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Groove on the move | Part 2

Groove on the move | Part 2
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First Published: Tue, Oct 27 2009. 10 44 PM IST

Updated: Tue, Oct 27 2009. 10 44 PM IST
Cowon D2+
I remember reviewing Cowons D2 a couple of years back and this PMP created quite a ripple among the enthusiasts, especially those tired of Apples’ love for silver and proprietary connectivity/software. The D2 sounded good, if memory serves well, but there were a couple of areas where it was a little unrefined. The D2+ is very similar – the same body that although compact is thick and obtrusive in one’s pocket. Although it’s built entirely of plastic the D2+ is very solid and quality of material used in construction is good. The screen has received much praise and is touch-based, though it’s a resistive touch display and definitely not in the class of the iPod Touch’s display. At 2.5-inches the display is a little small to provide one with a great movie experience, but the colour and contrast of the display is good for movies. Available in a capacity of up to 16 GB with SDHC card expansion the D2+ can hold quite a bit. We had problems with the D2+’s stability and the player would hang inside the music menu. Firmware version in the shipped unit was 2.02 and updating this to 2.11 also didn’t help. Finally after switching back to the previous firmware version everything worked fine but the player would still mysteriously hang at times, although very rarely.
The D2+ is powerful enough to drive the SR 225 well but without an amp the loss of control over the treble is noticeable. Once amped things tighten up and the D2+ begins to exert control over the music as the amp reigns in the uncontrolled-at-times highs Grado is known for. The bass is heavy but not as clean as the iPod Classic and Touch – there is some bass bloat audible and the bass loses its tight, impactful feel. The mid-range loses its immediacy and begins to sound like it’s a few rows down from the rest of the music. Although everything is done reasonably well, the passion goes out of the experience and after listening to the iPod Touch you will inexorably miss something here. And it is this 10% more performance that people shell out disproportionately extra amounts for, given that audio gear strongly follows the law of diminishing returns. Priced at Rs. 12,499 the D2+ is pricey, especially considering it doesn’t perform as well as an iPod Touch that you can buy with a similar capacity for a little more.
Pros:
Feature rich
Built well
Good sound quality
Great audio formats support
Cons:
Not in audiophile territory
Bulky
Touch interface could be better
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Cowon iAudio 7
A really small PMP and one that’s exceedingly well built though admittedly a lot of the rugged feel is on account of its compactness. The iAudio 7 is livered in glossy black and has a nice translucent look to it. The player is really small and the touch-based controls are nicely laid out. Although minimal, these controls are sufficient and they’re ultra-usable thanks to the intuitive indents in the body which means your fingers never goof up. The silver strip running around the body is a welcome relief from the black and this gives the player a nice look. Video playback is very basic; videos need to be resized, and the display is inadequate for any sort of photos. On to the audio component then; we noticed that the bass on Where The streets Have No Name low was less detailed than the iPod Touch and Classic – sounds loose and lacks that extra impact. Treble is harsher with noticeable sibilance – this is slightly worse than the iPod Classic and Touch where the harshness is kept at bay by a hairsbreadth. Cymbals have very good detail to them. Guitar and piano accompaniments in Layla are nice although drum bass is boomy; good impact but not as punchy as we’d like. Ozzy’s No More Tears has some heavy bass in the beginning and this sounds slightly weak on the iAudio 7, not to mention the bass sounds loose and kind of woolly. All in all a performance that seems lack lustre but then nitpicking is my job and many will be happy with this grade of sound quality if they know no better.
Priced at Rs4,999 the iAudio 7 hits the sweet spot for someone looking for a really affordable PMP with good music quality. It also fits the bill when it comes to compactness. It’s a winner – as long as your ears aren’t too discerning.
Pros:
Superb build quality
Compact
Good music quality
Neat touch controls
Good value for money
Cons:
Useless screen for videos
Not audiophile-grade
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Cowon S9
The S9 gives the look of an evolved D2+ geared to take on the iPod Touch. It’s got a nice curved rear and the smooth (not glossy) finish oozes class as does the rich brown colour. The S9 feels solid in hand, but not as solid as the iPod Touch. It has a capacitive touch display and to be honest this doesn’t work as well Apple’s display; furthermore, Cowon’s menu looks a little dated. It’s a slightly smaller display at 3.3-inches. The menu system is way ahead of the D2+ in terms usability. Unfortunately the S9 is as unstable as the D2+. I even tried a firmware upgrade but the PMP still hung a couple of times – as I said earlier I don’t recall the first crop of Cowon players available in India having these issues.
