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.
User interface and the frightening secrets behind the i10:
The navigation tree has obviously been made by secret terrorist cells who could never contact each others.
The brain whose cover job is designer at cowon, came up with the idea of "one action on each corner of the screen" on a non touch sensitive screen (when you re that messed up you get to be the boss with terrorists)
He also came up with the multi award winning design (true story) that makes sure you will drop it more than a wiimote on a drunk evening. Stuck back to back with an amp it looks and feels stupid, like trying to attach humpty dumpty to the wall with rubber bands.
On the bright side, it looks and feel good in your hand. too bad there is absolutely no reason for you to keep it in your hand. let's see why.
To go back in the menu, our terrorist cells entered obviously in action to make the world tremble in fear. Depending where you are in the menu tree, to go "back" you have either:
"back" binded on the lower right of the touch pad.
Or "home" binded on the lower left.
Or you go back with "backward" binded on the upper left.
Or just validate an option with the "play/pause" binded in the middle of the touch pad.
Need it be said you don't get to decide the one you use. they re terrorists! they randomly give you only 1 working bind to test your level of awareness and remind you they can strike anytime!
Now good stuff:
You got 3 physical buttons, hold/power (depending on the time you spend pressing it) and 2 for volume. When in hold mode, the volume buttons can be in hold, or set volume, or become forward and backward for the tracks.
So in your pocket you change tracks with the volume buttons and when you want to lower the volume the trick is to press hold, change volume and then double tap hold(1 press will "hold" and a second fast one will turn off the screen)
In the end the i10 works in your pocket, not in your hand ^_^
For everyday use it s ok.
I m talking flat EQ and no effect here.
-Those who know cowon sound and the trizillion effects, it s as good as usual.
-To those who never tried a cowon, i m no sound engineer and don't know the fancy lingo i read on head-fi. My feeling is that cowon does with sound what "auto levels" do on a picture in photoshop. It seems to take your sound and stretch it to all the available range. It s not much about cheating, and more about retrieving the full range of informations as your ear would get them, not as a microphone would get them. Giving you in the process the feeling of a better instrument separation through a bigger sound stage.
For example, to me a sansa clip+ is sounding flat and lacking a very little something in the bass. It gives a great analytic sound where you can make out all the instruments perfectly. at the cost in my opinion of sometimes losing the opportunity to enjoy the music as an 1 entity. Well it depends on what you are listening at.
So in that respect cowon gives a little feeling of magic as you keep the enjoyable integrity of the song with a friendly warm sound that will make you move at the tempo like an idiot more often than with the clip+. and at the same time you can physically pick any instrument thanks to a bigger soundstage. But only if you put your mind to it.
I can't get the same sound on the clip+ whatever setting i will use.
I can on my samsungs yp-p2 and yp-p3 using EQ, clarity and 3d a little, but at the cost of recessed vocals. And all that to get a flat cowon sound ....
So as long as only sound matters cowon is probably more enjoyable for everyday use. +the range of effects and EQ usually let you get the sound you really love in the end.
I wouldn't take a chance in a cowon vs sony sound as they re both good and warm. It would come down to individual tastes.
And about the expensive bricks this forum loves so much, i never swam in those waters because i can't get myself to put 800$ on something with not even 10h of battery life. So you ll have to ask people who got one about how good they are.
They give 38h music and 6.5h video on Cowon website.
I would say around 15h on average, as you will probably EQ and effect abuse over flac.
Also it goes is sleep mod when OFF, so any idle period is slowly using the battery. (can turn it off with long push on both + and - volume buttons)
Thx to the terrorists you can get the best out of this battery, as you won't use the screen much:
No game, booby trapped UI, and the worst viewing angle i ve ever seen on a screen, too small to enjoy video anyway.
might be a bit weak for voracious cans, but hey you got an amp for those cans anyway don't try to fool me here!
So more than often you will wonder why you can't go back directly to the playing track, or to the home page.
But almost wherever you are in the UI you can miss-clic and get the color background settings.
The idea is that light will affect your mood depending on the color, and that is about the truth.
Its impact on my brain is : "wtf that s the third time today that i go into the colorstuff menu, give me a break!"
Yes this little thing can change your mood and get you mad.
I wake up with a clock that brings light up step by step, i bought 2 lights with a remote to get whatever color you like in your room. So i m pretty much sold on that light and color therapy. and that feature on the i10 is idiotic! It s not just useless, it s a bother.
Line out: troll
no line out :'(
you can get a line in cable to record from external devices, some will have use of this, for everybody else it s useless.
Latest driver is supposed to fix usb connection issues some experienced http://www.cowonglobal.com/zeroboard/zboard.php?id=C08&no=470
About this i suggest to use the wise and famous telling by Platon: "if it works don't f****ng touch it!"
+2physical buttons you set for volume or track switching in your pocket. (with a little use you do both)
+Sound is pleasant, with the usual cowon signature and army of effects.
+No hiss, i can't stand hissing. At any volume, or amped, i got something pretty clean with jh13 so you can relax. (edit: clean also with To Go! 334, cleanest low price dap I know)
+Pretty small and light in regard to post 2010 "bigger than tv" portable dap trend (terrorists are everywhere), yet not a clip+ or a nano.
+Battery is ok+, you can expect between 10 to 25hours depending on your use.
-Little audible "tic" on any physical action on the power/hold button, and also when volume passes from 0 to 1 or to 29 to 30 in both directions(max lvl is 40). most won't even notice, serial killer maniacs like me will go mad.
-100% terrorist made user interface.
-You get a music player, nothing else (it s pretty much a + if you want a dap for ... music)
-The J3 bests it in every aspect except for sound quality which based only on my memory was the same usual cowon sound. (you can kill me if i m wrong here)