Cowon iAudio 6
At a Glance
Cowon iAudio6 4GB - Black
Tiny player supports many audio formats and online music subscriptions, but the screen is small and the controls are quirky.
The Cowon iAudio 6 stores your media on its 4GB hard drive, which uses a new miniature disk that's only 0.85-inch in diameter. This reduces the size of the player and makes it more resistant to shocks than units that use larger drives. The player is just 3 inches long by 1.4 inches wide, but a chunky 0.8 inches thick, and it weighs 2.1 ounces. At $230 (as of 7/21/06), you're paying more than you'd pay for most other 4GB players based on 1-inch drives or flash memory, and roughly what you'd pay for Apple's iPod Nano.
The iAudio 6's black-and-gray styling looks neat enough, but you have to hold the player horizontally to get a good view of the postage stamp-size screen. The separate volume controls, an on/off/hold switch, and a menu button along the top edge are easy to use. However, I found the touch controls (two buttons and a slider) on the front too sensitive and difficult to use. They seem more like a gimmick to compete with the iPod's thumbwheel than a well-designed user interface. Some useful settings, such as shuffle mode, are buried deep in menus, while other controls, like the one for repeating part of a song, are too easy to hit by mistake. Pairing record and cancel on the same button was most confusing.
The iAudio 6 plays a wide range of audio formats, including MP3, WMA, FLAC, WAV, and Ogg Vorbis. It comes with Cowon's own JetAudio software, but also works with Windows Media Player for loading music from your collection.
An included cable lets you download files from many USB devices, as well as charge the internal lithium ion battery when the player is attached to a PC. I hooked it up to my 8-megapixel digital camera and succeeded in archiving several high-quality JPEG images to the player, albeit very slowly. This could be useful if you're away from home and your camera's memory card is getting full.
Viewing the images on the iAudio 6's tiny screen was hardly worth the effort. At just 1.3 inches diagonal and 160 by 128 pixels, the screen makes it difficult to discern detail. Worse, each image took about 14 seconds to display, though I was able to listen to music while I waited. By contrast, videos scaled down and converted to MPEG-4 using the included software were easier to watch.
I found reception from the built-in FM radio to be quite reasonable for such a small unit, though it varied as I wandered around town. The iAudio 6 is also capable of recording from the radio (including timer recordings), the built-in microphone, and the line input. Music I recorded from the radio sounded surprisingly good when transferred to my PC, if a little bass heavy.
The iAudio 6 earned a rating of Good in PC World's new audio-quality tests. It scored well for its high signal-to-noise ratio and reached a high volume level before introducing distortion, but we registered much harmonic distortion and cross talk compared to other players (cross talk is the bleeding of the left or right channel into the other channel, which narrows the stereo image). The audio quality sounded adequate to me when listening with the included earbuds (our tests don't measure audio quality from the earbuds but, rather, directly from the headphone jack).