Cowon iAudio X5 Review

cowon iaudio x5 main thumb Cowon iAudio X5 Review

I have been using my iAudio X5L for nearly two years now… long enough to really get to know the animal and write a review about it.

Why write a review about a “nearly obsolete” player? Well, for many users the X5 is still in a class of its own. It’s one of the very few 1.8″ hard-disk-based audio players still in production that use the UMS Mass Storage Class for connecting to a computer; most others use the MTP protocol, which can require installation of additional software. The X5 supports a huge variety of audio codecs, and its sound quality still rivals and even surpasses many new players. The X5L’s 35 hours of battery life are unmatched in the field of HDD-based audio players.

The player is available in several different configurations: the slim X5 with a battery life of 14 hours and capacities of 20 and 30GB, and the bulkier X5L rated at 35 hours of battery life and the same capacities. A 60GB version of the X5 also exists, with the same dimensions as the X5L (due to the bigger 60GB hard disk). There is no 60GB version of the X5L.

If you’re interested in a no-nonsense, hassle-free, high quality audio player, read on.


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Accessories

The X5 comes with rebranded Cresyn earphones, AC adaptor, “subpack” (a dongle that sports the AC input, USB port, line-in and -out jacks), 3.5 mm male-to-male audio cable, USB cable, USB-On-The-Go (USB-Host) cable, some screen protectors, manual, and a software CD.

First thing everyone should do is get better phones. The Cresyn phones aren’t too bad, but to really enjoy the sound quality of the X5 you should definitely upgrade. The USB-Host cable connects to the port on the left side of the player. It has a standard USB jack on one end to connect a digital camera or other USB devices for data transfer. The 3.5 mm male-to-male audio cable is included for recording onto the X5 from external sources via line-in. You can buy other accessories separately, such as a cradle (sporting the same connectors as the subpack), a case, or a remote control with screen.

The subpack is a bit annoying. The X5 only has a small Gomadic connector on the bottom to attach the subpack. It doesn’t click into place, so it can slip out of the connector when you move it around or tug on the cables. To charge the player or connect the USB or line-connections, you have to use the subpack. This is an unfortunate design that cuts down on the overall bulk, but adds the hassle of keeping track of a very losable dongle.

[X5 Unboxing Video]

Software

Loading music onto the X5 is hassle-free; you don’t need any software to transfer music from any modern computer. It works on Windows 2000/XP/Vista, Mac OS 9/OS X, Linux, and others as soon as you plug it in. Drivers for Windows 98 computers are included on the CD. The player is recognized as a standard removable hard disk, so you can drag and drop files and sort them in folders, the same way you would on your computer’s hard disk.

Nevertheless, Cowon includes two programs on the CD that comes with the player. One is JetShell for syncing your audio collection to the X5 and ripping CDs to MP3s, and the other is JetAudio, a multimedia player and video converter. I don’t use either since I have other programs for these tasks, but both may come in handy if you’re not already accustomed to other software. They both work fairly well. Isn’t freedom of choice wonderful?

User Interface

Navigation Controls

Located on the front plate is the five-way joystick, made of aluminum. It feels solid and sturdy compared to the plastic sticks on other players. Operation of the joystick is precise; it clicks when moved in the four directions or when pressed down. On the standard playback screen, it controls the volume on the vertical axis and skips tracks (and fast-forwards and rewinds) on the horizontal axis. When pressed down quickly, it accesses the Explorer-like folder structure on the hard disk, where you select the audio files or videos for playback. When pressed down for about three seconds, it accesses the system settings and the various other modes (FM radio, voice and line-in recorder, image viewer, USB-Host).

On the right side of the player is the slider, which doubles as a hold switch, for powering on the X5. It also turns off the display when flicked. Below that are two buttons, both of which have dual functions. One is for toggling the A-B repeat mode when pressed lightly and for recording when held down. The other is for play/pause and for the EQ settings. It is possible to map the second function of both buttons to any of the following: JetEffect (BBE audio enhancements), Boundary/Shuffle, EQ, Add to playlist, Add to bookmark, Lyrics on/off. My only complaint is that the A-B repeat function can’t be remapped. I never use it, and I believe neither do most other people. Having it hog a precious button should be optional, not mandatory.

Even though the controls were obviously designed for right-handed use, I always operate the X5 with my left hand and have no problems reaching any button.

Graphical User Interface

The main screen of the X5 shows you nearly every bit of information you could possibly wish for. It might overwhelm casual users, but certainly is a good thing for people who like to keep track of what’s going on. The screen shows the ID3 tags in three lines (artist/album/title), track time (elapsed/remaining/total, simultaneously), stereo peak level, bitrate (kb/s) and sample rate (kHz), 5-band EQ settings (yes, it shows the EQ bands on the main screen), BBE enhancement settings (BBE/M3B/3D/MP), volume level (numerically and graphically), realtime clock, random/repeat settings, and battery level.

The settings and options, as well as the music browser, are laid out in a familiar tree structure. It is easy to find any setting with a few clicks of the joystick. Everything is fairly logical. You can quickly exit the settings menu at any time by clicking the record button.

