The COWON iAudio 7

 in
A Flash-drive, mini-portable media player that plays nice with Linux.

I was on the prowl for a new portable media player. I wasn't happy with just a music player though. I wanted something that would play videos, FM radio, show pictures, display text, record my voice, record old LPs via a line-in jack, record FM radio and play music—not just MP3s, but Ogg, FLAC and (yuck) my few WMAs. Finally, it would be great if it sounded better than, and had double the battery life per charge of, an iPod Nano. And, I found it, the COWON iAudio 7. This Swiss-Army knife of multimedia players comes in 4GB, 8GB and 16GB varieties of Flash drives that cost $150, $200 and $300 retail, respectively, but you easily can find one for less at most on-line retailers that sell this player. Best of all, this player is very Linux-friendly.

Its default setting is for use as a UMS device out of the box. That means you can move your media in and out of this player easily by dragging and dropping to and (unlike many other players) from this device. You don't need to install any software to do this, just turn it on, plug it in to any of your computer's USB ports, and within seconds, it mounts as an external drive. You will see an icon pop up on your desktop when it mounts. Open it, and navigate to whatever folder you wish to move files to and from, and when you're done, simply right-click and unmount it.

Figure 1. COWON iAudio 7

Videos do require re-encoding prior to loading them for playback on the iAudio 7, and there is an open-source Linux solution for this purpose. This is necessary, due to the small size of the iAudio 7. Smaller than a credit card, it's about the same size as a large pack of gum. The screen measures 1.3", 160 x 128 dot and is a 260,000 color TFT LCD. Small as this screen is, it has good detail and color saturation. This makes it relatively enjoyable to view a TV show or even a movie. An hour of video after re-encoding is about 178MB, so it's possible to carry quite a few TV shows or movies in this player and still have room for your music library too. If you think you'll be carrying a lot of videos, you might want to opt for the 16GB version. Videos need to be encoded in xvid-.avi at 256–384kbps, at no more than 15fps. I provide a step-by-step rundown on how to re-encode later in this article.

The iAudio 7's best feature is its sound quality. It puts most other players to shame. The earbuds COWON packs with this player are of average quality. To really appreciate the sound quality this player puts out, you need to buy better earphones, like the Shure e2cs I own or any other $100+ brand of your choice. Another way to hear this player's outstanding audio quality is to plug it in to your car's radio, if it's equipped with an MP3 player (line-in) jack, like many newer models now have.

Its equalizer is called Jet Audio, which is a software branch of COWON. This little player has the most elaborate choices for equalization I ever have seen on any player. If you can't find a setting you like listening to, you might want to consider buying a hearing aid instead—it's that good.

Controlling the iAudio 7 is done with a touch interface to the right of the screen. It's called a swing-bar, and it's fairly easy to learn how to use, but it can be a bit difficult getting used to the touch sensitivity. You can make it better by going to Settings→General and changing the touch sensitivity to low. Fortunately, it does have a lock switch, so when it's locked, you can run it in your pocket without fearing it will switch to something you don't want to hear. To use the swing-bar, simply stroke the bar up or down, or hold your finger down at one end or the other to scroll through the menu. Tapping either end of the bar tells it to skip to the next file. The play arrow opens any file or function, whether it's music, video, radio station and so on. You can shuttle forward or reverse with videos or music, using the swing bar. This is useful if you recorded a TV show off-air with commercials or if you just want to shuttle over a segment of video. If the shuttle speed is too slow for your liking, you can make it faster by going to Settings→General and increasing the scan speed.

There also are three control buttons on the top of the player. The left button is power on/off/hold. The center button is the master menu control, which switches between all folders and playlists. The right buttons are for volume up and down. On the left side are the earphone and line-in jacks, and on the right side is the USB port, with a sturdy rubber flap covering it.

Speaking of playlists, you may be thinking that because you would be using it in UMS mode, you wouldn't be able to save custom mixes of your favorite songs. You would be wrong. The iAudio 7 has a feature called DPL, for Dynamic Playlist. To use this feature, simply hold the play button while playing a song until you see a small box that has a choice of DPL, Bookmark or Lyrics. Choose DPL, and it saves that song to the DPL folder. You can arrange the songs in that folder in any order you like, up to 200 songs. Just remember, the last song added always ends up at the bottom of the list.

You also can create subfolders on your computer for DPL, if you want to have special mixes of songs. Simply load the mix folder to the Music folder on the player. Then, on the player's main menu, click on Music, navigate to that folder, hold down the play button, and choose DPL on the drop-down menu. To get to the DPL folder, simply navigate to the Music folder on the main menu (using the top-center button), scroll down and click on Dynamic Playlist.

