The iAudio 6 marks the start of a new breed of MP3 players that is based around a mini 0.85” hard drive. This media player is packed with all the necessary features supporting all the pertinent audio codec that include MP3, WMA, OGG, FLAC, and WAV. The “6” is not limited to audio- it plays back MPEG4 (XviD), and JPEG on its radiant 1.3” 260K color OLED screen. It is a great player with few faults.
The iAudio 6 is bundled with earbuds, standard USB cable, USB host cable, line-in cable, and software, which are all fairly standard issued accessories. As of now the only optional accessory I am aware of is a leather case made by Noreve.
This player comes with two different pieces of software: JetAudio and JetShell. JetAudio is your standard media player that plays, rips, converts and burns music. This is also the application you will use to convert and transfer video to the iAudio 6. JetShell is another application that allows you to synch files, add effects, make playlists and manage features of the iAudio 6. It would be nice to see both of these applications merged into one in the future.
The iAudio 6 measures 35.6
x 76.1 x 19mm and weighs 60 grams. It is very well built with a solid feel and has buttons that are accurate and firm. The player’s housing is made of plastic except for the back plate which is a brushed aluminum. The front, which includes the screen and touch controls, is made of a hard glossy plastic. This face is scratch resistant and will not scratch under normal use. It does however, show fingerprints easily.
The 1.3” 260K color OLED 160 x 128 pixel screen takes up most of the real estate on the front of this player. I was never impressed by OLED technology, especially with smaller screens. The colors were not very accurate and the resolution was fuzzy compared to LCDs. On the contrary, the iAudio 6’s OLED screen is simply brilliant- matching, if not surpassing, LCD technology on other MP3 players.
To give you an example, the screen has the same color depth and clarity as the screen on Creative’s Zen Vision:M. It would be nice to see this OLED technology on Cowon’s next iteration of the X5.
The interface takes a minute or two to get used to, but after that it is fairly straight forward. The tactile buttons on the top include a slider power/hold switch, menu button, and what I think is a must for every digital audio player, dedicated volume controls.
I have never been a fan of touch sensitive controls. They all suffer from accuracy problems and are often pressed when you don’t want them to be. This is still the case for the iAudio 6. The recessed virtual buttons and slider help deter accidental touching, but I still found myself unintentionally operating them.
Putting aside my bias towards touch interfaces,the smooth recessed slide control and buttons feel great on your thumb. I would give it ok marks for what it is, but I think that it could be improved by adding adjustable sensitivity– there are so many accidental presses. Still, long lists of music is easy to browse through by sliding your thumb or pressing and holding the top or the bottom of the slide control. On a side note, media is arranged and navigable by a file folder structure, but the track themselves can be displayed by ID3 or file name.
The menu and record buttons double as user defined shortcut buttons when they are depressed and held. The buttons can be set to bookmark, add to dynamic playlist, record, jump to EQ, shuffle, etc.
Overall the interface is great, but is does suffer from slowdowns when loading media. Often times a “wait screen” will appear for a second or two when switching songs, recording, or changing to a different media mode. This is the iAudio 6’s biggest weak point, which can be attributed to the miniature but slow .85” hard drive inside. Using more expensive flash ram would alleviate this problem, but would add to the price tag. Cowon did make the right sacrifice in this case, because in the end the interface slowdown is not a deal breaker.
The battery charges in 3 hours through any powered USB port and is rated at 20 hours of playtime. A few informal battery tests showed play times of between 15-18 hours of audio playtime under typical use.
On the video side of battery drain I preformed two tests which exhibited video playtime of around 3.5 hours with screen brightness at maximum.
USB Host / File Management
The USB host feature will allow you to hook up cameras and other UMS devices to transfer files from the device to the iAudio 6. You can also transfer files from the 6 to the UMS device. I tested this with two different Sony cameras and a few different brands of UMS MP3 players. The cameras worked flawlessly, but I had a few problems with some of the MP3 players. When connecting some players like the SanDisk Sansa players, they would both lock up and have to be reset. Then when I tried again, the players would transfer files just fine; it was unpredictable. Also, some devices would truncate the file names to 8 spaces. This is a great feature but it is slow and buggy with a select few devices. Cowon is usually on top of bug fixes, so this feature will probably be ironed out in the near future.