When browsing for music you can play a selected track immediately by pressing the play button, or add it to the dynamic playlist by pressing the joystick. Music is sorted in a folder structure, like on a computer’s hard disk; there is no search function. But when using a logical folder structure—be it by genre, by alphabet, or whatever you wish to use—you should have no trouble finding your files. I’m actually faster with this system than with searching by ID3 tags on other players.

After turning on the X5 for the first time, you might be overwhelmed by the candy colors and tacky icons. But worry not, as this can be changed. You can choose your own background image to display. Furthermore H3Mod, a free firmware modification tool, lets you alter most colors and even fonts in Cowon’s firmware. But be careful, it might void your warranty.


Battery

The X5L’s battery life is the best in any HDD-based audio player—period. No other player out there is rated at 35 hours of playback. Of course this is the “optimal” time, as stated by Cowon. But even at playing high-bitrate VBR files with all sound enhancements turned on, I get around 30 hours. This should be enough for two consecutive trans-Atlantic flights. Movies will play for approximately 10 hours.

Of course, this amazing battery life comes at a price: the X5L is 18.3 mm (0.72 inches) thick. The “standard” X5, on the other hand, is 14.3 mm (0.56 inches) thick; it is rated at 14 hours of playback time. That should be enough for most people, and it still is up to the standards of today’s HDD players. It goes without saying that the X5 is more pocketable than the X5L.

The included AC adapter fully charges the X5 in 3 hours, whereas the X5L requires 6 hours charging time. Both can also be charged over USB, which takes longer due to the low 500 mAh rating of USB ports.

Features

FM Radio

The FM radio is fairly basic; it’s possible to auto-scan for stations and store 24 presets. The presets cannot be named, however. Reception is fairly good, but it somewhat depends on what kind of headphones are plugged in since those are used as the antenna. Recording from the radio is simple and works well. It’s possible to record at up to 320kb/s MP3 quality, the maximum possible for the MP3 codec. You can even set a timer for automatic FM recording.

Voice Recording

The voice recorder has great sound quality for an all-purpose audio player. It works well even in noisy environments. The hard disk’s spinning noise is very faint, barely noticeable. Maximum possible quality is 128kb/s MP3 mono. The mic’s sensitivity can be switched between “low” and “high.” A voice activation feature is also included that starts recording only when there’s actually audible sound reaching the microphone. The sensitivity is adjustable.

Line-In Recording

This is where the X5 really shines. It records via the 3.5 mm jack on the subpack at up to 320kb/s MP3 quality—and I mean quality. No noise, no dropouts, no dull sound. In direct comparison to recordings made with a Sony Hi-MD player, the X5 sounds remarkably better. The recording quality is at least semi-professional in my opinion. On a side note, I often use the X5 to record jam sessions and concerts of my band, and it hasn’t let me down once.

It is possible to pause a recording and resume later. The X5 can also split tracks automatically when it detects silence—a pretty nice feature when recording directly from vinyl records, for example. Record gain level and split sensitivity are manually adjustable.The recordings get split in parts when the file size on the disk reaches around 250 MB, regardless of the bitrate used. After that the next file starts recording. That leaves a gap of about two or three seconds between the recorded tracks. This however can be remedied with a firmware hack, making it possible to record for over 12 hours straight into one huge file at 320kb/s. Note that this involves hex-editing the firmware and might void the warranty.

With Rockbox, a replacement open source firmware, you can even record to uncompressed WAV in CD-audio quality (44.1kHz 16-bit stereo).

>Removable Disk

Since the X5 is UMS Mass Storage Class compliant, it’s nothing but a removable disk. You can store any files anywhere on the FAT32-formatted HDD and access them on any modern operating system.

USB-Host

USB-Host (also known as USB-On-The-Go or USB-OTG) lets you connect most digital cameras, card readers, flash memory sticks, or external hard drives to the port on the left side of the player, as long as they’re formatted to FAT or FAT32. A list of supported cameras is (more or less) maintained on Cowon’s website. Many more are confirmed to work, however.

In host mode, it is possible to transfer files from the attached device to the X5′s HDD and delete files on the external storage space. Even deleting files on the X5′s internal disk is possible in host mode. The downside of USB-Host is that it only transfers at USB v1.1 speeds: transferring 1 GB takes about an hour. Also the connection isn’t too reliable when transferring large chunks of data. It is recommended to transfer smaller units at a time. Anything below 30 or 40 MB at a time works well for me.

All in all, it isn’t too bad when you run out of space on your digicam and really need some external storage for your photos. But it can’t replace a dedicated image tank.

Photo Viewer

Thanks to the USB-Host function, the X5 makes a somewhat reasonable image tank for digital photos, apart from the slow USB v1.1 speed. With that said however, the small 160×128 screen of the X5 isn’t optimal at all for viewing pictures.

The supported format for the image viewer is baseline JPEG; progressive JPEGs aren’t supported. It is possible to zoom images, or pan and scan them. The X5 can display nine thumbnails at once on its screen, but building the thumbnails is sluggish and takes a lot of time for large photos. Loading big images generally takes a long time, more than five seconds for a photo from a 5-megapixel camera. The good news is that the X5 only needs to load them once into its buffer, so they load instantly the next time they are accessed.

