Former iAudiophile/DAPreview editor
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Portsmouth, England
Cowon D2 Review
Cowon D2 Review
for iAudiophile.net by Martin Plappert
The D2 – Cowons latest flash based MP3 player that can do all sorts of amazing stuff has been on the market for a while now. iAudiophile’s review has been delayed, due to many reasons. My lateness is really inexcusable, so I won’t even try to justify it.
Back to the player - so some of the amazing stuff the D2 can do is the ability to play videos and many different audio formats, SDHC compatibility, its battery life and of course the touch screen. The D2 has quickly become Cowon’s most discussed player on the iAudiophile forums. Frequent firmware updates have also expanded the players capabilities way beyond those it possessed at its launch.
Here are some of the D2 specs from the Cowon Global website:
• MP3, OGG, WMA, FLAC, WAV, APE , Moving Picture Playback, FM Radio Receiver and Recording, Voice Recording, Line-In Recording, USB Storage, Text and Image viewer.
• 2.5 inch 16 million colour 24bit TFT-LCD - QVGA (320x240) Touch Screen display
• 52 hour battery life for music; 10 for video
• Output Power: 16 Ohm earphone : 37mW + 37mW
• Weight: 91g (including integrated Lithium Polymer Battery)
• Dimensions: 78.0 X 55.4 X 16.6 mm (W x H x D)
The closest contender to the Cowon D2, is probably the iriver Clix 2.
The Cowon D2 comes in a lovely stylish box, and mine also included quite a few accessories.
• Standard mini-USB cable (the same as for example Sony and Canon cameras use)
• Wall charger with specialized plug at the end
• Specialised video out cable
• Two cables for line in recording
• iAudio headphones
• Quick user guide
• CD Including jetAudio vX, jetShell, podcastready, a full manual in PDF format and Windows 98 drivers
These is quite a bunch of accessories, and anyone who has seen inside the box of an iPod Nano will know what I am talking about. The package contents vary from country to country though, so please check before you buy. I cannot be held liable if the D2 you purchased comes without some of the aforementioned accessories.
The bundled headphones are of acceptable quality, but as always I recommend spending some extra money to be able to fully enjoy the sound quality of your D2.
Data Transfer & Music Management
Data transfer and Music management is a breeze. In the latest firmware versions include automatic sorting of all your music has been added. This is called “id3 tag browsing” but “file/folder” navigation is also available for those of you who prefer this method.
The id3 browsing feature still has some bugs in it though. It can’t recognize some of the tags on OGG and FLAC files. Hopefully this will be addressed in a future firmware revision.
The D2 will connect to pretty much any computer with a USB port and a “modern” Operating System. It won’t need any drivers at all to function, unless you are still running Windows 98 or some other crummy operating system. It is cross platform compatible and will work on any Windows, Linux or Mac machine.
Whenever you connect the D2 to a computer, two removable storage devices are added to your file browser. The first storage device accesses the internal memory of the D2, and the second accesses the D2’s SD card reader. No software is required to copy files from and to the unit, and there are also no restrictions of file type or size. This basically means that you can use the player as a portable hard drive; this is also called Mass Storage Compliance (MSC).
Transferring Data to the D2 is quite a speedy affair. Here are the speeds the D2 can copy files to its memory and SD Card.
The SD card used was a Transcend 4GB 150x speed (not an SDHC card, although these are now also supported by the D2).
The D2 can also be used in combination with Music Subscription Services such as Napster to Go or Yahoo Unlimited. For this feature you will need to enable MTP (Music Transfer Protocol) in the settings menu on your D2. From there on you will need to use Windows Media Player and Windows XP or Vista to sync files to your player. I think there is also a Linux Program that supports the MTP protocol, but this is something I read a while ago, and thus I am not completely sure about this.
I did not test this feature in great detail, because I myself do not use Music Subscription services and I like to have total control over how and, in what way my files are copied to the player.
Design and Build Quality
The Cowon D2 follows a simple design, with the typical “Cowon bar” running around the entire side of the unit. The screen takes up the whole front and nothing distracts from it. No excitement can be found on the back side of the player, apart from the serial number and 4 little nubbly bits that hold the player roughly one millimetre off a flat surface and thus stop the unit from scratching.
