A couple of years ago we saw the beginnings of a brief but significant splurge of screenless MP3 players, most notably highlighted by the iPod shuffle. With a focus on portability and convenience, these are designed to be small and light enough to carry while exercising or on the move without having to dig out and lug around a more capable but more cumbersome player.
Have movements in the mobile phone arena all but eliminated the need for such a dedicated device? Cowon hopes not, as its iAudio E2 harks back to the unassuming MP3 player accessory that’s designed to be carried around in a pocket or on a keychain. To this end it’s superbly small, slim and light, and features a stainless steel hoop at one end for easy attachment. 2GB or 4GB capacities allow for a decent collection of tunes, uploaded via the hybrid 3.5mm port at the base, which also doubles as a charger.
1.5 hours charge should get around 10 hours of playback from the E2, and this is controlled by similarly subtle buttons on the left and right. Power, volume adjustment and track search/skip controls are small, but well placed and responsive to the touch.
The E2 also includes a range of preset equalizer settings in the form of Cowon’s BBE+, accessible via a further button that doubles as a shuffle/repeat switch. Due to the lack of a display, the current setting or recognised command is spoken during operation, and since sound doesn’t cut out when this happens, it can be quite awkward to make out exactly what you’ve enabled, leaving trial and error as the only reliable alternative.
This would be acceptable on such an aesthetically pleasing player if it weren’t for the lack of an album or folder-skip option. This is arguably essential on screenless designs and we’re not sure why Cowon decided to ignore this important feature.
Sound quality, however, is very good, and though it often seems needlessly awkward to skip through a total of nine audio presets to find a setting that best suits the music being played, this gets easier with time. Provided you are prepared to replace the particularly poor pair of in-ear ‘buds supplied, the E2 is capable of performing very well. Audio aficionados will also be pleased to hear that it supports WMA, WAV, OGG and FLAC as well as MP3, and it’s available in a range of colours for those who like to coordinate.
It’s a shame the iAudio E2 lacks a couple of key features for this type of player, and even though it’s reasonably priced at £29.99 for a 2GB unit and £39.99 for 4GB, lossless file support may end up being the sole reason why it is still able to compete with capable rivals that were launched over a year ago.
Available from AdvancedMP3Players.