Tag Archives: cowon

Cowon Plenue 1 - £740

AMP3′s High Resolution Player Buyer’s Guide

If you’re going to listen to your favourite tunes, they may as well sound the best they can and that’s where High Resolution audio comes in. With demand for High Resolution music growing by the day, we’ve put together a list of the best sounding players, designed to give you the best from your favourite artists.

 

Cowon Plenue 1 High Resolution Player

 First up in our list is Cowon’s Flagship player, the Cowon Pleune 1.

The Plenue 1 features a beautiful new UI

Cowon Plenue 1 – £740

Cowon’s greatest player to date, the Plenue 1 is Cowon’s first big step toward the top end of the market. All support for ‘unnecessary extras’ such as video playback has been stripped away, allowing the P1 to focus on producing the best sound it possibly can, making your favourite tracks a joy to listen to.

 

With 128GB of internal memory and the option to expand up to 256GB, support for FLAC, WAV, DXD and DSD up to 192kHz/24-bit resolution and a streamlined UI, Cowon have created one of the best sounding players on the market at the moment.

 

What makes the Cowon Plenue 1 great?

128GB of internal memory with the option to expand

Support for high resolution file types

Intuitive user interface

 

What’s not so great?

Battery playback time of ~ 10hrs

No earphones included with player

 

See the Cowon Plenue 1 here:

Cowon Plenue 1 High Resolution Music Player

 

iBasso DX90 High Performance Digital Audio Player

iBasso DX90 - £295

iBasso DX90 – £295

Identical in almost every way, the DX90 may be easily confused for its little brother the DX50. The same simple UI, 8GB internal memory with support up to 2TB promised, and supporting all the usual audio files the DX90 may not seem so exciting at first glance.

 

The main difference between the two players is the DX90’s Dual ES9018K2M DAC design. Incorporating a single DAC per channel (one left, one right) the DX90 manages to minimise interference between channels, providing you with an excellent sound quality hard to find at this price.

 

What makes the DX90 great?

Same great file support and UI as the DX50

8GB internal memory expandable up to 2TB with future firmware updates

Dual DAC design provides superior sound

 

What’s not so good?

Only 8GB of internal storage, though this is expandable

Screen may be difficult to see in direct sunlight

 

See the iBasso DX90 here:

iBasso DX90 High Performance Digital Audio Player

 

Sony NWZ-A15 High Resolution Walkman

Sony NWZ-A15 £159

Sony NWZ-A15 – £159

The A10 series is the new range produced by industry experts Sony in their new drive towards high resolution music. The A15 has proven very popular already, and it’s no surprise.

 

The A15 is the world’s smallest and lightest Hi-res audio player, making it great for listening on the go and features both Bluetooth and NFC support. The 16GB player also features a Micro SD card slot with support for up to 128GB.

 

What makes the A15 great?

Very portable and easy to use

Expandable memory with 16GB built-in

50 hour battery life

 

What’s not so good?

Proprietary port for charging/syncing

 

See the Sony NWZ-A15 here:

Sony NWZ-A15 High Resolution Walkman

 

Astell & Kern AK240 High Fidelity Sound System

Astell & Kern AK240 - £2199.99

Astell & Kern AK240 – £2199.99

The Astell & Kern AK240 is unquestionably the best player on the market at the moment. Designed and built by a division of iRiver, the AK240 will bring you closer to your favourite artist than you probably thought possible.

 

The Grand-daddy of portable audio players, the AK240 features a sleek UI and a space-age body. Inside, the AK240 has 256GB of memory and supports expansion via Micro SD card up to a massive 384GB. A Dual DAC design, balanced output, DSD support, MQS streaming and USB DAC functionality mean the Astell & Kern AK240 is truly the best sounding piece of kit in the portable audio market at the moment.

 

What makes the AK240 great?

Huge 384GB memory (with 128GB Micro SD card)

Great file support, including high resolution formats

MQS streaming

The best sound quality of any potable audio player on the market

 

What’s not so great?

The odd shape may not suite everyone’s taste

The price

 

See the AK240 here:

Astell & Kern AK240 256GB Portable High Fidelity Sound System

 

FiiO X3 All New 2nd Gen High Resolution Digital Audio Player

FiiO X3 2nd Gen - £159

FiiO X3 2nd Gen – £159

Lastly, but certainly not least is FiiO’s X3 High Resolution player. Despite being at the lower end of the market, the X3 2nd Gen can still hold its own against more expensive players. With support for all the usual file formats (including DSD and ALAC), the X3 2nd Gen offers immersive sound quality that belies its low-end price.

 

The X3 2nd Gen will do double duty as a digital audio player and USB DAC when connected to your computer, satisfying your music needs at home and on the go. With a Micro SD card slot supporting cards up to 128GB you can literally bring your entire music library with you.

 

What makes the FiiO X3 2nd Gen Digital Audio Player great?

Excellent sound quality for the price point

Doubles up as a USB DAC

Support for in-line remote

 

What’s not so great?

No internal memory

Scroll wheel and UI can be fiddly

 

See the FiiO X3 All New 2nd Gen High Resolution Digital Audio Player here:

FiiO X3 All New 2nd Gen High Resolution Digital Audio Player

COWONPME2L

Cowon Release new the Cowon Plenue M 64GB High Resolution Player

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Riding on the back their success with their flagship Plenue 1 Cowon are set to release a pared down version aimed at the middle of the market.

The new Cowon Plenue M is very much the P1’s little brother. Featuring only half of the P1’s 128GB internal memory and utilising the lesser Burr-Brown PCM1795 DAC the Plenue M is also set for release with the lower price tag of £540.

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All this talk of being the P1’s smaller brother and using a less expensive DAC shouldn’t worry audiophiles though, as Cowon are determined that their new offering still offers high end quality sound at a more affordable price. If the sound of the P1 is anything to go by, this will sound excellent too.