The SD card slot is located at the bottom of the player; on the right hand side there is a cavity, into which the stylus can be inserted so it can be used as a miniature stand. All the connection ports are located on the left hand side of the player (headphone jack, USB Port, reset button and multifunctional port – this port is used to charge the player, support the line in recording function and the TV-Out signal). The top side of the player has a power button that also doubles up as a hold switch, a microphone opening and three buttons that can perform multiple tasks. More on this in the controls section though.
The build quality of the D2 is very high, and it feels very solid when you are holding it. I have dropped the player quite a few times already, and it still works just fine and looks as good as new. This is also due to the fact though, that directly after I got the player I put it in the Noreve leather case and have hardly ever taken it out. I would recommend getting some protection for your player, because although the player has an extremely sturdy build, I can imagine that the screen could be scratched relatively easily. I will be writing a short review of the Noreve leather case in the near future, so stay tuned for that.
Screen, GUI & OS
The D2s screen is obviously the most important part of the player, seeing that it also doubles up as controls. But apart from that fact, I found the D2s screen to be very pleasing. The viewing angle is very good for the fact that it is a portable device and it is also readable in sunny environments. This was not possible on early colour displays as anyone who has a phone with a colour display from the early days will remember. The resolution of the D2 is also outstanding at 320x240 pixels.
The Graphical User Interface (GUI) reminds me a little of Archos players, but looks a lot more polished than for example the Gmini 400. The “now playing screen” in the music section displays all the information you could want to know about the song, including Artist, Album, Track, bitrate and also the CD cover. In addition to that one can also see what jetEffect settings are active. It is possible to customize the wallpaper, and this is then active in all the player’s modes.
The firmware of the D2 is very stable and I only managed to crash the player once. This was when I was sent an internal testing version of the D2s firmware directly from Cowon. The D2 takes a little while to start up, but one should not forget the fact that it has to build a database from all the id3 tag information that is connected to the music files. When loaded with roughly 600 songs it takes about 12 seconds to start up the player the first time you disconnect it from your PC. Every boot up after that only takes four to six seconds – until you connect it to the PC the next time. The start-up time increases with the amount of songs on the player, but Cowon has been very good at reducing the amount of time the player takes to boot through progressive firmware upgrades.
Navigation & Controls
The Navigation and Controls on the Cowon D2 are very easy to get used to, seeing that everything is visual, and there is no need to learn any special commands. Just press on the button and it will do what it says on it.
A great improvement that has been introduced due to the touch screen interface is the fact that you can now jump to any place in a file with just a tap on the time bar on the screen.
In later firmware version a more sophisticated way of browsing through your music was added. It is now possible to draw gestures onto the D2s screen. So if you want to go into a folder you would put your finger on the screen and drag it to the right. If you want to move out of a folder you would put your finger on the screen and drag it to the left. If you want to scroll up and down a list this is also possible, but I find the method used on the D2 is highly inaccurate and not nearly as well thought out as on the Apple iPhone. Check out this page to see what I mean by the scrolling implementation: Apple.com
All in all I love the D2s control scheme, although it could do with a little tweaking here and there. For example, if the screen has gone into power saving mode, you have to touch it once to make it light up, press it a second time to get to the control scheme and a third time to actually execute a command.
Audio Playback & Sound Quality
Cowon has always been renowned for the fact, that their players have great Sound Quality. This, in my opinion, is no different on the D2. The Sound is mostly well balanced over the whole spectrum, but sometimes the high end can come across as a little too sharp. Some people on the forums don’t enjoy this at all, but luckily enough, there is always a 5 Band Equalizer and loads of BBE Effects to mess around with. Because of this, the sound on the D2 is amazingly customizable. There are a multitude of different BBE settings, which in moderation can sound very good. Especially BBE Mach3Bass will appeal to bass heads. I certainly enjoy it while listening to some types of music including Dancehall and Techno. To read up on the marketing blubber of how BBE actually works check out BBESound.com.
In one of the later firmware revisions Cowon made the 5 Band EQ customizable, and thus there is even more stuff to play around with. This is what you call a semi-parametric equalizer, sort of like on the Rio Karma.
