Portable Media Players Guide

Cowon iAUDIO X5 review

First Looks: Cowon iAUDIO X5

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Music To My Ears

Music To My Ears

Lately, MP3 players have been sprouting like mushrooms: Some MP3 players are small but have large storage capacities, some are quite large but can only play videos and view pictures, while others don’t look like MP3 players but boasts of being the best in audio quality. Cowon’s iAudio X5 may be another one of hundreds, if not thousands of digital media players in the market, but this stylish ultra-compact media player has some serious muscle built in.

The State of Envy

The iAUDIO X5 may be a cause of envy among its music player peers with its textured, jet black finish on a solid aluminum construction. Not only is it aesthetically very pleasing, it sports quite a solid build for a portable mp3 player. The X5 is equipped with a 160 x 128 pixel, 260,000 color TFT-LCD and uses a tiny 5-way joystick for playback/recording control and menu navigation. The joystick is responsive enough, but may be too small for comfort. There is also a remote control unit with LCD display that compliments the X5, but it is an optional item that is sold separately.

Black Boom Box

The iAUDIO X5 is true to its 'ultimate portable multimedia player' name as it is capable of music and video playback, high quality voice and FM recording, JPEG photo display and even text file viewing. While it can do so much, it undoubtedly excels in playing music, supporting a wide range of formats such as MP3, OGG, MWA, WAV, ASF, and FLAC. Love to sing along with your favorite tunes but always forgetting the lyrics? Then, fear not as the X5 provides users with lyric display feature, making sure that you sing a proper tune all the time.

Video support however, isn't as straightforward. While the X5 support the MPEG4 format, you will have to transcode your videos using the bundled JetAudio software before the X5 can play it back. JetAudio will support most containers out of the box, including ASF, WMV, AVI and MPG files and we've found that video playback is quite decent. However, you may not relish having to view extended clips on a 1.8-inch monitor at 160x128 resolutions.

The player's file viewer also supports JPEG image and text file viewing, which users can setup for slide show viewing. Even so, we've found that its image viewing falls short of expectations as file support seems very rudimentary. There are times when our test photos are displayed, but there are also times when they do not. It is also probably best to point out that progressive JPEG files are not supported.

The iAUDIO X5 has a USB interface with host (OTG) functionality, giving users a chance to transfer their photos directly from their digital cameras as well, but before jumping the gun, users should check out Cowon's website for a list of supported cameras first. The good thing comes from the fact that Cowon seems to periodically update the players firmware to support more cameras and to expand its functionality.

Tricked Out

Cowon's iAUDIO players are the only devices to feature BBE Sound System. What it claims to do is to restore audio harmonics lost through file compression, enhancing details of audio files, correcting distortion and phase delay. However, as magical as this technology sounds, audio data lost through lossy compression formats like MP3 cannot be 'found' again. BBE can and will work to amplify and clean out most reasonably good MP3 files to give an impression of higher audio fidelity, but if you've got a badly encoded file, BBE won't be of much help. Besides BBE, the X5 features a 5 band EQ, Mach3Bass, MP Enhance, 3D and Pan options as well.

With capacities ranging from 20GB to 60GB, the iAUDIO X5 can also be used as a general USB data storage device compatible with MAC OS and Linux as well as Windows.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the Cowon iAUDIO X5 far exceeds most portable digital audio players in terms of audio playback with its strong audio format support and quality, topped with the inclusion of BBE Sound technology. Its user interface and general usability aren't quite there yet, but there is no doubt of the X5's prowess as a multi-purpose PMP and portable HDD in one device. The 30GB version of the Cowon iAudio X5 can be found for around US$294.00.