You could be forgiven for thinking that Cowon is something of an also-ran in PMP land. Do you, or does anyone you know, own one? But there's a cult following that claims the Koreans make the best-sounding players available – and that means its latest offering warrants our attention.
The S9 is Cowon's golden boy. It's the first to feature BBE+ audio enhancement tech, so though its large touchscreen display would appear to be the headline functionality, it's actually all about the sound quality.
The S9 is an attractive and well-made player, built entirely from plastic – nice plastic, mind – with a slim, pocketable profile and fetching curved back. The big screen takes up most of its front in iPod Touch style.
The S9's interface is, in a word, strange. It has some neat tricks, including the ability to zoom in and out on text to simplify navigation, but it's not reactive enough for seamless operation.
And at times, it’s utterly confusing, requiring a combination of touchscreen taps and skip button clicks (odder still as the skip button is on its top) to get you where you want to go.
PC gone mad
Similarly odd is the supplied PC software, Jet Audio. It clutters your PC's screen with numerous windows, harking back to the dark days of MusicMatch, and makes transferring files (or even finding them) a bit of a chore.
But with complexity comes power. Its speedy transcoding plugin makes getting video on to the S9 a cinch, which is more than can be said for most big-name rivals.
Better still, file transfer is ludicrously quick. It also handily integrates with Emusic, so if you're a subscriber, tracks can be downloaded in-program. If you want to keep it simple you can always use Windows Media Player. We would.
Once you've crammed its modest memory (there's a 16GB version too – we'd like to see more) it's time to have some fun. And it's all fun.
The sound with a high-quality MP3 or FLAC file is truly excellent. We wouldn't normally countenance switching on sound enhancement, but BBE picks out every last detail. It can add harshness to the top end, so best try it for yourself.
Video is similarly superb. The tilt-sensitive screen isn't actually any higher resolution than others on the market (in fact, it’s lower than the iPod Touch), but because it uses OLED, the contrast and viewing angle are unrivalled.
Colours are incredibly vibrant and movement is flawless. You can while away serious time watching videos on the S9, especially given its battery life is 11 hours.
There's more than music and video. It has an FM radio – one that holds a good signal, too – and a handy voice recorder. Bluetooth A2DP also allows it to be used with wireless headphones, but why spoil that glorious sound?
Lacks the Midas touch
Even with these extra functionalities, though, the S9 seems a mite expensive. Consider the functionality of the iPod Touch – the Wi-Fi, email client, raft of fantastic software available for download.
Next to it the S9's FM radio and Flash support pale, as does its sub-standard touch interface.
So, overall the S9 is a bit of a mixed bag. Thankfully, control issues can't dampen its stunning performance. We don't expect everyone to rush out to get one of these instead of an iPod, but if your main concern is audio and video quality, the S9 is a superb buy.
Stockist: Advanced MP3 Players
More after the break...
Cowon iAudio S9 8GB
Possibly the best-sounding player available and a great buy – if you can handle the price and control quirks