Pros: Sleek 'n' Elegant design, Good Screen, Amazing Sound, Semi-parametric EQ, Decent Battery Back-up, Semi-Customizable UI, Excellent EQ presets
Cons: Crappy touch controls, FLAC support only till 44kHz, Not Gapless, No expandable memory
I bought this player just to try out some different audio equipment. To check out variation between different brands, etc. Unfortunately I had to get rid of my Rockboxed Fuze to buy this. Funny thing about the Sansa folks... My Clip+ died on me and the were out of stock on 'em. So I got the Fuze as a replacement :) Anyway, so I bought this thing through eBay. I'm going to be writing this review from the point of view of a consumer transitioning into an audiophile as this was the first time I actually spent so much on something like this.
Unboxing: I don't have the pics, but the box was really cool. It was an oblong cardboard box. The label, description, etc. was written in white. The box opens like a pack of cigarettes i.e. you have to flip open one end of the box and slide out the plastic tray holding the player, docs, cord and a not-so-bad pair of Cowon SE2s.
Body: The body is sleek and fits snugly into your pocket due to those smooth, curved contours. The serial no., model and model no. are printed on the velvet-like back (soft textured like the Fuze but more plastic than metal). There's also a small horizontal groove on the lower end for the speaker, covered on the inside with a fabric like material. The front is completely glass with the brand name (barely visible) under the screen. The bottom 1/3rd of the surface is covered in dots that are supposed to look like a futuristic surface you can gave commands through brain waves or something. But I'll get to this part later.
Screen: I didn't really buy this thing for watching movies and stuff. I just needed enough screen area to see my track list since I listen to a lot of different kind of music and a larger screen helps to keep track. But the resolution is a bit annoying. Definitely not suitable to watch videos. Actually, more than resolution, it is the gap between the pixels that is annoying. It feels like you are watching things through a chicken fence.
UI & Controls: This is where it goes South for most of the people. This and the screen. The i10 UI is complex. No doubt. But the menu is customizable. This removes half the complexity. The other half is in the way you need to control music. There is no workaround for this. It just needs some getting used to. The functions for the dotted corners on the touch/track pad are displayed on the four corners of the screen. Since I had a PSP-2000 before, it didn't take me much time to get the hang of this (Similar display of function on the screen). One big downside is the absence of file management. With a screen this big you should have an option to move things around as you like. And the other stuff that should usually accompany a big screen such as font size, etc. are lacking too. As for the touch/trackpad, remember the mind control thingy...? Well, it not only does not read your mind but it also acts stubborn when you try to physically coax it. There's an option to control the touch sensitivity, but I am not sure how that works. Whether it increases the sensitive area around the keys or just recognises an input with a lighter touch... It's a mystery. I have had the player since more than 2 years and I just got the hang of the scrolling controls. So yeah... Crappy controls. There is one cool feature though... The track stops playing when you remove the 3.5mm jack. The downside is, it goes into sleep and starts draining battery.
Battery: So far I don't have any complaints in this area. But, I usually listen to 320/256 bitrate mp3s. Not much FLAC... Low memory and all. usually use the i10 when I am in office and such. It easily lasts me 3 days. Also, most people complain that the battery drains a lot during sleep. I noticed this when I first started using the player and so I switched off the sleep function in the settings. No more trouble on that front. Another tip... Keep the brightness down to 1.
Speaker: It's a 0.5 W mono speaker... Not really impressive but t doesn't hurt to have that option.
SQ: Finally the most important part. One major difference I first noticed between the Fuze (my ex audio source) and the i10 was that it sounded more balanced. It lacked those Chinese-y highs and the mids were a bit more well defined. The bass was lower but more filling. Overall, it sounded more refined. The brainwavz M1s that I had bought for the Fuze sounded more pronounced. Probably because of the inherent amp, the sound was richer even at higher volumes, although the Fuze sounded more crisp.
EQ: I am an EQ buff. So, after reading about the Cowon JetEffect, I was eager to try it out. And it is awesome! No matter how much I screwed about with the settings, the tonal balance didn't show any loss in integrity. It has 35 presets, all completely distinct from each other. The BBE presets are especially interesting. They make things sound brighter, depending on what gear you use. This was the case with my Pistons-II. But with the new Pistons (the space grade alloy one...pff), it wasn't as impressive (perhaps because the IEMs are awesome even without the enhancement). I like to keep a V-sig on my source. Low mids. That's where the 4 User slots come in. These four slots can be customized in 3 areas:
1. EQ (EQ) >> Gives access to a 5 band semi-parametric EQ. The 1st band can be set at 80/105/135/175 Hz. 2nd band - 220/300/385/500 Hz. 3rd band - 780/1.1k/1.4k/650 Hz. 4th band - 3k/4.1k/1.8k/2.4k Hz. Last or 5th band - 13k/6.9k/9k/11.7k Hz. All bands' width can be adjusted between Narrow, Normal and Wide. The sound level ranges between-12 to +12 dB.
2. BBE+ (BBE Sound Inc. Enhancements) >> This consists of enhancements licensed by BBE Sound Inc. I don't know what BBE stands for but if you change the BBE option from off to 10, the sound becomes much brighter and well resolved. Mach3Bass is for bass enhancement and again, ranges from OFF to 10. Although I do not use this, I love how the bass refuses to go muddy even at 10. Something I've had trouble with in most players, including my Note II. 3D Surround increases (off-10 again) the soundstage (as if it wasn't wide enough already). MP Enhance (On/Off) - BBE Inc. says that this "restores the natural detail and warmth lost during compression" and I concur. Although not by much but the sound does seem clearer and the tones that seem to hang around in between get pulled to the right places.
3. SE (Stereo Enhancement) >> Stereo Enhancement (Off-6) I don't know how to describe this, but I'll try. This increases the crossfeed difference to move the sound from the front to the sides. Which is something I do not like. So I keep it Off. Reverb (Off-10) - ECHO!...Echo!...echo...
My personal Set-up for my new gear is a Preset (which is a surprise cuz I usually stick to customizing my own) called Feel the Wind... Wide Soundstage, bright sound (trebles) and a vibrant bass like in a live concert...stagefront!
Mic: I haven't tried this out yet so can't write much about it. Except that I have no idea where it is. The description says "omnidirectional". I guess that's what that means.
Colour Therepy: Meh...
Phew! Thanx for reading / Please let me know of any errors, suggestions, etc.