it really isn't that huge in my opinion. Sure, it's no iPod Nano or iAudio U2, but then again the A2's screen is as wide as the iPod Nano is long.
Most people will easily be able to fit their A2 in their pockets.
One thing that has always made Cowon stand out from the crowd has been their products' build quality. This is also no exception for the A2. The player feels extremely sturdy and all the individual parts fit together just like they are meant to be “one”.
The only thing I noticed in comparison to some of Cowon's other players was that they decided to encase the unit wholly in plastic, instead of the high grade lightweight aluminium that was used on the X5.
All materials seem to be extremely scratch resistant – unlike some other company's products *cough*. After a months' worth of intense use, I can only find a few really minute scratches that can only be seen when the player is held in a certain light.
Graphical User Interface
The Graphical User Interface is nicely designed with a great choice of colours and a good informative layout. The A2's main screen gives you access to all of its functions and settings.
Oh no - It's the Dalek!
In any one of the player's modes the browser provides useful information about the files or folders you have just selected. For example, in movie mode the A2 displays the file size, video resolution, codec information, video bitrate, file length and audio codec information. A similarly informative display is also present in music and photo mode.
The A2 also possesses an on screen display (OSD) that is split into two bars. The top bar provides information on the current time, playback mode and battery life. The bottom bar is “context sensitive” and displays what actions the “A” “B” and “C” buttons perform. But more on player controls later on in the review.
Cowon took a lot of time in designing the A2's “now playing” screen. All information you could possibly need is displayed here. Basically the A2 displays everything you could ever want to know, but pictures say more than a thousand words:
The A2 also allows for a range of customisations; you can change the start-up logo and your background picture. Sure, these aren't life-changing features, but they give your player a lot more of a personal feel. To find some nice background pictures and start-up images visit iAudiophile's player customisation page.
Player Operating System
The A2's operating system (OS) is based on a highly customized version of Linux. While using the A2 I experienced no crashes and have never had to use the player's reset button. Sadly there is currently no signs of Cowon wanting to Open Source any of the A2's firmware or the possibility of creating any plug-ins for the player.
Boot-up times are roughly seven seconds (loaded with 3500 music files, a few hundred pictures and some movies). Every time you connect the player to the computer though the A2 does a file re-scan and boot-up times are a little longer (roughly twenty seconds).
What I did notice however was that the player feels very laggy sometimes – for example when you are listening to music and press the back button to enter the file browser. This is due to the fact that the A2 has to power up its hard drive. But in my opinion this problem could be fixed by intelligent pre-caching of the respective information.
The A2's controls are still based upon the classical joystick design that was first introduced on the iAudio U2. But the “context sensitive” Back, A, B and C buttons are a new addition. This is an idea that came from Archos, I first saw this type of context sensitive controls on the Gmini 400.
The joystick is the player's main control. I find it somewhat enhanced in comparison to the one on the X5; it feels a little different in touch and this is a good thing. Through the context sensitive buttons you can easily access the A2's relevant settings and functions in whatever mode you are in. The control system is very intuitive and you really don't have to be a genius to figure it out. Even my mother got to grips with it pretty quickly, and she has problems operating a Siemens mobile phone.
The A2's power button is located on the right hand side of the player. When you press it, it makes a very satisfying little “click” and your player instantly jumps to life. This button can also be used to turn the screen on and off while the player is operating. To turn off the player you have to press the button a little longer. Sometimes the player takes a little time to react to the power off command though and you are not exactly sure if it will switch itself off or not (lag issues again).
The last control item is the hold switch. This also serves as an LCD or TV-Out selector. You will hardly ever have to engage the hold switch though, seeing that the A2's controls hardly ever misfire. Only when you are wearing very tight garments you might experience problems.
Screen specs: Four inch, 480 x 272 pixels Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) with 16 million colours.
The A2's screen is very good for a mobile device. Colours are displayed accurately and brightly. Sadly I am not able to compare the A2's screen to the Sony PSP, Archos AV500 or the iStation v43.
I did however visit a few electronics stores and compared the A2 to all portable DVD players I could find. I also saw an Archos AV700. The A2's screen beat all of these products by miles.
Even in daylight the A2's screen fares very well, although you might have to turn up the brightness a little. Taking pictures of the A2's screen is an amazingly hard job though.
