Cowon E2 Review
Capacities: 2GB / 4GB
Sound Enhancements: Normal, BBE, BBE ViVa, BBE ViVa 2, BBE Mach3Bass, BBE MP, BBE Headphone 1, BBE Headphone 2 and BBE Headphone 3.
Battery Life: (Claimed 11hrs, Actual 5hrs), Charge time 1.5hrs
Audio Support: MP3, WMA, FLAC, OGG, Wav.
Buttons: Power, Shuffle/BBE, Vol +, Vol -, Skip/Scan, Rew/Scan
The E2 is a stripped down no nonsense 'shuffle' based player from Cowon offering (i think) the lowest price point for experiencing the Cowon sound via its array of BBE DSP enhancements.
As someone who actively uses Cowon products I feel quite well suited to comment on how well the E2 sounds, especially in comparison to its higher end DAPs.
Once unboxed I charged the player as per manual, waiting for the LED light to turn from red (needing charge) to green (fully charged). I then threw on 10 test songs quickly, songs I regularly use to get an idea of how a DAP sounds and to configure the DSPs etc.
Immediately I was impressed, even on 'Normal' (no DSP applied) it sounded good, better to my ears slightly than a Sansa player. The I pressed the shuffle button to cycle through the different DSPs and was again happy to hear the warmth of the BBE sound.
To my ears the presets sounded the same as on any other Cowon player I owned. Before tweaking my own BBE settings in my higher end cowon DAPs I relied on BBE Headphone 1 as my DSP of choice, so I am quite synced as to how that specific preset sounds and it felt the same on the E2 compared to the i9+/C2.
The only thing I had to do was mp3gain my music from 89db up to 92db to get the volume at a level I like (which was pretty much maximum). It's not that it's a quiet mp3 player, just that those of you who know me around here know I like my music loud and am possibly hearing impaired somewhat.
I wasn't impressed with the build quality, indeed if you looked closely the player wasn't straight at all, it was bent somewhat, a little crooked which activated my OCD. I also noticed that the - Volume button was a bit flakey on my unit. Pressing the + volume button felt secure, no misses, a good click and corresponding adjustment, the - button is not as successful. I feel it click and sometimes doesn't adjust volume, sometimes i press and get no click, it's like the spring mechanism isn't working properly. Don't get me wrong it does work it just has a higher fail rate for recognition. Not really an issue for me as all I do is switch the player on, push max volume up and leave it there, the - button is a button I won't use much, if this was happening on another more important and often used button I would be trying to replace the player.
Interacting With a Screenless DAP
This is my first ever 'shuffle' player. At 4gb storage it's clear its not really intended for complicated navigation, playlists etc. Throw in a few albums or hit shuffle (which shuffles entire contents of the drive regardless of folder structure).
My purpose in getting the E2 was to find something truly exercise friendly, something so light and compact that I can run without feeling it bang against a leg, not having to hold etc. I love my i9+, but at 40g and the size it is, if I have it tagged to me at certain places (more on this tagging later) then I am aware of it. The E2 however feels invisible (same as a sansa clip).
For me this player was to play my absolute favourite songs, shuffle all and exercise and in that regard it is the best I have ever owned.
Turning shuffle on or off is easy (long press on the shuffle button) and rotating through the BBE presets is simple with short presses. Where it annoys me is a female voice calls the name of the preset each time you press the DSP, I'd much prefer an LED system on the player, an LED that lights up depending upon the DSP in use etc.
For example, BBE Headphone 1 will be what I use 50% of the time, then sometimes if things get a little distorted I will go to the next BBE setting 'BBE Headphone 2'. But then if I want to go back to BBE Headphone 1 there is no way to jump back, you have to keep cycling through all of them again. It's a shame there is no double press on the shuffle/BBE button to jump back one, or a really long press etc. I have learned however if u press the button in quick succession (whilst counting the presses) you will get to the preset you want and the woman's voice skips a few 'callouts', so at least that's something.
But it has been a long wish of mine to have a dedicated EQ button and this is as close I have gotten to having one, and it's a fantastic feature. I so hope Cowon stay in business and release more DAPs, one with a dedicated BBE/EQ button would be superb. How I would see it working would be to configure that EQ button (in settings) to rotate through the presets (even custom) that you want, then whilst a song is playing and you press the eq button it switches to the next preset you have bookmarked. On a DAP with a screen you wouldn't need the annoying voice over just a pop up message etc.
I really wish a double tap on the shuffle/BBE button took u back one preset instead of only going forward. Nevermind...
Adjustments in volume were accompanied by an annoying beep also. In addition to that everytime the player is switched on/off, or the headphones are pulled out the volume is put back down to default (which i think is somemid way. Everytime I use the player I have to increase volume to max and hear those annoying beeps. Again, some use of LED lights on the player would be better than beeps. Skipping and Rewinding tracks works fine as you would expect. At first I wasn't sure if scanning works (actually fast forwarding in a song) as you here a continuous beeping noise (sounds more like a bug, that scanning isn't working) rather than the song skipping/speeded up noise that I am used to. But indeed it seems scanning works, u just cant hear or tell where you are up to. Again more annoying unnecessary beeping, the C2 and i9+ scan normally, why can't the E2?
