Former iAudiophile/DAPreview editor
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: Portsmouth, England
Cowon iAudio 6 Review
(as found on iAudio.com)
FM Radio Receiver and Recording, Voice Recording, Line-In Recording, USB-Host Interface
Supported File Types
MP3, OGG, WMA, ASF, FLAC, WAV, MPEG4 (video), TXT (Text), JPEG (Image) File Viewer, DRM WMA 10 Support (Microsoft Janus)
260,000 Colour 1.3 inch OLED, Resolution 160x128
20 Hours (specified)
Size & Weight
iAudio 6: 76.1 x 35.6 x 19 mm @ 60 grams
iPod Nano: 90.0 x 40.0 x 6.9 mm @ 42 grams
iriver U10: 69.0 x 47.0 x 16 mm @ 70 grams
On paper the iAudio 6 looks like a killer device. It supports most popular audio format out there, has a huge bundle of features and comes in a nicely sized package. The unit is smaller than the iPod Nano in length and width, but is a little thicker.
Cowon used to bundle Creysn headphones with their players, but changed the type of bud they ship when they introduced the Cowon A2. The Creysn buds, although offering good sound quality for cheapos, did not fit most people’s ears very well and kept on falling out all the time.
The new headphones look a lot more stylish and fit my ears very well. The sound is acceptable, but as always I recommend replacing them to get the most out of your iAudio.
The cable that goes to the left bud is shorter than the one that goes to the right, so you don’t have so much cable mess (y-style). I personally found the total length of the cable a little too short. They are probably designed for Asian people who on the whole are a little shorter than “us” westerners. An extra 10 cms on the cable would have been great.
Last but not least is the user manual, which is Korean in my case, so I can’t comment on that. However the English PDF that I got from Cowon is pretty extensive though and explains all of the player’s features, so that there should be no problems when starting out.
Cowon’s packages used to be a little more complete with their earlier players. Sadly there is no protective pouch or a wall charger included with the i6. This is probably due to the fact that the company has to stay competitive, seeing that Apple and many other manufacturers are not including a huge amount of accessories either.
I received the Korean package of the player, so the accessories included may differ from country to country. Please check with the shop you plan on buying from which accessories are included in the retail package.
Data Transfer and Music Management
The iAudio 6 uses the USB 2.0 interface for connecting to a computer and charging. The great thing about the player is that it gives you the choice of either using UMS (Universal Mass Storage) or MTP (Media Transfer Protocol).
UMS means that you can connect the device to any computer with a USB port and you will not need any drivers at all (unless you are one of those poor people that use Windows 98 or older). There are also no restrictions as to what kind of files you can load onto the player. This means that you can use the i6 as a portable storage device and the player will work with any modern Operating System (that includes MacOS X and Linux). UMS means the same as MSC which stands for Mass Storage Compliant.
Then there is MTP which you will need if you want to use subscription based on-line music stores such as Napster to go or Yahoo! Unlimited. This mode only works if you are using Windows XP and the latest version of Windows Media Player.
The Music Management section applies to the UMS mode for the iAudio 6. You can also browse the iAudio 6 via files and folders in MTP mode, but it isn’t really customizable.
In UMS mode you can choose between File/Folder Management or via ID3 Tags. In File/Folder mode you are totally free on how you organize your music. Some people do it via Genre, Year or just have some kind of mess that only makes sense for them. I organize my music by Artist in File/Folder mode - for a good read on how to organize your Music in File/Folder mode check out this article.
Loading and unloading files to and from the player is pretty fast, but the chipset inside the player (Telechips TCC770) limits the speed of the Toshiba drive which is specified to have transfer rates of up to 12.5 MB/s. Sadly the real life transfer rates are not quite as high. Here are some benchmarks:
Let me start out by telling you that I am not a big fan of Digital Rights Management. I like to be able to do whatever I want to with my Music – that means being able to rip the CD to any format I want, and playing the music on any device I have.
