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-- Cowon iAudio 7 review -- with lots of pictures (no blurry cell phone shots)

post #1 of 123
Thread Starter 
Why I chose the Cowon iAudio 7
Well, here is a brief summary.

Years ago I bought my first mp3 player - a Cowon U2 when they first came out. Loved everything about it, but 1GB wasn't large enough as my music collection grew.

Bought a Creative Zen 16GB. After about 10 months with the Zen I broke out the old U2 and fell in love with the Cowon sound again. The difference is that big, so I had to get another Cowon. Just HAD to.

Bought the D2 16GB. I had it for almost 2 weeks and returned it. I will explain why later on in the review.

Bought the iAudio 7 16GB version (FW 1.17) and there is no looking back.

What comes in the box

Player, USB data transfer cable, software, ear buds, manual.

Truth be told, I've never touched the software, cable, or the manuals because I don't need either. I have about a half dozen USB to mini-USB cables laying around. This is the great thing with Cowons - the simple, almost universal USB plugs. I love it. The earbuds are just typical stock buds, with a foam shielding around each. Nothing spectacular.

First impressions
Coming straight from the D2, and even comparing them A/B/A/B the i7 is without doubt the better sounding of the two players. My first impression physically was that the i7 was about the size as I expected from the pictures; short and compact and a lot like my U2. Pictures of the D2 online do not portray how small that player is in real life, the i7 looks the same online and in real life.

Right out of the box I figured out the menu and interfaces in about 5 minutes. It's not exactly rocket science, but knowing Cowon's interface will shave a couple minutes off your learning time. While not the most cleverly laid out menu, it works for me and is NOT overly complicated like some reviews suggest. If they say otherwise, they take you for a big idiot.

I like the small form factor, it's a bit pudgey compared to wafer thin players like the Nano or the Zen, but I prefer the extra "heft". Besides, I'll gladly give up some size for a bigger battery life. Cowon mops the floor with Apple in that regards, more on that later.

It's also nice to have the FM radio on my mp3 player, but chances are I will never use it unless I'm at a ball game.

Screen, controls, buttons
Look, the screen is very small, there's no question about it. It's only about 1.25 inches, so don't bother buying this player if you're going to be watching movies on it. You'll probably go cross-eyed. The screen is sufficiently clear for being so small. Aside from the album art, I've loaded a couple pictures I've taken with my Nikon D300 on it and they look nice, not great.

I didn't buy this player for watching movies, displaying pictures, or staring at album art so I turned the album art off so I just have white text on a simple black background. The text itself is very small, but there is a "fix/patch" on ABI to make the text bolder. I haven't installed it.

The "swing touch" is a breeze to use, and SO MUCH better than the D2 touch screen. The swing touch is a little sensitive right out of the box but you can adjust the sensitivity, mine is at LOW and it works flawlessly. I can cruise through the menu and lists effortlessly now, and much faster than any other player I've owned. You can move your finger up and down on the slider and the menu scrolls accordingly. Or, you can just press and hold one end of the slider and the menu scrolls and scrolls until you release your touch. This makes scrolling through an entire library VERY easy and quick. It really makes Apple's circular scroll look silly, sorry Apple fanboys.

The touch buttons are: fwd/rev or ffw/rwnd or scroll up/down, and a play/pause button. There are 3 tactile buttons on top: power, menu, and volume +/-. There is a mic hole on top as well. The power button has a "hold" function so you can lock out the swing touch from accidental moves. This is nice for the gym. On one end is the headphone out port and the other end is the charging port.

Why the i7 is better than the D2 (for me)
Build - I returned the D2 because physically, it wasn't for me. Although it looks swank and fancy with it's new age touch screen it was just too delicate for my needs. I was constantly afraid I would damage the screen by either puncturing it or scratching. I just can't throw the D2 in my pocket with my cell phone - I can with my i7. Plus, the D2 is larger than the i7 which makes it less portable to use in the gym, for example. I would never think about using the D2 at the gym because I would be too afraid of putting it in my pocket and the sweat/moisture ruining the screen, or other damages. The touch screen on the D2 just isn't "all that" like I was expecting. It wasn't as accurate as I was hoping for. I have average size hands and I was extremely annoyed with it. Trying to navigate the D2 while driving is a NIGHTMARE.

