back to article Cowon iAudio J3 personal media player

When Cowon's iAudio S9 media player landed on my desk back at the end of 2008, it made a favourable impression. While it wasn't a multi-function whizz kid like the iPod Touch, its superb screen and excellent sound quality knocked the Apple into a cocked hat. Cowon J3 PMP 1 Cowon's iAudio J3: new life for an old PMP Now Cowon …

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HTC HD2

Cowon make some impressive media players but unfortunately they are beaten on all fronts by the HTC HD2. 480 x 800 4.3" capacitative screen, same 32GB micro-SD capacity but also full 3G and wi-fi connectivity. Install TCPMP and it can play whatever you can throw at it.

I found myself using it as a portable movie player much more than the phone it was supposed to be. A real shame that this thing seems so hard to get hold of over in the yook.

Oh, and did I mention the HD2 makes phone calls as well?

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Battery life?

What's the battery life like on a HD2 compared to this thing though? And does it sound as good? In my experience, the sound coming out of a Cowon beats the hell out of anything around it.

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HTC HD2 sound quality?

If only music players were all about 3G and wifi connectivity. Call me old fashioned but I like to choose a music source based on sound quality - and judging by past experience, and audio-focussed reviews, a Cowon J3 is far, far, far ahead of any mobile phone (twat-phone included).

You want a phone that does a bit of music, go ahead, by an HTC. You want a quality portable sound source, buy one designed for the job.

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Unhappy

no good gapless in WinMo

I agree with HD/HD2 being good choices and they sound pretty decent even for well trained years but unfortunately there's no good music player capable of gapless playback so serious listening of some rock, electronic or classical music is out of the question on WinMobile 6.5 or less. It's a pitty because otherwise HD/HD2 would be nearly perfect portable media devices.

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Happy

HD2 sounds really good

Trust a veteran audiophile here, HD2 sounds good, on par with Zune 120G and clearly better than iPod Classic 6th Generation. It was a surprise for me too (as was the weak sound quality of iPod Classic 6th gen).

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Looks good but...

...Proprietary USB - No thanks. I've got enough charging bricks/cables around my house.

Would it have hurt to use micro USB - now the standard for mobile devices?

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Gold badge

Phones

I wish Cowon would do phones, they clearly could design a fairly nice looking one.

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Are you from Uruguay?

That thing is damn ugly, shaped like a brick with brushed metal - ewwww, 2001 called and want their device back.

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Thanks for the review - one question

I've got an S9. I had an X5 before that. Both have been excellent, but my main disappointment with the S9 is that in the 32GB version the Bluetooth transmitter doesn't function correctly. Has this been fixed in the J3? Going to hunt down a 32GB J3 and shove a 32GB card in it, seen as I've managed to fill this one.

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AAC support

Is this real AAC support?

Or only Apple encoded AAC support, like the Creative Zen?

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Unhappy

Cowon and the old guard.....

I only have one problem with any of these media devices / mp3 players. Capacity. I have an old style 60G Creative. Half decent screen, decent format support, decent battery life, decent cable connectivity so I can use it with TV's in hotels and the like...

In fact, since I bought it five years ago, it has been excellent. It is used /every/ day. Literally.

It will only be swapped out when it breaks.

But, if it broke now, I would be stuffed. There are no more 60G players on the market. I don;t particularly want to buy a device and then have extras sd cards laying around, wondering which is which, music, audio books, vids, etc....

I know these flash drive jobbies are nice a quick and quiet and small and light, but where is the volume?

Nah........ until somebody makes something that is at least as good as it was five years ago, then I have to hope my Creative will get me through.

Next week, it will be heading from Brazzaville to Kinshasa!

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Hear Hear

I have an onld iRiver upgraded to 60Gb and the only new players with that sort of capacity are fruit based.

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Would've agree'd until I dropped it

My old 60GB Creative was wonderful too, that is until it jumped out of my pocket and even in a protective pouch managed to kill the HDD inside it without placing a scratch on the casing.

Now I have a 16GB Zen with SD card slot and have to say it's won me over, I only bought it as a stop gap whilst I dug around micro-hdd sites to find a compatible model to fix my old Creative and even though I have fixed it it's only been used a handful of times in place of it's svelte replacement.

I have tons of music, more than I could fit on the 60GB model and I was concerned over what to put on the comparatively tiny 16GB model but as it turns out I needn't have worried, there's still a lot on the 16GB model that I've probably never listened to on it and as you I use it daily - it's the future mate, really.

