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Cowon iAudio 6 (4GB) review: Cowon iAudio 6 (4GB)

Cowon iAudio 6 (4GB)

James Kim
Account in memoriam for the editor.
James Kim
4 min read

The $250 iAudio 6, Cowon's first microdrive player, rivals most flash players in compactness, thanks in part to a 4GB, 0.85-inch hard drive. This feature-packed and excellent-sounding player/recorder supports all sorts of music, video, and photo files (but no album art), and it boasts a slick, high-resolution 1.3-inch OLED screen. While the iAudio 6's interface is an improvement upon that of past Cowon players, it can still be tricky to use. We also believe that Cowon, despite utilizing cutting-edge HDD technology, should have opted for more reliable flash memory, or at least produced a 6GB or 8GB version. Yet, we can't question this player's deft looks and high-octane performance.


Cowon iAudio 6 (4GB)

The Good

The Cowon iAudio 6 is a supercompact hard drive audio, video, and photo player with excellent format support and performance (bright sound and solid battery life). A vivid and colorful OLED screen, FM radio, line-in and voice-recording capabilities, and an updated touch interface make this one of the most advanced microdrive players to date.

The Bad

The Cowon iAudio 6's touch interface takes some getting used to, and the device is easiest to operate with two hands. Also, the hard drive device is more likely to malfunction than a flash player. No carrying case or lanyard is included. Like with the iPod Nano and the Samsung Z5, you pay a premium for the size of the iAudio 6.

The Bottom Line

The stacked yet compact 4GB Cowon iAudio 6 is a true performer, but the touch-sensitive interface will cause problems for some.

The iAudio 6 follows in the Cowon tradition of being packed to the gills with features. It is an MP3, WMA (including subscription tracks), OGG, FLAC, and WAV audio player; an MPEG-4 (AVI) video player; a photo viewer, complete with a three-by-three grid of thumbnails and zoom/pan features; an FM tuner with 24 autoscannable presets; and a voice and line-in recorder. High-resolution graphics and data pop off the colorful, 160x180-pixel OLED screen, though the display is highly reflective outdoors.

Photos and video, as small as they are, are sharp and easy on the eyes. The new icon-based main-menu system is arranged in a slick rainbow curve, and the dedicated menu and volume buttons come in handy as you tackle the iAudio 6's array of features.

The Cowon iAudio 6 is an ideal size--not iPod Nano thin but extremely pocketable, at 2.75 by 1.25 by 0.75 inches and 2.12 ounces. It's only slightly bigger than the iAudio U3, but it has a bigger screen and more storage. Cowon employs a new touch-sensitive interface for the main controllers. The diagonal slider stripe (a.k.a. Swing Touch) makes for smooth navigating--once you get used to it. Swing Touch allows for some atypical navigation, including forwarding and reversing through tracks with a slide of the thumb, scrolling through songs on the playback screen when paused, or skipping by track or by 2, 4, and up to 30 seconds of the song at a time; you can specify from many options in the general-settings area. We also like that you can customize the functions of the Menu button (we've set ours up to activate the EQ upon a long hold) and the red Record/Back button (we have ours on "add song to dynamic playlist").

The 4GB Cowon iAudio 6 next to the similarly priced 4GB Apple iPod Nano. The sheathed Nano is thinner, but the hard-drive-based iAudio 6 has many more features.

The Cowon iAudio 6's menu button is critical to navigation. It toggles through three modes: the main menu, the playback screen, and the file directory. If you're in Music, you'll default to an improved music-browsing screen--thanks to the latest 1.20 firmware upgrade, one that includes browsing by artist, song, album, playlist, favorites, new music, and so on. This is done in MTP mode; for Mac users and those who prefer the classic folder tree, you can set the iAudio 6 in UMS/file browser mode. The playback screen features lots of customizable info, as well as a graphical level meter. File types are distinguishable icons, such as MP3, WMA, or JPG, for example.

Cowon is inching closer to a fault-free interface, but it's not out of the woods yet. The touch-sensitive buttons can be wishy-washy. Sometimes we'd accidentally activate a function, and other times, we couldn't get the fast scroll (holding at the end of the slider) to engage. We highly recommend activating the hold switch while you're in a mobile state. Also, operating the diagonal slider can be awkward; we suggest you handle it with two hands--just be gentle with it! The rest of the player is so nice that it might be worth your trouble to master the controls. Another thing: It uses a small drive, but it's still susceptible to shock. Cowon may have been better off using a flash drive, which it will introduce in the 2GB version of the iAudio 6, though we predict a 4GB flash iAudio 6 would be priced higher than the competitive $250 watermark.

The Cowon iAudio 6's sound quality is superb--it has a good dynamic range with bright sound and nice bass--and it gets a boost from Cowon's excellent set of equalizers (seven settings, plus a user-definable five-band EQ) and BBE surround and bass enhancements. It records to 128Kbps WMA files, and they sound great. Voice recordings are easy to make, though the internal mic picks up noise when you touch the device.

Battery life for the internal rechargeable battery is rated for 20 hours; CNET Labs got a little more than 18 hours, which is respectable. While the internal processor can handle multitasking--that is, viewing photos and listening to music--you'll notice minute pauses while rapidly skipping through tracks, which is characteristic of hard drive players. You'll also have to contend with a long 20-second boot-up time.

To top off the feature list, the Cowon iAudio 6 can be used as a text viewer and a USB host for transferring digital images from cameras. You can bookmark songs, as well as tweak the playback speed, resume, autoplay, fade in, and so forth; basically, if you want a small player you can twiddle with, this is the one. The iAudio 6 ships with standard earbuds; a line-in cable; a USB cable; a USB host cable; a certificate for 100 free music downloads from eMusic; and a software CD with JetShell/JetAudio VX software, which--among other things--helps you get your photos and video on to the device.

The durable USB door.

Cowon has produced another gem of a high-end multimedia player. Ease of use has improved a tad--it's more intuitive, to be exact--but the physical controller should be tested by prospective buyers. Nevertheless, the Cowon iAudio 6 will be a big hit among the MP3 underground, thanks to great performance, as well as a slick set of features and format compatibility.


Cowon iAudio 6 (4GB)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 8