 

Keen-eyed observers will have noticed that Cowon have also made some small changes to the Plenue M’s casing. There is a raised edge on both sides of the player that is likely to make it even nicer to hold than the luxurious aluminium heft that the P1 offers. The ‘analogue’ on/off button of the P1 which sat flush has been replaced with a smaller, rounded and slightly raised button; the LED has been moved from underneath to the inside.

 

The Cowon Plenue M will shortly be available from AMP3 for £540 – please see the product page for more info:

Cowon Plenue M (PM) High Resolution 64GB Music Player

The brand new Plenue 1 - £740.00

The Cowon Plenue 1

The brand new Plenue 1 - £740.00

The brand new Plenue 1 – £740.00

 

Cowon’s brand new hi-res player the Plenue 1 has finally arrived, and it sure looks good. Cowon have used the experience of many years (and many players) to truly build something special.

It’s easy to see that Cowon have really upped their game with the Plenue 1. Out of the box the player itself is stunningly designed and yet simple, and once turned on the design of the UI immediately appeals to the eyes. Even if you’re not a huge fan of the default skin, there are several others to choose from so everyone’s kept happy.

Building strongly on the success of such players as the excellent X9 and Z2 the Plenue 1 is aimed squarely at the growing number of audiophiles out there who are demanding better quality sound. With a Burr-Brown DAC on board and featuring DSD support, the Plenue 1 is not messing around. Mind your back Astell & Kern, there’s a new kid on the block.

Comparisons with the recently launched Astell & Kern AK100 ii and AK120 ii are perhaps justified – apart from being pricey and featuring DSD support, the P1 even looks a bit like the A&K range. Heck, it even comes with a free genuine Italian leather case – sound familiar? All this being said, it may not be a bad thing that Cowon seem to be emulating A&K as it means that they have a pretty high target to aim for.

 

The Plenue 1 features a beautiful new UI

The Plenue 1 features a beautiful new UI

 

Impressively, the P1 ships with 128GB of internal storage on board. Perhaps not the most exciting feature of the P1, but it is incredibly important. As I’m sure most people will be aware high quality audio takes up a lot of space than your average mp3 files, so if you have encoded all your songs to FLAC then this on board storage is going to be quite important. And this is upgradable too as Cowon have fitted the P1 with a Micro SD card slot on the bottom so you can expand the total memory up to 256GB. Both the AK120 ii and the AK100 ii feature on board memory (128GB and 64GB respectively) and memory expansion via a Micro SD card slot (up to 128GB on both), but it is impressive that Cowon have managed to cram in 128GB and still keep the price down. Ahem.

The build quality and design are definitely worth mentioning as the P1 is certainly a very nice looking piece of kit. The outer part of the player is made from a single block of Aluminium which lends the player a nice heft, but also gives the impression that your brand shiny new P1 can take a bit of rough handling. Despite being a touch-screen device, the P1 features the usual play/pause, skip track and volume control buttons. Also a nice touch, the on/off ‘Digi-Logue’ switch located on the top right of the player is fitted with an LED light which glows a lovely blue colour when connected for charging and the button itself is oddly satisfying to depress when powering on or off; not all that important, but nice nonetheless.

 

Cowon P1

Perhaps the best element of the design of the P1 is the new UI. For those of you already familiar with Cowon products, the UI in the new P1 will be a big change and will probably be considered a step in the right direction by many. From the first use, users will notice that the screen is much more responsive than Cowon’s previous efforts, bringing it much closer to a user experience that will be familiar to any smart phone user. The GUI itself looks great on the 3.7” AMOLED display and is very easy to navigate. Don’t like the look of the interface? With the inclusion of 5 skin options, Cowon have it covered. Also new are the 2-channel Level Meters which bounce up and down in relation to whichever song is being played at the time.

Cowon weren’t being shy when they claimed that the P1 gave the ‘World’s Best Hi-Fi Audio Performance’. Sonically, the P1 is definitely impressive, and is certainly a great sounding player – just what we’ve come to expect from Cowon products. The heart of the P1’s power comes from the Burr-Brown PCM1792A DAC chip inside each one, enabling support for DSD and 24bit/192kHz PCM as well as all the usual suspects in terms of file formats.

 

The Plenue 1

 

There may be a few less pricey options that offer more tricks, such as the Sony NWZ-ZX1 which runs on an Android system and offers Bluetooth and Internet connectivity, but the P1 was designed to put sweet sounding music in your ears which it does with ease. The higher end of the market seem to be going back to basics and focusing on getting the music to sound as good as it possibly can.

The Cowon Plenue 1 really feels like a serious contender in the higher end of the portable DAP market, especially when you consider the price of the top-end Astell and Kern AK240 and AK120 ii. The P1 even has advantages over the AK100 ii – it’s cheaper for a start and it comes with twice as much on-board memory and boasts a slightly bigger screen. It may not be as funky looking as the space age Astell & Kern range with their signature sticky-out volume knob, but certainly is a great looking device. The Plenue 1 is looking like it could be a bit of a dark horse, and it’s certainly something consumers should consider when looking at the higher end of the portable DAP market.
The Cowon Plenue 1 is available from Advanced MP3 Players now, and if you are a music lover we are sure that the Plenue 1 will take you to audio bliss.

four_horsemen_of_the_apocalypse_graphicSMALL

The Five Horsemen of the Audiophile Apocalypse

Yes, that’s right, the time has come and the audiophile apocalypse is upon us – if you listen carefully you can even hear the thundering hooves of the Five Horseman bearing down, ready to make battle for the accolade of best sounding player. Mountains will crumble and the ground will shake as these mighty behemoths clash for your affections.