The output power of the D2 is the most powerful of any Cowon device to date. 37 mW of power per channel (at 16 Ohm), giving you a total of 74 mW, are enough to power pretty much any pair of headphones. As far as I am aware, if you select any of the European countries on starting your player the maximum output is severely limited, but I always select USA so I can give my eardrums a maximum pounding through my Grados.
Audio Playback is obviously one of the most important features in a Digital Audio Player. The D2 plays all my MP3, OGG, WMA and FLAC files just fine.I have never run into any problems here. As for gapless audio the D2 does not possess this ability – one has to add though that the gap between two audio files is miniscule.
The D2 – as all other Cowon players comes with a mass of extra features. One of the newer features that has been implemented in a firmware upgrade is the dictionary. First to playlisting and bookmarking though ...
Playlisting & Bookmarking
Playlisting and bookmarking are two features that have not been upgraded on Cowon players in a long time. There is one dynamic playlist – files can be added and removed from it, but not ordered in any way. Also the playlists cannot be saved either. The D2 does not have the ability to read m3u playlist files, which is a great shame, because older Cowon players such as the M3 and X5 were able to do this.
The bookmarking feature is useful for people who like audio books. You can mark a place in a file, leave the file, listen to something else and then go right back to the position that you were listening to.
The Cowon D2 supports video playback. It isn’t a full time PMP like the A2 though, because all videos have to be converted first using jetAudio vX and then transferred to the player. Videos play back at up to 30 frames per second – this is a huge improvement over the video capabilities of the iAudio X5, which would only play videos at something like 11 to 15 frames per second.
The playback quality of the video is good, but I am not really a fan of staring at little screens for long periods of time. But it is cool to watch a music clip on the D2 once in a while and it sure does draw some “wow” factor from your friends who all have tiny featureless iPod Nanos.
I did watch a few episodes of Heroes, 24 and Doctor Who on the player and the experience was acceptable. But if you are seriously into video then I would recommend an A2 or the soon to be released Q5 any day just because of the larger screen area.
The D2 also has a TV-Out which is a nice addition (as far as I know the TV-Out cable has to be purchased separately by the way). Sadly I haven’t been able to hook up the D2 to a TV at all, because while I was at University none of my friends had a TV (we all used our laptops in some form or another) and now that I am at my parents house, their TV is so old that it does not have the right connectors. They only have a Scart connector, but the D2 comes with three Cinch (or RCA) connectors – two for audio and one for video.
Picture viewing on the D2 is also a nifty feature to have. The D2 takes its time displaying high resolution (5MP) images, but it does work – and you can also listen to your music at the same time.
When you go into the image browser you see are greeted by a thumbnail display much like in windows explorer. You can see 11 little thumbnails with one little box that acts like a back button. The thumbnails themselves load really quickly though :-D
Any image you have the D2 can be set as a background picture. This is a really nice personalization option Cowon have added and the down sampling of the image looks real good. On other players such as the Samsung YP Z5 scaled down images look nasty as hell.
Text viewing gives you the ability to read unformatted text documents. It’s quite useful for adding directions, a shopping list and other kind of small things. I can’t really see myself reading anything over extended periods of time.
Pretty much every Cowon player to date has had an FM Radio integrated. The Radio in the D2 is easy to operate, especially seeing that the touch screen enables you to jump between frequencies very quickly. There are 24 customizable radio station presets.
The FM Radio quality is alright, but is not mind bogglingly good. While walking around I found the signal to fade in strength from time to time. All in all the Radio is a nice feature to have, for when you get sick of your tunes or want to listen to the news.
There feature was added in firmware version 3.45b. It’s called notepad and makes you feel like your D2 is a bit of a PDA when it isn’t at all really. It’s basically a simple version of MS Paint. You can select from 5 different colours, 4 different widths and then you can draw images or notes in BMP format with your D2. It’s quite a cool gimmick to have and it’s nice to see Cowon still working on new features for the players.
The Dictionary on the hand is a feature that I find extremely useful from time to time. Granted – most of the dictionary is Korean – Korean or Korean – English, but there is also an English – English dictionary (Chambers). I have used this in my studies quite a few times, when I have come across words that I have never heard before.
There are two different ways of finding a word in the “Powerdic”. You can either use a really small on screen keyboard, or you can use the D2s hand writing recognition abilities. The second method is not always terribly accurate, but it is quite fun to use (if you have never used a PDA before I guess :p). People who have used a PDA will probably be quite familiar with hand writing recognition.
The Dictionary was added in firmware revision 3.40b – so thanks Cowon for adding features to a product that you have already released.
Flash Lite Support
In a very recent firmware upgrade the D2 now supports Flash Lite. This is very cool, because now all kinds of custom applications can be programmed. Someone even started developing a calculator specifically for the D2. Sadly the development for that has stopped, because some computational libraries are missing (or something like that – I’m not that nerdy ;-).
There are now a ton of games that you can play on the Cowon D2, including Sudoku. My dad approves of this player now too, seeing that he has seen Sudoku on it. Amazing! If you want to check what other games and programs can be used on the player, I recommend you check out the iAudiophile sub forum dedicated to the discussion of Flash Lite games and applications for the D2.
Just like all previous Cowon players, the D2 comes equipped with the same recording abilities as the NSA. These can be very useful for all kinds of situations. The only thing I have a problem with is that Cowon have now switched all their newest players to record in the WMA format. This limits the cross platform compatibility of the player. To be honest – I don’t understand why Cowon have done this. It really makes the player a lot less viable for people who want to do some serious recording with their players. Many people have been asking Cowon to just be able to recor in wav, but this hasn’t happened yet either. At least they have upped the maximum bitrate on all recording mores to 256 kbps; this is a massive improvement from the 128 kbps on the most recent flash players from Cowon.
FM Radio Recordings
Recording FM Radio from a station with a strong signal is a pleasure. All you have to do is hit the little red record button on screen and the recording automatically starts. When the station has a strong signal the recording comes out pretty well. Here is a sample recording of some sexy Irish girls talking:
Sample FM Recording
Line In recordings on the D2 require a special adapter that plugs into the TV-Out / Line-In / Charging port of the D2. You can then use the D2 to record any source that you can somehow plug a cable into. I personally do not use this feature very often, because when I do digitize some of my old records I prefer to use the iAudio M3, which records in mp3 and not in wma.
The D2 does do an okay job of line in recordings. One can select between 5 different recording volumes and there is also the “auto-sync” feature which is useful for when you are recording long files that are supposed to be split into tracks. The D2 automatically detects the audible gap between two songs and splits them into multiple files.
Here is a test of the line in recording functionality. The file playing is uncompressed playing from the Cowon A2 at volume level 38 with all EQ settings deactivated. The song is Locking up the Sun by Poets of the Fall (ripped from the CD into FLAC).
Line In Recording Sample (45 Seconds)
Original converted from FLAC to WMA 256 kbps with jetAudio (45 seconds)
The recording features don’t stop here yet! The D2 is also able to record sound through the built in microphone and there is also a possibility now of using an external microphone, although I was not able to test this feature, seeing that I do not possess an external mic.
The integrated microphone is good for capturing conversations or lectures on the go and it has a good pick up radius. Here is a sample file I recorded with the player:
Voice Recording Sample
The battery life of the Cowon D2 is probably a major selling point for most people. Cowon claims that the D2 will has a continuous playback time of up to 52 hours. When I tested the player I didn’t quite get 52 hours, but this is probably because figures like 52 hours can only achieved by using 128 kbps mp3s. I have a rich mix of mp3s, oggs and flac files. During testing I received roughly 42 hours of battery life. I didn’t time this number exactly – so I might be off by one or two hours each way.
They also claim that videos will play for up to 10 hours, but I didn’t have enough resolve to test this feature.
Some players, especially one with integrated batteries will lose a lot of their charge if you don’t use or charge them for extended periods of time. I didn’t use my D2 for a while and did not notice such an effect at all.
Top marks for battery life :-D
The Cowon D2 is priced competitively in America, and is more expensive in Europe and other areas of the world. Prices for players change all the time, so just check one of our links for latest prices on the Cowon D2.
One thing worth noting is that the D2 is relatively cheap to expand. Soon there will be 16GB SDHC cards available (there is no guaranteeing that the D2 will support these), so the D2 will probably stay competitive for quite a long time.
I can only really conclude that the Cowon D2 is an excellent Digital Audio Player with a ton of extremely useful features. The battery life literally kicks ass, the sound quality is excellent, and the additional features are more than just playful additions.