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Errr, just don't remove the SD card?

Buy a 32GB, shove a 32GB card in...where's the flaw in that plan? You'd have more space than you do now. That's why Cowon added the SD slot - IIRC Apple bought up all the 64GB NAND Toshiba were making, so Cowon just raised two fingers and added a card slot.

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I'm in a similar position.

I've a now long-in-the-tooth A3 80GB which has about 60GB on it. I was worried I couldn't be able to replace it but now I know I can just buy one of these, stick a 32GB card in, and have 64GB of storage -- which ought to be just enough.

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You may be correct.....

.... and I may be a bit of a philistine!

P.

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Silver badge

Agreed

Same here. I've an old Archos 80 Gb player, the AV 380. My music collection is 60 Gb FLAC or 16 Gb when converted to mp3 (256 vbr). Until recently flash players lacked the space, but this seems better. AV380 is good but the UI leaves something to be desired. If only is supported Rockbox.

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Gates Halo

ZHD, is that you?

This thing looks like my Zune HD, has the same screen and a similar-looking UI. These are all good things, 'cause the ZHD is an awesome player and very sadly under-appreciated.

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No gapless?

Seriously?!

It's 2010 guys...

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Pretty pathetic

Yes, pretty pathetic. I know there are technical reasons the purists trot out as to why it's not always strictly possible to do gapless playback, most notably that there is no requirement for the exact track length to be encoded in the mp3 header, but that data is added by most decent encoders and should be used if available. Even if it's not available, it would be fair logic to assume that silence at the end of the final data frame signified it's time to start the next track, buffering for which should already have started.

Consequently, it's ultimately down to sheer laziness in said buffering, and accepting lowest common denominators as the norm.

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Happy

Gapless is supported

having got the J3 myself a week ago, I can confirm it does indeed support gapless. I have tested using mp3 (LAME encoder) and FLAC. Both played gapless through various albums beautifully.

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It does do gapless playback

I picked up a J3 this week and the current firmware (2.10) DOES do gapless playback (and has a couple of extra apps thrown in as well).

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SD card - library integration

A small error in your review - the Cowon D2 and D2+ (lovely little players, both of them) also integrate the SD card files and folders into the main library; a combination of this factor and the sound quality separated them from the Cown Zen (SD card but no library integration) and Sansa whatchamajig (micro SD card integrated into library, inferior sound quality)

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Re: SD card - library integration

I believe the J3 integrates even when using files/folders view as opposed to library view, something no Cowon player has done until now.

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Alert

AAC and Bluetooth

The AAC files I tested had both .aac and .m4a extensions (the latter iTunes purchased). Re. Bluetooth the J3 worked fine with the pair of Jaybirds I had on my desk.

I should perhaps have mentioned that the Cowon bundled earphones are a bit bargain basement though no worse than the sort Apple bundle with its iPods.

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Cowon

I'm surprised that it doesn't have gapless support, the S9 didn't initially but was added in a later update, so it seems odd that the J3 wouldn't have it (sure it's not just buried in the options somewhere?).

Still happy with my S9, watching videos on it on regular long train journeys is fantastic. I've had a few Cowon's and the sound quality is always amazing. Their user interface design isn't up to much, but the J3 looks like an improvement on that front.

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But where are the apps?

The reason the iPod Touch prevails over better-sounding PMPs is because it can access the vast Apps repository via iTunes. Without apps, PMPs are going nowehere.

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Really ? Applications.. ?

Is that really the reason Apple are ahead in sales ?

Not tip top marketing ?

Personally, I've never really understood the 'application fascination' for media players.

You put music* on it and listen to it. Isn't that what a media player is ?

What extra application could you /possibly/ want on a media / music player?

Beats me, really does.

P

* .. and audio books and Ricky Gervais for me!

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Re: Apps

"Without apps, PMPs are going nowehere."

Eh, no, I think there are probably enough people out there willing to buy a PMP for its media playing capabilities alone. Not all of us want some fantastically converged jack-of-all-trades device.

Besides, Cowon players were running touchscreen Flash apps before Apple even got rid of its boner for the clickwheel. Ok it's Flash, and we all know the limitations there but really, if I want to do something specific with a Cowon the chances are I'm going to be able to do it. So there's no "App Store"? Well that's ok because last time I didn't want my device manufacturer dictating what I can and cannot do with it and I know I'm not the only one.

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J 3
Welcome

Almost....

