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Cowon S9 Vs iRiver E10: A comparative review

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 
Introduction
The Cowon S9 has been on the block for a little while now, but there have been few reports as to how it performs from a sound quality perspective. While the iPod Touch is a more direct competitor for the S9 in terms of design and features, I wanted to evaluate the S9 on a purely SQ basis against my benchmark DAP, the E10.

The iRiver E10 was arguably the best-sounding player iRiver has released since the mighty iHP120-140 and H320/H340 series. Most of their more recent players have sadly deviated from this heritage of well-built and good-sounding players, and have lead to dissapointments such as the E100 and Lplayer.

I have no past experience with Cowon/iAudio players, but I have owned both the H320 and the E10 for a period of some years each, so I'm familiar with the iRiver trademark sound at its best. I've also owned the S9 for about two months now, familiarising myself with its sound and burning it in.

The test setup
In comparing the S9 to the E10, the following setup was used:
S9 on volume 40, playing EAC-ripped and encoded FLAC files
E10 on volume 40, playing EAC-ripped and encoded Ogg Vorbis files at quality 9 setting
APureSound mini to mini interconnect
HeadAmp Pico for amplification
HD600 as the test 'phones

Pics of the lineup (apologies for crappy camera phone quality):







Caveat: I did not have time to re-rip my music to WAV for the E10, so the quality of tracks used between the two players is not the same. The S9 is playing lossless, while the E10 is using top-quality lossy. Realistically speaking, one cannot tell a difference out of a portable source anyway. I have tried comparing Q9 ogg Vs FLAC on a portable before, and cannot hear the difference, thus it should have no impact on the validity of this test. Onward!

Comparison
I have used a fairly mixed bag of music genres to compare the two players, including progressive metal, heavy metal, and acoustic female vocal. Below are the tracks used and a comparison of how each player performed.

Track 1:
Nightwish - Dark Passion Play - The Islander

Cowon S9:
Very 3-dimensional and sense of space when the storm starts playing in the intro. Instruments remained well seperated, decays were short enough to keep each image distinct, but long enough to allow bass rumbles and string plucks to reverberate.

E10:
Immediately one notices a decrease in the airy 3-dimensionality exhibited by the S9. Decays seem slightly longer, causing plucked instruments to sound less vibrant than on the Cowon. Soundstage seems slightly flattened.

Track 2:
Fleetwood Mac - Landslide

Cowon S9:
Definitely an increase in treble clarity on this player. Guitars come in clearer and sharper, although Stevie's vocals sound slightly distant.

E10:
Stevie's vocals become smoother and fuller on this player, displaying the E10's greater warmth to good effect. Guitar plucks in the background are less dominant and less easy to define, due to a slightly rolled off treble presentation and too heavy a note decay causing images to lose some of their seperation.

Track 3:
Metallica - Black Album - Enter Sandman

Cowon S9:
Perhaps a modicum more bass depth than the E10, very close here though. Increased clarity makes the intro more gripping. Slightly more defined vocals, although vocals also seem thinner.

E10:
Increased decay makes this track sound heavier, which is a good thing in this case. Vocals lose their slight thinness from the S9, however they lose some definition as well. Otherwise very close between the two players.

Update: further comparisons on post #15.

Summary and verdict
The Cowon S9 seems to have the nod over the E10 in the frequency extremes, particularly in treble extension and clarity. Imaging and layering also seems slightly better on the S9, with a shorter decay and less warmth causing less "bleed" of images into each other. The iRiver's greater warmth and longer decays can be beneficial in some areas, though, such as the soft female vocals in Landslide, and for adding body to otherwise thin vocals.

From a purely SQ perspective, my nod goes to the S9 as the superior player, as the added seperation and clarity create a better listening experience when paired with naturally-warm and musical headphones like the HD600 (or my portables, the IE8's for that matter). Add to the fact that the S9 brings a host of superior features to the table, as well - longer battery life, better audio and video format support, bigger and much clearer AMOLED screen, and a true drag-and-drop file support without having to use any bundled software, and the decision becomes clear-cut.
post #2 of 21
Cowon S9 supports gapless playback?
post #3 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by member1982
Cowon S9 supports gapless playback?
Sadly, no.
post #4 of 21
Nice little comparison.
post #5 of 21
warm headphones eh..so the X10 would be nice to pair up with this guy?
post #6 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by Covenant View Post

Track 2:
Fleetwood Mac - Landslide

Cowon S9:
Definitely an increase in treble clarity on this player. Guitars come in clearer and sharper, although Christine's vocals sound slightly distant.