A big flaw in the implementation of the image viewer is that simultaneous audio playback isn’t supported. You can either listen to music or look at the pretty pictures, but not at the same time.

Other Features

Other noteworthy features are the alarm clock with three different modes (audio player, FM radio, and FM recording) and a sleep timer, adjustable in 10-minute steps up to 120 minutes. A simple text reader is also included; it’s actually really useful and readable at seven lines per screen and around 30 characters per line. Audio continues playing while displaying text. Lyrics display is also supported, but useless unless your collection is very mainstream music.

Firmware

Upgrading the firmware is immensely easy compared to other players. You simply drag and drop the firmware into the corresponding folder on the X5′s hard disk and restart. On a side note, the current firmware (v2.10) is extremely stable and mature. The X5 is more or less bug-free; I’ve never had to reset my player once in the nearly two years of usage.

Rockbox Support

This review would get too long by anything more than scratching the surface of what Rockbox really means for this player. It’s a free open source replacement firmware for the iAudio X5, as well as several other players. It is possible to dual-boot Rockbox beside the original Cowon firmware, retaining the best of both worlds. Here we go again with the disclaimer: installing Rockbox might void your warranty.

With Rockbox installed, the X5 supports even more audio codecs, like Musepack, Shorten, and AAC, next to the already huge variety of the original firmware. WMA playback isn’t supported on Rockbox. It is more energy-efficient than the Cowon firmware at playing back MP3 and Ogg Vorbis files, resulting in longer battery life.

True gapless playback is also supported, and it’s possible to sort and search for music via ID3 tags. Album art can be displayed, and the screen layout is fully customizable. Rockbox sports a professional, fully parametric 5-band EQ. Recording is possible to uncompressed WAV, lossless WavPack, or MP3. At the moment, Rockbox doesn’t support USB-Host and video playback for the X5.

The amount of features can be expanded even further by plug-ins. There are several games included (Snake, Tetris, Arkanoid, Chess, Sudoku, Gameboy emulator, etc.) and it’s even possible to play Doom on the X5. Now that’s something worth showing off. Other useful plug-ins include a stopwatch, calculator, disk-cleanup utility, metronome, calendar, oscilloscope, and so on.

Rockbox supports profiles for all its settings, which is very useful if you use several different headphones with the player or line-out to various amps and loudspeakers. No more hassle tweaking the EQ for varying playback situations.

Audio

This is what it’s all about. The photo and video gimmicks are added for good measure, but the X5′s main function is the playback of audio material. It does a damn fine job at that, if you don’t mind me saying so. Without any equalization or enhancements turned on, the X5 reproduces the whole audible frequency spectrum evenly distributed and linear. The treble and mids are there, and so is the exceptional good bass response.

The 20+20mW amp is still reasonably strong for today’s standards; it drives any headphones up to 100 Ohms impedance with ease. Channel separation is very good. The Texas Instruments CODEC used in the X5 has a good signal-to-noise ratio and just sounds great. I could not get the X5 to distort at any reasonable volume settings.

I also do not hear any background noise with most headphones. The most sensitive low-impedance phones I use, the Ultimate Ears Super.Fi 5 EB (rated at 11 Ohms, 119 dB/mW), are completely silent at any reasonable volume setting, but turning the X5 up to near maximum produces a faint hiss in the background. Mind you, I only tested this when no sound was playing (I would go instantly deaf playing music with these phones at that volume level). Other phones with higher impedance are completely noise-free at even the highest volume level.

Almost any audio format you can throw at the player is supported: MP3, Ogg Vorbis, WMA, ASF, FLAC, and WAV. None are played back truly gapless, but the gaps between MP3 or WAV tracks are very short, almost negligible. The gaps between Ogg Vorbis tracks are significantly longer, even though Ogg is designed to be a gapless audio codec, contrary to MP3. The reason for this might be that Ogg demands more processing power to decode than MP3 or WAV.

EQ and Sound Options

Cowon provides a fairly basic 5-band equalizer on the X5, with a slight design flaw: it only has positive values. It’s not possible to attenuate any band below 0dB. However, even with positive values only, the EQ does not distort when used reasonably. The EQ has six presets (Normal, Rock, Jazz, Classic, Pop, Vocal) and one user-definable setting. The interesting thing is that all seven presets can be modified; tweaking the EQ is not just limited to the user preset. A very intelligent move by Cowon—not forcing any arbitrary presets on their customers, just delivering suggestions for useful settings that can be further tweaked to personal liking.

Audiophiles may want to skip the following paragraphs and continue reading further below. BBE audio enhancements might not be the most suitable topic for purists. Cowon licensed some nifty algorithms from Californian studio-gear manufacturers BBE Sound, Inc., best known for their Sonic Maximizer hardware, which is used by many artists and professional recording studios. For some reason Cowon calls these BBE enhancements “JetEffects.”

