Has Apple lived up to its own hype with its new flagship device?
Cowon iAudio X9 review
What is it?
A multimedia player sporting Cowon's JetEffect 5 audio engine and up to 110 hours battery life.
Simply beautiful audio quality; JetEffect 5 allows you to shape the sound as you see fit; unparalleled battery life; large 4.3-inch colour display.
Resistive touchscreen unresponsive; poor video codec support; interface a little fiddly to navigate in places.
The bottom line
Discard the limited video support and you're left with an exceptionally sounding audio player that's both portable and long-lasting thanks to its incredible battery life.
Even when Cowon recently misfired with its bulky, unsatisfying A5 Android-powered rival to the iPod touch, its exceptional audio qualities nearly rescued it. It returns to its core strengths with the Cowon iAudio X9, concentrating on delivering a superb sounding music player powered by the same JetEffect 5 engine as the A5. The X9 comes with one other major selling point: a battery capable of going up to 110 hours between charges.
It's clear from the outset that the Cowon X9 is first and foremost an audio player. The 4.3-inch screen, while large, has a low resolution that is perfectly suited for its rather basic interface, but doesn't win any awards when it comes to playing back video - not such a bad thing, when you consider its limited format support.
To get anywhere near the 100-hour battery life, you'll want to cue up your tracks and leave the player to get on with things, its screen powered off to help conserve energy. Spend just a few minutes with the resistive touchscreen interface, and you'll be grateful to learn all the basic playback controls you need - forward, back, play/pause and volume controls, plus standby - can be found on the unit itself, so you can leave it in your pocket and minimise your contact with the unsatisfying screen.
The interface itself is reasonably simple to operate - it won't take you long to navigate its key areas, but the options aren't always as intuitive or obvious as they should be. One slight disappointment is that you can't tweak the JetEffects sound settings directly from the audio section; instead you have to return to the main menu and explore the Settings section to access them, which can be a pain if you have different presets for different genres or artists, for example.
As with all Cowon devices, it's these audio quality settings that set it above the opposition. JetEffect 5 produces really gorgeous sound for all tastes, with 44 presets covering just about every base. And if you can't quite tweak it to your preferred setting, you'll find four user presets are available too: select one to manually tweak the five-band equalizer, plus experiment with other settings such as BBE, Mach3Bass, 3D Surround and Reverb to fine-tune the sound to your tastes. It's a definite step forward from the JetEffect 3.0 system found in the lower end Cowon i10 player.
As with the Cowon A5, you'll want to pair the X9 with a decent set of headphones, as the supplied buds and built-in mono speaker don't pass muster. Do so, and you'll be transported into audio bliss, particularly if you take advantage of the Cowon's support for FLAC and other lossless formats. There really is no substitute for a Cowon player at this price point if the quality of your music is of prime importance, and the X9 reinforces that point.
Sadly, the limited video support is a black mark against the X9 - it's clear it's designed to offer both video and audio, but by omitting key standards like Apple's favoured H.264 codec, you're locking out a potentially large portion of your market. It's a shame, because despite the resistive touchscreen, the X9 could have made a powerful play for best multimedia player for under £200. Ultimately, however, the X9 edges out the Cowon A5 and i10 players in the music stakes, but falls a fraction short of greatness due to its weakness in other areas.
Expansion: microSD, up to 32GB
Screen (size, type, resolution): 4.3-inch colour TFT, 272x480 pixels
Audio formats supported: MP3, WMA, M4A, OGG, WAV, FLAC, APE
Video formats supported: AVI, WMV, ASF
Other features: FM radio, voice and FM recorder, JPG photo and TXT document viewer
Stated Battery life: 110 hours (audio), 13 hours (video), 600 hours (sleep)
Dimensions: 72.5x114.9x12.2mm, 159g
Other recent Cowon players
Bigger screen, Android, wireless support, superior video format support, bulkier: Cowon A5
Same audio quality, smaller screen, non-touchscreen interface, no expandable storage: Cowon i10
See also: Beats Executive headphone review