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.
Video encoding through the supplied JetAudio conversion software was slow on a fairly average computer. Quality's good though, and video is crisp and smooth when played back on the D2. Photos too look beautiful on the bright, high-resolution screen. Music, video and indeed all files can be organised into folders simply through Windows Explorer (or the Mac and Linux equivalents). Small text is still clear on the screen and several pages were perfectly readable without hurting our eyes too much.
We had great fun using a Windows Paint-style application that lets you draw pictures using the stylus. Pointless, but very cool. There's a touch-controlled calculator and an Adobe Flash player that allows you to play back Flash files, though none of our videos or animations would play. Recording voice is simple enough even for your grandma, and the sensitive microphone enables high bit-rate encoding to sound crystal-clear.
Despite having an SD slot, recordings made using the D2 cannot be saved to SD cards. This would've been a useful feature, letting you fill the internal memory with music, and recording lectures, for example, to SD cards.
Cowon's new D2 is an outstanding player, with stellar sound quality, an unbelievable array of features and settings, and great functionality. Its solid design will appeal to image-conscious gadgetholics too. The downside is that navigating the player takes some getting used to, both because of menu design and the unusual use of a touchscreen.
Still, this is the only player where you'll get DAB radio, full movies and lossless audio in the palm of your hand.
Supplier: Advanced MP3Players.com
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide