Cowon has updated their i6 by replacing the 0.85” micro hard drive with flash memory and upgraded the battery for long lasting 60 hours of playtime. Adding the flash memory to this device is a big improvement since one of the biggest complaints about the iAudio 6 was is slow interface due to the data bottle neck of the hard drive. The iAudio 7 has the same great sound, powerful amp, features, and solid build quality as the i6. There are no substantial improvements other than the speedier interface, which is now par by standards.
The player is basically a year old at its “new” launch date. Can Cowon keep resting on its fanboy audiophile base and branding of being “the best sound quality” without improving interface and basic usability?
- Quick Look
- Display: 262K Color 1.3” 160 x 128 pixel LCD
- Dimensions: 35.6mm x 76.1mm x 19mm
- Weight: 53g
- Supported File Types: MP3, OGG, FLAC, WAV, XviD, JPEG, TXT
- Capacities: 4GB, 8GB, (16GB Rumored)
The iAudio 7 includes the basics: the player, earbuds, standard USB cable, and JetAudio software. The manual says the line-in
cable is included, but it’s not. Nonetheless, you can pick one up for a few bucks if needed.
There are some aftermarket accessories for this player such as a few cases. Note that all accessories for the iAudio 6 will work for the iAudio 7 since they are an identical form factor.
The player is made mostly of plastic with the exception of the red band which is aluminum. The player has an overall well built feel to it, like most Cowon players. Buttons are firm and depress nicely.
The face and back of the player is made of a hard, smooth, scratch-resistant plastic. This will mar if faced with another hard surface, but a raised edge of the surrounding casing prevents the front and back from being scratched while lying flat on a hard surface.
The 262K Color 1.3” 160 x 128 pixel LCD screen is an improvement over the previous OLED screen on the i6. The colors on the i7’s LCD show more accurately than the i6’s OLED screen and do not have a blue-ish tint when displaying video and photos. Even when the screen is off, this blue tint is visible when comparing. An additional benefit of the upgraded LCD screen is that there is no screen flicker which is commonly seen on OLED screens. Don’t get me wrong, the screen looked great on the i6, but the improved difference in the i7 is evident when compared side by side.
The main home screen will allow you to select one of six modes (music, video, radio, voice recording, pictures, text) plus options and can be reached by pressing the menu button once or twice.
The most important aspect of an MP3 player is the interface and how it lends to the overall user experience, so this is where I am always the hardest. Cowon’s interfaces have always been usable, but by no means intuitive. It will take you some time to get the hang of this interface and the way different modes of the player operate. Overall, like most of Cowon’s interfaces, it’s workable, but my no means great.
Here is an example. When you select music from the main menu it will take you directly to the last song selected or last listened to. It would seem that the logical thing to do to browse the music would be to hit the “red dot” button which usually operates as the “back button”. However, that will switch the play mode. What you need to press to get back to the main library is the menu button followed by the “red dot” button (which is now a “back button”) several times, depending on how deep you are in the library.
The player is held in a landscape manner and tactile buttons are located at the top: dedicated volume buttons, a menu button, and a power/hold switch. Found on the face of the player are two touch-sensitive buttons as well as what Cowon calls a “swing touch” interface—basically a touch strip. One of the downsides to this control configuration is that it is a difficult one handed interface; while possible, it doesn’t allow a firm grip and lends to accidental touch interface activations.
This leads me to the touch interface—it is ok for a tiny touch interface in theory, and it does lend to easy browsing of long lists of music, but here comes the “however”. So many times I found myself accidentally touching the play/pause or sliding the “swing touch” bar one menu item too far and then overshooting what I wanted to select once again.
There also is not what I call a “soft hold” as in most players: when the screen goes dark you must press a button to light the screen before any controls activate a feature. If a touch sensitive button or slider is even brushed against while the screen is off, it is activated. From this you must rely on the hold switch when you are not interacting with the i7.
A year ago when I reviewed the i6 I found the interface to be acceptable, but after using more interfaces and watching the improvements over the last 12 months I can’t help but feel frustrated by the i7’s touch controls and interface. I would have rather seen an “un cool” / “un trendy” set of 9 tactile buttons found on Cowon’s F2.
The battery is rated at 60 hours according to Cowon. I’m going to be honest with you. I didn’t test it because I had better things to do than to watch my battery drain for two and a half days. But I will tell you from my past experience of testing Cowon players that you will get a minimum or 48 hours of use out of this player and probably more. Also note that charging the player takes 3.5 hours.
Voice recordings can be taken at 64kbps, 80 kbps, 96 kbps, and 128 kbps WMA files. Voice recording performs well but it picks up every nuance of your touching the player. Just touching the buttons or running your finger across the aluminum band will add a substantial amount of noise to your recording. Many MP3 players suffer from this, but the i7 does more so than others. Adjusting the mic volume helps but does not alleviate this problem.
Like the voice recording, the line-in also records 64kbps, 80 kbps, 96 kbps, and 128 kbps WMA files. An audio source such as a mic or CD player can be connected to the i7’s 3.5mm input jack. There is also an option that will split the audio into separate files at a defined interval of silence (1,2,3, or 4 seconds). Line-in works well and is useful, but would be much more useful if you could record to other codecs such as WAW, MP3, FLAC, or OGG.
FM / FM Recording
The radio is like any other on an MP3 player—32 presets, autoscan, and recoding in WMA format at the above mentioned bitrates. Reception is somewhat weak. I did notice a difference in that the headphones used determined the quality of reception. Which kind worked better is completely a hit or miss. Autoscan worked well but picked up many static stations.