Cowon have always had a reputation of building devices with excellent sound quality. The A2 is no exception; not only does the A2 offer a five-band equalizer where you can add or decrease up to 9 dB on each band, but it also offers the BBE Effects that have been included on all Cowon players since the iAudio 4.
Since I wrote the review on the iAudio 4, people have been asking me what the BBE Effects actually sound like. Up till now I have not been able to give you a satisfactory answer. Up till recently I just never had enough bandwidth to host any files. But now, thanks to iAudiophile.net this is possible.
These files were played with my Cowon A2 at volume level 34 and recorded with my iAudio X5, Line-In Volume level 8 @ 192 kbps mp3. I tried recording these clips with my PC, but to be honest the X5 does a much better job.
Seeed - Stand up: Mach3Bass Level 0
Seeed - Stand up: Mach3Bass Level 3
Seeed - Stand up: Mach3Bass Level 8
U2 - Beautiful Day: All Effects off
U2 - Beautiful Day: MP Enhance On
U2 - Beautiful Day: BBE Level 2
U2 - Beautiful Day: BBE Level 5
U2 - Beautiful Day: 3D Surround Level 3
U2 - Beautiful Day: 3D Surround Level 7
(These files are no longer available - Austin/Editor)
But of course all sorts of EQ settings don't make a player automatically sound good. Sound is of course always a very subjective matter, but I found the A2's output to be very natural and balanced. As for listening at high volumes: At max volume I could not detect any distortions whatsoever, except for pain in my ears. The A2's power output is rated at 32+32 mW @ 16 Ohm. This is really loud for an audio player.
The A2 is also equipped with integrated loudspeakers. To tell the truth, you should not be expecting high quality audio from these speakers (to say the least). They are okay though, if you want to just listen to some music when you go to the park or the beach and don't want to carry around any portable speakers with you. They are acceptably loud, but on songs with a lot of bass they start to distort at higher volumes.
Data Transfer (USB Connection)
The Cowon A2 can be connected to computers via USB 2.0. The A2 automatically shows up as an external hard drive and requires no drivers for Windows ME, 2000, XP, Linux, MacOS X or YellowTab Zeta (basically every modern operating system). This means that you can copy any content you wish from and to the player with absolutely no limitations whatsoever. You could even create a sperate partition on the A2's hard drive, install Linux on it and then use it to boot Linux on your computer if you really want to.
The player has a built in Toshiba MKGAL 2006 1.8 inch hard disk drive. This HDD is really fast and has average read speeds of 14.5 MB/ s and average write speeds of 15 MB/s.
The A2 has several different computer connection settings. These can be selected via the hold switch. When on “LCD” the unit connects to the PC without consuming any of the computer's power, thus draining its battery rapidly. On “AV-Out”, the A2 uses the computer's power and only minimally drains its own battery. On “Hold” setting, the A2 does not appear as an external drive at all and only charges itself.
This is a small feature the A2 has that I think deserves some extra attention. Every time you don't completely finish watching a video, listening to an audio file or reading a text document, the unit automatically saves your position. By pressing the “A” button when in the main screen of the player, you can immediately see these files resume from the position where you stopped off at. This feature is available for the last ten files you were using.
Sine the A2 has a clock and integrated loudspeakers it only makes sense for the player to a built in alarm function too. But the Alarm function can do far more than just wake you up.
You can set one, and only one, alarm which is kind of sad seeing that this is really limiting this particular feature of the player. But you can set the alarm to do anything you want really: You can either start playing video, audio or the radio or you can record FM Radio, Line-In Video, Line-in Audio or even the Integrated Microphone at a set point in time. The duration can either be set for anything from ten minutes to three hours or infinite. You can also select how often you want your specific alarm to go off; either once, always or on weekdays.
What I would really like to see would be an option for multiple alarm slots and also a little calendar which lets you set different times for each day of the week.
Before we get into the nitty gritty details of the movie mode I just wanted to mention the screenshot utility feature. Basically you can take a screenshot of a frame in a movie and then do whatever you like with it. Use it as a background, email it to your friends - whatever. Sure, it isn't a groundbreaking feature, but it's a neat little addition.
Video Codec Support
The unit supports a bundle of codecs, so you probably won't be finding yourself using the included conversion software too often. DivX 3, 4 and 5 are all officially supported. I also managed to play some DivX 6 files with no worries at all. The XviD codec is also supported and all files that I tried playing worked flawlessly. WMV 9 videos are also supported, but strangely enough not version 7 & 8.