But of course services like Napster to Go do offer their merits too. For a fixed fee per month you get legal access to over a million songs. Sadly I am unable to test such a service, seeing that there are no German Services that offer files with WMA DRM 10. Musicload offers DRM WMA9 files, but I am not paying money for those.
Another thing you should know that you can’t just switch between MTP and UMS modes based on what you need. It’s either MTP or UMS; otherwise you will probably run into major problems.
So ... I connected up the iAudio 6 to my Laptop, started Windows Media Player 10 and made a little sync list with some music, videos and pictures. These all transferred just fine. Then I wanted to put some OGG and FLAC files on my player and WMP had the cheek to tell me that my player does not support these formats. Aahrg! That was annoying to say the least. Also I found no way of transferring txt files while I was in MTP mode.
Transfer rates were pretty much the same as in UMS mode – that’s good.
All in all, the MTP mode is okay, although it does limit the player’s functionality quite a bit.
Warning – extreme technical blubber:
I should also mention that I had some problems connecting the iAudio 6 to my home computer. My Epox 8K5A2+ motherboard uses a VIA KT333ce chipset which features the VIA VT8235 Southbridge and is responsible for the USB 2.0 controller. The iAudio 6 and the USB controller on my motherboard don’t like each other. I have to switch my mainboard to USB 1.1 in the BIOS to be able to connect the player to my computer. Otherwise the unit is always recognized as an "unknown device".
The iAudio 6 worked fine on over 15 other computers and laptops I connected it to, so you should have no problems, unless you have a motherboard that uses the same Southbridge. In general you should not worry about this issue.
The iAudio 6 uses fairly new technology which is called OLED. This means Organic Light Emitting Diode – if you want to know more hit up Wikipedia. The 1.3 inch display has a resolution of 160x128 pixels with a colour depth of 260.000 colours. This is fairly uncommon - most OLED displays are only 2, 4, 8 or 16 colours.
In dark to clouded conditions this display is extremely legible and a joy to look at. The colours are bright and vivid and the text is very sharp.
As soon as you get some sun on the display it becomes extremely hard to read. This is not only an issue with the iAudio 6 – it is a problem with all colour LCD and OLED screens. My tip for you is to turn around so that your body acts as a shield to the sun. It is then a lot easier to read the display – of course this is not an optimal solution.
There is also a slight issue of the screen smudging from left to right. This is hardly noticeable and only happens when you have certain pictures as your background image. I have the feeling that the internal video cable isn’t fully shielded or not of awesomely high quality.
All in all, the screen works well and looks great as long as you are not out in the sun.
The iAudio6's screen in the dark with illuminated controller.
Navigation & Controls
I am sure that many of you are dying to know how well Cowon’s new control system works out in real life.
The whole concept is pretty ingenious if you ask me. First of all there are the top mounted controls – there are 4 of these in total. On the left is the power slider (this can also be found on the iAudio X5) that doubles as a hold switch.
In the middle is the Menu button which can be used in multiple ways. Pressing it shortly while you are in music/movie mode will bring you to the browser. Pressing it twice will let you enter the mode selection menu. A long button press can get you directly to the jetEffect setting or do another six different things (the button assignment can be changed).
On the top right hand side of the player there is a volume - and + button which lets you change the volume in any screen (except for when the player is displaying the “loading” icon). This is a huge improvement from previous Cowon players – with all older models you had to be in the “now playing screen” to be able to change the volume.
Of course the most exciting thing is not the new buttons on top, but the innovative "swing touch" control system. The touch sensitive control pad is laid out in a % like symbol on the right hand side of the player.
For starters we have the two opposite buttons which function as back / cancel and play / accept. And then there is the diagonal touch strip that is the "heart" of the new control system.
This touch strip really makes the iAudio 6 control system shine. There are multiple ways of using it.
