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The gentle but articulate Korean manufacturer Cowon could only have made us smile more about its iAudio D2 MP3 player had it jammed a banana firmly between our lips. Now, it has upped the spec on the flash-based player to include a DAB radio. What does this mean for you, the eager consumer? Quite simply that a good player may well have just got better.
The D2 is still a gadget that looks like a gadget. There's something about it that makes you want to buy one even if you don't need it. The Gadget Shop was a whole business built around that idea, and Cowon's shiny new player would've fit in beautifully. The solid body feels like a tiny Archos 404, with great build quality to match.
An SD slot sits on the underside of the body, allowing up to 2GB of extra capacity. A fake, plain-coloured SD card sits in this socket to protect it from dust and damage when not being used. Some tactile buttons have parked themselves on the top of the player next to a physical lock switch. There's also a curious slot for a curiously designed stand -- a little dongle props the player almost vertically or, when not connected to the player, acts as a tiny stylus for use with the touchscreen.
It's not just the design that reminds us of an Archos player, the navigational interface is also reminiscent. Its large blue display hosts nine function icons, each selectable with a gentle prod of the screen. Backgrounds can be changed to any photo in your library and some of the stock photos look beautiful. There are plenty of little menus once you start browsing files and folders, but navigation is simple after a little learning curve. Hardened technophobes may take a day or two to really grasp the system.
File support is, as expected, extensive. Music in MP3, WMA, WAV, FLAC (lossless audio) and OGG formats will play, along with 30fps WMV video. JPEG photos can be browsed either file-by-file or within slideshows (there's a zoom function, too) along with text files and song lyrics. Curiously, the D2 comes pre-loaded with the Bible in the UK, and the Qur'an in Korea.
A built-in microphone will capture your voice at various WMA bit rates up to a stunning 256kbps. The same is also true for stereo line-in recording and real-time capturing of radio, the latter of which can be scheduled to record automatically. A vast set of equaliser presets and variables are also at your disposal. Also worth noting is the huge range of tweakable options, such as track scan length, panning, resume mode (good for audiobook fans) and a fade-in function.
We began our sound test with complex arrangement of Dream Theater's Stream Of Consciousness. As we've come to expect from Cowon, sound quality was superb. Highs and lows were equally balanced, with excellent definition and explosive power. John Petrucci's layered guitars are thick and forcefully driven, while carefully balanced with complex drum patterns and intense synthesised keyboard performances, each reproduced by the D2 with superb clarity. It's worth noting that the EQ settings are effective, but will require some experimentation to find the ones most suited to you.
The DAB radio doesn't disappoint and sound quality's great, as long as signal strength is adequate. We had mixed results in our office but outside, for the most part, performance was good. Channels can be viewed in a couple of ways. The list form was easiest to navigate, although the touch-sensitive scroll bars within menus took some getting used to.