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Old 07-18-2007, 13:00   #1
Martinp
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Default Cowon iAudio 7 Review

Cowon iAudio 7 Review
by Martin Plappert for iAudiophile.net


Overview

Cowon has been designing and building MP3 players since the year 2000. The Cowon brand is still a little “underground”. But for people “in the know” it is synonymous with high build quality and industry leading sound quality.

The iAudio 7 is Cowon’s latest flash based MP3 player. Some people might be surprised about the fact that the iAudio 7 is the company’s newest player, simply because the design is not new. Externally the i7 is a near perfect copy of the iAudio 6. Internally there are some quite big changes.


The failed 4GB 0.85 inch hard drive unit has been removed and replaced by more efficient, shock resistant and faster flash memory. Because flash memory is also physically smaller, the empty space has now been filled with battery - boosting the playtime of the i7 to a whopping claim of 60 hours. The unit will be available in 4 and 8 GB flavours for starters, but in the near future 16 GB versions should also be available. Cowon would then be one of the first companies to offer flash based MP3 players with 16 GB of storage capacity.

There are also two separate colour options available. Depending on where you live you might only be able to get the 4 GB in silver and the 8 GB in red. I myself received a 4 GB version in silver from AMP3.co.uk – thanks a lot for supplying the unit!


First Look

I was very happy to receive the i7 after a long day of hard work. The player was shipped from Scotland to Ireland within two days and I was amazed at the speedy service from AMP3.

I joyously opened the parcel and found a nicely designed box inside. Within the box I found the player sitting on top and underneath following accessories were included:

• a standard mini-USB (B) cable in black which is also compatible with Canon and Sony Digital cameras and many other devices. This is great, because when you go travelling you only need one cable.
• iAudio branded headphones – as always I recommend investing some more money in good headphones to really get the most out of your Cowon DAP. The included headphones I received seem to have a slight hiss that is noticeable when listening to quiet songs. Other users have also reported this issue.
• A quick install guide in many different languages with a total of roughly 4 pages per language
• Multiple pieces of paper in multiple languages detailing Cowon’s warranty policy for the different countries
• a CD containing a copy of Cowon Media Center, a full edition of the manual in 14 different languages and a copy of Podcastready


It’s a shame that there is no included line-in cable or wall charger in the bundle. I am guessing that this is being done to reduce costs as much as possible and stay competitive in this fierce market. The cable can be purchased separately for a small additional cost. Luckily for me I already have more than enough cables.

For reference here are some of the official specs grabbed from the Cowon America website:

• MP3, OGG, WMA,, ASF, FLAC, WAV, MPEG4 (video) playback, FM Radio listening and recording, voice recording, Line-In recording
• TXT(Text), JPEG(Image) File Viewer (Image Zoom, Wallpaper)
• Internal flash memory 4GB, 8GB, (16GB)
• USB 2.0 Interface
• 1.3 inch 160x128 dot, 260,000 color TFT LCD
• Long Battery Time: Up to 60 hours (Based on company test result)

Quite impressive for such a small device - let’s see if the i7 can hold up to all its claims.


General Feel

Every time I get a new flash player from Cowon I can’t help thinking: “This thing is tiny”. Even though I had an iAudio 6, I was still quite surprised about how small the i7 really is. One thing the iAudio 7 doesn’t own up to is the thinness standard that seems to be today’s fashion. In comparison to the iPod Nano the i7 is just plain fat. In my opinion Cowon could have cut the battery life by 14 hours and shaved off a few mm from the players casing in return. But all in all the thickness of doesn’t really bother me, because I can still remember the good old days using Walkmans and CD players that were obscenely obese by today’s standards.


The i7 features a prominent bar that runs around the side of the player that is typical for all Cowon players. As previously mentioned my i7 has a silver bar, but there is also a red version available (which I personally find more appealing). Sadly enough this bar is the only thing on the player that isn’t a fingerprint magnet. The rest of the player is covered in black reflective plastic that gives me the urge to polish the player constantly because it is in a perpetual state of fingerprintiness (this word is copyright 1407 by me).

Other than that I can find no external faults on the player. I managed to drop the device on a hard wooden floor within the first hour of using it and there was no visible damage at all. The unit is sturdily built. When I press the unit firmly with my hands, not much happens. The screen and the back give way by roughly a millimetre, but I am guessing this is pretty normal. Other than that, it shows no signs of creaking, bending or any other feeble behaviour. I treat all my electronics like shit. Anything that can survive me for long periods of time should normally go through years of unproblematic use with people who are friendlier to their electronics than I am. In general this is one of the main reasons why I have stuck with Cowon devices since I first bought my iAudio CW140 (which is still being used by my brother by the way). Frequent firmware updates by the company with many useful additions (especially to the D2 and A2) make having a Cowon player all the more enjoyable. If you are one of the careful types, or you just want to take good care of your player, I can recommend the Noreve leather case to you. They are excellent quality and available in a whole range of different colours.


