(Pocket-lint) - When Apple released the iPod, it was by no means the first MP3 player that was on the market, but over the past couple of years it has become the defacto MP3 player. Cowon hopes to knock the crown off the ruler with its 20Gb hard drive based player the M3, but does the player offer enough guile and grit to get the job done?

Can it bring new innovation? Yes. Can it bring a significant price decrease? Yes. Can anything undo the Apple bug? Perhaps. It seems that both the stats and the style of the M3 are worthy of any HDD player on the market today.

At the crux of the machine is a 20 GB hard drive, (a 40GB model forthcoming), which although slightly larger in width than the iPod mini is still slimmer allowing the M3 to offer five times more storage than the iPod mini. Of course you can't have everything and you should expect to pay around £80 more (still cheaper however than a 20Gb iPod).

Rather than copy the white of Apple, Cowon has opted for a grey or black, smooth and solid chassis. The aluminium-covered body is strong and svelte. There's no screen on the main unit- that's hidden away -and there is a small just a button cluster and discrete lights tucked into the top edge.

The separate screen is 128x96 dot 4gray LCD with led backlight, built into the first section of the headset. It's an interesting idea that's a bit different to the Apple option, and allows you to pocket the main player out of the way- don't worry, Cowon's had the foresight to add plenty of length on the headphone cord however. Also, the top half of the headset is interchangeable so you can plug in your own headphones.

Unlike the iPod, this is 100% format friendly, supporting the now-standard 'direct encoding'. PC/Mac transfer of WMA, OGG, ASF, WAV and MP3 music files can be carried out using USB 2.0, or by direct input.

The I-Audio M3 works like a dream across both I-Tunes and Windows Media Player. If you're out without a PC, shortcutting direct to the computer is easy from any device with a line out. Great for stocking up, without the need to login, download or rip. It also means shifting collections is easy, without compromising file types. Unfortunately the quality can be poor- the direct input tracks stand out when picked up on a random shuffle.

As a storage device, it's as good as the next HDD player, storing everything from div-x to gifs and spitting them out again nicely. Create multiple folders, edit, label and rename files at will- even when playing, the headset control panel gives full menu navigation.

Expect 12-14 hours continuous playback from the built in battery, with a full charge via cradle, USB or power pack in 6 hours.


This player has handy features galore. Useful to quick charge from the included docking station (which also supports loudspeaker line out), and nice to know it's included free, as is the iPod style case- worth considering when pricing up. The M3 sports an FM radio too, with one touch recording no less. The vibe we got from the M3 was great. Both sound and build quality are top notch. The included peripherals a bonus too. Cowan Systems supply Jet Audio 6 software in the bundle, which gives a little sound editing, as well as serving as a ripping tool. Overall, the style is great and perhaps a little more individual?

This product was kindly loaned to us by http://www.mp3-plus.net

Writing by Dan Leonard.