The A2 only supports a certain maximum resolution for each video format. These are the following ( copied from CowonAmerica.com):
- Up to 640x480 30 fps for DivX 3.11
- Up to 720x576 24fps, 720x480 30fps, 800x450 30fps for DivX 4/5/
- Up to 352x288 24fps, 352x240 30fps for WMV
Cowon just added support for the mpeg file format in their latest beta 1.48 firmware. I tested the feature briefly, but couldn't get any mpeg videos to play properly. Of course this is still beta firmware and you have to give Cowon some props for adding some cool new features.
There is sadly no support for any QuickTime codecs. Well, to be honest I am not really thinking of QuickTime so much, but more of the new H.264 codec.
Audio Codec Support
The A2 also supports AC3 5.1 audio streams, although it down mixes these to stereo. Most movies with AC3 Soundtrack play very well, but some files encoded with older programs did not play correctly. I will be sending Cowon a DVD of the files that do not play and perhaps they will be able to resolve the issues.
In Firmware 1.39 Cowon added support for BivX files (video files with multiple audio streams). I successfully tested this feature on one file (I only have one BivX file in my collection). It works very well. The only thing I noted is that it takes the A2 about five seconds to switch from one audio stream to the next.
All other attached audio streams played fine.
Subtitles are also supported, but only in the smi format which is more popular in Asia . Most other countries prefer to use the Sri File format and it would be brilliant if Cowon could also support this. But for now there is an easy solution: You can convert your sri files to smi with this simple program.
For subtitle viewing you can select multiple different colours, font size, subtitle sync and the subtitle track (for multiple subtitle languages).
Video file playback is very smooth and I could not detect artifacting in the videos. There are reports of the A2 not playing videos back smoothly. This was an issue with firmware versions 1.25 and below, but this presents no problems now.
To play a video file, all you need to do is go into the movie mode and press the play button (ingenious, huh?). Videos take roughly six seconds to load and there is a neat little progress indicator. Seeking through videos is fast and effective. The longer you fast forward through a file, the faster the speed which the A2 seeks with becomes. Sometimes the seeking feels a little out of control though, but with the current joystick design I can't really think of a better implementation.
You can also bookmark files to the playlist and they will then continue from where you stopped off (much like the “recent files” feature, but bookmarking needs to be done manually).
The playlist supports up to 100 entries for each mode (movie, music, photo, text). There is a small problem with the bookmarking feature: When placing multiple bookmarks in the playlist for a video file you can't tell two or more bookmarks for the same file apart. There is no progress indicator attached to each bookmark. A simple time code or percentage indicator could resolve this issue.
All the info bars etc. in the picture automatically go away after two seconds, so as not to interfere with your viewing pleasure.
You can easily hook your A2 up to a TV via the TV-Out function. I found the quality of the output very good and have never had any problems with it. Something I did notice though that the A2 does not output to the full width of my TV screen. It outputs to something more like 95% of the screen to the left and right, thus leaving two little black bars at each side. Sometimes, when you look extremely closely, you will notice the up- or downscaling of the video to your TV. You will notice this effect in the so called “running lines”. A problem that gamers will probably know of when there is no Anti-Aliasing activated on their Graphics Cards.
But I maintain my position that the A2s TV-Output is really good for a portable device and 95% of the people would never have noticed these effects had I never pointed them out to you.
To select TV-output, you only need to move the “hold” switch from “LCD” to “TV-Out”. The TV-Out function supports both NTSC and PAL televisions. You can instantly switch from one to the other without having to restart the player, but I hardly think this is going to be necessary too often.
Audio Codec Support
Just like all previous Cowon players the A2 supports all the standard audio codecs: mp3, wma, asf, wav and ogg. I was quite surprised to find out that the A2 doesn't support flac files, but Cowon plans on correcting this issue. They are also promising an update so that you will be able to play copy protected music files with DRM 10. This format is used by a wide variety of online music stores such as “Napster to go” or “Yahoo Unlimited”.
The A2 had a slight problem with some mp3 files when I first got the unit, but I sent the developers the respective files and they had the issue fixed in less than three days. Now the A2 plays every mp3, ogg, wav and unprotected wma file I throw at it.
