Cowon iAudio i9 Review

cowon i9 review main Cowon iAudio i9 Review

As the next player in the “i series” of player the i9 takes on a different form factor in a slim candy bar player with touch screen and tactile buttons. This size makes it so much more comfortable compared to its i6 and i7 siblings. There are also incremental improvements in UI and features. So if you have previously dismissed the i6 and i7, you might want to take a look at this new player.

  • Quick Look
  • Dimensions: 43mm x 95mm x 8.9mm
  • Weight: 40g
  • Colors: Black, White Silver, Red
  • Capacities: 4GB, 8GB, 16GB
  • MSRP: $??, $130, $170
  • Screen: 2” 320×240 262k Colors
  • Battery Charge Time: 1h40m
  • Batter Life: 7h Video, 29h Audio
  • Audio File Support: MP3, WMA, FLAC, OGG, APE, WAV
  • Recording Format: WMA
  • Video File Support: Xvid, WMV – Subtitle Support – SMI
  • Other File Support: JPG, TXT, Flash
  • Features: Built-In Speaker, FM Radio/Recording, Voice Recording, BBE+, EQ
  • Controls: Touch Capacitive
  • Transfer Protocol: MTP and MSC (User Selectable)
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Inside the Fancy Box and Accessories

Just the basics are in the box: earphones, USB cable, and manual. Cowon has an optional TV out cable which you can buy for around $10. Third party manufactures also make cases for the i9 if you are looking for a little protection. The downside here is that Cowon used a proprietary USB connection on the bottom so you will have to carry an extra cable and in trouble if you misplace it. I really wish that Cowon had put the video out in the 3.5mm jack and used a standard mini-USB that all phone manufactures have agreed to use. For me it’s frustrating to carry an extra cable.

One quick thing to note is the fancy box that the i9 comes in. Cowon wanted to jump on the green bandwagon and multi-purpose the packaging. The package the i9 comes in is more of a display case or trophy, with the player gracefully hovering within the packaging. Honestly, I sometimes put the player back in the case when I’m not using it just to display it on my shelf. If you aren’t as much of a show off as I am, Cowon intends for you to re-purpose the plastic case to be used as a pen holder and it does work fantastically well.

Build Quality and Design

The iAudio 9’s outside housing is made entirely out of a hard matte plastic, it is scratch resistant and more or less fingerprint proof. The screen on the other hand is made of a glass composite, likely Corning’s Gorrila Glass, but will still show fingerprints like any other glass screen. The materials and overall feel of the device is very monolithic- materials flow well together and where they meet the tolerances are uniform. The build of the device is very sturdy with a nice weight- not too heavy not too light.


The screen is a standard 320×240 pixel, 262k color, LCD screen. The colors are great, the response times look good, and viewing angles are better than most at near 180 degrees. Of screens of this size you can’t really ask for more- the LCD used in this application is pretty much at its maturation point. Sure, you might be able to squeeze a little bit better or higher resolution screen such as an OLED- it would be overkill for very little gain. In other words, it’s a great screen and you will most likely be pleased.

User Interface

Cowon UIs have always been my biggest complaint about their players. They are getting better but the i9 still feels awkward to me- not so intuitive. I’m a UI whore and dissect every screen transition and button press so you should take my dislike with a grain of salt. Many forum members and Cowon fans see no problem with the UIs- but do mention that there is a slight learning curve.

This is in line with my real world testing by giving the i9 to a typical user and watching them operate it. Most stumble around at first but eventually figure it out. So with that said keep in mind that you may need some time to wrap your head around the navigation if you have never used a Cowon player before. However you will find similarly easy to use compared to other devices after spending some quality time with your i9.


The controls are a hybrid of touch and tactile buttons. On the left are two tactile buttons for volume up and down and on the is a button for the menu and a slide switch for on/off/hold. As previously mentioned, the tolerances and tactile response is just right, common to most Cowon players. The one complaint I do have with this is that the buttons are not high enough on the side. It is a little bit awkward to hold and press with one hand. With the buttons move almost all the way to the top, it would have much more comfortable.