The Five Horsemen of the Audiophile Apocalypse

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~ An Elliot Holmes Review ~

Players on test

 

 

Quick Look Reviews

1) Fiio X3 8GB Audiophile Digital Music Player and Recorder:

Summary -

  • The Fiio X3 uses a Wolfson WM8740 DAC chip and also a separate AD8397 amplifier chip to deliver its stunning sound.
  • The X3 is reasonably priced considering the quality of sound and the features on offer, such as the USB DAC functionality. Quite simply the Fiio X3 is an absolutely brilliant player to consider as it expertly highlights how you don’t need to spend huge amounts of money to yield great results.
  • If you fill up the 8GB on internal memory you can pop in a memory card to give you more space to move in to. The Fiio X3 will support Micro SD cards up to 64GB in size so you should be able to secure more than enough space for your entire music collection without much hassle.
  • With the latest firmware installed the Fiio X3 can act as an Asynchronous USB DAC (kind of like an external soundcard) so you can achieve a pretty powerful level of output when playing music on your computer.
  • The 3000mAh built-in battery will provide around 10 hours of play time and while this isn’t great for lossless music Fiio claim that this will be expanded upon with further firmware releases.

Conclusion -

  • One of the best players to balance price and features and sounds as good as the current competition which are often much more expensive.
  • Memory expansion, supporting Micro SD cards up to 64GB, so you don’t have to worry about limiting yourself to a small number of tracks to fit the 8GB internal memory.
  • The fact that the player will act as a USB DAC when connected to a computer really opens up the options you have for enjoying music. The Fiio X3 is capable of improving the quality of sound from your computer and obviously will save you some money since you won’t have to buy a dedicated USB DAC.
  • You can throw pretty much any audio format at this player and it will quite happily play without a problem – you can even enjoy Apple ALAC and Mastering Quality Sound files (MQS) on the X3.
  • Highly recommended if you’re looking for a fantastic sounding player but don’t want to spend an unreasonable amount of money.

 

2) iBasso DX50 24/192 HiFi Audiophile Digital Audio Player with Lossless support & Wolfson DAC:

Summary -

  • An incredible demonstration of how astounding audio doesn’t necessarily come with a massive price tag.
  • The iBasso DX50 uses the much lauded WM8740 Wolfson DAC chip and near-guarantees strong sound.
  • While this player has a decent level of on-board storage, at 8GB, and card support for memory expansion up to and incredible 2TB, the most awesome feature on offer is the USB On-The-Go support. This means that you can connect portable USB hard drives to the player and access the music files stored there – effectively you can build yourself a sweet little portable HiFi.
  • The DX50 will support virtually any audio format including all the main lossless formats, such as FLAC and OGG. Moreover, there’s even support for files encoded at 24Bit/192kHz.
  • If you’re looking for a player to connect to an existing HiFi system then look no further. The iBasso DX50 features a host of output ports so you can easily hook it up to stereos through the dedicated line out port or coaxial out. There’s also three different gain levels so there’s plenty of extra power if you need it.

Conclusion -

  • The iBasso DX50 is an extremely versatile player that is capable of playing audio to a premium level on the move or acting as a source when plugged in to a stereo. Moreover, since it can access portable USB hard drives it will even act as a mini-Hifi when hooked up to bookshelf or portable speakers.
  • If you fill up the 8GB of internal memory the player will support memory cards up to 2TB so when these become readily available you won’t have to worry about running out of space quickly.
  • The DX50 is a prefect balance of cost and quality – it’s well made, easy to use, sounds epic and also has some pretty interesting uses away from it’s main function as a DAP to keep you entertained.
  • You won’t have to worry about coping with a confusing user interface as the DX50 is very simple to use with a straight forwards menu and uses a very responsive 2.4″ IPS touch-screen in conjunction with some well placed buttons for controlling the player.

 

3) Astell and Kern AK100 Personal MQS & Ultimate Portable Hi-fi Music Player:

Summary –

  •  A beautifully designed player which sounds astounding. The AK100 definitely has the looks and sound quality to be a serious contender.
  • The AK100 has 32GB on internal memory and also features a dual Micro SD card slot, both capable of supporting 32GB cards, totaling out to an impressive 96GB of storage space.
  • Controlling the player is extremely easy thanks to the minimalist interface and responsive 2.4″ IPS touchscreen.
  • This beauty of a player will playback basically any audio format you like, so you can really let rip with high quality lossless audio files without worry. Furthermore, the AK100 will play back music files encoded at 24Bit/192kHz so the sky is the limit when it comes to audio quality.
  • Since the AK100 features Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP/HFP you can enjoy your music wirelessly without sacrificing a great deal of quality.

Conclusion -

  • The AK100 is a fantastic player which is more than capable of playing back your files to an outstanding level but it is also extremely expensive, currently retailing at over £500. This is important to bear in mind since it does share the same components as other equally brilliant premium DAPs which are a fraction of the cost.
  • The idea of being able to enjoy a high level of audio over Bluetooth is quite attractive and could well come in very handy for users who want to go down this route.
  • While the aluminium body means the AK100 should take a bit of rough treatment you might need to be cautious of the volume knob since this sticks out from the side of the player and could potentially become damaged if caught on your pocket enough.
  • You’ll be hard pressed to find a high quality DAP with quite as much storage space as the AK100.

 

4) Cowon D20 32GB MP3 Player:

Summary –

  •  A cost effective option if you don’t want to sacrifice high quality audio but equally don’t fancy spending a large amount of money on a portable audio device.
  • There’s a decent level of storage for your music as the D20 has 32GB on-board and will support Micro SD cards up to 32GB. This might very well come in handy if you encode your music in a lossless audio format, like FLAC or WAV. The D20 will also play back lossless audio but won’t handle files encoded at 24Bit/192kHz unfortunately.
  • The Cowon D20 has a brilliant play time of around 90 hours when using MP3 files. While lossless audio will reduce the play time significantly it will definitely give you more time to enjoy your music that a lot of premium players.
  • The output on the D20 is very decent and the player will put out 29mW per channel so can power high quality headphones fairly easily and works well when connected to a home stereo.