The i7 has the ability to display lyrics real time on the screen which can be added to the files with the downloadable lyric manager. The program will automatically tag the files with lyrics using an internet database. It is a neat feature but seems to be limited to pop music. So for the non-pop tracks you will have to tag them yourself using this program.
Text is pretty straight forward. Select the text file and the text displays. Text will scroll a page at a time, but you can also jump to a line by selecting it by number in the options menu.
lock / Timer / Alarm
The timer is fairly extensive. You can set it to turn on to music, FM radio, or even turn on and record radio – handy for recording your favorite radio talk show.
The iAudio 7 has one of the easiest ways to get music onto an MP3 player, MSC drag and drop. Plug it in, it shows up as a removable drive, and you drop media in the respective folders—this works on any modern OS including Mac, Linux, and Windows. But the player is MTP/MSC User Selectable, meaning you can switch it to MTP transfer mode. MTP works primarily on Windows machines and will allow you to take advantage of subscription and ala carte music services such as Napster, Urge, Yahoo!, and others. It is great to have choices and this player gives you them all.
Photo browsing works well even with larger megapixel photos. The player will show a 3 x 3 matrix of thumbnails or a list for browsing. Selecting one will put it into full-screen mode that allows you to flip though them. Yes, it’s cool and works well, but remember, it’s a 1.3” screen.
Your audio files are browseable in file folder mode (as you dragged and dropped them onto the player) or by ID3 tag information. ID3 mode is much more robust showing: Artist, Album, Tracks, Favorites, New Music (showing the music loaded in the last day, week, or month), Genre, Year, Playlists, Recordings, and even Folders (operates just like the file folder mode).
Now there are pro and cons to both. ID3 browsing is stronger with features and also has file folder browsing. However, under ID3 mode you cannot use the dynamic playlist or bookmarking feature (ridiculous). So if you are into on the go playlists or bookmarks, you will want to use file folder mode. Also if you want to keep it simple and/or ID3 tags are a mess or missing, this is the way to go.
Playlists can be made on your computer in MSC mode with JetAudio/Cowon Media Center and in MTP mode with Windows Media Player, Monkey Media, Napster, Winamp, and a plethora of other MTP based media players.
EQ & Sound Enhancements
The EQ and sound enhancements are very well covered on the i7. The EQ is 5-band and each frequency is adjustable. Each band is also adjustable in terms of width. Settings for this are: narrow, normal, and wide.
This player has BBE sound enhancements, but features that digitally reshape your music can tend to sound unnatural. Not so the case with moderate settings of BBE enhancements. BBE is a great addition and can make bad recording sound better. This is a very welcome feature and really should be on all players.
The i7 plays evenly though the entire sound spectrum; when set to a flat EQ nothing is overly exaggerated or underperformed. One way I have been enjoying listening to the i7 is with my pair of Sennheiser HD650’s. Usually, an amp is needed to get these reference headphones to listenable levels, but in the case of the i7 there is enough power to push the HD650’s. It will not drive them to full potential, but it will drive them to a loud comfortable level on a flat EQ. The ideal settings I found to my liking was a flat EQ with MP3Enhance on, 1 BBE, and 1 MachBass. If I started to tweak the EQ or add anymore sound enhancements, the sound would distort at full volume.
The bottom line is the i7 is great listening for the purist who like a flat EQ and will drive some of the more demanding headphones. There are plenty of sound enhancements and EQ setting for the audiophile to fine tune to create a symbiotic relationship between the headphones and the i7. Cowon’s sound quality is their strong suit, the i7 is no exception.
Video played on the i7 is XviD and runs at 12 framed per second. To some it may be a bit gimmicky, but to others it may kill your boredom on a car, bus, plane, or train ride. The video is definitely watchable; it is just a matter of how long your eyes can look at a 1.3” screen. I watched a few TV shows comfortably and although I wouldn’t use it frequently, it would come in handy from time to time. There are no major flaws or problems with video playback. It really comes down to personal preference and ability to focus on a tiny screen.
Converting videos was a simple task using JetAudio conversion tool. It was able to handle converting most of my video from various formats such as, Xvid, DivX, MP4, and WMV.
The iAudio 7 has a solid audio codec and feature set that will keep the casual and hardcore users happy. Added to this is a firm build quality. The sound quality is crisp with an even across-the-spectrum response that has the power to drive larger headphones at a comfortable level. Additionally, it has my sound enhancement of choice, BBE. I love being able to plug in my Sennheiser HD650’s without an amp, flatten the EQ, maybe adding a touch of BBE, and just listening. The iAudio 7 does sound great.
On the other hand, I cannot see using this player walking down the street or at the gym. The two handed control set, unintuitive interface, and finicky touch interface just doesn’t lend itself well to everyday use. Cowon can’t keep riding on their tag line of being an audiophile grade player, because honestly, the competitors are no longer far behind. Cowon has long maintained a high quality of audio but is failing to improve their user interface.
The bottom line is that if you are looking solely for sound quality, the iAudio 7 will without a doubt please you. But if you are looking for a player for real world use, with a balance of usability and sound quality, there are better choices.
- Sound Quality
- Powerful Amp
- Very Customizable sound settings
- Battery Life
- Full of features
- Lots of Audio file support
- Unintuitive interface
- Overly sensitive touch interface
- Awkward Size – Too Thick
- WMA recording only
- On-the-Go playlists and bookmarks don’t work in ID3 Browsing Mode
- Weak FM reception