The S9 is a capable music player; its ace-up-the-sleeve being support for various audio formats including common lossless formats like FLAC and APE that are popular with the audiophile crowd. Drag-n-drop is a convenience I missed with the iPods and the S9 brings freedom of choice back to the equation. Music quality is good with bass having a slightly over-pronounced representation that bass heads will like but we like a little extra control over the bottom end of the sonic spectrum. The problem persists in the mid-range as well, and with metal music having a lot of drum and complex guitar pieces the music tends to get muddled and lose the extra bit of detail that separates decent players from great players. The bass also gets unfocussed and loses its punch with some tracks. The Cowon D2+ is better in this regard. The highs are slightly rolled off but this won’t be of consequence to any but the most demanding of users. The mid-range is also not as forward as we’d like and the sense of being involved to the music is missed.
At Rs14,999, the S9 is a mixed bunch – it is a good video player without the strict resolution demands on content like iPods have. But the audio performance is acceptable though not for purists. It could be a good buy or a bad one – depends on what you’re looking at.
Pros:
Very good interface
Good video quality
Built well
Great audio formats support
Cons:
Music quality should have been better
Firmware isn’t stable
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iPod Touch 32 GB
Apple’s intent behind the iPod Touch was simple – take the much praised (and admittedly brilliant) interface on the iPhone and design a PMP around it. Thus was born the iPod Touch. It’s built exceedingly well and feels very solid in-hand. The screen is a glorious 3.5-inches and everything from the menu and usability, to its interface and the screen clarity, is top class. We noticed the first generation of iPod Touch had a screen with a noticeable blue tinge, the newer models have a noticeable yellow tinge that is not as bad, but the colours are not neutral and there’s nothing you can do about it. Being based on flash memory, transfers are slower than the Classic – a shame. The latest firmware (3.1.1) slows things down a bit and the once snappy Touch’s menus have gotten slower after this upgrade. The new firmware also brings a lot of nifty little additions to the device and we’re happy to report most of the additions, while minor go a long way in enhancing the experience of using the Touch. The screen is excellent for movies although the trauma associated with using iTunes leaves lasting mental scars. Colour and crispness is very good and this is highly suitable as a video PMP.
The Touch also rocks (literally!) when it comes to music. Where the Classic has detailed treble, the Touch introduces a hint of sibilance to certain instruments, although we must say the detailing is good and at no point does the sibilance really detract from things, in fact if you knew no different you’d think the sibilance was part of the track. There is no rounding off at the high-end and the treble sounds crisp and clear. The mid-range is detailed and revealed, in fact so much so that a difference in vocals and certain instruments is immediately noticed when moving from any of the Samsung and Philips players to the Touch. It also trounces all the Cowon models in the highs and mid-range where the Cowon’s have a roll off in the highs and the mid-range doesn’t sound as immediate, but rather recessed – that is to say the impression of playing a little further away from the rest of the music. A revealing mid-range is essential for any sort of music – be it Rock, Pop, Blues or Metal – the Touch works its wonder everywhere. In Where The Streets Have No Name the treble remains controlled and the bass is really palatable especially in the opening drum score. Cymbals still end up being a bit crisp – there was a hint of extra control on the iPod Classic in this regard. The mids in Trampled Rose are surreal with Alison Krauss’ voice sounding rich and seductive – the way it was intended. The vocals flow like honey, but there is a note of underlying urgency – no unnecessary tonal warmth here. Her higher notes are detailed and any tenor is clearly reproduced without any sort of harshness or sibilance. There is however a slight graininess to some sections of the vocals. The bass in No More Tears is clean and sounds fantastically quick and detailed, unlike some of the other PMPs that sounded muddy. In fact the instrument score had me lamenting the lack of a point A to B repeat function. But it’s an amazing musical experience, obviously with the right headphone/amplifier setup. In Layla the vocals are full-bodied and abetted by fantastic guitar plucks and instrument detail the listen is memorable.
Apple has just released a new family of the Touch including a 64 GB version that takes care of those with bigger space requirements. The 32 GB one featured here is the second generation as we’re yet to get our hands on the just launched, third generation. But the news is the new 64 GB version will cost no more than the older 32 GB version – meaning great value. It does have one limitation – at Rs25,000 the iPod Touch 32 GB cannot be classified as cheap. It’s a premium PMP, with an interface that is unparalleled, superlative music and video quality; the best demands the most money.
Pros:
Amazing screen
Great for movies
Brilliant Interface
Superb audio quality
Cons:
Slightly heavy
Bulky
Expensive
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First Published: Tue, Oct 27 2009. 10 44 PM IST