The bottom of the glass screen is graced with touch controls. These controls include a back button at the top left, a pause/play button at the bottom right, and a sli
der button bisecting the two at a diagonal. This button layout is similar to the early i6 and i7 and work similarly. This is by far improved over the previous versions though- touch is more accurate and the larger area makes it much easier than before.

One really cool thing Cowon did on the main menu with the touch slider was to make it respond one-to-one between the slider and the onscreen menu. The menu is not continuous and will stop at the last icon when your finger is at the top of the menu, so this means that you can access all menu icons with a single swipe back and forth. You don’t have to drag and lift your finger several times to get to all the menu items.

Media Transfer

Cowon includes a software application that allows you to sync your media, but to be honest I don’t find it to be anything special and is more on the verge of buggy software. Every time I get a new Cowon player I install the latest version and it usually gives me nothing but troubles. Its awkward software and you are better off using a different media player to sync your files.

However, you don’t have to use any software since the player is MSC as well as MTP- so simply dragging and dropping files onto your player will work just fine. If you do want to have a media player manager your software you can switch it to MTP to use Windows Media Player or any other MTP based media player. The choice is all yours.

The i9 will also allow you to sync Audible content. To use .aa files on the player you will need to download the Audible application to load these files.


The battery is rated at 29 hours for audio and 7 hours for video. I did a test on the audio and found it to be at least 24 hrs, likely reaching close to the 29 rated hours. Video fell a bit short at around 5 to 7 hours, but seemed to fluctuate quite a bit depending on the encode rate.

Media Playback


On the main Library browsing screen you will be able to select: Now Playing, Folder, Artist, Album, Songs, Genre, Years, New Music, Playlists, Audible, recordings. It is nice that you have the option to view your collection by metadata or by folder.

With a long press on the play/pause button within the home music library screen brings up a submenu that will allow you to toggle between the main list, bookmarks, and favorites list (this acts as your on the go play list). A long press on this button while you have content selected allows you to bookmark it, add it to the favorites list, or delete it. Adding a bookmark in the aforementioned way will only add a bookmark at the beginning of the selected song, if you want to add it in the middle of a song you will need to do a long press while on the now playing screen. Additionally the submenu on the now playing screen gives you quick access to the speed of the playback, info displayed on the now playing screen, shuffle/repeat, EQ, and add favorites.

This is the part of the UI that is most awkward to me, you will get used to where everything is but right off the bat it’s not too intuitive and rather complex. How I would improve this would require an entire article, throwing out the UI and starting fresh. Again, I want to mention that I’m a UI whore and think about this kind of stuff a lot, it may not be as big of a deal to others. But I do caution that it may not be good for MP3 player noobs.

Lyrics: Like previous players, the i9 supports lyrics. This requires you to use the JetAudio software that comes with the player. It would be nice if they would write this information to the tag and or use the tag information for the lyrics. Currently the software will find the lyrics in a database and play them back onscreen while you are listening. Works great for popular music but if you start to get more toward the tail end indie stuff you will be hard pressed to find lyrics in the database.

Bookmarks/Playlists: As previously mentioned, you can create one to go playlist and bookmarks directly on the player. You can still add many playlists with any MTP based media player or with the JetAudio software.

Sound Quality / EQ Effects / BBE+: Sound quality is exactly what you would expect from Cowon, top of the class, warm, and well balanced. The EQ is 5 bands with the ability to change the frequency cut-offs and width of the boost just like previous Cowon players. Cowon has pretty much nailed the EQ- there is nothing I can think of that I would want to change. It is by far the most tweakable and most suited for the audiophile.

