Audio / Video performance
We didn't run this thing through any sort of super sophisticated audio analyzer, but we did give it a listen alongside PMPs from Apple and Sony. The quick and dirty of all this is that the sound quality from Cowon's S9 is stellar. Lows are punchy and decisive, mids are smooth and highs are distinct without being piercing. We listened to a variety of genres, and across the board we found ourselves thoroughly pleased with the unit's audio capabilities. Cowon knows that you're considering this player for its wide ranging codec support and the outfit's heralded audio quality, and it's evident that company engineers put some serious time into making sure the S9 performed the core task -- playing back audio -- marvelously. If you're into audio above all else (with "all else" being applications, internet access, etc.), you can't go wrong with the S9. Oh, and the integrated support for Bluetooth headsets / BT streaming
is downright splendid.
Over on the video side, clips were expectedly phenomenal. With such fantastic audio capabilities, the only question left was around image quality. And with an AMOLED screen, this question pretty much answers itself. We've yet to find a player this small that we would rather watch an extended video on; sure, video-centric players such as the A3
easily trump this with their higher resolutions and larger screen sizes, but you'll have a difficult time finding something this minuscule that makes watching video so enjoyable.Wrap up
By now, you've probably already decided if this thing is for you. For those into extravagant extras and a perfectly polished UI, you simply will not find what you're after in the S9. For those who view pristine audio quality and delightful video playback as paramount, you're probably willing to overlook the ho hum UI and design flaws in order to possess a pocketable player that won't disappoint your discerning ears and eyes. For anyone still on the fence, it really boils down to your needs and desires. Are you willing to deal with an interface that's troublesome to navigate at times if it means the best possible audio quality when the track finally begins to play? Would you take lightweight over solid? Will you be satisfied with your PMP if it does little else outside of playing back joints and jams?
The S9 has a lot of things going for it -- the 2+ day battery life, gorgeous AMOLED screen, impeccable audio quality and featherlight design (just to name a few) -- but at $199.99 and $239.99 for the 8GB and 16GB versions, respectively, we simply expected more. If these fall by $70 or so in the short term, they'll certainly become quite the bargain, but considering that these are apt to be used in noisy subway stations and on windy bike trails (compared to say, in a dead quiet recording studio), we're not entirely sure the small bump in overall sound quality is enough to warrant a purchase over more fully-featured rivals. Is Cowon's S9 worth a look if you're in the market? Unquestionably so. But unless its unique characteristics are exactly what you're after, we'd hold off until the price slips or the interface gets a makeover.