It may surprise you, but there's still a demand for MP3 players without photo and video playback features. Some people just want a compact device that plays music and makes exceptional work of it. For those users, there's the Cowon iAudio T2, a rectangular, black flash player available in 1GB and 2GB ($160) capacities. Sure, the T2 offers some nice extras, such as an FM tuner and a wearable, pendant-style design, but these don't distract from its main purpose: outputting great-sounding audio.
The iAudio T2 is tiny and light--2 by 1.1 by 0.5 inches, 0.86 ounces--as is required for a pendant-style MP3 player, but the tactile buttons that line the edges of the device are easy to operate and don't seem too crowded, though there is room for them to be a bit more spread out. On one side, you get play/pause and shuttle keys for track-skipping and menu selection, while the other side offers menu and volume controls. The bottom of the T2 holds the proprietary USB port and reset button, and the top contains the headphone jack. This can accommodate the included lanyard earbuds with a special locking mechanism, or you can simply use any standard pair of headphones. The front of the player sports a rather small four-line OLED screen, but its text is bright and easy to read.
As with other iAudio players, navigating the T2 is relatively simple but takes some practice. The main screen is the playback screen, which displays the time, track number, playback mode (shuffle, repeat, and so on), battery meter, levels meters, time elapsed/remaining, and scrolling song title. Although the player was set to show ID3 tag info, only the song title would appear; we couldn't figure out how to remedy this. One click of the Menu key brings you to the music navigation area, and you can view music by the usual categories (artist, album, and so on) or use folder browsing. The shuttle buttons shift through the levels of the music menu, while the +/- controls are used for scrolling. This is where navigating the menus or browsing for songs can get tricky since you need to use buttons on both the top and bottom to get the job done. It can be maddening at first, but you'll get used to it. Two clicks on the Menu button takes you to the top screen where you can select from Music, Settings, FM Radio, and Voice Recording.
If you're looking for photo or video support, you won't find it here, but the T2 is packed with plenty of other features. Since it's a UMS device, it not only works as a flash storage device but also is compatible with both Windows and Mac systems. Compatible tracks--MP3, WMA, OGG, FLAC, and WAV--can be transferred to the player by dragging and dropping them in Windows Explorer or Mac Finder, or you can use compatible music management software, such as Windows Media Player (WMP). However, although the player supports M3U playlists (transferred only via the included JetShell software) and allows for one on-the-go list, those transferred via WMP weren't recognized in our tests. However, the T2 is compatible with DRM-10 for subscription music and tracks purchased from stores such as Rhapsody and Napster. If you're not content with your music as is, you can use the T2's various sound effects--Mach3Bass, MP Enhance, 3D--or the five-band custom EQ to adjust the playback. The player includes a built-in FM radio with 24 presets and recording capabilities and a tiny, pinhole mic for voice recordings.
Any way you slice it, the T2 sounds fantastic. Even the included earbuds output decent sound, though we found them a touch uncomfortable and loathe to stay in our ears. Through our Shure E4c test 'buds, music coming from the T2 was rich, detailed, and warm. Sound was never muffled, there was no discernable background hiss, and the high end was clear and defined while bass was tight and punchy--everything you could ask for in an MP3 player. FM signals also came in clear, with the T2 picking up every station in the area. Our one complaint here is that the volume was considerably lower for FM radio than for digital tunes, and the sound levels would vacillate as we walked around the city, but the latter no doubt was due to varying reception as we moved. The T2 is capable of outputting at an ear-splitting volume, so take heed. The one area of performance where the T2 does not shine is battery life. It's rated for 12 hours, but ran for only 10.5 hours in CNET Labs tests. That's OK for a player this size, but we'd have liked it to be longer.
In the box with the T2, Cowon throws in the proprietary USB cable, a set of lanyard earbuds, a quick-start guide, and a software disc. The latter includes Cowon's JetAudio media player and a separate JetShell music organizer. JetAudio is a fun and useful jukebox, but JetShell is a rather tired-looking app--we wish Cowon would combine the two into a seamless experience.