There is a tiny speaker inside the i7 (that can be disabled of course) that gives you audible feedback to most of your actions on the touchpad. This is nice, because due to the nature of interface, there is no tactile feedback, so sound is a reasonable compromise. I find the chirping and clicking the i7 emits very enjoyable – it’s like a miniature feeling of accomplishment every time you press a button.

The touch based control scheme (that looks like a “%” sign by the way) is stylishly backlit in red and blue. Sadly I don’t find the interface on screen as appealing. The colours used in the GUI are a nasty mix of red, yellow, green white, blue and grey which really don’t mix very well. In my opinion Cowon should re-work the colour scheme. It wouldn’t take them too long, and could be easily implemented.


“Usability”

Before you can start listening to music on your player you need to connect it to your computer and copy some files, unless of course you want to torture yourself with endless repeats of the iAudio theme song. I would also recommend disabling all preset EQ settings. Some people like it though – I prefer flat.

Anyway – connecting the i7 to your PC is easy. All you need to do is plug it into a USB port. The device will be instantly recognized by your Windows/Mac/Linux system and you can start copying files. This is a speedy process – transfers happen at roughly 6 MB/s. This means that you can copy about 2 songs per second. Once you have copied (part of) your music collection you are good to go.


Now, there are two different ways of browsing music on the i7. One is called the file/folder method, and the other is via the id3 tag information attached to the file (like the Apple iPod). I myself am pretty old school and always use the file/folder system, because I like to have complete control. But I did test the id3 based system and was disappointed in a few respects. Tags attached to OGG and FLAC files were not correctly recognized. Apart from that id3 tag browsing is very fast and efficient.

If you are using a subscription service like “Yahoo Music Unlimited”, or “Napster to go” you are in luck. The iAudio 7 supports Microsoft DRM version 10, which means that you can listen to all the music you want to (legally). The only thing you need to do is activate the Music Transfer Protocol (MTP) setting in the firmware and Windows Media Player (WMP) will automatically recognize the device. This only works in Windows XP & Vista to the best of my knowledge. I was not able to test this extensively, because I do not use any subscription services.


The Cowon iAudio 7 features the same “swing touch” controls as the iAudio 6. I was very pleased with these controls back when I first reviewed the i6. They do take a little getting used to, but once you have got the hang of them not much can compare to the speed and precision you can achieve with this touch based system. Even the iPods much revered click wheel doesn’t quite cut it in comparison to these controls in my opinion.

At times the i7s controls can be a little too sensitive and they will do random stuff if you put the player in your pocket without activating the hold switch. The “in pocket friendliness” of the iAudio 7 is limited in my opinion, because you get no tactile feedback of what button you are pressing, and where exactly the buttons are. The player does not currently posses the same abilities as the Cowon D2, that allow the volume and menu buttons to function as fast forward, rewind and stop.


Features, Features, Features!

As always the new Cowon players come with more features than you can wave a stick at. Apart from just being able to play music, the i7 can also open image files and text documents, play videos on its 1.3’’ screen, play and record music from the radio, record your own voice (or anyone else’s for that matter) with its integrated microphone, help you digitize your record or cassette collection with its line-in recording functionality and even wake you up in the morning with its alarm clock feature.


Now, I don’t want to go into too much detail on the features, because on previous reviews I would always do my head in writing up this section. I have tested these features in detail and I will give a quick impression of what is good, what is okay and what just doesn’t work.

The image, text and video functionalities of the i7 are a nice additional feature to have, but for me they are definitely no selling point. The screen is too small to really be able to enjoy any of these three features in full. A few people on the forum have reported that they are very happy with the video player. If so, that’s great for them, and perhaps you (the reader) would enjoy it too. The text viewer is good enough to read your shopping list off, but then it really has reached its capabilities.

I do find the FM Radio and the subsequent recording capabilities to be very useful though. The quality is good for a portable device, and while recording the quality does not suffer (this has been a significant issue in the past). There are plenty of presets, so you can save all your favourite radio stations. The auto-scan feature is pretty useless though – every time I start it by mistake because I was messing around in the sub-menus of the firmware I explode in a bundle of swearing, because it takes forever and there is no way of stopping it. If you want to hear what the quality of the FM Radio is like download a sample.