So let’s say we are in the music browser and want to get to a song that is down the list somewhere. There are three ways of doing this:
1. You can move your finger over the whole length of the strip and you will jump down roughly 8 songs (one “page”).
2. You tap the bottom of the strip and jump down a song.
3. You hold your finger on the bottom of the strip and scroll down the list at quite a high speed. You will be able to jump down a list of 50 items in 5 seconds.
Going up a list works the same way. You just have to touch the top part of the controller.
Now this all sounds very complicated, so I decided to make a small video for you to watch:
Short Navigation Demo Video (no longer available - Austin/editor)
Please excuse the craptacular quality of the video. It was filmed on my Canon PowerShot A95, because I don't have anything else to do it with. Also I was not able to edit it in any way, becasue my computer kept on telling me "not supported file fomrat" even though it plays it with no worries at all.
I found the sensitivity of the touch strip to be “just right”. Strangely enough there is no menu option for changing the sensitivity though. One thing you will definitely need is the hold switch, seeing that the player’s controls are pretty sensitive. Another way of “activating hold” is to get yourself a Noreve case and just close it. Then the controls don’t misfire either.
My hands are comparatively large, and I had no issues operating the little player. Top marks for Cowon’s new control system.
Audio Playback & Sound Quality
As one can see from the specifications the i6 can handle a huge amount of audio codecs. And it does this really well too. I had absolutely no issues with any of my MP3, OGG, WMA (no DRM) or FLAC (Level 0-8) files.
One thing that does bother me a little on the iAudio 6 (which would not be present if the player used Flash Memory instead of a hard drive) is the fact that loading a song takes roughly three seconds. This is because a hard drive has moving parts that need to “spin up”. It is theoretically possible to have the hard drive spinning all the time, but the battery life would decrease massively and the drive is also more resistant to shock (e.g. if you drop the player) when the drive is not spinning.
Cowon is renowned for producing players with great sound quality. The iAudio 6 isn’t really any different in this respect – it also sounds great.
The unit offers the same 5 band equalizer (+/- 12 dB on each Band) and BBE effects that have been a part of every Cowon player since the iAudio 4.
It’s hard to describe the jetEffects, so here are some 50 second downloads where you can check to see how BBE changes the sound output. The song is called Why Pt.2 from my one of my favourite bands called Collective Soul.
(These files are no longer available - Austin/Editor)
Some technical info on the recordings:
The file being played back on the iAudio 6 is in FLAC level 0 being played at Volume Level 38. It was recorded on my iAudio M3L with Line-In Volume set to 6 and 256 kbps mp3.
Some players distort at extremely high volumes – to test if the i6 does the same I hooked up the player to an oscilloscope and cranked up the volume to max levels. At volume level 40 there was some slight clipping with some mp3 files. Up till then the output was extremely clean. So you can happily blast out your eardrums with the iAudio 6’s 30+30 mW output power (at 16 Ohm). This player is amazingly powerful and you will have no problems driving any normal headphones with this little unit.
Oh, in case you were wondering - the iAudio 6 is also not gapless. Big surprise here!
Playlisting & Bookmarking
While older Cowon players such as the iAudio M3 and X5 used to support M3U playlists, this feature is lacking on the i6. This is disappointing seeing that the unit only has limited Dynamic Playlist functionalities.
The Dynamic Playlist really isn’t too dynamic. It is possible to add up to 200 songs to the list – you can remove songs from the list, but it is not possible to move an entry up or down. Also there is no way of saving the list. This is one of the areas where Cowon needs to catch up with other companies like Archos.
Then there is also the bookmarking function which is pretty cool, especially for people who like listening to audio books. You can easily bookmark a file in a certain place and then listen to something different and then jump back to the exact position where you dropped off.
One of the main reasons in favour of buying the iAudio 6 over the competition (such as the iPod Nano) would definitely be the players feature set. It offers a huge amount of features that I will be covering in detail on the coming pages.
USB-On the Go
First of all we have a feature called USB-OTG or USB-Host. The iAudio 6 is probably one of the smallest if not the smallest player out there today that offers this feature.