Just as all other Cowon players have BBE so does the i9. For those who don’t know BBE is a sound enhancement that uses algorithms to process your music to make it sound better. Better may be subjective, but I do find BBE to be the most natural sounding enhancement and bests other enhancements such as SRS WOW.

There are quite a few other sound adjusting features that are worth mentioning since not all MP3 players have them. These features include play speed and pitch correction, which is great for podcasts and audiobooks, and balance to adjust the left and right volumes.


Video playback looks great in the high density 2” LCD screen, but the really big story is that the i9 will play back native files under DVD resolution. This means that your torrented content will play without any conversion, just drag and drop it. Well done Cowon.

Flash Games & Apps

The player has support for Flash Lite just as many previous Cowon and Samsung players do, so there are a lot of games and apps out there. Some of the apps and games may work for the i9 that also work for these previous players, but do keep in mind that apps built for touchscreen players are not as likely to work since the i9 does not have a touch screen. You will have to dig though the available games and apps and give them a try.


Not much has changed in displaying and browsing photos. It’s still the basic thumbnail browsing and slideshow. One thing to mention is that you can do a long press on the pause/play to add the photo to the background on the main menu. It will only add the photo to one of the two main screens, the one with the clock and the menu items at the bottom.

Other Featrues

Built-in Speaker

On the bottom left of the front of the player is a tiny speaker. It is pretty much what you would expect from a speaker that is only a few millimeters in diameter- its only something you can hear with it a few feet from your face in a quiet room. Some might say this is wasted space, however, I always like a speaker for quick previewing of music, listening to podcasts, and viewing videos. Since this is a great player for playing Xvid natively, the built-in speaker is a plus in my book.

Voice Recording

The microphone is located right below the volume buttons on the left side of the player. The volume of this mic can be adjusted in the setting making it easier to record in different settings. The file format is WMA and can be adjusted from 32kbps to 256kbps. The voice recording works as advertised and is not much different performance wise compared to previous Cowon players and other brands.


The radio works well, the reception is great, but do keep in mind if you are using different headphones that your results may vary since the headphones act as the antenna. Auto programming picks up every available station, but is a little overly sensitive and will add some static stations to your program list so you will have to do some editing after programming. On the long press you can change your region, select mono or stereo, and start recording. FM recording is the same as voice recording in that it’s WMA and will record 32kbps to 256kbps.


Text documents in .txt format are readable on the i9. The features are fairly extensive with the ability to change the font size, change the text and background color, add bookmarks, and change pages automatically.


I still find the UI a bit
awkward and it will take most first time Cowon users a bit to get used to, but the UI is taking some baby steps on improvements. I guess one of my major complains though is the proprietary connection and odd video cable that accompanies it. I would really like to see the micro-USB phone manufactures have agreed upon as a standard and video out built into the 3.5mm audio jack.

The complaints are outweighed by the long lineage of Cowon players and their extensive features and sound quality. The fact that Cowon has added support for native Xvid in this small category of players is huge and a real time saver.

Cowon has certainly done a great job with the i9 and I do believe it to be one of their bests to date.


  • Native Xvid support
  • Sound Quality
  • EQ / BBE+
  • Screen
  • Solid Design / Great Build Quality
  • Gapless


  • Proprietary USB
  • Somewhat Awkward UI
  • Video Out Not Though 3.5mm Jack


You can pick up the Cowon i9 from Amazon usually with free shipping and not sales tax here the US. For the UK Amazon will hook you up with the best price as well.


