Cowon iAudio X9 ‘Super Player’ MP3 Portable Media Player
Price – 16GB: £159.00 32GB: £199.00
~ An Elliot Holmes Review ~
• Relatively simple and straight forwards user interface makes it quite easy to move around the menu.
• There is the usual high quality of sound generally associated with Cowon products.
• Incredibly long battery life for both music and video playback.
• The screen could be much better considering that this player is clearly intended for playing video.
• While there is a memory card slot it’s a shame Cowon haven’t bundled in more on-board memory.
• There is no bluetooth so wireless listening is out of the question unless you have access to a transmitting dongle.
With the exception of a handful of their players (Cowon C2 and i10 being the biggest contenders) I’ve long been quite attracted to Cowon players as they sound good, usually have terrific amounts of battery life and wide support of media formats. Admittedly there have been a few truly frustrating issues to contend with – the wonderful problem with their players ‘bricking’ if you put them near a Mac, Linux or Windows 7 64Bit computer being the big one – but by and large Cowon players have been the cornerstone of the high quality MP3 player market and have brought out some wonderful machines in the past (we still get people asking about the X5 even after all these years which speaks volumes).
One thing I can’t help but feel they get wrong time after time though is the packaging. I don’t mean the design, as I admit us here at AMP3 all had fun with the i9/J3 plant pot packaging, but rather the horrible sentences or silly names which they plaster over the box. I could forgive this when it was when it was the Z2 or A5, as at least they were making an effort to explain the design concept behind the product by talking about ceramics or the floating design, but why just go ahead and print ‘Super Player’ on the box of the X9?
Just to explain my problem with this phrase is that I think it opens Cowon up to a bit of ridicule as it immediately creates an expectation in your mind and if the player doesn’t live up to its mantle then you can feel quite disappointed. I mean, what exactly is super about the player? Yes it looks very nice and I’m sure it sounds great too but there’s not exactly a shortage of players which are probably just as good. So back to my question: What is super about the X9?
We’ll see, Cowon. We will see.
Going on the information they’ve given out the Cowon X9 MP3 player is meant to be the successor to the Cowon X7 and from a design point of view I can see the evolution pretty clearly. Really it’s quite an easy inspiration to spot as with the exception of a few additional solid buttons and the micro SDHC card slot the overall form factor of the two machines is similar. What I mean by this – if I ever really know what I mean – is that they’re both large(ish) screen players with a smooth plastic body and are predominantly touch-screen based.
However, there was one large difference between the X7 and X9 which was apparent almost straight away and that is that the X9 is intended to be a landscape device rather than portrait. This is highlighted by Cowon including a small line of black plastic, I guess you can call this a bezel, which eats slightly in to the screen. I can see why this bit is included, as it makes it pretty easy to work out which way around you’re meant to be holding the player, but it does look a bit strange as it visually shifts the screen up and to my eyes makes the screen seem out of line with the body.
This could well be just be my issue and is just something which I’m picking up on because I like things being nicely lined up and get a bit frustrated when something looks out of place (seriously you should see my desk in the office – it’s diagonal city) but it did take a bit of getting used to. Really they might have been better letting the screen take up this plastic area or at least putting another bit of plastic at the top of the screen to frame it better.
Moving around the body of the X9 all the physical buttons are well laid out with the volume buttons being in a different place from the track control ones and I think that the player will be very simple to use in a pocket when you’ve memorised where each button is; although you’d obviously need to whip it out to change album or artist still…unless your finger has an eye on the end of it…
Like the solid music controlling buttons the memory card slot is easy to locate and you’ll find it sitting next to the USB port, hidden away under a little flap. I do quite like that Cowon use flaps as there are a few players, like the HiFiMan HM-601, where the card slot is bare so there is every chance that dust, dirt and other nastiness can infiltrate the inside of the player and cause problems. Plus it does help to keep the player looking smooth since there’s no hole staring at you.
The X9, like nearly all of its Cowon brethren, sounds excellent and is a real joy to listen to. I guess in this world where people are often using their phones as much as for listening to music as making calls/texts/etc, and seemingly not being overly bothered about the lack of quality, sounding above and beyond the competition is a must; especially if you’re not going to be drawing attention from users wanting to access other features like internet browsing or apps.
Sure Cowon, as I mentioned above, normally tick this box quite well and even without fiddling and tinkering with the deluge of sound manipulating tools which Cowon kindly include the base sound is well defined and pleasant on the whole. The player could do with a touch more volume to my ear but this could well be a region thing – or a me going deaf thing – like with the other Cowon players.
There doesn’t appear to have been any changes made to the sound manipulation tools and like with other Cowon players this means users can set up their own signature sound through changing the frequencies, whack on a load of bass and other functions to improve the overall quality or just pick one of the pre-defined EQs which are included.
The built-in speaker, which you may have/want to use every now and again, is OK and does as good as job as is to be expected. Volume-wise it should have enough power for you to listen to music without headphones; although I did notice that the speaker lost a lot of quality when playing at full volume. Again I guess this is to be expected considering that the speaker isn’t very big and would most likely be best used sparingly as the player sounds much better when going through earphones.
I would have to say though that, having been recently quite enamored with the HiFiman HM-601 and ‘el priceo’ AKA the Colorfly C4, Cowon might not want to rest on their laurels and assume they’re going to stay the best sounding forever as there are rivals creeping up on their coat-tails. I’m sure that ‘Golden Ears’ has something in the works already to ensure Cowon sound stays on top so we’ll just have to see what they bring out in the future I guess.
The size of the screen makes it pretty obvious that one of the main features Cowon intend the X9 to be used for is video playback. True the X7 had a large screen as well but that was very much a portrait player so it didn’t feel all that natural being held in landscape; the X9 though is the total opposite and feels right being held on its side. I would assume that this is why Cowon have included a G-Sensor as it means you can view the menu in either landscape or portrait mode so you can chop and change screen rotation here pretty much to your hearts’ content.
However, video playback is one of the areas which could be improved as while it’s great that they give you a large screen and a decent list of supported codecs the actual quality of the screen seems quite low. Basically what I mean here is that while videos look OK there seems to be a bit of distortion or grain appearing on screen and while this isn’t especially noticeable most of the time it could obviously do without this at all.
The screen is also fairly glossy looking so if you’ve got any sunlight shining on the screen you’re going to see more of yourself being reflected than the actual images on-screen. This is not the biggest problem in reality but definitely worth noting as you may need to shield the screen every now and again.
As well as movies you can view photos as well and the ones I copied over from my phone looked as good as expected (they’re 538px x 718px if you’re interested) with decent looking colours and definition. I was quite disappointed that none of my hi-res photos (3040px x 4048px) were able to be displayed on the X9 though as I would have thought that a modern day player could handle a bit of scaling without running in to problems. Like my other quibbles this isn’t going to cause many people an especially huge problem but it would have been nice.
I’m still struggling to work out what exactly makes the Cowon X9 “Super” as from my fiddling it’s very good but just not anything radical enough for that moniker. In reality I would say that, as well as taking over from the X7, it’s not too far removed from the old Cowon O2, as both players offer a very similar user experience and functionality, and like the O2 it does what it does well but again wasn’t what I’d term super. In this case I propose that Cowon replace ‘Super’ with something a bit more accurate, such as ‘Choice’ or ‘Prime’.
Or I could stop trying to find fault in their choice of lexis and just enjoy a video or some music.
Zzzzzo – if you think that you’re in need of a well sized and great sounding portable media player then the Cowon X9 might be worth a look as it is, at the end of the day, very good at helping you enjoy your media.