In the same way that you copy files from once device to another, you can move or delete files and entire folders around on the iAudio 6 as well. This is an awesome feature that lets you keep your music organized on-the-go.
The voice recording works just as expected. This feature records in WMA format at bitrates of 32, 64, 80, 96, or 128kbps. It also works in most quiet to noisy environments due to the adjustable gain control.
On the top of the player next to the headphone jack is a line-in jack. Just as the voice recording, it has adjustable gain and can only be recorded in WMA at similar bitrates. Like other iAudio players it will automatically divide songs into separate files when silence is detected. The silence interval can be set from 1 to 4 seconds.
FM / FM Recording
The FM radio has good reception with any type of headphone or earbud plugged in. Auto program is also available which will fill up your 24 presets with the strongest signals. If you like to listen to radio programs you can schedule the iAudio to record at a specified time.
The 6 is able to display lyrics on-demand with the download of a lyric manager program free from iAudio’s website. The program will automatically tag the files with lyrics using an internet database. It is a cool feature but the availability of lyrics data is limited to mainstream top 40 music. So for the non-pop tracks you will have to tag them yourself using this program.
Misc: Clock, Playlists, Bookmarks, TXT
For those who would like a clock, alarm, and sleep timer, they are available. The iAudio 6 has the ability to bookmark and create playlists on-the-go by simply depressing and holding the play button while a song is selected. Finally, for those who like to read on a tiny screen or keep their contacts on their player, the 6 is able to display standard text files.
Photo viewing is straight forward with a 3 x 3 thumbnail matrix interface. Selecting a photo will maximize it to single mode where you are able to flip through them one-by-one full screen. It works very well with smaller sized files but starts to slow down when pictures start to exceed 1MB in size. Also to mention, photos downloaded from a camera directly using the USB host feature can easily be viewed once transferred.
The quality of the iAudio 6 is very good; definitely above average. But what I can really appreciate with this player is the ability to drive larger headphones. It was able to drive my Sony V700DJ headphones well beyond normal listening levels. A common problem with smaller flash based and some hard drive players is the lack of substantial output wattage that won’t produce an appreciable volume level in higher end headphones. The iAudio 6 will drive almost every earbud or headphone.
EQ / Sound Effects
There are a lot of tweaking options on the 6. The player has a 5-band user EQ along with presets such as: Normal, Rock, Pop, Jazz, Classic, and Vocal. In addition to the EQ the player also has sound enhancement features. I am not usually a big fan of these types of features, but with the 6, they enhanced the music without making it sound unnatural. These settings are: BBE, Mach3Bass, MP Enhance, and 3D Surround. It is difficult to explain what each setting does; but all you need to know is that they are not just useless features; they could be of benefit to you. With all these setting to tweak, Cowon adds Jet Effect Presets, which will save all of the above sound settings, including the EQ, into one of ten presets.
The 15fps video playback on the iAudio 6 is smooth, but does have some artifacts at the smaller compression sizes. However, the highest setting is very clear. The JetAudio software allows you to select 4 different q
uality settings: 256kbps, 384kbps, normal, and high which are compressed at 2.8MB/Min, 3.7MB/Min, 4.5MB/Min, and 5.3MB/Min respectively. For those of you who are too lazy to do the math, the files would take up about 250MB, 330MB, 400MB, or 500MB for a typical movie.
Conversion time takes around 1 min to convert 10 min of video on a 2.8GHz Pentium D or about 9 minutes to convert a typical movie. For whatever reason each video converted is watermarked with Cowon’s logo in the top right corner of the video. It is a minor annoyance and only stays there for a few seconds, but the watermark is very unnecessary.
The iAudio 6 has all the features you need packed into a solid built form factor wrapped together with a great user interface. Besides ease of use the player has a brilliant screen and enough power to drive heavy duty headphones- two big selling points for me personally.
I did have a few minor issues with the iAudio 6. The GUI is slow due to the mini-hard drive and the USB host is buggy with some UMS devices. Still, these problems would not deter me from purchasing this player. I would definitely recommend this player to anyone looking for a compact player in the 4GB range.
- Crisp, Bright OLED screen
- Solid Build
- USB Host
- Great Sound
- Drives Higher End Headphones
- GUI lags at times
- USB Host Buggy
- WMA recording only