C-Sharp on February 9, 2010 9:55 PM

lol, finally a review for the cowon i9. Good review, just how I would expect of the i9. I might get it if the Sony A847 doesn’t get release in the states.

p! on February 9, 2010 10:38 PM

Needs more space before I buy one :(

Slackerdude on February 10, 2010 12:09 AM

Only 16 gigs, no SD Card. Proprietry cable.3 strikes. I’m sure it’s the best sounding of anything else, but I’m plenty happy with what I have and after discovering premium headphones, I find I don’t need equalizers.I almost bought one of these, glad I didn’t as at the time I didn’t know it required a proprietry.Good review, though I recall another review of a player that had an SD slot but didn’t totally integrate. You called that a fail. This one doesn’t even offer a slot. Get over your mancrush.

atirox on February 10, 2010 2:52 AM

Are you sure its proprietary? it appears to be more of a Micro USB type A plug. Most of the Micro USB connector’s I’ve seen in cell phones are type B.Type A looks something like a square, which seemed similar to the one that the Cowon has, but it was too small, and there aren’t any pictures of it, so I cant be certain. Type B looks similar to type A, but it has rounded corners. A Type A plug accepts type A and B cables, whereas type B only accepts type B cables.Could you verify this, or post a picture of the connection port?Thanks,Atirox

DJAttreides on February 10, 2010 3:19 AM

Can it play Audible’s AAX format, or only AA, like the i7?

razorpakk on February 10, 2010 6:13 AM

If only the battery life was anywhere close to the i7 one…

Yazad on February 10, 2010 7:43 AM

“ControlsThe controls are a hybrid of touch and tactile buttons. On the left are two tactile buttons for volume up and down and on the _____ is a button for the menu and a slide switch for on/off/hold. As previously mentioned”You missed out a word- what was it?

Himuraken on February 10, 2010 2:12 PM

I recently purchased this player and I am very happy with it. My previous player was the Cowon o2 32GB model. The o2 is excellent for audio and video, sort of a VLC on wheels if you ask me. This unit (16GB) is an excellent low weight alternative, although I haven’t even wasted time trying video on the unit, that is the o2′s job.Based on my ownership and use of the iAudio 9, I would say that this review is pretty much dead on accurate. For the price you cannot beat this unit.

Orange on February 10, 2010 4:57 PM

the word is “right”The on/off – hold – Main menu button are on the right side of the player

Dreamnine on February 10, 2010 6:12 PM

Nice review. Fortunately not everyone obsesses over battery life.

Siebenstein on February 11, 2010 2:53 AM

Will it play protected WMA? And if yes, is it gapless for WMA too?

stolennomenclature on February 11, 2010 6:11 AM

I should have thought that these days there is no excuse for any but the smallest or cheapest players to lack an expansion slot. I believe they are omitted as a marketing ploy to force more frequent upgrades. Any player not having a slot should be marked down. I have only bought one player without a slot, but none since then. No slot – no sale.

slightlyoddguy on February 11, 2010 12:03 PM

I thought it was interesting that you didn’t mention gapless playback until the pros section. For me, that’s definitely more important than, say, whether or not it supports lyrics. That feature alone makes it preferable to its predecessor (despite the lower battery life).Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come and Cowon’s future releases will also be gapless.

Defaultluser on February 12, 2010 2:41 PM

Have to agree with stolennomenclature, the MicroSDHC expansion is a must for anything that large. This player is larger than the Sansa Fuze, costs twice as much, and lacks expansion. I don’t think the improved video capabilities make up for that differential.

MarvintheMartian on February 12, 2010 4:51 PM

The excellent equalizer and sound enhancements make it much more appealing than the Fuze to me. Since I don’t do video, 16GB is more than enough to carry around, for my needs, so all this needs is ReplayGain support or something similar.

MrWafflesMonster on February 12, 2010 5:39 PM

I actually like the look of this thing, especially the capacitive touch control stripe

Dreamnine on February 13, 2010 7:37 PM

MicroSD slots – who needs them?