The integrated microphone can come in handy from time to time. The quality is alright, but not excellent. Here is also a sample recording I made - it says more than I could type in a few hundred words.

The Line-In recording functionality is also useful for some people, but I am wondering how many people really use it. I tested it and the quality is very good, but still I much prefer using my iAudio M3 to do line in recordings for the simple fact that I can create 314 kbps MP3 files that I can convert to whatever I want. The iAudio 7 currently only offers a maximum of 128 kbps in the unpopular WMA format, which is pretty much pure madness. Cowon at the very least give users the option of recording in up to 256 kbps WMA. Next best of course is MP3, but to make everyone happy all it would take would be to offer WAV recording capabilities.

The alarm features are quite extensive on the i7, but I find their actual usefulness limited, for the simple reason that it won’t really wake you up in the morning unless you have it plugged into your stereo. If you forget to do this, the player will just turn itself on and waste some battery.

You can also set the unit to record a certain radio station at a certain time for a set amount time, but again – you have to have some cable plugged into the device, because the cable acts as the antenna.


Performance

Previously I have tried to do some battery testing. But this always made me go mental, especially seeing that playback times have become longer and longer. I think it will suffice to say, that for a few days of solid use, and only being attached to the computer to transfer songs (where the player is charged at the same time (can also be disabled)), I was not able to get less than 3 bars (of 4) on the battery indicator. Real battery life always depends on what EQ settings you are using, what volume you are listening with, and how your files are encoded. Take Cowon’s claim of 60 hours and subtract 8 and you probably have a very realistic estimate for real world situations. In my opinion this is more than enough, seeing that this is equivalent to more than two days of nonstop musical pleasure.


The powerhouse of a lithium-whateverits battery is integrated into the player and is not user replaceable. Some people want the battery to be user replaceable, but under normal use after two years it should retain 80% of its capacity. And by this time you will be having wet dreams about the latest and greatest 64 GB Cowplesoft iZuneAudioPod player anyway. Ah, the joys of a throwaway consumer society!

The screen in the player is one of those new flash OLED thingies. It’s a nice bright screen that performs excellently indoors and in the dark but only alright in the direct sunlight. The display is still readable, but it can be hard at times. Please do be aware of the fact, that it is really hard to take good pictures of the screen. The pics do not represent the actual performance of the screen in outside lighting conditions. I already mentioned that I don’t particularly fancy the colour scheme Cowon chose for this player ...

Sound Quality has always been a selling point for players from Cowon. This is also why I thought it was necessary to invest 80 pound sterling in some excellent Grado SR80 headphones. When hooked up to the i7, the two make a wicked combo. Well, pretty much any good set of headphones will make a great combo with this player. Sound is well balanced and mainly uncoloured with good ranges all across the spectrum. There is a slight amount of hissing on the cheap Cowon headphones, but on the Grados and my Sennheiser PX140 I can’t detect this behaviour.

The amount of audio settings that can be changed via the jetEffect menu is staggering. First off there is a 5 band EQ that is now semi-parametric. Don’t ask me what this exactly means – some smart person told me this on the forums – I myself don’t understand any words longer than “wheelbarrow”.

If you throw the intensely powerful BBE effects into the mix, then you end up with a superb audio experience. You can even change the playback speed from between roughly 70% to 140%. At the fastest speed setting all voices sound like chipmunks and its hilarious for a short while until you get fed up with it and then decide to slow everything down just for the hell of it.

The hardcore audiophiles will doubtlessly be screaming “but what about gapless!?” by now. To which my reply is “No real gapless” - but 1/10 of a second is good enough for me. Here’s a sample of two mp3 files switching from the excellent album “Mando Diao – Ode to Ochrasy” (between seconds 2 and 3). Perhaps at this point I should mention that hardly any player actually supports gapless playback natively.


The integrated amp pumps out a total of 52 mW of combined output power, which is enough to drive pretty much any set of high end headphones while shattering your ear drums if you are foolish enough to listen to this player at maximum volume. When hooking the i7 up to the very nice sound system in my parent’s car, I was able to rock the Irish countryside with some hardcore tunes, while not being able to detect any distortion. The cat didn’t appreciate my choice of music though.

Stuff the cat – the little bastard was trying to eat some cute little birdies the other day that are nesting above our door!

What does this player cost? Well, if you are from Europe, then I recommend you check out AMP3.co.uk – they have excellent service and a price match policy. At the time of writing the iAudio 7 4 GB was 169 USD, 157 € and 109 pound sterling, whereas the 8 GB version will set you back 219 USD, 215 € or a 149 pounds.