Conclusion -

  •  A good option to consider if you want great sounding music without incurring massive costs. The D20 isn’t going to realistically perform at the same level as many premiums DAPs but for the cost it does a terrific job.
  • The long battery life and memory expansion should let you enjoy your music for significant periods of time.
  • While the D20 won’t handle high resolution files, like those Mastering Quality Sound (MQS) ones, it supports a respectable number of audio formats including FLAC, WAV and OGG.
  • The Cowon D20 has a decent output level, when the region isn’t set to European Union, so copes respectably when connected to stereos or power high-end headphones.

 

5) COLORFLY C3 8GB MP3 HiFi Music Player:

Summary –

  • The Colorfly C3 is a respectable little player which will play back audio to a fairly decent level.
  • From the off you’ll only have 8GB of internal storage space but the C3 supports Micro SD cards up to 32GB so if you’re getting short on space this can be easily remedied by popping a card in.
  • The user interface is very much no nonsense, since it’s really quite basic, so navigation is simple.
  • Due to the sound signature sitting closer to the high end of the frequency spectrum it’s ideal for acoustic or classical music.

Conclusion -

  • The Colorfly C3 is unfortunately better viewed as being an entry level player when compared to most high quality DAPs. This is a bit of a shame since it’s a very decent player when up against the likes of Sony and Apple.
  • Many users report that the C3 can be ever so slightly cold sounding or lacking in bass so it’s not going to work well for you if you like lashings of bass.
  • The Colorfly C3 does support a decent number of audio formats but won’t touch OGG files and only supports music encoded at 24bit if they’re encoded in WAV so if you’re music collection is made up of 24bit FLAC files you cannot use these.
  • While the C3 is well priced if you’re prepared to spend a little bit more you can get hold of a player which is vastly superior.

Main Review

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Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.”
Revelations 6:1

OK, in all seriousness and with scary quotes about world-ending lambs aside you sometimes need to be careful when selecting a premium digital audio player. There’s a great deal of choice and competition nowadays and while all of these players sound good some are much better than others or offer interesting features to expand your listening choices. There’s also in some cases a fair amount of cost involved so you really need to be certain that you’re getting as much value for your money as possible.

So like Dante Alighieri before me, please allow me to take you by the virtual hand and guide you safely through this apocalyptic battlefield where titans and gods rage in all their vitriol. Watch out for flying brimstone and don’t feed Cthulhu.

The First Seal – Fiio X3 8GB Audiophile Digital Music Player and Recorder
(£159.00)

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All too often our mind-set is that the more money you throw at something the better the results. While this is true for many things in life – an expensive car is going to give you better performance than a fifth-hand rust bucket for example – but it’s not always as clear cut when it comes to audio performance, no matter what some people choose to believe.

 

The Fiio X3 is an absolute dynamo of a player which, if nothing else, clearly demonstrates that great sound doesn’t have to incur a ridiculous price tag. Considering the fact that it’s a reasonable £159.00, and therefore one of the lower priced entries in this list, it delivers the same level of performance as much more expensive high-end digital audio players and actually has one or two nifty little tricks up its sleeves which other brands haven’t even considered.

 

This little beast will play almost any audio format, including Apple’s ALAC lossless format, and is even capable of playing back 192kHz/24bit master tape quality audio. Moreover, the X3 supports TF cards up to 64GB in size; which is massively helpful considering there’s only 8GB of space on board the player and this will be eaten up in no time at all if you use lossless files.

 

If that wasn’t enough the Fiio X3 isn’t just a high quality audio player – it’s also an Asynchronous USB DAC. In layman’s terms this means you can connect it to your computer and actually use it to control the tone of your music and also radically improve the audio output power. While this feature might not be of much interest to people who just want a great sounding portable audio device it’s a wonderful addition to the arsenal of any self-respecting audio enthusiast. Not to mention that the fact the X3 does this means you can avoid needing to buy a standalone USB DAC, like the Fiio E07K, and save yourself a fair bit of money.

 

There’s also ports aplenty on the X3 (dedicated line out, coaxial out and headphone out) so it really doesn’t matter if you’re using it on the go, connected to a home HiFi or even pumping out music from your computer – no matter how you want to enjoy your music you can expect epic sound quality.

 

Something else which definitely makes the Fiio X3 well worth considering is the on-board DAC chip. Fiio, like iBasso and Astell & Kern, use the Wolfson WM8740 DAC chip to deliver top-tier sound quality which definitely highlights that you don’t need to spend big for unrivaled audio. Moreover, Fiio use a separate AD8397 amplifier chip which is a high current amp, closely resembling a Class A amplifier, capable of outputting 300mA into 16ohm earphones. Why is this important? Well quite simply it means that even if your earphones aren’t the top of the range they’ll be driven to the full extent of their abilities.

Really the only drawback I could spot with the X3 is that the 3000mAh battery will currently only last for around 10 hours (liable to be less with lossless music); although Fiio do claim that in the future they can prolong playtime through optimising the firmware. I’ll guess we’ll just have to wait patiently for them to get around to that.

When all is said and done the Fiio X3 is without a doubt one of the best sounding players out at the moment and for an unbelievable price too.

The Second Seal – iBasso DX50 24/192 HiFi Audiophile Digital Audio Player with Lossless support & Wolfson DAC
(£199.00)

 

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The iBasso DX50 is all set to take the world of high quality digital audio players by storm and considering the sound quality, design and features on offer it’s looking increasingly likely that this player will soon be one of the main competitors in this audio heaven footrace. Thinking about it I don’t actually think we here at AMP3 have ever had more people asking when we were going to be stocking a particular product as we have with this demon of a player.

 

Under the hood the iBasso DX50 isn’t radically different to the Fiio X3 or Astell & Kern AK100, since all three use the same awesome WM8740 Wolfson DAC chip and will all play back basically any format you can choose throw at them, but the DX50 is without a doubt the perfect balance between cost and performance.

