After winning the Red Dot Design Award 2010, the stylish and ultra compact Cowon iAudio E2 finally hit our lab to show us what it can do apart from winning over design aspirants. After taking it for a spin, we are very impressed by what this key-chain MP3 player can do.
Features & Design
Coming in eight different colors, the iAudio E2 is a diminutive screen-less MP3 player that sports a multitude of features under its hood. It comes in two versions: 2GB and 4GB, and it is one of the few micro MP3 players that plays FLAC and Ogg audio files apart from popular formats like MP3, WMA and WAV but no AAC. Cowon also threw in a bevy of audio enhancements like the BBE, BBE ViVA< BBE ViVA 2, BBE Mach3Bass, BBE MP, BBE Headphone (1/2/3) apart from Normal. There is no FM radio nor a recording feature of any sort. The player audio output is rated at 12mW per channel on a 16 Ohm earphone. The built-in Li-Pol battery has a rated playback time of up to 11 hours and 30 minutes which is not stellar but average.
The player measures 26.6x64.2x7.7 (mm) which is just as big as a cigarette lighter and it is also quite light at 16.6gm. The Cowon iAudio E2's design is simple and the built is solid. On one end the player is a metallic ring, which apart from enhancing the aesthetic eases carrying it around the neck or on a keychain. On the other end of the player is a headphone jack which also is a port for connecting the data cable (for data transfer and charging the player). It is a bit disappointing that the player accepts only the bundled proprietary cable other than the more universal miniUSB. The iAudio E2's back and front are plain black while a square button and one strip button are located on either side. The left side has buttons for power on/off and for skipping tracks whereas the right ones are for shuffle or changing audio enhancements and volume control. It is quite hard to differentiate those buttons on the left and on the right while the player is in the pocket as they are neither clearly labeled nor distinctly shaped or sized.
The mids and the bass reproduction is impressive for the player of this size. The bass is taut, rich and deep while the mids have great details and are well-focused.
The iAudio E2 has voice guidance while changing the audio enhancement. And every time the buttons are pressed there is a beeping sound accompanying the press. The player supports shuffle playback and after updating the firmware to v1.11, it now supports playback by folder which was not previously available. One nifty feature the iAudio E2 also included is the Ear Safe Technology which automatically sets the volume to moderate level when the player is switched on. This feature makes a lot of sense especially for a screen-less MP3 player where you can’t make out at what volume level the player was last played. This is a feature which I think every player should incorporate as increasing volume to one's comfortable level won't be much of a problem than risking one's hearing. Further, the player switches off automatically after the earphone is unplugged for a while. This helps in saving battery life and making sure the player is switched off as it is quite hard to figure out the miniscule blinking LED power on indicator at the back.
After loading up tracks from my FLAC and MP3 collection which has genres across the board, I plugged in the bundled earphones. However, they sounded muffled and lacked resolution. With better pairs like the Soundmagic PL30/50 and Audio Technica CK1, the sound quality of the iAudio E2 is clearly superior to other ultra compact MP3 players we tested before. The mids and the bass reproduction is impressive for the player of this size. The bass is taut, rich and deep while the mids have great details and are well-focused. The highs extended well and sounded sharp. Listening to songs like Watch This by Slash from his recent selt-titled album revealed that the iAudio E2 sounded crispy rich and detailed for genre like Rock with no compromise on the low end either. Hip Hop and Trance sounded great too with deep bass without sounding boomy. The highs on the other hand despite being sharp and bright lack a bit of coherence when pushing the volume towards the limit. However, this is still way above the average in the ultra compact category.
The player also has good enough power to drive most in-earphones. Even though, the player came with nine audio enhancements, I found the Normal sounded the best. Even though they added depth, presence and soundstage, when it comes to overall sound quality, some frequency ranges always had to give in while others were gaining.
The E2 has commendable sound output which is way above the output we heard from players like the Creative ZEN Stone Plus, iPod Shuffle or the Philips GoGear Vibe. The battery lasted for 8 hours during my test which is low by Cowon’s standard. At Rs 3,500 for 4GB version, the Cowon iAudio E2 is a solid ultra compact MP3 player that promises excellent quality sound in a stylish compact form factor.
Stylish MP3 player that promises quality sound at affordable price.