E10:
Christine's vocals become smoother and fuller on this player....
Umm... I'm about 98% sure that's Stevie Nicks in the vocals you're hearing. Nothing on google even points to Christine as having any vocal contribution on that track.
post #7 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ka-boom View Post
Umm... I'm about 98% sure that's Stevie Nicks in the vocals you're hearing. Nothing on google even points to Christine as having any vocal contribution on that track.
You're right, it was Nicks. My bad
post #8 of 21
Shouldnt be both player using loseless for fair comparison? Seem like poor E10 limited due to lossy files. Yes, i know it's hard to differentiate between loseless and HQ lossy but it's better to eliminate any handicap.
post #9 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by toughnut View Post
Shouldnt be both player using loseless for fair comparison? Seem like poor E10 limited due to lossy files. Yes, i know it's hard to differentiate between loseless and HQ lossy but it's better to eliminate any handicap.
Q9 Ogg is indistinguishable from lossless from portable sources, as far as my ears can tell. But i'll have time to rip some WAV this weekend and write an update with some more music genres, with lossless on both players.
post #10 of 21
Indeed a niice little review you did there!

I treated myself to an S9 last week and must say I'm very impressed. I tried different Cowon players in the past due to their status but still found myself ending up selling them after a month. The infamous F2, X5 and D2 have passed my ears but SQ was not my cup of tea. Now the S9 might just be the best sounding DAP I've ever heard. And it has some stiff competition like Sony's MZ-RH1, NWZ-S516, MZ-N700, NW-HD1, NW-HD5, MZ-NH900, NW-S703, NWZ-A818, Cowon F2, X5, D2, Creative Zen V:M, iRiver Clix2, iPod nano 3G, 2G, 1G, 4G, Classic, 5.5G, Touch, Touch 2G, Sansa clip, Samsung YP-K5, Sharp MD-MT200 and some I forgot about.

It's a pretty steep list and I think the S9 beats them all except maybe the MZ-RH1 and the NW-S703.(though I think they are on the same level) Man that were some awsome device back then. (I was/am a bit of a sony DAP fan :P )

So if the E10 sounds anything like the clix2 then I agree with you on all subjects. Cowon S9 beats the E10.

Rgds
post #11 of 21
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ricthaman View Post
So if the E10 sounds anything like the clix2 then I agree with you on all subjects. Cowon S9 beats the E10.

Rgds
I was highly dubious it would, tbh. E10 (and the H320 before it) have been the best sounding DAP's i've heard. However they've had issues that compomises their usability. H320 was too heavy and the buttons too difficult to use, while the E10 had issues with updating its internal database - one could drag and drop files to it, but it wouldnt register them on the player till you ran a database update routine from the iRiver Plus 3 software.
post #12 of 21
Thanks for the comparison.
How do they fare unamped? Does the S9 still best the Iriver to your ears?

How about S9's soundstage (unamped)? That's what I'm worried about the most. I'm waiting for the 32 GB (if it ever comes out) but I think I'll stick to Sony if there's no semblance of soundstage without an amp.

Thanks.
post #13 of 21
Quote:
Originally Posted by dissembled View Post
Thanks for the comparison.
How do they fare unamped?
x2 both sentences. The iriver E10 is a rocking player when paired directly with the Grado RS1. The HD600's aren't very resolving headphones, nor do I know the Pico's sonic signature which just might not fit the E10.
post #14 of 21
Anyone compare this to the zune30 as far as SQ goes? Also why on earth can't anyone make a high capacity DAP with Excellent SQ? So far it looks like the Zunes win out and that front. Tired of these puny flash players I need a 240+ GB DAP with Excellent sound quality and do not want to go the Ipod MOD route.
post #15 of 21
Thread Starter 
Update

As requested, I compared the two again using the same quality tracks. Unfortunately it seems the E10 doesn't support any lossless codecs, even WAV, so it had to be Q9 Ogg Vs Q9 Ogg this time.

I used the below three test tracks:

Track 1: Michael Jackson - Beat It
E10
Increased warmth and decay makes the intro more vibrant. Vocals are slightly more diffused than on the S9.

S9
Slightly more punch to the bass lines, however the track is also slightly colder on this player, making the whole thing less involving.

Track 2: Shpongle - Dorset Perception
E10
Images are diffuse and lack clarity in comparison to the S9. As the music gets more complex, the E10 loses control, and blends all the instruments into one soundfield.

S9
Greater seperation and treble extension helps create a much clearer and more vivid soundstage. Complex electronica like this really showcases the S9's strengths.

Track 3: Shivaree - Goodnight Moon
E10
Greater warmth and longer decay contributes well here, adding a smokiness and smoothness to Shivaree's voice.

S9
Heightened seperation and faster decay detracts somewhat from the intimacy of the track, less presence and warmth behind the vocals.


So it seems that the E10 is mostly suited to mids-centric music and jazz, while the S9 excels at anything more complex, or music centred around the frequency extremes of bass and treble. The mids on the S9 are nothing to sneeze at, they just lack some of the warmth of the E10's.

Quote:
Thanks for the comparison.
How do they fare unamped? Does the S9 still best the Iriver to your ears?
I tested them both with the HD600's straight out of the headphone jack, as well. Oddly, the S9 lacked volume compared to the E10 in this setup, needing to be set to vol 34 to match the E10 on vol 30.

Despite this, the S9 maintained much better control of the HD600's unamped than the E10 did. I used dorset perception as a test track for this as well, and the E10's soundstage basically collapsed even further without the amplification, while the S9 still managed decent seperation and vibrancy.
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