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To put it through its paces, I fired up a few FLAC-encoded tracks from Six By Seven's raucous album, The Closer You Get, and found the gritty, edgy guitars bite just as much as they should with about as much instrument separation as you could hope for. Slowing the pace a bit I moved to some jazz and classical material. Here, Stacey Kent's rich, sumptuous vocals are rendered beautifully and Andreas Scholl's hauntingly pure alto vocals are clear and extremely natural.
If there are areas of disappointment, however, it's in the bass department - which is competent rather than punchy - and the maximum volume level, which fails to drive larger headphones beyond comfortable levels.
Mary J Blige and Dave Young's duet Alone exposes the lean bass, with low notes just lacking a touch of substance and roundedness. It's the same story with Amy Winehouse's Rehab, with the normally-juicy saxophone getting a little lost among the drum beats and background music.
The bundled earphones aren't much cop, but there's no surprise there, and they're far from the worst I've heard. Hopefully, though, you will have invested in a halfway decent pair of after-market upgrades you can just plug in when you get the A2 home.
Cowon's A2 is a highly competent all round media player. It has excellent battery life, its build quality is supreme, it is packed with as many features as you can shake a USB memory stick at, and it has very good all-round file format support. The fact that you get all the cables and a case in the box is a thoughtful touch and saves the expense of getting them later.
But there's no getting away from the fact that the competition has moved on. Archos' fifth generation 605 player is more innovative, easier to use, has a better screen and almost as many features as the A2. More importantly, though you don't get as much in the box, it's cheaper than the A2, which at £229 remains a little expensive for a 30GB media player.
Scores In Detail
- Sound Quality