The USB-Host allows you to connect most devices that are Mass Storage Compliant (MSC) to your iAudio 6 without actually needing a computer. You can then download pictures from your digital camera and free up some memory space your flash card.
Well, at least in theory - in practice the whole thing looks a bit different and the USB-Host mode is the area where the i6 performs weakest. Something that Cowon really needs to change is the fact that you can not use USB-OTG while your music browsing mode is set to "Music" rather than "File".
Video playback on the iAudio 6 should only be seen as a gimmick – the player’s 1.3 inch display does not make this device a Portable Media Player. It’s very neat to be able to take out the player and then watch your favourite artist singing your favourite songs, or viewing an episode of the Simpsons. One should also note that the device is only capable of displaying files at 15 frames per second. This is half the normal speed, so things might appear jerky.
I really can’t recommend watching entire movies on this screen. Unless you are feeling very sadomasochistic that is …
To be able to view movies on the iAudio 6’s screen you will need to convert your files first. There are several applications that can do this – the one most people will be using is jetAudio VX, which is included on the CD. But there are also such tools as iriverter - just check the iAudiophile forums for more info on different tools.
Converting videos for the iAudio 6 with jetAudio is really easy. In a few clicks you can convert nearly any video file to the required format for playback. A video is roughly 2 MB per minute after it has been converted to the i6 with “Auto Normal Quality (Default).
In the picture viewing mode it is also possible to set any image as a background picture for the Audio Playback mode, which really is a very neat feature.
The text viewing feature is also cool. You can easily read unformatted documents in the txt format. This is useful for viewing short snippets of information like addresses, telephone numbers or route descriptions.
Funnily enough there is still an ages old bug in the text viewer. This has something to do with the fact that Korean is a character based language (or something), but Cowon should have fixed it by now (it was first present on the iAudio M3).
The FM Radio on the i6 does not have me fully convinced. Let me start off by telling you that I live in an area with bad FM reception anyway. So any player that managed to get a great signal here will have a pretty kick-ass signal anywhere else in the world.
The reception is of average quality – Cowon has built some players with way better reception in the past. But one of the most annoying things is this: When you press the up or down arrow on the touch pad a little longer, there is no way of stopping the player from scanning through the frequencies (a kind of manual auto-scan). Because the player is really bad at picking out frequencies where I live it scans through the whole range until it comes back to the point where it started out without finding a single channel.
You can easily save up to 24 presets on the iAudio 6 for your favourite radio stations. It is not possible to apply equalizer settings to the FM Radio
Check the FM Radio recordings part for some sample downloads of our excellent German radio stations.
Recording options are plentiful on this player. But let’s cover the basics first. Strangely enough Cowon decided to implement WMA recordings only - and in bitrates of only 32, 64, 80, 96 or 128 kbps. Uh, hello Cowon – not a good move! Users have been begging for higher quality mp3 or wav encoding for years now on all iAudio players - so now you have implement low quality WMA encoding. Ewww!
Recording anything is really easy. All you need to do is go into the respective mode and lightly tap the REC button. This instantly starts the recording. Tapping it again will stop the recording.
There really isn’t too much to say here to be honest. You can record off the FM Radio – the quality does not degrade when recording off the radio. It’s also possible to use the player’s timer feature to record a certain program at a certain time.
I made two quick recordings on the i6, so you can get an idea of what it sounds like:
The Voice recording on the iAudio 6 is of acceptable quality. One of the things I noticed here is that the background hiss for the microphone is louder than on some other players out there. All in all, the integrated microphone is good for taking some quick notes, or recording stuff here and there. Do not expect super excellent results off it though.
I made a sample recording so that you can judge the sound quality of the microphone yourself:
Voice Recording test
Cowon has not implemented the Voice active feature on the iAudio 6 which is a shame. The voice active feature only records when there is actually sound there to record, thus conserving battery life and space on your player. If we are lucky they might add it through a firmware upgrade, seeing that there is an auto-sync feature available which is very similar.