One last thing: I have been telling Cowon since the release of the iAudio M3 to include better playlisting functionalities. The only playlist the iAudio 7 has is just a very simple “dynamic playlist”. But sadly it isn’t dynamic at all. You can ad and remove songs from the list, but that is it! What I want to see is M3U playlist support, the ability to save playlists and advanced playlist editing.


Conclusion

Congratulations – you have succeeded in looking at a load of pretty pictures and probably ignoring a great part of what I have written. Now you are looking for a juicy summary of what’s great and what’s not. And of course you are asking yourself the question whether this player kicks ass, or if the player itself receives a sufficient amount of painful vertical acceleration into the groin area.

What’s hot?

The great thing about the iAudio 7 is the fact that it is an extremely versatile player offering great format support, sweet controls, a nifty feature set, superb sound quality, excellent battery life and equally good build quality. By my use of superlatives you might have noticed that the good stuff about this player is way too much to list. Go back and re-read the review for all the good stuff about the player ;-)


What’s not cool?

The fact that this thing loves to be touched might sound like a good thing, but when the evidence of you having a touchy-feely moment with the player remains for everyone to be seen, this is definitely not cool. Some of the features such as picture viewing and video playback come across a bit gimmicky, but are nice from time to time and shouldn’t subtract from the general experience (if you are looking for better video and photo abilities, I strongly urge you to take a look at the Cowon D2). Something that is not excusable though is the fact that recordings are limited to 128 kbps WMA files. Similarly Cowon should also make OGG and FLAC tag support work straight out of the box and not patch it “sometime” through firmware updates. The company also needs to pay better attention to the manuals it releases, seeing that it’s full of inaccuracies. More accessories could also have been included, but can be forgiven due to maximized cost reduction because of the fierce competition in today’s market. The weak playlist support is also a letdown.

Final Word (really!)

Even though the cons list looks a whole load longer than that of the pros, this should not stop you from buying the iAudio 7. The faults it has a relatively minor in comparison to the whole deal you get. If you want something that easily competes with iPod Nano or other similar devices, then you can’t really go wrong with the i7. Check our forums for more details that might have not have been covered in this review.
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Last edited by Mr. Black; 09-09-2009 at 08:29..
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Old 08-08-2008, 16:51   #2
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Nice review. you should post all of your other past reviews in this sub-forum. also, how is the A3 review coming along?
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Old 08-08-2008, 17:11   #3
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I am transferring the reviews from the old system to to this one but I have to do it manually and change some formatting, which is time consuming. Note that I am setting these posts as made by the original author (martinp in this case). As for my A3 review, haha, well it was 95% done back in January when I put it on pause while Cowon worked out the bugs in H264 playback. Guess I should finish it eh.
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Old 02-10-2009, 17:40   #4
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Ok, I know this is mostly off-topis and that this is an old review, but what is that showing on the screen of the D2? A flash program? Or something removed from current firmwares?
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Old 02-11-2009, 07:32   #5
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^Its one of the first flash apps made for the D2 I think...It was a long time ago...
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Old 09-09-2009, 08:16   #6
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Sorry to revive such an old thread, but: "Cowon has been designing and building MP3 players since the year 1400."

Really??? 1400??? hum...should be corrected.
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Old 09-09-2009, 08:28   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Judge584 View Post
Sorry to revive such an old thread, but: "Cowon has been designing and building MP3 players since the year 1400."

Really??? 1400??? hum...should be corrected.
That's really really bizarre, I have an original draft of this review saved in my emails so I had to check if this error was in the original, of course it's not so I don't know how this has happened! I also find it really odd that you are the first to comment on it! after like 2 years...and 15,000 views!

Anyway, fixed now
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Old 12-16-2009, 18:42   #8
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Concerning the file browsing method is it possible to have a folder that has contains the song titles but rather than the folder sorting out the titles of the tracks alphabetically/numercially i want them to be sorted by Artist.
On my iRiver H10 it does'nt matter who the artist is the tracks are arranged alphabetically & numerically.
On my iRiver now the track 'Airbag' by Radiohead is the 1st track on my titles folder but i don't want it to be, i want it to be grouped with other Radiohead tracks and song titles by artists that start with A should be first on the list if you see what i mean.

e.g track '05 - Radian' by Air should be before track '01- I Have Seen' by Zero 7?
On my iRiver however the Zero 7 track will be first in the list as it's filename begins with '01' compared to '05'.
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Old 12-16-2009, 22:52   #9
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You're probably better off starting a new thread, given that this is a review thread which hasn't been updated in 3 months...

Just sayin...
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