If you already know SRS WOW or similar enhancements from other players and think they sound bad . . . well, I have to agree with yo
u. But BBE is several classes better than other psychoacoustic tricks usually found in portable devices. It sounds less unnatural than other algorithms, enriches the audio signal, and crossfeeds (3D Surround) the sound so headphones sound more spacious, more like listening to loudspeakers.

Another BBE option is Mach3Bass, a psychoacoustic bass enhancer that sounds very good and does not distort on quality headphones. It doesn’t sound like Mach3Bass only enhances mid-bass, as most comparable technologies do; it actually really emphasizes the low bass registers without making the overall sound image muddy.

The last, and maybe least useful, feature is MP Enhance, short for “Minimized Polynomial Non-Linear Saturation,” a process trying to restore harmonics and frequencies lost at compressing music to low quality or bitrates. Using it on MP3s at 128kb/s or lower makes the treble sound brighter, but that’s about it according to my ears. The treble might get too bright on some audio material, so I always keep MP Enhance turned off. Using it on high-quality encodes, 192kb/s or better, doesn’t make much difference at all.

Audio Playback Options

The shuffle and repeat modes on the X5 are very well thought-out. Shuffle works on the whole disk, a single folder, or a folder including all subfolders. Repeat can be combined with shuffle, or applied to a single track. A-B repeat is possible within one audio file. As mentioned above, this seldom-used function unfortunately hogs a precious hardware button that can’t be remapped to something more useful.

When using a reasonable folder structure on the X5, there is no need for playlists since shuffling over certain folders is much more intuitive and much less of a hassle to set up. Playlists are supported, however. Tracks can be added to a dynamic playlist with a click of the joystick. Both kinds of playlists are stored in separate folders on the HDD.

The bookmark function can be mapped to one of the keys on the right side of the player, making the X5 very well suited for listening to audio books or long podcasts. Bookmarks are also stored in a folder on the disk, making it possible to export them to a computer.

Setting a fade-in time for resuming playback after the sound is paused can be done, adjustable from one to five seconds. That’s just a small detail, but a very nice one in my opinion that makes the resume less brutal for the ears than jumping to full volume straight away.

Video

Video on the X5 is nothing to write home about. It seems to have been implemented as an afterthought. The screen with its 160×128 resolution (5:4 aspect ratio) is too small to enjoy any full-length movie or TV show, and the 15 fps playback doesn’t cut it for fast-moving scenes. Watching cartoons on the X5 is acceptable, however.

The good thing is that Cowon supports the excellent open source XviD codec for videos, so you can choose from many free software applications for your encoding needs. The most simple and hassle-free is iRiverter.

If you want a real PMP with audio features equal to the X5′s, you might want to look at Cowon’s A2. That one is much better suited for playing videos.

Conclusion

If you’re a person that believes the industry builds most audio players for the “casual user” and want to be able to tweak or hack almost any aspect of the player to your personal liking, then the X5 may be for you. This, however, doesn’t mean that the X5 is complicated to use, in fact, exactly the opposite is true: by not having to use any software or a particular operating system, the X5 is much easier to use than players that, for example, use the MTP protocol. If you can attach a USB flash memory stick to your computer, then you can also use the X5—simple as that.

It’s one of the least restrictive audio players to use, as well as one of the best sounding and sturdiest HDD players with support for many more audio codecs than any other comparable device. And don’t forget about the excellent recording options. Overall, the X5 screams “no-nonsense” and “hassle-free.” If you’re looking for the HDD player with the best battery life, the X5L is the way to go. Rockbox alone is a selling point for many people who want to get the most out of a portable player.

Cowon, however, did not create a satisfying video player or photo viewer with the X5, mostly due to the small screen and low processing power for visual tasks. Also, if your music collection is a mess and you need to search for certain tracks via ID3 tags, the X5 might not be right for you (though Rockbox helps in that situation). Also the subpack can be slightly irritating since none of the important connectors are built directly into the player.

The X5 may not appeal to the mainstream. It is showing its age with a less refined design and interface compared to newer players. But it will definitely appeal to anyone whose primary concern is sound quality or “hackability.” If you’re looking for a no-nonsense audio player with great sound quality and are into tweaking lots of settings, then the X5 is for you.

The Good

  • Excellent audio quality (playback and recording)
  • Large variety of supported audio codecs
  • BBE audio enhancements
  • Line-in, FM and voice recording
  • UMS mass storage class, works on any modern operating system without any software
  • Audio tracks sorted by file/folder (ID3 browsing available on Rockbox)
  • USB-Host
  • Informative screen
  • Scratch-resistant aluminum housing
  • Excellent battery life (on the X5L model)
  • Rockbox support
  • H3Mod support
  • Virtually bug-free firmware

The Bad

  • Sub-par video playback
  • Annoying subpack
  • No ID3 browsing (but available in Rockbox)
  • No gapless playback (but available in Rockbox)
  • 10.000 files limit, can be an issue on the 60GB version of the X5 (no limit with Rockbox)
  • Slow loading of large photos and a too small screen for viewing them
  • USB-Host only supports USB v1.1 speeds
  • Gaudy user interface (can be modified with H3Mod)
  • X5L is rather bulky for today’s standards

Discuss in the ABi Cowon iAudio X5 Forum

Purchase

I have yet to see the Cowon iAudio X5 in retail stores. Your best bet is Amazon for a search of the best price. For those of you outside of the US, AdvancedMP3Players will ship them anywhere in the world for a decent price.