I did however notice that for ogg files the spectrum display (or graphical equaliser or whatever you want to call it) does not work. Also the BBE Sound Effects have no influence on the sound output of ogg files. The Five-Band EQ does though. I hope that future firmware will correct this shortcoming.
You can start playing back a file by entering the “Audio” mode and selecting the file you wish to listen to. Half a second after you selected the file playback will commence. This is due to the fact that the song has to be loaded off the hard drive, but this is still extremely fast for a player with a hard drive.
There are many different playback settings that you can set for the A2. First of all there are a few different boundary settings that allow you to define what files the A2 will play.
“All” – the A2 will play all music files on its hard drive
“Folder” – the A2 will only play files located in a specific folder
“Sub-folder” – the A2 will play files located in a specific folder and its sub-folders
“Playlist” – The A2 will only play the files on the playlist
There are several different repeat settings that are a little more self explanatory: “Off”, “All” (in the currently set boundary) and “Current (1)”. Then there is also a shuffle function which works very well. I tested it quite extensively and the A2 would only play a file a second time after it had played every file at least once.
A question a lot of you will be asking is: “Does the A2 support gapless playback?” The sad answer to this question is that: No, the A2 does not support gapless and probably never will, seeing that 90% of all Korean users don't even know what gapless is. That's why Cowon isn't bothering to support it.
Music sorting is still one of the areas where Cowon have to do a little catching up. Every major player that has been released in the last year supports browsing your music collection via an id3 database. Now, please don't confuse this with the matter of the A2 supporting id3 tags – it does! You just can't sort or search by them.
There are a few advantages to id3 browsing: First of all you can have all your music files in a big mess on your hard drive. As long as the id3 tags are in order you will be able to navigate your music collection easily on your player. Secondly it is possible to dynamically search by Artist, Song Title, Album Title or Genre.
But there is also a disadvantage to id3 tag browsing: For most players (for example the Apple iPod or the Sony NW-HD5) you will have to use proprietary software to transfer your music to your player (such as iTunes or SonicStage). This software also builds the id3 database required for your player's operation.
But there is also a second way of creating an id3 database: You let the player do it itself. Devices that support this feature are for example the Rio Carbon (RIP Rio ), the Medion MD 95200 (Also as AldiPod) and nearly all new players from Archos. This way you do not need to use any proprietary software and thus you do not limit your player's functionality. Usually players that create their own id3 databases leave you the option of either searching by “file tree” or “id3 database”.
Well, currently the A2 doesn't support id3 databasing at all, so you have to sort all your music by “file tree”. Check out the article a look at file tree browsing on DAPReview for more info.
As I mentioned earlier on, the A2 has a separate playlist for each mode. The Playlist for the “Music” mode supports up to 100 entries. Playlist capabilities have increased from the X5 to the A2, but they are still rather limited. You can do following things with the playlist: Add files, delete files, move files up or down and erase the entire playlist.
I am sorely missing the possibility of adding entire folders the Dynamic Playlist. Also, there is no m3u support and it is not possible to save your Dynamic Playlist in any way.
Image Format Support
When the A2 first came to the market, the A2's photo viewing capabilities were extremely limited. Jpeg files over 4.5 mega pixels would not display and image loading times were rather too long. Since the 1.39 update it is not possible to view any image file up to 6.5 megabytes in size.
All jpg images that I loaded onto my A2 displayed without any hiccups. The A2 also supports the bmp and png formats. These files also displayed correctly.
The photo viewing speed has been dramatically increased in firmware version 1.39. Now images from my Canon PowerShot A95 (5 mega pixels) load in roughly half a second.
It is also possible to view slideshows on the A2, although there are no fancy transitions effects like on other players. An image is displayed for five seconds and then jumps to the next picture. It is currently not possible to adjust the display duration of the images.
Sadly it is not possible to listen to music and look at pictures at the same time. But the way the A2 loads pictures is completely different to the method the iPod uses. When you transfer an image to the iPod (through iTunes), the program automatically generates three different versions of the same image and uploads them to the player. One thumbnail version, one iPod screen size version and one TV-output version. This means that the player needs a lot less computational power for decoding images and this allows enough performance to play audio at the same time.
The A2 on the other hand has needs no software to transfer images. So it has to do all the calculations itself and possibly does not have enough CPU power to play music and videos at the same time. Although, it would probably be possible to optimize the code somehow so that this would actually be possible. What you can do is listen to the radio and view pictures at the same time.
