Cowon America iAudio 5
Cowon America (formerly JetAudio) was wise not to tinker with the formula for its exceptional iAudio 4 flash MP3 player. Its successor, the iAudio 5, adds USB 2.0 support and improved battery life but otherwise offers the same set of rich features and stellar audio performance.
The iAudio 5 comes in four capacities: 256MB ($119), 512MB ($149), 1GB ($199), and 2GB ($299). If there's one complaint we have right off the bat, it's that the player is on the pricey side; for example, the Creative MuVo Micro boasts the same features yet costs about 20 percent less on average. It's worth mentioning that Cowon is one of the first companies to release a 2GB flash player, but it's not ready for the prime time, thanks to its colossal price tag. The color of the device depends on the memory size you choose; the 256MB version is accented with red, the 512MB model with blue, and the 1GB and 2GB units with black.
The black-and-white casing of our 1GB test unit isn't particularly striking, but the iAudio 5 feels well constructed, and at 3 by 1.4 by 0.7 inches and weighing a shade less than 1 ounce, it makes for an appropriate workout companion. The buttons are small but feel sturdy enough to withstand constant use. The play/fast-forward/rewind and menu controls use three-way rockers on either side of the unit; they're easy to activate accidentally, so you'll want to hit the hold switch when the device is in a bag or a coat pocket. Included in the packaging are a USB cable and a removable plug, which allow the device to work as a plug-in player. Unfortunately, there's no armband, which would be handy for exercise.
For a small flash player, the Cowon iAudio 5 has a rather dense menu structure. This can get a little annoying when navigating music files; DRM-protected songs are automatically stored in subfolders in the music folder, which means you have to back out a couple of layers to get to the main folder. However, once you get used to the fact that you need both rockers to navigate the menus, you should be able to move through the options fairly quickly.
A unique characteristic of the iAudio 5 has to be its multicolored LCD backlighting, which can display up to 1,000 randomized hues based on adjustments to the red, green, and blue settings. You can set colors for playback, FM mode, menus, and even song changes. As the lights aren't particularly bright, we're not sure how useful they are, but they certainly add to the player's fun factor. The display itself is small but surprisingly wide and packs a lot of song information on the screen.