 

For many people the iBasso DX50 is the player they’ve been waiting for and is considered by some to be the pinnacle of premium digital audio players and is most likely the best placed to bring out the best of your music collection thanks to the well thought out additional features which will appeal to both HiFi enthusiasts and people who simply want a stunning audio player to carry around.

 

Getting the ball rolling is the sound quality of the player – everything I blasted through my earphones from the DX50 sounded absolutely immense with a lovely overall tonality. I was able to pick up on the different frequencies effectively and there was also a stunning level of detail to the tracks I was playing and even the bands who had clearly recorded on a tight budget sounded excellent with punchy bass and clear middle and high frequencies. Moreover, I generally don’t use lossless files (I don’t personally hear a difference between FLAC, WAV, MP3 etc so just stick to MP3 320kbps) and if how good these sounded is anything to go on then those of you who benefit from the purported higher sound quality of lossless audio are no doubt in for a face-cracking smile in the not too distant future.

 

However, as good as the iBasso sounded to my ears at the end of the day it uses the same DAC chip as the AK100 and X3 so sounds near identical to these. What the iBasso has which the other two don’t offer though is the fact that you can determine the gain level thanks to the three-way switch at the bottom of the player. Enabling the higher gain modes brings whole new life to your music, pushing it seemingly above the capabilities of the nearest competition, and most importantly means that the DX50 has more than enough output to drive all but the most power hungry of headphones and works effectively when hooked up to home stereos.

 

Speaking of connecting the player to home HiFi systems it’s great to see that iBasso have been incredibly sensible and have included enough output ports to please everyone. Not only is there a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top of the player there’s a nice little Coaxial out nestled just next door and there’s even a dedicated line out socket at the bottom of the player; really it’s just a shame that the DX50 doesn’t act like a USB DAC like the Fiio X3 does as then it would be a total winner.

 

The design of the iBasso DX50 is also a definite winner and one of the first thoughts to occur to me when I saw one in the flesh for the first time was that it would be easy to control. I believe the reason for this is because of the fairly large skip track and play buttons which sit just below the touch-screen. While it might be quite an obvious statement the fact that these buttons are located at the front of the player and are large this means that you can easily control music playback from your pocket without needing to feel your way around the sides of the player for a small button. There are also solid volume buttons on the DX50 so again it’s really simple to fiddle with the volume without needing to take the player out of your pocket.

 

The user interface is quite similar to the AK100 too as all both seem to use a skinned version of the Android music player (the X3 does too but it looks a bit niftier) so navigation is quite straight forwards being predominantly text based. Moreover, the 2.4” IPS touch-screen is very responsive so provided you have good finger aim you shouldn’t struggle to select artists and can scroll through the music list fairly quickly. I’m wondering why they’ve bothered with a high quality screen though since the DX50 won’t support videos or pictures – we’ll have to chalk this up to them wanting a decent user experience I suppose.

There’s also a curious, but very welcome, feature on offer which we should quickly chat about and that’s the OTG function. This is a feature which I’ve not seen for a few years now and effectively means that you can connect a USB portable hard drive to the DX50 and play back the music you have stored there. This feature might not be used too often or by every DX50 user but the potential it offers is astounding as you could simply load up a portable HDD with hundreds of tracks and plug and play to your heart’s content.

The iBasso DX50 is a wonderful player and it’s pretty hard to beat when you look at what’s on offer and the very reasonable price. Furthermore, the USB on-the-go support could come in very useful since you could use the player to act as a mini-HiFi with access to hundreds of tracks. Moreover, the high output level and sound quality make it a joy to listen to and you’d be hard pressed to find another player which will do so much for your money.

The Third Seal – Astell and Kern AK100 Personal MQS & Ultimate Portable Hi-fi Music Player
(£569.99)

 

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I’ve often been asked by people what player I would buy if money weren’t an object or I simply had to get the best sounding player going no matter the cost; well now I kind of have an answer for them in the form of the Astell and Kern AK100. Basically without getting bogged down by the nitty-gritty, if the rest of the players on this list are BMWs then the AK100 is a Porsche.

 

Sonically the AK100 is very impressive and is definitely one of the best sounding players available at the moment. The overall sound comes across as being bold, with very respectable bass response, yet still subtle and detailed enough to retain the musicality of your music. The great dynamics of the sound mean that no matter if you listen to stadium rock of gentle acoustic folk you will be able to hear all the little details coming clearly through rather than fighting to be heard. This is all thanks to the inclusion of the Wolfson WM8740 DAC chip, which is very much the mainstay of these higher quality DAPs, and ensures that your music sounds as good as it possibly can.

 

What is most impressive about the AK100 though is something which many people might find a bit uninteresting when talking about which are effectively the Demigods of MP3 players – memory size. I know that this isn’t the most glamorous feature to talk about, or even get excited about, when talking about products designed with little else in mind than elevating your music enjoyment to levels never before reached but it is extremely important. The reason for this is incredibly simple: high quality audio formats take up reams more space than MP3 files so if you want to encode all of your songs in to a lossless format like FLAC or WAV then you’re going to need lots of space. The AK100 has 32GB of built in memory and if that wasn’t enough it also has a dual Micro SD card slot built in to the bottom of the case; meaning it is capable of providing 96GB of storage in total. While the Fiio X3 and iBasso DX50 both also feature Micro SD card slots (supporting up to 64GB and 2TB cards respectively) neither have such huge storage space immediately available from the off and as handy as memory card expansion is it’s great not having to rush off and by a high capacity card straight away when you realise how large your music collection really is.

