Cowon is one of the biggest names after Apple in portable audio and has quite a range of models which are generally well regarded for sound quality.
The Cowon i9 is a diminutive player, about 8mm thick and a little longer but narrower than a credit card, is a budget model, tested here in 8GB guise (though higher capacities are available).
It does a fair range of things, including showing videos and still pictures on the colour display, storing documents, FM radio and even voice recording. It’s reasonably intuitive to operate, though the combination of side-mounted buttons and front-panel touch controls takes a little getting used to.
Connection to a computer is simple enough but, annoyingly, requires a system reboot on first operation. File transfer is most easily done by dragging and dropping using your usual computer file system.
We were impressed by the sound of the i9. We tested it exclusively with CD-format WAV files, of which it can store 14 hours, though lossless FLAC (same quality level) increases that to about 28 hours.
It has a full-bodied and clear sound, best appreciated through more upmarket head/earphones than the supplied ones. With well-produced recordings we were able to hear a lot of detail and some very nice imaging too and there is enough output on tap to drive less sensitive headphones to a satisfying level.
The FM radio is, as usual, iffy, relying on the headphone lead for an antenna, but if signal strength is good the sound’s acceptable.
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