54 Comments

majcikior on February 22, 2007 5:46 PM

30 hours???????????????????? YES YES i am gonna buy one

captain ødegård on February 22, 2007 6:08 PM

Sending a link to my dad, as this is the player for him! Nice work!

JDGAFFLIN on February 22, 2007 9:01 PM

Great review.

phaet2112 on February 22, 2007 10:48 PM

I see you have the D2. How does the X5 and D2 compare in terms of sound quality?

Hairback357 on February 23, 2007 6:52 AM

Very nice review.

Deso on February 23, 2007 7:24 AM

Maj,try the Sony NW-HD(5)40 hours battery life.Best sounding player EVEr according to Cnet,and i AGREE FULLY.The player is out of production but many can be found on Ebay.I was lucky enough to buy a never-used NW-HD5 30gb for 100€ :D Theyre worth more than 300€to fans normally ^^Nice review!

EnzoTen on February 23, 2007 8:36 AM

Deso, the HD5 is only 40 hours of battery if everything is encoded to ATRAC format. It is more towards 20 if you are using MP3 formats. The sony HD5 could have been the best music player to date if it wasnt for SonicStage.

Spoonie on February 23, 2007 11:14 AM

I returned my X5 because the screen was way too small. I like watching videos every once in a while. The Screen on the Creative Labs Zen M:, and Ipod video blows the X5′s screen away. The X5′s screen is even smaller than and not as good as my 4 year old IRiver H320′s screen. I’m waiting on the X5′s replacement before I delve into the HD mp3 player market. This is a nice player with great build quality and excellent sound. The crappy screen and sub par video makes this player an Also-Ran when compared to other players out there.

roger767 on February 23, 2007 11:25 AM

HD5 also had a great design and a rotating screen, too bad that Sony had to ruin it with bad software. If Sony made their players UMS they would sell a lot more.

akasan on February 23, 2007 3:26 PM

Sonicstage as it is right now is not bad, I actually prefer it over itunes and windows media player and the current incarnation is very stable.

copydat_- on February 23, 2007 11:48 PM

It is one of best hard type of MP3 Player. Even it is allready been out of product, it is still good: battery life, rock box, sound quality…

ashxcore on February 24, 2007 2:52 AM

I’d love a Rock Box’d 60GB X5.

Laura on February 24, 2007 10:46 AM

It looks like this is probably one of the best mp3 players I’ve seen. I recently dropped my Creative Zen Nomad 30GB for the final time, so I’m on the lookout for a new player. What I really liked about the Nomad was the ease of making playlists (I’m a dance teacher, so I need ready mixes.) How can I do that with the X5?

markun on February 24, 2007 7:45 PM

The Toshiba Gigabeat F40 with rockbox is also a nice player: UMS, video playback, more than 20 hour audio playback and all the usual nice things that rockbox gives you (gapless, crossfeed, otf playlists, ogg vorbis, …) Too bad it is no longer in production.

fotel on February 25, 2007 11:42 AM

HD5 gives about 35 hours too, but it has easy replaceable battery also!

madve2 on February 25, 2007 12:03 PM

akasan has right, SonicStage had been improved a lot since the HD5 release and is a lot more useable and reliable than it was (heh, it still eats a lot CPU, but if you use it only to transfer some tracks or albums and manage your collection – and use your hard-earned player for listening to music =) – it won’t blow your CPU up). The only thing I REALLY hate in my HD5 is the ‘playlist-bug’ when resuming albums (for example, if you hit the pause button while listening to track 5, and later push it again to continue, it won’t stop playing the album at the end but starts track 1 again and stops only at the end of track 4). Okay, it won’t ruin my life, but it’s so unbelieveable that they didn’t notice that and couldn’t offer a damn firmware fix or something…

night surfer on February 25, 2007 2:16 PM

Enzo -When rockboxed how is the album art?I have a Zune because it fits 3 of my 4 needs: Great sound, storage capacity, and IMPRESSIVE album art (I love album art). The 3rd is battery life which the Zune is average at best.I also have a Samsung Z5 which has great sound, EXTREMELY good battery life, decent but small album art, but fails in storage (being a flash player).How does the X5L compare to these 2 players in album art and sound quality?