 

Build quality and design are also definitely worth talking about as the AK100 is a clear winner on both counts. The shell of the player is made from brushed aluminum and this not only lends some nice weight to the player in your hand but gives the impression that it will stand up to a little bit of rough love. The design of the player also utilises the dual control method very well as there are solid buttons for skipping tracks or pausing music so you don’t need to rely on the touch-screen to quickly change tracks plus the Optical output and dual card slots are easy to access. The only complaint I’ve heard about the AK100 is the volume knob, which is located on the right hand side of the player, where some people are understandably worried about snapping this off in their pockets. While I can certainly see why this might worry some users, as the knob does noticeably stick out from the side of the player, it does feel fairly strong – plus it’s a nice little touch which gives the AK100 an almost ‘old school’ feel and makes the volume very easy to change.

 

Perhaps the best part of the design of this player is the user interface. Again, not something which is often considered greatly when playing high quality audio is involved but certainly something well worth thinking about considering that you will need to get on with this player for some time to come and that’s not even getting in to how much it costs. Suffice to say that while audio quality is definitely the driving force behind the AK100, iRiver have clearly spent a little bit of time thinking about the user experience. Thanks to iRiver taking a simple approach to the UI on the AK100 selecting music is a simple matter of pressing the obvious list button and then navigating through the easy to read text on screen from there. Effectively there are no gimmicky menu structures or needless graphics in sight and as such you can simply get on with selecting and enjoying your tracks without any worry about your next expedition through a garbled menu in a desperate hunt for a song to play.

 

There’s plenty of gravy to compliment the fine roast beef which is the AK100 and while some features are very welcome and will almost certainly be of use at some point – such as the inclusion of Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP/HFP for high quality wireless audio and the support of 24bit/192kHz FLAC or Mastering Quality Sound files – there are definitely others which give the impression they’ve only been included to help justify the price tag. For instance the AK100 uses a 2.4” LCD IPS colour screen does seem incredibly useless considering the AK100 doesn’t support photos or video and the menu is predominantly white text on a black background so there’s no need for a high quality screen. In fact the only use I could really find for the touch-screen, outside of navigation anyway, was that it made the confusing equaliser on the AK100 slightly easier to use – after all it’s kind of hard to adjust the curve of a frequency without a responsive touch-screen.

 

The Astell and Kern AK100 leaves me feeling slightly conflicted if I am being brutally honest. As much as I love the modern design and fantastic sound quality I just can’t really work out where your money is going. After all the AK100 uses the same DAC chip as the Fiio X3 and iBasso DX50 and doesn’t really offer any radically extra play time from the battery so all three are tremendously similar – in fact the only really differences I can see are the on-board memory, dual Micro SD card slots and Bluetooth 3.0 and while these are most welcome they don’t totally account for the large price difference.

That said if you’re looking for a player which will play music brilliantly, has slightly longer battery life than some of the competition, and an awful lot of initial storage space then the AK100 would be the one to look at. While it’s a lot more expensive than the nearest competitors it looks unbelievably stylish, sounds amazing and does have a few tricks up its sleeve, such as Bluetooth 3.0, so would be a great investment.

After all what is a Porsche 911 other than a more expensive and really, really, REALLY nice VW Beetle?

The Fourth Seal – Cowon D20 32GB MP3 Player
(£119.00)

 

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Cowon have built quite a reputation for themselves over the years as they’ve been in this game for quite a while now and were one of the main brands you’d consider if you were looking for high quality audio. In fact every now and again we’ll have someone phoning up to ask us if we know any way that they can get their hands on an ancient Cowon X5 of yore; which is quite telling about how good they were in the past. Times change though and while Cowon are still one of the main brands to consider if sound quality is a big requirement they seem to have adjusted their position a little bit so they’re competing more against companies like Sony than Astell & Kern; which is probably a good decision as they can offer strong sound without charging obscene amounts of money.

 

The Cowon D20 is basically the latest version of the Cowon D2 from a few years back (D2 begat D2+, D2+ begat C2, C2 begat D20 is how it goes) and as well as sounding pretty great it’s highly portable with some handy features acting as a side dish. Like the Colorfly C3 it’s not quite “up there” with the likes of the DX50 or X3 but that doesn’t automatically mean it wouldn’t be pleasing to the ears and is actually a great choice if you fancy balancing sound with additional features.

 

The sound from the Cowon D20 is pretty strong, outputting at 29mW per channel, and comes across as being quite rounded out with decent separation between bass, mids and highs but it could still do with being a bit more dynamic than it is. This can be remedied though if you’re prepared to wade through the plethora of sound improving and manipulating tools which Cowon have lined up in the player settings. There’s a shed load of different changes you can make to the sound from the D20, so I’m not going to real them all off here, but suffice to say that these cover everything from added bass, MP3 enhancement, equalisation and various sound profiles (E.G. creating one profile for Rock music, another for Jungle and so on) . Basically with a bit of time and a little hard work from your ears you can get some great performance out of the D20.

 

So what about those handy features I mentioned earlier then? Sure, no problem, coming right up. First of all it’s worth pointing out that the D20 will play music for roughly 90 hours if you’re using MP3 files encoded at 320kbps so you can expect to get a fair bit of play time even if you’re using lossless files; which is definitely a big help if you’re trying to play back files like FLAC which eat through battery power in no time at all. Moreover, the helpfully long battery life will also come in to play if you have been fiddling around with the audio settings on the D20.

 

The Cowon D20 also features a slot for SD cards – officially supporting cards up to 32GB in size – and while many, many players offer this kind of thing nowadays they don’t all have 32GB of internal memory to begin with like the D20 does. The best bit about the memory expansion on the D20 is that the player scans the card when you turn it on and displays all the music, both on the card and on the player, in the main music menu whereas some players operate in a way where you have to select between internal and external memory. Little touches are always the best.

 

There is what could be considered a large drawback which worth mentioning though: the user interface. The general interface is OK as it’s mostly based around icons or text but Cowon muddle things slightly by including fiddly little icons where their function is not really apparent and occasionally will leave you gritting your teeth. The best example I can give of this is changing from one artist to another – you press the screen, then a button saying ‘open’ to bring up the music menu; from here you need to press a speech bubble to bring up a menu at the bottom to let you get back to the folder hierarchy and if this wasn’t tricky enough to do in the time you have before the menu vanishes there’s a right pointing arrow icon at the top left which many people, myself included, get caught out by as they naturally assume that’s the button to move back to the artist list.

