The Best Sounding MP3 Player Ever? Thank "Golden Ears"
The Cowon S9 is here...
If you've been sleeping under a stone, you may have missed our excitement about the latest player to arrive from the masters of quality - Cowon. The S9 has teased us over the last year or so with the promise of the Cowon player we always wanted, but never dared hope would turn out as well as we could imagine.
Well, we're astounded to say, it's better than we could have ever hoped for!
The main points to focus on are the new BBE+ sound architecture, the amazing AMOLED widescreen display, full Bluetooth support and the superb new user interface. As it's the first thing that'll strike you when using the S9, let's take a look at the interface first:
This is a real step forward for Cowon's players, which have had a reputation for being slightly complex to use. With this new totally touch screen user interface, Cowon have kept the depth of control possible with previous players, but made day-to-day operation simplicity itself!
Your main functions are represented by a set of simple icons on the main screen and on entering any of these options, you're presented with a simple list of track, or videos or photos. Text too small? Use the zoom bar and make it bigger. Not sure what a certain video file is? A looping thumbnail shows some footage from it, right there on the menu. And again, you can zoom in.
It doesn't stop there - the S9 features G sensor technology, so it knows which way up it's being held. So, you can turn it on it's side and scroll through a list of album covers, instead of a textual track list. Watching a movie, it doesn't matter what way up you hold it, the S9 will re-format the file to display the right way up and as big as possible on the 3.3 inch - 480 x 272 pixel AMOLED screen.
So, it's easy and cool to use, what about the nuts & bolts - is it technically any good?
Normally, on a player with such a ground-breaking screen, we'd start with Video, but on the S9, we really want to make special mention of the audio and why it is the best sounding player we've ever listened to - by far!
That's a pretty big claim, but we're totally confident that you will not in any honesty be able to listen to it back-to-back with any other portable player with the same files on it and say it's anything but the best. We have - it's true!
The S9 uses Cowon's new BBE+ audio architecture, personally integrated with the player by the CEO of Cowon - Mr Park!
Mr. Park majored in Control and Instrument at Seoul National University and got a masters degree in 1990. Some of his awards as the CEO of COWON Systems include the Korean Presidential Award, the Korea Digital Award, the Digital Prize from Han-kyo-reh Newspaper, the Global CEO Award from the Mae-il Economy Newspaper and the Industry Resource Ministry Award.
Before the foundation of COWON SYSTEMS, Namkyu Park worked at LG Electronics for 5 years as a senior engineer of Multimedia department. He is known within the industry as “Golden Ears” for his outstanding ability to distinguish even in the smallest differences in sounds.
This is the man in charge of this company - perhaps a small indicator of the sort of importance they attach to ultimate sound quality.
So, what is BBE+? It's a range of sound processes that give incredible reproduction of good quality sources and can boost the quality of low-quality sources beyond comparison. It includes upgrades to BBE, Mach3Bass, 3D Surround and MP Enhance that featured in earlier Cowon players, with the addition of better EQ facilities, stereo enhancements and approximately thirty different specific profiles for different music and acoustics.
Codec support is customarily comprehensive for Cowon. It will play MP3, WMA, OGG, FLAC, WAV and APE - offering compatibility with easily found files and also the most high quality lossless audio. Even better, you can listen to music for up to 55 hours continuously before needing to recharge the player!
All of that is just words, however. To truly appreciate this player, you need to listen to it - you'll be blown away - as we were!
Now, we've spoken about audio before video, but the video capabilities of this player are, if anything, even more impressive than the audio! This is the first ever use on a portable device of a 3.3" 16 million colour AMOLED display.
What does that mean? Well, traditionally, portable screens use LCD displays. These have a mask layer of pixels, which can change colour - filtering light from a backlight to create images. The technology is well-proven, but has some limitations. There is a lag time with the pixels changing, which can cause rapidly moving images to get slightly 'muddy'. Also, their very design means they waste energy - they filter and cut down light output from a backlight.
AMOLED works differently. It still uses individual pixels (480 x 272 in the S9) but the pixels themselves emit light and change much quicker than LCD. This means the screen is sharper, pixel for pixel, much brighter and movement is pin-sharp.
Movies on the S9 are incredible - this is really the first pocket device we can wholeheartedly say we have no problem watching full length movies on. It's bright and crisp, but not taxing on the eye as there is no ghosting or blur. The S9 can play Xvid SP/ASP and WMV9SP/MP files natively, and supports SMI subtitles. Playback time is an amazing 11 hours of continuous video!
TV Out Functionality
The S9 has the ability (with the separately available TV-Out cables) to display the contents on a full size TV! Imagine, you've gone round to a mates house with your favourite movies saved on your S9 in DVD quality. Simply plug the cables into the back of the TV to show those movies in the original quality on the full-size TV display! It also works with photos, so you can show holiday or family photos when you go to friends for dinner.
The S9 is a flash-based player - so no moving parts, no skipping and no hard drive failures! There are three capacities available - 8GB, 16GB and the new 32GB model.
Of course, it doesn't stop there. Cowon have long believed in packing their players with additional functionality and thanks to firmware upgrades, have even added functionality (for free) to players long after launch.
Bluetooth - The S9 supports full bluetooth A2DP and AVRCP functionality. This means you can connect the player to bluetooth devices like headphones without a plug-in dongle and even use any buttons the headphones have to control the player. Audio quality is superb - for ultimate quality, we still recommend wired headphones, but the bluetooth output on this is easily the best we've heard.
Picture Viewer - still images can really show off the incredible crispness and brightness of the revolutionary AMOLED screen. It accepts JPEG files and will resize any image for display - so you can bluetooth an image from your 8MP camera phone and the S9 will display in full 3.3 inch 16 million colour AMOLED glory!
FM Radio - With great reception using the headphone cord as an antenna, you'll not be bored with access to radio!
Document Reader - a great use of the crisp screen, you can load text files (and a lot of classic books are available free online as text files) and read them comfortably on the widescreen display - with the benefit of the Zoom UI if you need to make the text larger.
Flash Player - a flash player, allows you to download flash games and utilities from the internet and integrate them with your player
Calculator - already included is a handy calculator and this is indicative of the sort of accessory programs that Cowon tend to include with firmware updates for free!
We'll leave the last word to our resident AMP3 TV reviewer and MD, Andy Gordon: “WOW! In my 7 years working with MP3 players I have NEVER heard anything so impressive. BBE+ is truly the next level of MP3 sound. Simply staggering! ”. “The S9 is a step forward from Cowon as their class leading MP3/MP4 players now have the style to match their awesome hardware performance."
"A stunning piece of design, the Cowon S9 represents the very best in it’s class, with a clarity and depth of sound to put all it’s mainstream rivals in the shade! 2009 an exciting year for Cowon, and the S9 is merely the latest sign of the potential of their product line-up and a clear sign why they outsell Apple in their home market."
Please note that the S9 is currently being supplied in the Titanium colour option.