EnzoTen on February 25, 2007 3:38 PM

Personally i do not like Rockbox for the X5… mainly because you loose BBE sound enhancements. I have not been able to get album art to work on rockbox, so i cannot really help you with that. Checkj with DFKT in the forums, he wrote the review and is much more experienced with the x5 than i am.The x5 does sound better than the Zune and the Z5, but you will only be able to tell if you have a good set of phones.if you are looking for something with great album art or a “pretty” interface the x5 is not for you, but if you want sound quality, the x5 pretty much kicks ass.

project_2501 on February 25, 2007 6:15 PM

in my opinion, the X5 sounds excellent with good headphones. the only audio feature i am missing is gapless playback for ogg. the video is rubbish but that is not why you buy an X5.the device is reassuringly solid – except for the joystick (one broke on me only 2 months after purchase, and the earphone socket is fragile).i’e tested the rockbox builds (standard and maxwen0′s patched builds) occasionally but they are immature. the GUI is immature and looks reall flakey. the menu system seems inconsistent though i’m sure it can be learnt – the iaudio menu system is more logical. also the rockbx firmware keeps losing font and other ui elements and not just between power cycles.the FM radio reception is terrible with the rockbox – i can’t see why but it pops and crackles and is noisy -maybe the iaudio firmware cleans he noise?sound quality seems equal between rockbox and iaudio – but i don’t know about the sound effects as i don’t use them.oh – and having plugins for rockbox such as vu meters, chess, froze-bubble (a very popular open source game) is very cool. if they getthe movie player working well that would be nice.for me i go back to iaudio firmware becase of the radio reception and the consistent ui.

Junkie on February 27, 2007 1:17 AM

Thanks. I definately plan on getting one of these, especially since I am now on Linux.

me on February 27, 2007 1:38 PM

Basically it boils down toWant best music and support for most music formats and you don’t care for the display?iAudio X5Want good music and video/photo quality (perhaps a nicer menu than X5), …?Vision MWant to be trendy?iPodI just don’t know where Zune fits in. Perhaps it’s something likehttp://www.amazon.com/Zune-Dummies-Computer-Tech/dp/0470120452/sr=8-1/qid=1172600943/ref=sr_1_1/105-8522242-9696417?ie=UTF8&s=booksthis ^^. Really don’t know much about that player.Hmm also I forgot the iRiver… Nevermind.

project_2501 on February 27, 2007 5:44 PM

i can confirm that the X5 works extremely well with Linux. moreover, it works well if you have a desktop that is inegrated with HAL/DBUS – plug it in and a correctly labelled “IAUDIO” icon appears on your desktop. (mine is xfce on fedora core 6)

D.E. on February 28, 2007 9:16 AM

Anyone have any idea how the X5 sounds compared to the Archos AV 504? I own a Sony HD5, and think it’s the best MP3 player I’ve ever owned–and I’ve had about seven.Also, Cnet’s review of the X5 said the display exhibited a “screen door” effect. Is this so?

dfkt on February 28, 2007 12:53 PM

The X5 sounds a lot better than the new Archos x04 series. Newer Archos actually sound worse than their older models, like the AV500.About the “screen door”: I don’t know what CNET means (as usual…) – as I wrote, the screen is excellent for viewing the information about the music, bitrate, time, etc. – but it isn’t good enough for videos and pictures.I know that CNET mentioned the X5′s video option in their “pro” category, not in the “cons”… that should tell a lot about the quality of their reviews. I assume that “screen door” effect has to do with the video playback – but I don’t see any rainbow effects or moire or similar… the screen’s just too small for video.

J.W. on March 2, 2007 9:51 AM

I had an X5 and dropped it twice and the hard drive broke. After the first drop I couldn’t use the side port for synching with my protected WMA files (downloaded those well before I bought anything not realizing the hassles you have to go through to deal with Microsoft purchased music). So I am passed the year warranty and was wondering if it was worth paying to fix it or if I should just get a new mp3 player.

dfkt on March 2, 2007 11:29 AM

You can put a new HDD in the X5 yourself… it’s no problem opening up the X5. Any 1.8″ single-platter HDD will fit.

roland on March 8, 2007 3:38 AM

I need a new accu for my iAUDIOX5L. Does anybody know where to buy?

Brandon on March 10, 2007 10:09 AM

The X5 is the best player I’ve had. I have a gigabeat, tried a Sansa and had an older Iriver, as well as experimenting with Sony. X5 works faster, at this point, on Rockbox than does the Gigabeat. Being visually impaired, Rockbox is a high thing on my list for an MP3. X5 does it very well. I love the battery life, the size and the sound quality. If you can find one these days, get it!

drbooya on March 11, 2007 7:56 AM

My X5L joystick functions stopped working when someone dropped mine two weeks ago. The hard drive is still accessible if I connect it to my Windows machine. I’m enjoying a Sansa now.I can’t overemphasize the stupidity of the “subpack”. Are there any other players with this design? My problem is that I almost never use headphones with mine, so I needed the line out jack to attain quality sound through car/external speakers at work and in the car. Eventually the flimsy subpack connector bent and was loose.The joystick was inaccurate and tiny.Other than those two main drawbacks – I enjoyed it while it lasted!

dfkt on March 11, 2007 3:05 PM

You should have used the headphones output instead of the line-out on the subpack. The line-out on the subpack is severely rolled-off in the bass frequencies, while the headphone-out is linear down to ~20Hz.

rangel28 on April 18, 2007 1:56 AM

Nice review! I’ve had a 30 GB X-5 for 15 months and began to have a severe dropoff in battery power one month ago (getting about 5 to 6 hours on a full charge). Then, my joystick broke (didn’t work in the “down” position) I RMA’d it and am expecting it back tomorrow.The whole process to return in and get it back took a little over one week, so I can’t complain about Cowon’s customer service. I’m hoping everything is now in working order and that I can get another year (or more) out of my X5.

phil on April 22, 2007 3:07 PM

You should make mention of the fact that the x5 does 20mW+20mW into 16 ohms, while the ubiquitous ipod does 30mW+30mW into 32 ohms, which means the x5 can drive 115% of the ipod’s current. More current means more ability to drive lower impedances.