I'm also an avid mountain biker, I would never consider bringing the D2 as I hit the trails - it's just too delicate. I can throw my i7 in my pocket, stick it in a pocket on my Camelback, and not worry about it. Hell, if it fell out while riding I still wouldn't worry. I would have a stroke if the D2 fell out onto the trail. I bought a clear hard case for the i7 and think it looks great, and protects nicely.

D2 vs. i7 sound - To my ears the i7 sounds much warmer, fuller, and more robust compared to the D2. Before I bought the D2 I read many reviews that said it has a "cold, analytical" sound and to their credit - they're right. Even with all the BBE and Mach3Bass turned on it never sounded as good as the i7. The i7 volume goes to 40 but I never go above 22-25.

I think the i7 has more "oomph" in the sound, it's more lively and "meaty" for lack of a better word. Although they are both Cowons, they do not sound anything alike. I usually flip between the ROCK and my own Custom EQ settings with BBE and Mach3Bass at about 4 each and it sounds perfect. Flat EQ is boring to me, I like a little thicker low end and warm mids compared to some. All of the pre-set EQ options sound terrible in my car's Bose soundsystem, but the Custom EQ settings sound great. Go figure.

-- I don't have "bass roll off" graph charts or anything like that, I don't wear a pocket protector or live in my parent's basement - but the i7 sounds excellent in every regard. Clear highs, nice weighted bass, sparkling acoustics. Strictly audio sounding, there is nothing I would change about it. There is a very faint hiss on some albums, but nothing to even consider. (these are usually crap 128kbps files, or almost ALL Jefferson Airplane)

D2 vs. i7 battery - D2 claims "up to" 52 hours audio playback, while the i7 chalks up 60 hours. Both of these stats whip the snot out of Cowon's competitors. Apple claims "up to" 24 hours on the Nano [insert hysterical laughing and pointing].

To be honest, I use my i7 for 3-5 hours a day on average with some days over 8 hours and I charge my i7 about once every couple weeks.

File transfer
If you've ever transfered a file onto a USB thumb drive, you can transfer a file to the i7. It's that easy. When you plug it into your PC it is recognized as a removable drive, so just copy and paste the files into the music folder, or pictures/movies into their respective folders.

No silly propreitary software to use, no annoying syncing, none of that. If you like doing circular thumb exercises while being forced to use lame-o software to move your files around, the Cowon i7 is not for you. The notion of being required to use a propreitary software just to move MY files onto MY player is insane and insulting. Copy. And. Paste. In your face.

I choose to browse by File Name, though the i7 does support ID3 tag browsing. I also browse by Folders which makes things so easy. I don't use playlists so I cannot atest to that. I have a FOLDER named "workout songs" with a couple hundred songs on it that I play in SHUFFLE mode that works really well. You can also set the boundary of your shuffle from single, folder, or sub folder.

In closing..
The i7 is the perfect player for me. 16GB is plenty of room for me, it's small yet durable, incredible battery life, fast interface, simple file transfer, multiple file formats, and sounds amazing. FLAC sounds awesome one it. Most of my mp3 and WMA are 320 or 192kbps files (with a few ancient 128kpbs) and they sound beautiful.

This is the best sounding player I have heard. This includes listening to my wife's 120GB ipod classic, her 4GB ipod mini, my brother in law's ipod touch, my co-workers Sansa Clip, and my own players. It goes without saying the i7 has far more customizable EQ settings that ipods can even dream of, and to top if off, it just sounds better. The U2 is the second best, but a distant second place. (the U2 sounds a LOT like the Clip to my ears)

If you are considering the D2, think hard about it. For some, the lack of a memory expansion slot is a deal breaker. The i7 is probably up your alley if you're not sure about touch screens or you want a small portable player. I solidly recommend this player.

Update: Quote from page 2 here that needs mentioning:
---> On a side note, I wanted to mention something about the incredible battery life. Last weekend my wife and I went up to Niagara falls for our anniversary. We listened to the i7 through my car's stereo for most of the 6 hour drive up there, when we checked into our hotel I handed the keys over to the valet and forgot to take my i7 out of the car and accidentally left it running (this was on friday morning at 10am). I didn't want to go through the hassle of telling the valet to go get my car just so I could shut it off, so I let it go.