But all in all it was interesting to use a player without a screen, not as cumbersome as I first thought. It made me think about the SansaClip+ and how we all got by pretty fine with just some LED screen with no album art. I could see a Cowon doing quite well if it released a future shuffle and had a minimal LED Screen to help with navigation or displaying song/lyrics etc, if anyone could make it look sexy and cool it would be Cowon. I would prefer less Beeps and Voice overs instead a a simple LED light pattern to signal what's going on. For example, I adjust volume fine on my i9+ without hearing beeps, I let my ears tell me if its too loud or quite, not a number on a scale, the beeps feel unnecessary and overdone in places and it gets annoying.
So I think I have pretty much covered the pro's of the player, to recap they would be;
1) Excellent sound for the size and weight of player. I personally prefer the sound of the E2 over the Sansa clip range.
2) Dedicated BBE/DSP button.
3) Fast on time. i9+ can take a little while to switch on and be useable (longer if you have just added music), least with the E2 it boots up instantaneously.
1) Excessive Beeping and Annoying voice overs (already covered that)
2) Not the best build quality (covered that too)
3) Battery Life. Claimed to be 11hrs I have had 5hrs at one test and am currently doing another. My battery test involves filling the player to its 4gb max (3.68GB to be exact) with various mp3 files of differing bitrate (128-320kbps), no FLAC or OGG here currently. I then shuffle the entire collection, plug my headphones in, turn volume to max (which is where I would listen to in real world conditions) and then leave it running and checking on it periodically. The 11hrs claimed must be very low volume, perhaps no headphones plugged in, BBE Normal, mp3 files of 64kbps etc. I just want to warn people that under real life conditions don't expect to get the 11hrs claim, I'm not even getting 50% of that! It's ok for a workout but this low battery life has meant I can't use it for work... shame.
I have also read some people talking about the E2 discharging quickly when not in use (ie off). I have yet to fully charge the player and then leave it a couple of days and do a battery test (will post these findings this week), but I have noticed after a night of been fully charged, when going to use it the next day, I plug it up to pc (ie charging) and it will be red to begin with (indicating it needs some charge) and will stay red for 20mins before turning green. If the DAP takes 1.5hrs to fully charge, 20mins is fairly significant time to lose from just one night of resting... (someone with better maths skills than I should be able to tell us what in listening time that might roughly be). So i suspect there is a dischage fault here, will be able to confirm later. If so that's pretty bad, I mean this thing is kinda meant to be hooked onto yer keyring etc, emergency player is smartphone dies of battery etc, but what's the point if the E2 can't hold a charge!?
4) No clip. I personally don't mind DAPs that have no clip mechanism, I have got around it by using 'Magnetic Badge' clips (see photo above). One side is metal with 3M sticky foam, stick this to yer player of choice, the other strip has magnets which would be placed on the other side of clothing. This allows for more versatility than a clip imo. The DAP can be placed any side up, with headphone terminal at an angle that suits the user. The clips on the Sansa player meant that (if u placed it on yer pants/shorts) it always faced that way. Rockbox allowed for screen reversal which was nice, but even then yer stuck with placement on the edge of garments. The magnetic clasp allows for the item to be placed more medial if you prefer.
There is a clip made for the E2 but I can't find it for cheaper than 17quid, so I'll be giving that a miss.
5) Confusion over features. I read somewhere that pulling the headphones out of the E2 causes the E2 to power down. Nope not for me. I'm using the latest firmware and it definately stays powered on. I can see the headphones removed and the Green led light still blinking intermittently (indicating on). I have to manually power off. Perhaps this explains some 'discharge' issue some people have. Curiously reinserting headphones back in and the volume is put back down to default (about mid way i think). So On/Off puts music back down and so does pulling the headphone cable in/out. Odd.
Whose It For?
So where does the E2 sit in DAP world? For me it's a pure exercising DAP, offering the best sound in the gym without concerns of such issues such as scratching screen, weight, bulk, bounce etc. Make no mistake, the E2 despite its faults will replace my Sansa Clip. The Sansa Clip also failed to get me through a long working day on occasion (10-12hrs continous use) which led me to look into Cowon players again. The E2 won't replace the i9+ but at least I have something more suitable for the gym.
Use the E2 if you are organized (thinking ahead to issues such as charging), want the best sounding smallest player for activities that are completed in under 5hrs (just to be safe). I always found that once I heard the Cowon BBE effects I found it hard to go back to hearing something lesser (Sansa), I put up with all the little dissapointments and quirks of Cowon because at the end of the day it just sounds better (to me) and lets face it most of the time that's what you end up doing, just listening to music.
I know BBE and DSPs aren't for everyone and I think that's fine. In fact if yer not bowled over by BBE then you essentially have a much larger choice and better bargains to be found elsewhere, I'm jealous!
I would like to see more battery life. More thought going into button pushes and indeed more buttons (there is no play/pause, even tho on/off is fairly quick it resets the volume upon resume, annoying). A few extra LED buttons (or even a hidden style LED display) would allow for much more versatility. More storage space of course would be nice, but I have quite enjoyed the challenge of loading 4gb worth of music onto the player and approaching the player from a different perspective than the i9+.
Indeed I may take the 4gb 'best of' music off and instead put whole albums on or just new music that I come across, I'll see...
SOURCE: Xclef (gone) | Cowon X5(gone) | Cowon D2 (dead) | Sansaclip+ RB | Sansa ClipZip RB | Cowon i9+ (32gb) | Cowon C2 (4gb)
HPs: Soundmagic E10's | Hippo VB's | UE 600's | Superlux HD 668B | Superlux HD660 | Sony XBA3 | Sony XBA2VP
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