a consumer review of the cowon iaudio 7 mp3 player

A year ago I picked up a Cowon A3 portable media player (music and movies). My goal has been simplicity in my electronics; something the iPod/iTunes empire cannot give me. I’ve been exceedingly satisfied with the A3 in my year of use.

I have stuck with the Cowon brand and just yesterday received my Cowon iAudio 7 ($139). This little guy is basically the equivalent to an iPod Nano; meant to be stuffed in a pocket or worn on the arm. At 16GB, it fits the bill nicely for an on-the-go sort of device. It won’t hold all my music, by far, but it will hold most of the music I use for such purposes (hard rock, techno, breaks).

Using it the first time cannot be easier. Unpackage. Plug the USB cable into a computer. Drag-n-drop files into the Music folder just like any USB flash stick. Unplug, hit play. Done! I copied 13GB of music (3GB were large files) from a networked system to the iAudio in less than 3 hours, so that’s not terrible at all.

The playback is simple as before. Browse to a song to play, and hit play. You can then have the iAudio play back all the songs in that folder, or play all the songs in that folder and subfolders, or all songs on the device. All three of those options can be sequential or shuffled playback. You can loop through your chosen song or loop through the random/sequential setting. My use is to just browse to the folder of music I want (I only have 3 on this), hit play, and hit forward to get the first shuffled song. After that, I just let it go for days without needing to adjust anything other than a pause here and there.

There is rudimentary support for an on-the-fly playlist that you can build, but that’s not something I really use.

The controls take about 15 minutes of use to get used to, but after that are amazingly friendly. If you think they’re a bit sensitive, you can not only turn that down a bit, but also just set the Hold and all buttons will lock.

A few caveats. The device does not have a built-in loop for an armband (though it does have a small loop for a carrying strap). Armband use will require a special case (cheap). There is no AC power cable (it gets power off USB), but this can be bought cheap as well. The earphones are also normal fare (but decent sounding). If you plan on running or being active with them, you’ll probably want something that won’t fall out of your ear.

There are additional features on this than I expected. It has surprising sound recording quality with the built-in mic (not that I’ll use it). It has FM radio support. It does some bookmarking on music files (basically set a bookmark and you can always start the track on that spot; might be useful for full album rips or break sets). Supposedly it can also do some movie playback, but you’ll need to use the Cowon media software to encode the video in a format the iAudio can read. Nice to include, but shouldn’t be the point of this device.