Text Viewing Mode
I find the A2's text viewing mode to be an excellent addition to the player and have found myself using it a lot more often than I had expected.
Sadly the A2 only supports text files with no formatting whatsoever. This means that you will have to copy and paste all your pdfs and word files into a text file to be able to view them. This is a shame really, because every PocketPC on the market can view pdf files and the A2 definitly has enough processing power to display pdfs.
But even so it is a great feature – the screen is very easy on the eyes and even when I had been reading for long periods of time I did not feel any strain. There are quite a few settings in order to change the appearance of the text viewer, such as thirteen different options for setting the background and text colour.
You can also change the character set support to either Europe (ISO 8859-1), Korean, Japanese, Chinese (GB2312) and Chinese (Big5).
However there is still a small bug in the text viewer. Words are broken up at the end of each line. An example:
2. Wash your clothes. Be we
ll dressed, but not dressed u
p. Trim your beard. And rem
ember to smile!
This can be rather annoying at times, especially if a word is broken into two words, and they then convey a completely different meaning.
You can easily scroll through a text file with the joystick by either pressing down, which will move the text document down by one line or by pressing to the right which will make the text document jump by a “page” (10 lines).
The Radio mode is extremely handy for people that want to listen to quality FM Radio on the go. The reception is excellent, you can save up to 25 presets and there is an auto scan, but it is not really that great at finding radio stations for you and saving them to your presets.
For getting good reception it is essential that you have headphones plugged in. The headphones act as the antennae and without them you will only hear a static hiss or nothing most of the time. Also depending on what headphones you use you will get different results.
The recording mode gives the user a whole load of settings to choose from and the option to record from a vast amount of sources.
Some things that are the same though for all modes (so I don't have to keep on repeating myself):
All Audio recordings are coded into the format of mp3. You have the option of either recording in 64kbps, 128 kbps, or 192 kbps. You have the option of either recording mono or stereo audio where applicable (e.g. you can't record stereo with the microphone)
All files that you record are automatically time stamped in the following format: “RecordMode_DD/MM/JJ_filenumber” (e.g. Voice_051205_008.mp3)
Voice recording has always been one of the features that iAudios have boasted since the CW200. The quality of voice recordings has increased dramatically though since their first models.
I find the integrated microphone in the iAudio A2 to be of excellent quality and it is more than suitable for recording voice memos. You should also be able to record lectures with the integrated microphone without too many difficulties (always depending on how far you are sitting away from the person speaking and the acoustics of the room).
There are quite a few settings for the voice recording mode:
There are nine different volume settings and 10 Automatic Gain Control settings (AGC). AGC basically makes the really loud noises quieter and really quiet noises louder. I couldn't detect any differences between alternating AGC settings myself. I miss the “voice active” feature, where the player only records when there is actually sound there to record. The best example for the usefulness of this feature would be to see if you talk in your sleep.
Listen to my sexy voice (Recorded with the A2's built in Mic)
(This file is no longer available - Austin/Editor)
The Line-In recording feature is useful for people that would like to digitize their record or cassette collection or record shows off digital radio broadcasts by hooking the player up to the receiver. Most of the important stuff has already been said in recording general. You can select the bitrate, stereo or mono and the Line-In Volume (nine different settings). I am missing the feature “Auto-Sync” on the A2 that has always been present on previous Cowon players. This feature automatically creates a new file when it detects a “blank”. This is very useful if you are for example copying a CD to your A2 via the line-in.
I find the quality of the Line-In recordings to be very good and never had any problems. What a few users will probably be missing is the option to record to uncompressed wav files.
Hmmm, TV Recording … To be honest with you I can't give out a score on this feature yet. All I can say about it is that it does not work for PAL recordings properly. The picture is cut off at the bottom and the aspect ratio is all screwed up. So until there is a firmware update for the A2 that fixes this problem I can not recommend the A2 for video recording if the country in which you live uses the PAL standard. If your country uses the NTSC standard please check out Austin Vaughan's review over at DAPreview.net
Radio recording works very well though. You can start recording a radio station in radio mode by just hitting a button. It's really simple, works very well and the quality is great for the fact that it is an FM Radio with your headphones as antennae. With some other players the quality of the reception decreases when you start to record radio. The A2 does not have these kinds of issues.
