For a relatively small company, Cowon has developed an awfully big reputation for its MP3 and PMP products. Its S9 is one of the most highly-regarded PMPs out there, while the company has won an enviable following amongst the audiophile crowd for the simple reason that it produces some of the best-sounding digital audio players on the market.
The subject of today's review - the iAudio D2+ - comes with some high expectations. It's the successor to one of Cowon's most popular efforts, the D2 which has, I'm told, sold over 500,000 units worldwide to date. That's chickenfeed for the likes of Apple or Sony, but not at all bad for a Korean brand that most people in the UK won't even have heard of.
Those of you who have may remember Jon's review of the original, which acclaimed it for its excellent sound quality but condemned it for its ropey DAB radio and its rather excessive price tag. The D2+ I'm looking at now no longer sports the former - a DAB version will be available later if you want to see if Cowon has fixed the issues - and as a result the latter has been cut back to a slightly more reasonable figure. Only ‘slightly more', mind you. At £99 for a 4GB version this is an expensive player, particularly when you can get 8GB versions of the Sony NWZ-S639 or Samsung YP-Q1 for £10 to £20 less.
To some extent, the high price is justified by the D2+'s feature set. Like the D2 before it, it's a credit-card sized touchscreen PMP based around a 2.5in TFT screen with a 320 x 240 pixel resolution. What's more, it's one that comes with features like an SDHC expansion slot and comprehensive audio file support that, while irrelevant to some, are absolutely essential to a certain breed of audiophile. From the styling to the interface to the overall specification, there's a feeling with the D2+ that it's not about producing eye-candy or any kind of wow factor; it's a player that takes care of the business of media playback, and quality is very much the core concern.
This is certainly reflected in the physical design which is, if anything, even more stripped back than the already minimalist D2. It's all very black, very matt and very square-edged, and even the D2's meagre design frills - the silver Cowon badge and right-hand strip - have been dispensed with. Controls are limited to a two-way power/hold slider with up, down and menu buttons on the top, and the only other points of physical interest are the standard mini-USB connector and a proprietary AV output on the left-hand side, with an SDHC memory card slot at the bottom. This will take cards of up to 32GB in size, and as £30 will buy you 16GB these days that's a pretty affordable way to turn a 4GB device into a 20GB device in a matter of seconds. If you like your lossless audio, this is something you'll soon come to appreciate.