The other thing worth bearing in mind is that Cowon will ask you to define your region when you first turn the player on and if you select the European Union option a lovely, hefty volume cap is applied (Thanks EU! How did you know that I’m incapable of deciding what is a sensible volume level for my own ears?). This can be remedied by formatting the device and going through the process again so you can select the Non-EU option but this also means you’ll need to copy all of your music across again and will lose your user defined sound settings.

Being the cheapest of all the players on this list the Cowon D20 is certainly an attractive choice, considering what you get for your money. The sound quality is very decent and there’s lots of options for fiddling with the sound to bring it in line with your own tastes; not forgetting the long battery life and memory expansion. But when you compare it to something like the iBasso DX50 or Fiio X3, which are far from being the most expensive players out there themselves, you’d be forgiven for thinking the D20 is ever so slightly lackluster. Still it’s well worth a punt if you don’t need world shattering audio quality and would rather save yourself some hard earned cash.

The Fifth Seal – COLORFLY C3 8GB MP3 HiFi Music Player
(£149.00)

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In many ways I feel a bit sorry for the Colorfly C3 as while it’s a great little player when you’re comparing it to more standard models, such as those from Samsung and Apple, it doesn’t really hold up quite as well when it comes to high-end DAPs.

The sound of the C3 is respectable but many people appear to find the overall sound signature a bit clinical and while there is a alright bass level I would have to agree that for the most part it’s a bit ‘colder’ than others. This isn’t necessarily the end of the world if you have varied music tastes, or lean more towards acoustic or classical music, but it would be noticeable if you either like strong bass or listen to music which needs a bit more punch.

The user interface might also be considered a bit lacking as while there’s nothing wrong with manufacturers using a basic text-driven menu system (in many ways it’s a lot better than when they try to get fancy and get it totally wrong *cough* Cowon i10 *cough*) but when this is coupled with a dot-matrix screen it does feel like you’re using something designed by Casio circa 1990. Moreover, the reliance on touch-sensitive buttons, which sometimes aren’t all that responsive, does sometimes mean that it’ll take you a few presses to perform the action that you want.

Other than those two main gripes the C3 does have some good things going for it, such as its solid design and build quality. The C3 is made from metal and definitely feels like it would shrug off a fair few drops before anything serious goes wrong. Moreover, there’s a handy Micro SD card slot so you’re not stuck deciding what albums to remove when the 8GB of internal memory is full up.

Don’t get me wrong, overall the C3 is very good but it’s just not as dynamic and powerful as something like the iBasso DX50; which is only £50 more expensive*. However, if money is a big deciding factor and you could do a lot worse than picking up one of these players as while the C3 isn’t quite as good as some of the others on this list it’s got a respectable sound and a solid design.

*Price correct at the time of writing.

Conclusion

 

Whew. Finally, safe and sound after our little jaunt through the audiocalypse. We’ve seen some sights, looked at some players and even had some tea and cakes by the banks of the Sanzu River. Well…we talked about players and if you had tea and cake then I’m jealous.

 

Anyway, enough waffling and time to pick the winning player!

 

Well this is a bit of a tough one since all five players certainly have both their merits and downsides. Following my own advice about getting as much for your money as possible I would have to say that the iBasso DX50 ever so slightly comes out on top (the DX50 is also the one I’d spend my money on if that’s of any help?), since it’s the best balance between price and features, with the Fiio X3 coming in a close second.

However, whether you’re looking for a fantastic sounding player on a restricted budget or if you have all the money in the world ever any of these players would be well worth checking out and would be worthy additions to your audio arsenal. Remember too that we’re always here to answer any questions which you have about these players so if you have a burning question in your mind feel free to drop us a line as we’ll be happy to illuminate you.

“Long is the way, And hard, that out of Hell leads up to Light”.
John Milton, Paradise Lost, Lines 432-33

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In-depth review of Cowon Z2 has arrived from Amp3! Elliot puts the hotly anticipated Z2 through its paces.

Cowon Z2

 

£259 32GB

£219 16GB

 

The best way to describe the looks of the Cowon Z2 is to imagine that the Cowon J3 has had a baby with the Nokia Lumia 800 as the two look very similarRead Elliot’s full review here.

 

After what has been a period of intense testing, our very own, Elliot, has put the Cowon Z2 through its paces. The hotly anticipated Z2 device boasts the amazing sound quality that Cowon is renowned for. The video is presented on an AMOLED screen delivering high quality and crisp images when both still and moving.

 

Cowon typically produce high functioning devices with an aesthetic to match. They already have a long list of design awards and the Z2 has already done its part in contributing to it – winning the prestigious Japan Good Design Award 2012.

 

For more information on the Cowon Z2 click here.

 

Pre order

COWOND3MINI

Cowon D3 selected as Best Buy in Which? Magazine! Read more here.

D3

Cowon D3 32GB

 

£279

 

The Cowon D3 has been selected as a Which? Magazine Best Buy MP3 Player in this month’s Test Lab. See the full feature here.

 

The D3 is a luxury media player that delivers the highest quality from the highest formats out there. To begin with, the screen is a 3.7” AMOLED. It presents sharp and well defined images and videos that will have you totally captivated by its HD quality. The magic of AMOLED is that each individual pixel produces its own light instead of the more common back light option often found in similar devices.

 

D3

As is expected with Cowon products the D3 comes with the Cowon Jet Effect 3.0 & BBE+. Cowon are known experts in producing stunning sound quality. The Jet Effect 3.0 & BBE+ technology takes poorer quality audio files and makes them great and takes good quality files and makes them fantastic. Not only this, Cowon are very aware that everyone has different musical tastes and expectations. That’s why they have incorporated many different musical profiles for you to choose from. Adjust the D3 to be the media player you want it to be.

