- Headphones used in the comparison: Shure SE530, Klipsch X10i, Yamaha EPH-100, Ultrasone Pro 900
Well, I got the Cowon J3 and it's apparent, that it can easily put out significantly more bass with Mach3bass and EQ than the A867 and is overall the better sounding player with most of my headphones/IEM's. The bass can be tuned to my liking without distorting the sound (at least with my IEM's). Also, I can actually use the EQ on the J3 to tune the sound to my liking as opposed to the Sony, which has a very unrefined EQ tuning. I can for example use the EQ to fine tune the rest of the frequency range to match the Sony A867's sound but make the bass stronger. Midrange and treble sound more clear and prominent on the A867 than the J3, partly because the the A867's sound is brighter overall than the J3's
To me, sound quality and EQ/bass adjustment options are simply better with the J3. The user interface is somewhat better on the Sony A867, but the J3 isn't annoyingly bad. Overall the J3 sounds more full and powerfull. Like I said before, I'm not a basshead, but still the bass department of the A867 is disturbingly weak on almost all of my IEM's. For a person who doesn't care for bass and is more concentrated on midrange and treble it might of course be that the A867 is a very good choise. Also, with bass heavy headphones may fare quite well.
If I was giving points to the two players, it might go something like this:
user interface 7/10
bass 5/10 (mostly because it's too weak)
user interface 8.5/10
With Klipsch X10i the Sony A867 almost puts out enough bass quantity on most albums, but not quite - the bass is left thin especially on albums with poorly recorder bass. On albums with very strong bass, the A867 does just fine, but when commuting or cycling, the bass would be too weak even on many bass heavy tracks. Anyway, the Klipsch X10's are certainly a better match for the A867 than the Shure SE530.
Using the SE530, bass quantity is significantly lower on the A867 than with Cowon J3 and the Clearbass +3 isn't enough on many albums. On the other hand, on the Cowon J3 the bass can be pushed with Mach3Bass and EQ without distortion to required levels. In comparison the Sony A867 is left sounding like a tin can and isn't just enjoyable to listen to. Even without direct comparison to the J3, the severe lack of bass would be apparent. It's not a matter of having or not having excessive bass - you can't even separete the low bass notes properly on tha A867, but on the J3 you can make out the bass lines, synths and so on properly. And with the SE530's it's not just the bass - the sound overall appears worse on the A867, even treble. Switching between the A867 and J3 it's very apparent that the J3 and SE530 are a much better listening experience.
Initial A-B-C comparison shows that with the SE530, I prefer the J3 over the A829 (and I can push the bass on the J3 easily even stronger than the A829 undistorted), but I definitely prefer both over the A867.
With the Ultrasone Pro 900, the amount of bass from the A867 doesn't become much of an issue on most albums and the sound is usually pretty great in every respect with both A867 and Cowon J3. Actually with tracks without a strong bassline the midrange may sound at times a tad better through the Sony A867. Of course, I never listen to the Pro 900's on the move, so that's one reason the amount of bass doesn't become an issue.