All this screen goodness seems pretty wasted on a device that is not used for applications or web browsing, I think.

Anyway, this is a very tempting device and what would have made me buy this one today is one piece of functionality that the iPod touch has but the J3 (see, it even matches my Reg handle!) doesn't: web connectivity. Apps, I don't care that much about -- maybe there are good ones, maybe not. I've never had an iThing that uses apps, so can't really tell. But having a pocket Internet device can be very useful. A friend here at work has a Touch, and I've seen it be quite handy several times when a quick browse was needed.

And no, I don't want to have a phone to do that. Phone, for me, is for talking or texting when something important / urgent is needed. I don't want to discover I don't have enough battery left for that important communication because I drained it all listening to music, playing games and/or browsing the web on the phone...

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WTF?

How Much ???

£14.99 for a proprietary USB lead ????

Who do they think they are - an inkjet cartridge manufacturer?

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Gapless

gents, I certainly couldn't find anything in the settings menu to define an album as "gapless" so either I missed something or there has been a firmware change since my review unit shipped. Nothing in the user manual either. If anyone could shed any more light on this I'd be grateful.

Dibbles - sod's law, those are the only two recent Cowon devices I've not used!

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GAPLESS WORKS

S9 initially did not support gapless, but later received a firmware upgrade for it.

J3 supports it out of the box.

You will NOT find it in the settings.

Supported formats are :

- All lossless files J3 supports

- Lame-encoded MP3 files

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Linux

Heavier

When I first picked up the S9 I literally threw it in the air because it was so light compared to the D2.At the time I thought it was a remarkable achievement, so I'm a little disappointed with the J3's heft. However, the SD card is something I sorely missed.

However, I probably won't be getting one for a long while, since both the D2 and S9 are still in working condition - despite years of abuse. To contrast, I had two iPoad Nanos, neither of which made it a single year. I'll accept that's entirely my fault, but the fact is Cowon products are tough shit.

As for gapless playback - this is actually a problem with the MP3 spec. I can't remember the article I read about this, but it said that MP3 files are structured in blocks of fixed time - so it's impossible to determine whether blank space at the end of the file is padding (and needs to be stripped for gapless playback) or deliberate silence (which better not be stripped or you're mutilating the song).

Finally, in regards to the file formats - all decoding is done by the SoC, which is manufactured by Telechips (for the D2 and S9, anyway). I think Cowon just copies the formats-supported list from Telechips, so it's a good chance they'll be just as surprised as you to find it can play H264 and ACC.

Apple I believe just hacks off any trailing silence. Because they know better than the recording artist how songs should end.

Linux because Cowons can play FLAC and OGG files - which is why I started buying them in the first place. (Also the quality and power of the internal amp.)

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Re: proprietary usb lead

To the best of my knowledge the lead isn't proprietary - it is a standard socket in Cowons home market. I believe all similar devices use the exact same lead and this topic came up in the S9 review. Maybe someone familiar with the Asia scene can comment and confirm/deny that one :)

And another thing: why on earth do I want "apps" on my media player? I want it to play music and (to a lesser extent) video as good as possible - even from compressed files. I have the 32GB S9 and a pair of Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones and the sound is simply unbeatable. I love the player and I get ~48hours of playback out of it (for music). If I want to play games, I have a DS.

Before the S9 I had the Cowon X5, which was an excellent audio player too - until it just died :( Oh and I love the fact you just drag and drop files to the device rather than having to mess around with any kind of management software (e.g. iTunes blaah!)

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Unhappy

no gapless - too bad

The missing of gapless playback pretty much discredits a serious quality portable audio player. Too bad for Cowon - seems the only major problem but it ruins the whole experience as a premium PMP.

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Stop

@all gapless freaks

If u are so concerned about gapless playback playback then just rip your CD's as a single file. Problem solved.

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FAIL

Wise guy....

Yeah I'll do that, I'll re-rip the 800 or so albums that I have nicely set-up that other players can play fine...

No thank you....

J3 does look nice though.

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Beware..

I just bought one of these. Despite 100s of reviews nobody mentions that the clock does not keep time. It has a mind of its own. The 'Matrix' Album art does not work properly. Despite Winamp and windows 7 seeing embedded art this thing refuses and all you get is miles of Quavers in place of your art. Strangely it will show said art in play mode and it will pull ALL you covers from inside the MP3 and display them as pictures.

The firmware is buggy V2.21 and its really not worth the asking price with firmware like this.

Beware.

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