The USB-Host (USB On-The-Go) functionality has been a pretty recent addition to Cowon's line of players. This feature lets you connect digital cameras, digital audio players, memory card readers, USB sticks, and USB Hard drives etc. to your A2 directly without the need of a PC. Not all devices are supported though, that's why we have a device compatibility thread at the iAudiophile.net forums. We would like to appeal to all A2 owners to contribute to this thread.
The A2 uses a different USB-OTG chip than the iAudio X5. Officially the chip is described as a USB 2.0 host, but the transfer speeds I got from the A2 were 0.3 MB/s – so nowhere near USB 2.0. The X5 has transfer speeds of 0.6 MB/s – twice as fast, but only with a USB 1.1 host. I sincerely hope that Cowon will be able to increase speeds with new firmware, but I have the bad feeling that this is a fundamental hardware issue.
Currently the A2 only supports a limited set of instructions that can be used to communicate with USB-Devices. It is only possible to copy content from a device. It isn't possible to delete anything, or copy anything to the device.
What impressed me is the speed at which supported devices connect to the A2. With one of my USB Thumb drives, the A2 manages to establish a connection within two seconds of pressing the “Enable USB Host”. This took significantly longer on the X5.
The arm strap is a useful accessory to have, because you can easily pull the A2 out of your pocket, or carry the unit without actually touching it. It's also useful when you are holding the player and want to make sure that you won't drop it.
Cowon recently changed the type of earphones they were including in their products from Creysn phones to some that they actually make themselves (or so I am told). I think that the company decided to change the included headphones for one main reason. The Cresyn didn't have bad sound, but they were terribly uncomfortable and always kept falling out of ones ears.
Their new headphones are a lot more comfortable to wear. They feel like the Sennheiser MX 450 when they are in your ear. The sound quality of these little buds is okay, but doesn't blow me away. The sound is a little muddy over the whole spectrum and I find the bass a little weak.
My advice to people is to get some good headphones to get the most out of your A2. Seriously, if you are spending a large amount of money on the player itself it is nearly a sin not to buy good headphones to match. Check out iAudiophile's subforum on “Portable Audio Gear” to see about some quality headphones.
The carrying case that comes standard with the A2 has a high quality and has a good feel to it. It does a good job of protecting your player when you put it in your pocket or bag, but I find it a little inconvenient at times. This is because you cannot access any of the player controls while the front of the case is closed; you can't see the screen either. It also has the negative side effect of making your player feel a lot thicker.
On the other hand, the integrated “kickstand” in the case is really well implemented. You can place your player on the table and the screen will be in just the right viewing angle.
The A2 comes with a pile of cables for you to be able to connect it to everything. First off, there is the USB 2.0 cable which is white and 1.3 meters long. Cowon have been using the same USB connector on their products since the iAudio 4. This connector can also be found on many digital cameras by Sony or Canon and it's very convenient to only have to carry around one cable.
Then there is a video cable that lets you connect your A2 to your TV via three RCA plugs (two for audio, one for video). This cable is 1.4 meters long and also serves to connect to a video recording source. It is basically the same cable that can be found bundled with many digicams, but it has a stereo support instead of just mono.
The Line-In cable connects to the same input on the A2 as the TV cable does for recording video. With this cable you can record from external audio sources.
The USB host adapter is a very short cable that transforms the small USB port on the A2 into a big port that you can connect any standard USB cable to.
The A2 also come s with its own wall charger. The charger supplied with the player will definitely work overseas too, even if this is not mentioned on the charger itself. I have successfully used an American charger in Germany , a Korean charger in Germany and a German charger in Australia . You only need the right socket connector. Please don't post on the forums asking for confirmation. Thank you.
The Battery life is one of the features where the A2 has a big advantage over other PMPs. The longer battery life also has an effect on the size of the player though, seeing that you need a battery that is physically larger (see the size comparison early on in the review). The disadvantage of the battery inside the A2 is that it is not user replaceable or switchable like on the Archos AV500.
Charging the battery with the AC Adpter takes roughly five hours and 15 hours over USB.
I did some basic battery life tests with the Cowon A2. I will do some extensive testing of the real time battery life for the next update of my review (when the firmware has been substantially upgraded).
Basically the battery life on the A2 is excellent. The posted specs from Cowon are 10 hours for video and 18 hours for audio. Just from the feeling I am getting the real battery time are more like eight and a half hours for Xvid videos and 16 hours for music. I know that this isn't very scientific, but doing battery life tests, especially with a device that has an extremely long runtime is a pain. In the updated version I will bring you some real numbers though. Promised!
