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With no music software needed or supplied, the E2 works happily with Windows Media Player and most other music management apps, or you can transfer files directly using Windows Explorer. File format support, meanwhile, is excellent for such a small device, with the E2 handling WMA, FLAC and OGG as well as MP3 and WAV. I’m not sure anyone wants or needs uncompressed audio on such a small, limited capacity device, but if you do then the E2 will serve you well.
In fact, there’s a strong argument that the E2 makes a solid audiophile(-ish) alternative to the shuffle. Cowon has built its reputation on the back of devices that deliver premium sound quality, and hasn’t seen any reason to compromise that just because the E2 is a miniature player. For a start, the E2 incorporates a selection of the BBE+ effects sported by the company’s larger audio players. On top of a flat ‘normal’ setting and vanilla BBE processing, we get the BBE VIVA and VIVA 2 3D soundstage technologies, the BBE Mach3Bass bass enhancement, BBE MP harmonic restoration and three varieties of BBE headphone processing (combining the BBE, MP and 3D soundstage technologies).
On the normal preset the E2 is a decent but slightly flat performer. The bundled headphones aren’t up to much, of course, but then what do you expect for this kind of money? With Mach3Bass or BBE Headphone up and running, however, you can expect a listenable, reasonably punchy sound. Of course, the big advantage that the E2 has over the shuffle, is that you’re not at all limited when it comes to which headphones you can use. Buy even a bargain basement set of in-ear headphones and you can substantially upgrade the sound.
Pair up the E2 with a set of Creative’s ultra-cheap EP-630s, for example, and the sound exhibits a bit more bass, and the results will be perfectly good enough for jogging or gym work. With a pair of still cheap and cheerful Soundmagic PL-11 headphones the sound is strong and beefy, albeit a bit heavy on the bass with some of the presets.
With something more expensive and refined, like a pair of Etymotic HF6s, the output grows richer and more detailed, with the VIVA and BBE Headphone presets opening up a nice, wide soundstage and adding a little warmth to the delivery. The E2 does clean and crisp better than it creamy tone or beefy raunch, but the presets make it a more versatile box than you initially expect.
On the normal preset, for example, tracks from Muse’s mighty The Resistance or The Dead Weather’s swamp-rock stormer, Horehound, sound a little weak and uninspired. Switch to BBE VIVA2 or BBE Headphone, however, and the E2 does a decent impression of a little rock monster. Fiddle around, and there’s enough snap on offer for poppy tracks from Royskopp and Maroon 5, and enough low to mid-range tone to handle jazz from Bill Evans or bluegrass from Alison Krauss. The E2 is a small player, but it certainly doesn’t sound like one. It’s not quite in the same territory as Cowon’s premium quality players, but it punches comfortably above its light weight.