DeadMan on February 15, 2010 8:05 PM

I have to say that this player is simply amazing! Design, sound,comfortable (I even like the UI :D ) but I’m really disappointed about the playlist management. Ok I never found a real good playlist integration in any player except iPod. But I hoped finally to have some decent playlist customization on this i9. Can’t create playlist of song stored in the player with jetAudio, I did it (after 2 hour) with winamp but just few minutes later the creation of 10 playlist (yes i’m totally a playlist addicted) they disappeared from the player without any reason when I re-attached it to the PC. Switching from MTP/MSC and viceversa a couple of time, and finally found them again… Totally blank. No good.

miow on February 16, 2010 5:57 AM

Best sounding PMP ever. Ultra definition/detail with the right EQ. BBE+ is awesome. It doubles the definition even in 320k files. EQ is the best I’ve seen with individual frequency courves adjustments, wich makes ALL the difference on sound quality.

DeadMan on February 18, 2010 4:53 AM

an advice for Europe owners (like me, Italy) of this amazing player. If you think the volume isn’t much loud, the player was probably setted to Europe Region (so volume limited). Sometimes, like my case, this setting is made from sellers and if you boot the player no selection screen appear but you’re imeediatley on the UI main screen. To set Non Europe is very simple, use the player as MSC, go in System folder and delete PARAM.CFG (you’ll lose all settings such as equalizer or brightness). Don’t be tricked by first selection, you can select any language in the second step select Non Europe and then select region of FM Tuner. That’s it, and believe me, volume limit really limits also sound quality because you aren’t able to find the right volume level to equalize and add effects.

Filou on February 19, 2010 8:22 AM

does anyone know when the release date of iAudio i9 was?

Jaigoda on February 20, 2010 9:35 PM

This looks pretty hot.I’m wondering, though, how does it compare to the S9? The 16GB is like $35 cheaper, and it seems to have pretty much the same feature set.I would say that the proprietary cable is almost a plus for me. I would prefer to carry around an extra cable or two to have the added functionality of proprietary cables. That’s just me. But other than the connection and the screen, what is the difference between the i9 and s9?

D on February 25, 2010 6:48 AM

This DAP is the proverbial dog’s bollocks.

Frank on March 4, 2010 12:29 AM

To Deadman: oh my god. Thank you for the fix. I have always bought all my mp3 players from Cowon but when i got this one home i was dissapointed by the sound, i would raise the volume from 30 to 40 but the sound would not change. I was about to return the player today untill i tried your fix, WOW.The sound is amazing now.thank you so much =)

Ogre on April 21, 2010 3:49 AM

Bought it recently because of this review, since my beloved iRiver U10 died in an accident. And it sounds just awful, compared to U10 :( Sansa Fuze sounds better, too.(I am using Shure SE420 cans.)

Teekay on April 24, 2010 8:12 AM

DeadMan: thanks A LOT. This was soo annoying, as many of my OGG files are recorded at a low volume…

kim on May 21, 2010 3:45 PM

Hi thereIve resently purchased one of these and had no intention of using the videofunction very much but has ended up doing so anyway. Very neat.Ive encountered some problems with it thou. It should play avi files and thats what im feeding to it but even so some avis wont play. Ive taken into consideration the measurements but that wont help either. Some of the files are converted from other formats could that be an issue? anyone know?

solei on May 23, 2010 7:28 AM

To DeadMan: i followed your advice and reset the player deleting the PARAM.CFG file.A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!! sounds fantastic!!! Of course, do treasure your hearing. Thanks so much!I would like to recommend anyone who gets a chance to try the Cowon i9 with Shure440 headphones – they are fantastic on the i9! I’ve compared them with my friends’ Sennheiser sp 25 or Bose Around Ear (very comfy headphones to wear), and, in my opinion, they don’t reach the clarity and balance of sound of the Shure 440s. Do try them if you get a chance.

Shahiniac on October 25, 2010 10:44 AM

So err .. should i buy this or sony nwz a844 walkman ??

Tamar on November 11, 2010 11:39 PM

Hi everyone :)

I’m concidering two options: this Cowon i9 / Sansa Fuze.

Fuze sounds really good, except I hear there are a lot of problems with the firmware…

So this i9 player sounds great, but I wonder if it would be comfortable switching songs when it is inside my pocket (cause it’s a touch screen…)?!?!?! I do it a lot (switch songs, not looking), so it is very important to me…

Any advices?

