One of the best features of Apple's portable devices is their innovative, effective and user-friendly controls, and in this field at least, Cowon is lagging far behind. The iAudio 9 controls are certainly innovative, as you move through menus diagonally, both on the screen (which isn't touch sensitive) and on the control pad. At first, this is simply baffling, and it'll certainly take you a few minutes to get used to handling it. The menu button isn't exactly in the most logical place either.
The design is typical Cowon stuff, with a plastic casing that's mediocre in quality but perfectly assembled and finished. Let's hope future products are based on the S9 instead.
The internal software isn't new either. The interface is similar to that seen in the S9, which thankfully means that it's relatively effective. There's still room for improvement though, notably in the integrated explorer. In playback mode, however, the iAudio9 interface is very well designed. You can even browse your music by album cover (although the album-cover display function doesn't always seem to work that well).
One great feature of the Cowon iAudio 9 is that it's one of the very few portable music players that lets you to organise and browse music either by tag or by folder. It's therefore perfect for anyone who prefers to organise music files manually.
Sound quality: not Cowon's best, but still very good
We're so used to excellent quality sound in Cowon products that when the audio output is 'merely' very good we're left slightly disappointed. So while the quality of the iAudio 9's sound isn't Cowon's finest, it's still good enough to run circles around many competitors' models. The BBE audio enhancement effects are back again too and they're actually quite good, which is very rare for software-based effects.
The same can't be said of the earphones though. They're the same tiny, angular earphones that Cowon has been shipping with its MP3 players for the last five years. And they're still just as rubbish as they were five years ago! You'll therefore have to seriously consider investing in a decent pair of headphones to get the very best out of this audio player's great quality sound. See our headphones product survey for a few ideas.
Video playback has one neat feature that'll have Apple quaking in its boots, as the iAudio 9 can read Xvid files with no transcoding required. That doesn't make it a real portable media player as such, but it's certainly a step in the right direction.
Other good features of the iAudio 9 include Flash games (the player's interface is Flash based), a voice recorder function (only suitable for occasional use) and an FM radio (non RDS) to name just a few. These are small things really, but it's still better than nothing.
Although the iAudio 9 outdoes the iPod nano on sound quality, it's unfortunately lacking the user-friendliness that would make it a real competitor for Apple's super-slim portable player. We reckon the iAudio 9 will above all appeal to any serious music fans who weren't impressed with Cowon's S9. The iPod nano does have one advantage over the Cowon though, as although the iAudio 9 has a huge list of compatible file formats, AAC seems to have been omitted.
- Excellent-quality sound
- Loads of compatible file formats
- Navigation by tag or folders
- Good audio effects
- Native DivX compatibility (transcoding)
- Confusing interface could be better
- Old, poor-quality earphones
The iAudio 9 is another great-quality audio product from Cowon. Although the sound quality is better than any Apple equivalent, the iAudio 9 would still need a few improvements in its design and handling to be as successful as the iPod nano.