When we checked out of our hotel Sunday at noon the i7 was still playing, with 1 bar of battery left. It had been playing for more than 2 full days, so we listened to it for the entire way home without it going dead. I turned it on again about 30 minutes ago and I'm still listening to it right now this very second, on that same charge. Unbelievable. Try that with your ipod. Eat your heart out, Apple.
post #2 of 123
Thread Starter 

Compared to U2

Compared to U2

post #3 of 123
what a great review ka-boom and certainly, no poor mobile phone shots. i had much fun reading and remembering my cowon days. to apple's credit, no mp3 player i have ever tried by them lasted anywhere near their stated battery claims. my 3g nano lasted up to 33 hours (rated 22) and my ipod touch (rated 22) lasted up to 28. my d2 however never got more than 45 hours even without sd card.

i hope you enjoy it heaps. are you using your iems much with it? the ones i tried over a year ago hissed quite a bit, but has the new one changed? i have never heard the klipsch 3 or the jays s-jay, so i have no idea if they are very sensitive or not.
post #4 of 123
Thread Starter 
Thanks! I should have included what I listen with. I would say it breaks down as follows:

40% of my listening with my Audio Technica ES7
30% of my listening with my Custom 3's
30% of my listening with my d-Jays

I just don't notice the hiss many people have reported. When there is hiss, it's only because of old recordings or poor quality (128 vs. 192+) I have downloads from usenet and newsgroup days - that's probably older than some of the readers here. Don't get me wrong, tracks/albums that hiss will hiss on any IEM or headphone I play them on. Most of my Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and Zeppelin all hiss no matter what I play them on. While newer stuff from Buble, Jack Johnson, and David Gilmour produce none.

Oh, I should also mention I ordered the Fiio E5 last week, so god only knows when it will show up.
post #5 of 123
Where did you get the protective case for the i7?
post #6 of 123
Great review. The i7 looks smaller than I anticipated. Does the touch control also provide feedback (for blind use)?
post #7 of 123
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Rip N' Burn View Post
Where did you get the protective case for the i7?
Plastic case clear for iAUDIO 7 / 6, No belt/armband loop

$11 from Jetmall.

Originally Posted by walkingman
Great review. The i7 looks smaller than I anticipated. Does the touch control also provide feedback (for blinde use)?
Nope, but that is a pretty nifty idea.
post #8 of 123
Nice review. I have the U3 and it's been a great player but my two gripes are no gapless and sorting by song title instead of album order (without renaming). Has this been addressed with the 7 and other Cowon players? Thanks...
post #9 of 123
Thread Starter 
There is no gapless with my U2, the i7, or the D2.

To be honest, it's just a split second *blip* between tracks I couldn't care less.

And yes, I am a HUGE pink floyd fan and can appreciate how the songs melt together on a lot of their albums. But it's such a minor, minor inconvenience it's not even worth mentioning.
post #10 of 123

Very nice review and pics, I really like my i7.

Two gripes that I have:
The swing touch is very sensitive to static so occasionally playback and navigation become impossible until restart.
Trying to 'unhold' the player to change folders, sometimes sends it into fast forward or fast rewind.

Have you experienced anything similar?

To be fair, these are only minor gripes, as the player is generally a pleasure to use and a joy to listen with.
post #11 of 123
Nice review, I really liked the I7, but the Sony just sounded better to my ears. The I7 is for sure a very good player though. Thanks for your inputs.
post #12 of 123
Very Nice review ka-boom,

My first mp3 player was the U2 also..a red one 256mb. I've since gave it to a friend who still has it. I got spoiled with the Cowon sound and ever since nothing sounds as good.
I also have the U3 and G3 and the D2 and soon the S9 when the 32gb comes out. When I first got my D2 about 2 tears ago I was disappointed with the sound compared to my U2 but after about a couple months the D2's sound grew on me and after listening to my U2 again I actually like my D2 better. The U2 was warmer but has less detail and less airiness then the D2. But both still have the Cowon sound signature.

Nice to see you're back with Cowon again...
post #13 of 123
Thread Starter 
Straight out of the box the sensitivity was set at "normal", which was too touchy for my liking. Moving it down to "low" is ideal. I've never had any issues with static, maybe my case has something to do with it??
post #14 of 123
I wonder how the sound compares to the Sony DAP's, anyone have them both?
post #15 of 123
Great review, I'm also in love with my I7!

I have it set up so when HOLD-mode is on, I can swith songs by pressing the top buttons - and +. Or fast forward with holding them down.

I also have the "custom" Noreve leather case.
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