:) TNX!

0901 on November 13, 2010 11:38 AM

Hi Folks,

can any i9 owner report if it is possible to charge (not transfer data) the i9 with a standard micro usb cable ?

Impatient buyer, thanks for your insight.


Honza on November 20, 2010 5:30 AM

Thanks a lot for the review. There is just one point I cannot find anywhere. Is it possible to listen to FM radio with attached headphones as antenna loudly on built-in speaker?


drevo on December 9, 2010 12:54 PM

I’m thinking about buying mp3 player and this one is my favourite now. I want to ask, if there are some player on the market with similar sound quality. My max price is somewhere around price of this cowon 9 4gb, but I still believe that there is something in this price with at least 8gb and with similar sound quality. I also like flac support. Could you advice me something to consider? Thank you very much.

xyz on January 22, 2011 8:08 PM

I’ve had the iAudio 7 and loved it, however have been looking at the new 9, but my question is – can you just like on 7 browse your files through a normal file system? In 7 you can switch between metadata browsing and file browsing. Is this possible for the 9?

Martin Sägmüller on January 22, 2011 8:24 PM

Yes, the i9 still has folder browsing as well, same as all other Cowons.

Mark Southworth on February 15, 2011 10:09 PM

First time visitor; great site. Interested in the Cowon i9. Excellent review by Graham Skee – really thorough and informative.

MarvintheMartian on February 16, 2011 1:23 PM

A little over one year after I commented on this review, now I actually own an i9….and have even more appreciation for the review.

Tony C on April 2, 2011 8:13 PM

With decent earphones the sound quality of the I9 is to me in a different level to other mp3 players. I have sansa fuze, clip and view plus sony – the clip/fuze being the best value before getting the i9. The difference is not apparrent with cheaper headphones/earphones so it depends what you are willing to invest. Biggest let down of I9 as mentioned above is the lack of expansion slot.

Lio on April 14, 2011 1:29 AM

This thing seemed pretty great at first, but the diagonal control interface is very unintuitive and the build is shoddy. My screen broke after a couple of months from sitting in my pocket. Otherwise it’s a great UI and I hope Cowon can come up with some hardier materials next time.

Adam Nilsson on November 11, 2011 5:50 PM

Hi everyone!

Just got my player, yeah I know a bit late but still a damn good player and now ever cheaper :)

I have a question. I have downloaded a music album in FLAC format and just dragged it to the player but I can´t see the files in the player. Under the artist folder I don´t see a thing and under “Folder´s” I only see a text file in that folder but not the .flac files.

Any idea why this is soo?
Thanks in advance!

Martin Sägmüller on November 11, 2011 8:46 PM

It could be your FLAC files aren’t 16/44, but 24/96 or some other “high definition” variant, which the i9 doesn’t support.

If you transferred them in MTP mode, there could be issues too – try in MSC mode.

Stu Green on November 23, 2011 3:58 AM

In the last 90 days I have had to returns due to screen failures. I keep it in a case and also store it in a zippered pocket. It must be the design.

Juan Ehrenhaus on January 23, 2012 9:52 AM

I moved from iPod to Cowon i9, mainly because I am a Linux user and I was looking a good mp3 player without the requirement of specific software to maintain it.
COWON i9 is perfect for the Linux world.
Transfer of songs and administration of mp3 files can be done directly with Amarok or Clementine ( i use clementine), and you can create playlists with “easyTag” very easy.
Additionally you can use your File administration application to open it and transfer pictures, videos and other data…. ( I set the USB mode as MSC). I don’t understand in this review the meaning of “proprietary USB” but under Linux it works perfect.
The sound is amazing and I can say I am not missing my old iPod, the i9 Cowon one is a nice piece of “open” technology.
I can only recommend to all Linux users this device.

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