The included software jetAudio is a versatile multimedia player that does pretty well anything. You can play nearly every imaginable audio and video format with it. You can use it to rip and burn audio CDs. You can convert audio and video files with it easily. The only thing I personally don't like about jetAudio is the rather limited music management the player possesses. But I have heard that Cowon America wants to change this in jetAudio 7.
But back to the conversion feature, which is extremely handy; should you find a video file that does not play correctly on your A2, you can easily convert it by using jetAudio and by a few simple mouse clicks. Conversion can take a little time though, especially depending on the speed of your computer. On my Athlon 1800+ with 512 MB of Memory movies converted in near real-time. This means that a movie that is 90 minutes long would take 90 minutes to convert.
What jetAudio does not offer though is a DVD ripping function. This is due to licensing and law issues and I don't ever expect to see a version of jetAudio that can rip DVDs. If you are looking for a guide on how to rip DVDs check out doom9.org
jetShell is a program that has been included with every Cowon player ever produced. Not too much work has been done to the program either and the interface looks old and it does not offer any substantial music management capabilities that Windows Explorer doesn't. I don't bother using it to be honest and I think it is time for Cowon to integrate jetShell into jetAudio.
Basically I can't rate the Video Recording features of the A2 yet. So if you live in a country that uses the PAL video format, and want to do a lot of video recording with your player you might want to wait until there is some good firmware out (I will update my review at this point in time). If you live in a country that uses the NTSC standard please check out Austin Vaughan's Review at DAPreview.net.
But the A2 is an excellent Portable Video Player. I can really recommend it to people who are on the lookout for a quality player with excellent battery life, great design, superior build quality and a massive bundle of features. The A2's firmware is still suffering a few “teething problems”, but Cowon has a great reputation of releasing firmware updates and I am confident that they will fix nearly all the problems still at hand.
• Great build quality
• Superb screen
• Excellent battery life
• Good controls
• Quality TV-Out
• FM radio with 25 presets and auto-scan
• FM radio recordings
• Built in decent quality microphone
• Line-in recordings
• Doesn't crash (haven't had to ever use the reset button)
• Video support (supports great amount of codecs. PAL/NTSC compatible)
• Built in loudspeakers (with Auto-off when headphones plug in)
• Great sound quality with high power output
• Equalizer & BBE settings
• Customizable (Boot Screen and Wallpaper)
• Text Viewer
• The included charger works everywhere in the world.
• Good scan-speed
• “Recent Files” Feature
• Photo Viewing is fast, but has no thumbnail mode. Single thumbnails for files are available
• Can't ad folders to the playlist (this is currently being worked on in an alpha firmware I have installed)
• Can't shuffle entire Music collection due to the fact that you can't get a drop down menu on a folder. (this is currently being worked on in an alpha firmware I have installed)
• The Playlist can only hold 100 Entries
• When adding a bookmark to the playlist no timestamp is displayed
• In the “now playing screen” the titles don't scroll when e.g. the artist is too long
• Currently no album art
• Text viewer doesn't word wrap
• Inability to apply BBE settings to ogg files; no graphic equalizer for ogg files
• Alarm feature slightly limited
• No PDF viewer
• Can't view photos while listening to music
• TV-Recordings for PAL are currently no good
• The OS is sometimes rather laggy
• No user removable or replaceable battery
• No m3u support
• Can't save Playlists
• No id3 databasing
• USB-OTG is slow
• No FLAC support
• No DRM-WMA10 Support
• No H.264 support
• No Gapless Playback of Music
I would like to dedicate a few lines to thank a few people (in no specific order):
Mum - for correcting all my spelling and grammar mistakes
Daniel - for your great insights and proofreading
Kevin - for listening to my ramblings on the A2 and trying to convince important people at Cowon about certain features
Tony – also for listening to my ramblings about stuff
Austin – for your invaluable input and being a great admin
Robert – for offering me much amusing advice
And all the other people that I bugged on instant messaging and via email about random DAP and PMP related subjects
Martin Plappert, administrator of iAudiophile.net
Copyright (c) December, 2005
Proud to be a part of the DAPreview webring: DAPreview | epiZENter | iAudiophile | DAP.db
Last edited by austinv; 08-09-2008 at 18:44..