 

Other features include Bluetooth connectivity and a Gsensor that responds to the angles you are holding the D3 at. For an easy to use and high performing player, the D3 is an excellent choice as supported by Which? Magazine.

 

The 32GB is available for £279 from Advanced MP3 Players.

 

buy now

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Trusted Reviews Finalist

Sony NWZ-A866 and Cowon X7 make final cut at Trusted Reviews Awards!

 

The prestigious Trusted Reviews Awards winners have been announced and at Advanced MP3 Players we are delighted to report that two products reached the final stages of selection. In the Portable Media Player of the Year Award both the Cowon X7 and Sony NWZ A866 were runners up losing to the Apple iPod 4th generation. Public voting took place to establish a shortlist of finalists for every award. It was then down to the experts at Trusted Reviews to determine the winners of each category. The X7 and NWZ-A866 are not unfamiliar at Trusted Reviews having both received glowing reports previous to the awards.

 
The X7 and NWZ-A866 didn’t go down without a fight and certainly provided the grounds for a seriously ‘tough competition’. Read why below.

 

Cowon X7

 

X7

 

Cowon are a brand synonymous with quality sound where this level of high fidelity playback is a rarity amongst players at a similar price point. It would be an understatement to say Cowon take sound seriously. What makes them unique however is Cowon appreciate that sound is different for every listener. What might sound brilliant to one person may sound horrendous to another. That’s why Cowon have included 35 pre-set music profiles to suit a vast amount of musical tastes.

 
The player is absolutely brimming with features such as having picture playback, video, a document reader and a flash player to name a few. Not only this but Cowon have made sure that these features don’t get in the way of what the Cowon is primarily for – to play music. They’ve loaded the device with a powerful battery that will give you 103 hours of music and 10 hours of video.

 

The Cowon X7 offers great value, at £199 for a generous 160GB of storage, and it has class leading file support to boot. A large screen, good battery life and superb sound quality also help to make this a real contender.Trusted Reviews

 

Sony NWZ-A866

 

 

Sony

 

The Sony NWZ-A866/A-867 models take a distinct leap in quality from former models. This player incorporates sophisticated features such as a responsive touch screen and Bluetooth connectivity. Excellence in sound has long been a top priority of Sony and the NWA-A866 is no exception to this. Using five unique Clear Audio Technologies and the S-Master MX digital amplifier to reduce noise and distortion, Sony exceeds the expectations of experts and audiophiles alike.

 

Sony has incorporated highly sophisticated specifications in the NWZ-A866 but has sensibly maintained a basic menu grid making navigation effortless. The touch screen is pleasingly efficient and responsive with a solid home button located at the bottom.
Though some of the features on the player are certainly periphery (Karaoke mode) the others are totally necessary.

 

The Bluetooth function allows you to seamlessly connect with other wireless devices such as wireless headphones, compatible speaker docks, car audio head units and other devices. Alongside the Bluetooth function, Sony has incorporated a variety of entertainment features.
To top it all off, the Sony is beautifully designed with a smooth user interface.

 

Our panel liked the drag-and-drop interface which freed them from the binds of iTunes, and the pitch and speed alteration modes, which would appeal to musicians.Trusted Reviews

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Cowon J3 – exceeding expectations in sound, video and design.

J3Cowon J3

 

Cowon J3 32GB MP3 Player

 

~ £169 ~

 

“All the core strengths of the Cowon S9 are still in place, including superb sound and excellent video quality, while the addition of a memory expansion slot and improved battery life are very welcome. The wholly unexpected and unheralded appearance of support for H.264 video and AAC audio now makes the J3 one of the best PMPs on the market.” RegHardware

 

J3

 

Cowon are a brand known for excellence in sound. The J3 both embodies this reputation and exceeds it. Winning the prestigious redDot Design Award in 2010, this award added to a long list of accolades for Cowon.

 

Using the BBE+ audio architecture the J3 is capable of making poor quality audio files shine while bringing out the best in the better files. This MP3 player is not only capable of delivering unwavering quality of sound it can also play high quality videos. The individual pixels in the 3.3” AMOLED screen produce their own light meaning the on screen picture changes more fluidly than on an LCD screen.

 

Delivering what the consumer wants, Cowon listened to customer feedback and updated the J3 to include expandable memory. Add an SD card and build on the memory the 8GB, 16GB and 32GB models can already hold.

 

Click here for images, video and a full product description.

 

J3

Why not become a Facebook fan today as well? Click the image below and receive exclusive offers from Advanced MP3 Players just for clicking the ‘like’ button.

 

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New iAudio10 takes home top design award at the Good Design Awards, Japan

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Cowon iAudio10

 

 

New Cowon iAudio10 takes home top design award at Good Design Award presented by the Japan Institute of Design Promotion.

 

Cowon’s latest MP3 player has been creating quite a stir in the tech world. All new Cowon products are awaited with baited breath as the experts in sound improve upon already excellent products.

 
Now, to add to the anticipation, the iAudio10 has landed the Audiovisual Device Award at one of the world’s top four design awards ceremonies.  The sublime iAudio10 has been expertly crafted to blend ergonomic and aesthetic appeals. The contemporary form is skilfully shaped and balanced to sit comfortably in the hand’s natural grip.

 

Amp3’s very own Elliot has written a comprehensive review which you can read here. Cowon continue to improve upon an excellent product base that includes the S9 – the winner of the 2009 iF Design award.

 

Nam-Kyu Park, CEO of Cowon, had this to say following the iAudio10 award:

With this award, Cowon’s excellence in product design and UI [user interface] has once again received international recognition. We will strengthen the image of our brand in the international market even more by continuing to introduce new products that set themselves apart in their design and satisfies the sensibility of the consumer.

 

The iAudio10 will be available for pre-order shortly at the following prices: 8GB £99, 16GB £119 & 32GB £149
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