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Cowon iAudio U2 review: Cowon iAudio U2

Cowon iAudio U2

Ben Patterson

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4 min read

The folks at JetAudio have a bona fide hit on their hands with the tiny and sleek iAudio U2. While its flash-memory predecessor, the iAudio 4, was a little dull in the looks department, the U2 boasts stylish and elegant looks, an FM radio, line-in and built-in mic recording, and--if you can afford it--as much as 2GB of memory. While we wish the U2 had more recording options, we heartily recommend this small wonder for music lovers who want their tunes in a teeny, tiny package.

cowon-iaudio-u2-digital-player-flash-1-gb-platinum-black.psd
7.7

Cowon iAudio U2

The Good

Excellent sound quality; small and light; eye-catching looks; FM, line-in, and built-in mic recording; equalizer and several sound effects; USB 2.0 support; no drivers necessary in Windows XP or Mac OS X.

The Bad

Limited recording options; average battery life; no photo or video features.

The Bottom Line

The stylish, flash-memory Cowon iAudio U2 crams great sound quality, an FM radio, and line-in recording into a tiny package.
JetAudio's magnificent U2
Editors' note:
The numeric rating for this product has been changed since the review's original publication. The reason for this is simply the general improvement of technology over time. In order to keep our ratings fair and accurate, it's sometimes necessary to downgrade the ratings of older products relative to those of newer products.
Let's just say it: JetAudio's iAudio U2 is gorgeous, easily one of the best-looking flash-memory players we've tested. Our 1GB black-and-silver review model (256MB Ruby Red, 512MB Ocean Blue, and the new black 2GB flavors are also available) was sleek, shiny, and eye-catching; we literally had strangers asking us for a look. The elegant, rounded corners and the finely threaded silver ring circling the five-way navigational control give the U2 the regal bearing of a Porsche, vs. the flashy lines of the Corvette-like iRiver iFP-790.

Measuring just 2.9 by 1 by 0.7 inches and weighing a mere 1.2 ounces, the U2 is even smaller and lighter than the already tiny iAudio 4 and fits easily in a jeans pocket or around your neck using the included lanyard. The included plastic black-and-gray carrying case sports plenty of openings for the U2's controls but looks a bit cheesy compared to the player itself.

The U2's 128x64-pixel display may look small, but it manages to cram in plenty of information, including artist, album, and track names; time elapsed, time remaining, and a progress bar; graphic music levels; file format and bit-rate info; the current repeat mode; and a battery-life indicator. Unfortunately, we have bad news for fans of the iAudio 4's cool, multicolor background lights: You won't find them on the U2. Blue is all you get.

We love the U2's minimalist but intuitive controls. Unlike other flash-memory players that are riddled with hard-to-use buttons, dials, and controls, the U2 keeps it simple with the five-way navigation control, a record/A-B repeat button, a play/pause button, and a Hold slider. You'd think finding all of the U2's menus, modes, and options would be tough with so few controls, but we were zooming though the player's features within minutes, no manual needed.

Along with a standard USB cable, the U2 includes a key-size USB adapter for on-the-go PC connectivity. JetAudio smartly molded a key-ring hole in the adapter's plastic casing, so you'll likely have it with you at all times. We do wish the included earbuds were woven into the lanyard to cut down on dangling wires.

The JetAudio iAudio U2's setup process is as straightforward as you could hope for: Simply plug the player into your PC's USB 2.0 port and start transferring. The U2 shows up as a drive letter in Windows Explorer, and you can drag and drop music files directly into the player. (MP3, protected WMA, OGG, WAV, and ASF files are supported.) The U2 also comes with JetShell, a basic two-paned music transfer utility, and JetAudio, a snazzy music jukebox, but we ended up using Windows Explorer and Windows Media Player 10.0 for most of our music transfers. Just remember to append your music files with track numbers, or they'll play in alphabetical order.

The U2 comes packed with playback options. First up is a five-band equalizer with presets for rock, jazz, classical, pop, and vocal, along with a user-defined mode. You can also mix in some bass and treble enhancers using BBE and Mach3Bass; add the 3D Surround effect, which just sounded echoey to our ears; and tweak the Pan setting, which is essentially the balance control. Several repeat modes are also available, as well as a shuffle mode and autoresume, which lets you power-off the U2 and later pick up your music where you left it. The U2 lets you create playlists on the fly, but it doesn't support M3U playlists created on your PC; again, JetAudio promises that such support is coming in a future firmware release.

The player's built-in FM radio boasts an above-average 24 presets, and the autoscan feature will find the clearest frequencies and add them to your presets. Unfortunately, the U2's ability to record FM stations (as well as line-in and built-in mic audio) falls short. While you can record directly to MP3, your choice of bit rates ranges from only 96Kbps to 128Kbps, and there's no WAV recording. We'd prefer the ability to record at lower bit rates for long speeches or interviews or make high-bit-rate WAV recordings for music and concerts.

The JetAudio iAudio U2 sounds as good as it looks. With its barely perceptible hiss (95dB), its detailed highs, and its impressive bass (20Hz to 20KHz), we didn't feel the need to gussy up the sound with the player's various mixing effects. We were even impressed with the included, dumbbell-shape earbuds, although we'd still recommend swapping them out for a better pair. There's also no shortage of volume; thanks to the U2's 13mW-per-channel output, you can easily crank it up to earsplitting levels.

If the U2 has an Achilles' heel, it's battery life. We got 15 hours of music from the U2's built-in lithium-polymer battery, 5 hours short of JetAudio's specs--not bad but not great. Transfer rate over USB 2.0 was a below-average 1.86MB per second.

cowon-iaudio-u2-digital-player-flash-1-gb-platinum-black.psd
7.7

Cowon iAudio U2

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 6Performance 8
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