Brian on April 29, 2007 7:08 PM

I love this little machine! The first thing I thought when I opened the box was how small it is. Even though it technically isn’t smaller than an iPod, it feels so much smaller in my opinion. I hated the original interface, because all my songs are sorted with ID3, so I just threw on Rockbox and now it is near perfect! I am also a iPod Mini owner (which I am going to sell) and I can’t tell you how much better the X5 is. The iPod was so restricting and with the X5 I feel so free! :)

minkton on May 1, 2007 1:36 AM

Man – I left mine on the train a few months ago, and I don’t know what to do now. I don’t want to buy another X5, as I can’t help but feel that cowon has to EVENTUALLY come out with its successor. Nicer screen, sleeker design (it is pretty clunky looking), etc. I love cowon and I love everything about the X5…except how ugly it is…Arghgh.

Jordan on May 6, 2007 2:11 AM

Ive had my x5l for 15 months as well. The battery life was amazing, I would charge it maybe once a week, using it quite a bit. Now, however, I get at best 5 hours. It’s a huge let down. I figured that, after a year, I would get at least 50% battery life, not 15%. Now I have to go about getting the battery replaced, and no matter how much that costs, it’s too much for barely a year of service. Otherwise, the x5l has been simply fantastic.

Lance on May 18, 2007 5:23 PM

All batteries blow after a year or so. This is not new for portable electronics batteries. (That said, I have had my X5L for over a year and haven’t noticed a considerable drop off yet.) I love this player. It clearly was not designed for looks though, so if you’re at all caring what people might think of it in your hands then run away from the idea of buying this thing. It’s clunky. The screen is seriously out of date. But the L versions have tremendous battery life, the sound quality is tops, and it has way more functionality and the iPods (I am a Mac user but don’t like the pods). I have found the FM radio and voice recording abilities very useful; I even recorded a couple of concerts that didn’t sound nearly as bad as I thought it would with the built-in microphone. If they’d just update it with a better screen and better video frame rate capabilities it would be PERFECT.

GSV3MiaC on May 18, 2007 7:11 PM

Well, the forthcoming X7 has apparently been leaked by Cowon (due later this year) so maybe some of the annoyances will get fixed. Meantime it’s really hard to beat a Rockboxed X5L (or M5L if you can find one).Yes, there are other players which claim long battery life, but they mostly won’t play .ogg, or gapless, or whatever. The X5 is a solid little beast that just does the job (audio playback). Actually the M5L was better if you can live without radio, USB to go, and colour screen, since you don’t need the subpack to work it.

Humberto on June 29, 2007 9:09 AM

Funk in playlist, who will buy a Iaudio to hear funk ???xPThat bad taste!!!!!I’m from Brazil (São Paulo) and all summer I’m comitted to hear it!

dfkt on July 7, 2007 3:45 PM

My girlfriend writes her thesis for university about Funk Carioca, and I’m one of the very few European DJs to play Funk.. that’s why it’s on my X5. ;)

travelbore on July 8, 2007 5:54 AM

I found one!New, from Advanced MP3.Finally, this is the player to replace my beloved Sony NWHD5 (which is about to die).Can’t wait for it to be delivered :)

Jill on August 4, 2007 4:57 PM

Martin, thanks for the review. I also have had my X5L for 2 years, however, recently, I’ve been charging it the whole night (over 6 hours) and it only gives me about 4-5 hours of playback. The battery is almost dead. Is it unusual for this to happen? Do you know if I can replace the battery myself?

Allen on September 22, 2007 6:22 AM

does anyone know where i can get replacement battery for the XL5 model online?Cheers!By the way the review is spot on…could not have agreed more plus the “negatives” are highlighted very well.

epp_b on November 10, 2007 11:58 AM

Question about the USB-host mode: could I connect any USB drive and start playing music/videos/whatever from it without having to first copy it to internal memory?If the answer is yes, then this is a huge win for me.

Samantha on February 9, 2008 11:40 PM

Hello , could you please tell me where can i buy the Installation CD (JetShell & JetAudio 6) as i lost mine

mitas on February 11, 2008 11:14 AM

pleace help me my conector for cowon on pc usb is dead . i have pie conector

Jim on June 21, 2008 8:45 AM

I had my X5 for over two years and had to replace the battery recently. I used Nintendo DS battery; seehttp://ru.youtube.com/watch?v=Bxob8lHuoicfor instructions.

anywaste on August 13, 2008 3:39 PM

I would love to get my hands on these, but they seem to have been discontinued. Does anyone know where I can still buy one?

korea on August 22, 2008 1:25 PM

I need new battery for my iaudio anyone know where to buy it

norske-alexander on October 9, 2008 4:16 PM

cowon d2 has 50 hours battery

Cdavis on October 15, 2008 12:19 AM

Poor Quality!!

Lee on January 12, 2009 10:48 AM

I have been using the X5L nof for almost three years and never had a problem… I never updated the firmware and still going strong. I use it wth the RSA The Hornet Amplifier and AKG K701 headphones. The best thing is indeed the soundquality and UMS storage. Just drag and drup of MP3 files. To bad there is no sucessor of this player.

Kowako on January 16, 2009 9:42 AM

I also have an x5 60GB for almost 3years and I have been replaced the battery in its official way (in the warranty time yet!:) So it works well and it’s a very good product in 2009 FOR LISTENING HIGH QUALITY MUSIC. It’s the top sound quality what a man can hear (20-20kHz) with a good ear-in Sennheiser CX500. And it’s metal case, what can save in almost every situation. Best player I have ever HEARD.

Lorenz on March 19, 2009 8:53 AM

I have the X5 for about 3 years now,by the way its the L Version and I still get 20 hours of playback listening to FLACs most of the time.And I haven´t replaced the battery.This player is really great.Of course its not perfect,but as the saying goes,horses for courses.And this player is really great when it comes to quality of the audio signal.I use it on the go with Shure SE530,and at home with a AKG K701,with a iBasso D3 Python.The flaws that this player has are sometimes a little bit annoying but you can get around them.This thing is not for viewing videos.But the screen is not only too low in resolution but also just to small.So I don´t use the video function.And I would like to have the opportunity to make more then just one playlist on the go.What I really like is the remote with display and the possibility to control every function of the player.In fact,I would like to have the Player without display,it would be smaller,and less prone to damage by rude usage.Also when you use the player with a headphone amp and a good short line-out cable you don´t pull the player out of the bag for every little thing.Thats the reason why I like the remote so much.But what about Cowon?They have to make a successor for this,with bigger HDD and,that would be so great,an optical digital out.I would instantly perchase a iBasso D10 for such a player.But these days,everything is about multimedia,films,internet and all that crap that you play with for a few weeks,and then you watch your films on your TV,surf the internet on your computer and listen to your music on the player.I think we have to wright to Cowon to make such a player.One can dream!

roguechicken on August 26, 2009 7:38 PM

Many thanks, Martin, for the great review. I’ve read this piece about once every few months since it was published. When I get the itch for a new player, I read it again, then go back and listen to my X5– with tremendous satisfaction.I’ve had my X5 for almost 3 years. It is one of the only bits of consumer electronics I have that doesn’t feel like it was designed to snap within a week. Since the X5 came out, the upgrade pressure for everything electronic seems to have trebled. At the same time, build quality has whistled all the way down to laughable. And crappy has become– shamefully– acceptable. I work at home and never text anybody, but I recently got a Blackberry. It’s very flash-dash– but feels like it’ll shatter if you graze it with a frown. While the music player is pretty good, I have forgone the idea that it might replace the X5.As Martin pointed out in his review– the X5 is no nonsense. It’s metal. The controls are simple. And, though I’ve never gone rockbox, one still has a lot of easy control, since the X5 is a USB mass storage device. There’s no proprietary software to glue-up the transfer of files or conflict with another sound program– or run in the background for its own selfish reasons. (I’m in awe of how so many acquiesce to the prurience itunes.) All my music is organized how I want it– in alphabetical folders. Arvo Paart is in “A”, Bob Mould is in “B”, Clinic is in “C”. Thank you Cowon. The only thing about the X5 that has bothered me from the beginning is the inability to easily change the battery. Mine only plays for about 3 hours now– but that’s not far from the 4 ½ charge that it kept to begin with. Even though you can change the battery on the Blackberry– there’s still now way it will replace the Cowon.The thing still amazes me with its sound.A year and a half ago, after reading for 30 hours about how a pair of Beyerdynamic dt990s would be trash without an amp, I finally just bought a pair thinking I’d suffer through the rot and buy an amp later– and was absolutely terrified by the bass the dt990s thumped at me from the X5. No amp. Mach3 bass and equalizer at half– at most. Volume never goes above 21. (Except the first day I had the 990s. After a long bout of Massive Attack, Hardfloor, and my three favorite symphonies by Shostakovich– my ears rang for a month. No hyperbole. I worried that I’d damaged my hearing.)So now– after reading countless reviews (mostly caustic) about the K 702s’ sound without (or even with) an amp, but knowing I’d probably like them anyway– I bought a pair. Got them in the post yesterday and have not taken them off my head. I am again– shocked. No bass– say many about the 702s. Plugged into the X5, though I did have to up the Mach3 and the equalizer, there is plenty of bass. It’s different, yes, but it’s there. Thank you again Cowon. I’m thinking now that, I either don’t have an audiophile’s ear– or I need not buy an amp at all. And if this is the way the 702s sound alone with the X5– I wonder what they sound like when super-driven.So– a question to anybody who knows the X5– if you have a new player, what is it?

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