The Line-In function … one of the features I very rarely use. I won’t be using it on this player for the simple fact that it only does WMA recordings. The iAudio M3/X5 for example do 320 kbps MP3 recordings and the Cowon A2 still does a respectable 192 kbps MP3.
The Line-In quality on the iAudio 6 is okay. A cool feature that this player offers is Auto-Sync. As soon as there is no sound to record the player automatically completes one file and starts the next. So you can easily record an LP without having to split the tracks on your PC later on. Or you can grab the music off one of those bastard copy protected CDs that you bought by mistake.
I made a sample recording with my iAudio 6 recording my iAudio M3L playing the Collective Soul track “Why Pt.2” (FLAC):
Line-In Recording Sample
The left jack is headphone out - the right is for line input. If you look closely you can also see the microphone hole.
The iAudio 6 has a built-in rechargeable Lithium Polymer Battery offering a specified playback time of 20 hours per charge. This claim does not quite hold true.
In audio mode, listening to only 128 kbps MP3 files, the battery lasted 16 hours and 50 minutes without much user interaction. I turned off all BBE and EQ settings during this test and used the standard iAudio ear buds at volume level 20.
Charging the battery occurs as soon as you plug the player into a USB port on your computer. The charge time is roughly three hours. After one hour the battery will have about 80% capacity. There is also a wall charger available for the i6 that lets you charge your player when you are away from a computer. This is not included in the standard retail package though and has to be purchased separately. Most modern computers also let you charge your USB devices while the PC is not powered on.
It is also possible to set the charge speed to slow – the charge time is about two to three times as long then. This is mainly meant for people who have a weak mainboard that can’t output the full 500mAh.
The iAudio 6 with it's really old brother - the CW200.
At the time of writing the iAudio 6 was priced at 249 US Dollars in the US, 279 € in Germany and 209 pounds in the UK. This makes the player just as expensive as the iPod Nano in the US, and slightly more expensive than Apple’s player in Europe.
A lot of people wonder why there are such big price discrepancies between the two continents. This is easily explained by the fact that most States in the US do not have any sales tax at all. Also there are no taxes when importing goods into the USA. The import taxes depend on what kind of features the device offers. Usually it’s another 15-20%. Then the sales tax is additional to the base price of the player including the import taxes and the additional sales tax which is 16% here in Germany and higher in most other European states.
Europeans also get a two year warranty instead of the one year standard warranty that Cowon offers in the US. So don’t complain to Cowon about how the players are priced. Blame your government.
4GB iAudio 6 on an old opened up 20 MB Hard Drive
The iAudio 6 is an excellent player, and if you are looking for something in the 4GB capacity range with a huge bundle of features you should definitely consider this little unit.
The question however remains whether implementing an 0.85’’ hard drive really is a wise decision. Sure, it allows Cowon to build players with more features for roughly the same price as the iPod Nano or the Sandisk Sansa. With flash memory prices constantly falling and 6GB flash players already released and 8GB flash memory players coming up on the horizon, this might be a hard battle for Cowon to fight.
But this should not put you off the iAudio 6 – there is always going to be something better in the near future. The question you should be asking yourself: Is the iAudio 6 the right device for me – right now? And there really isn’t too much that should be stopping you from getting this device.
• Small, light weight, great design & build quality
• Feature Packed to the brim
• Swing Touch control system
• Codec support
• Sound Quality & Output Power
• Select between UMS or MTP mode
• ID3 browsing or File/Folder
The so so:
• Great screen except in sunlight
• Battery life is not quite what it is specified to be, but still good
• 0.85 inch hard drive
• Slight Firmware bugs & instabilities
• WMA recordings only
Not Cowon's fault:
• Windows Media Player does not let you transfer OGG and FLAC files in MTP mode
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Last edited by austinv; 08-09-2008 at 22:15..