Cowon X9 Video Playback
This screen issue alone is enough to ruin the Cowon X9's chances of becoming a decent video player, as it simply can't render the detail of any decent-quality movie or TV show. For those desperate enough to look past this, the player can handle a reasonable array of basic video types including Xvid and WMV, although it did fail to play most of our test files. Battery life when playing video is claimed at up to 13 hours, which is good.
Cowon X9 Sound Quality
The Cowon X9 is bulky, its screen feels like it has just popped through a wormhole from 2008 and it's quite expensive. But do its musical abilities win us over?
Let's start with the bad bits. The resistive touchscreen is at its worst when flicking through your music library. It feels inaccurate and clumsy, and as the processor inside the Cowon X9 isn't exactly blisteringly fast, this is compounded by choppy screen scrolling.
Adding software issues to hardware ones, navigation is often counter-intuitive, frequently making your thumb leap from one end of the screen to the other in order to get where you want to go. It's a nav style we've seen in Cowon devices for years, and the company should have tightened this up a long time ago.
Where the Cowon X9 does excel, though, is sound quality. Like other players from the range, it uses the JetEffect 5 engine, which offers refined sound customisation that puts most of the competition to shame. Its main event is a 5-band EQ that lets you choose the frequency range of each band, the magnitude of the bump it applies and whether it uses a peaked or wide curve of effect. It's sophisticated enough to let you make worthwhile adjustments - most media player EQ systems simply aren't.
JetEffect 5 also offers one of the best bass boost and treble optimising systems you'll find in a device like this - with BBE , which includes the Mach3Bass low-end booster. Some will prefer using the flat settings, but there are four fully customisable user presets you can tinker with, as well as a few dozen Cowon-made presets.
Sound output is notable too. It's clean, and goes very loud indeed, making it suitable for use with more demanding on-ear and over-ear headphones, which other media players may struggle with.
In-line with its audiophile leanings, Cowon includes support for several lossless formats as well as standards like MP3 and AAC. APE and FLAC are supported, as well as the lossy, but popular with veteran audio fans, OGG format.
Cowon X9 Value
There's a lot to like about the way Cowon approaches music. But the problem is that not much has changed in three or four years. In several respects, the two year-old Cowon J3 feels more advanced, with a capacitive touchscreen and sleeker design. It has its positive points, but the Cowon X9 doesn't have the features, the storage or the style to justify its price or pocket-bulge-inducing design.
Cowon X9 Verdict
The Cowon X9 is the latest portable MP3 and video player from the Korean audio brand. However, in some respects it feels like a step back when compared with older models. Its touchscreen is resistive, its display low-res and it doesn't have the storage to justify the bulky design. Cowon needs to get with the times, or it'll soon be game over.