I'm sure you're curious about those other choices that appear in the menu box. Bookmark simply bookmarks your song or video where you paused it, if you want to navigate away to another song or folder. Lyrics displays the lyrics to the song you are playing. (This works only for songs that have this feature.)

The line-in, voice and FM recording features also are a nice touch, and they do make quality recordings. I did find it odd that with the support for Ogg, FLAC and Xvid open-source files for playback on this player, it records only line-in, voice and FM radio in unprotected WMA with a limit of 128kbps. In spite of this, the recordings sound surprisingly good, thanks to the Jet Audio equalizer. Voice recordings are done through a built-in mic, which sounds fine on the higher bit-rate settings. Line-in recording is one of those functions I feel all media players should offer. Maybe it's because it appeals to those like myself, who are old enough to have a large collection of music on vinyl LPs. In any case, you can digitize all your old vinyl records by recording directly into the iAudio 7 from your analog stereo amp. Simply connect your amp using standard RCA A/V plugs connected to an RCA-to-mini-plug conversion jack, and connect the mini-plug end to the line-in jack on the iAudio 7. If you want to burn a CD of the music you digitized, simply drag the songs out of the player and on to your computer for burning.

The FM radio has good signal pick up and can be used in several ways. You can scan for stations manually if you want, but it's easier to auto-scan all the stations it can pick up in your area and then assign presets for the stations you like. As for recording FM radio, you can do it on the fly, or you can use the timer settings in the Settings menu and preset a time to record a station—like a TiVo for radio. This same timer also can be used to lull you to sleep with your stored music or to wake you up with the FM radio—like a clock radio.

The picture and text display functions are pretty straightforward. Both can be displayed separately as your music plays. To load text or pictures, simply drag and drop into the appropriate folder, just like all other content stored on the player. Pictures are resized automatically as they load. They also can be used as wallpaper for your screen, or you can hold down the play button while the picture is displayed to add it to a slideshow of your own creation.

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Cowon iAudio7 partition table

Anonymous's picture

Hello guys, I have had this player almost two years. I am noticing that cannot delete files from the drive resulting in running out of disk space. The symptoms when using windows 7 and Slackware Linux 13.0.

I remember way back when this drive was only 3 months old some expert from here suggested I do fsck on the drive then format. I did this in windows. Now in Linux I get the following when look at fdisk list.

Note the Cowon is /dev/sdd

Disk /dev/sdd: 16.5 GB, 16542334976 bytes
64 heads, 32 sectors/track, 15776 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 2048 * 512 = 1048576 bytes
Disk identifier: 0x69737369

This doesn't look like a partition table
Probably you selected the wrong device.

Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System
/dev/sdd1 ? 912975 995343 84344761 69 Unknown
Partition 1 does not end on cylinder boundary.
/dev/sdd2 ? 830821 1743849 934940732+ 73 Unknown
Partition 2 does not end on cylinder boundary.
/dev/sdd3 ? 2 2 0 74 Unknown
Partition 3 does not end on cylinder boundary.
/dev/sdd4 1409025 1409050 26207+ 0 Empty
Partition 4 does not end on cylinder boundary.

Partition table entries are not in disk order

patch for bug in i7remux leading to buffer overflow

Carl Heinrichs's picture

I downloaded and compiled i7remux 0.1 on Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex successfully with the package 'build-essential' installed. But when running i7remux I got the following error:
*** buffer overflow detected ***: ./i7remux terminated
When I fiddled around with i7remux for the first time in January 2009 I couldn't find a solution on the web. But today I could find a patch for the bug:

diff i7remux-0.1/AviFile.cc i7remux-0.1.mine/AviFile.cc
685c685
< char id[4];
---
> char id[5];

The patch can easily applied manually by editing on character in one file of the source code. After another 'make', it's running straight through. Pretty soon I'll try it on Ubuntu Jaunty and Karmic.

Warning: ogg support broken

fresta's picture

Just a word of warning: ogg support is seriously broken on the IAudio 7 player. Most importantly, there is a really annoying noise in the treble when playing some ogg files with bass tones around 100 kHz, see this post at cowonamerica.com. For me it spoils the listening experience completely for about every fourth ogg file in my collection.

Cowon has been aware of it for almost two years now, and done nothing. It's actually a very simple bug and has been fixed on the D2 I think, though several other models from Cowon still suffer from it.

Also, ogg tags parsing is broken in music mode so it is not possible to browse ogg files by artist, album or genre etc. You have to use folder mode.

The IAudio7 definitely has one of the best hardware on the market, the engineers at Cowon has done a good job there. Pity that it should be spoiled by incompetent software programming and lousy support.

vorbis distortion issue fixed

pellgarlic's picture

hi, i just wanted to share some new info with anyone who already owns, or is thinking about getting an iaudio 7 - there is a new firmware release - 1.18 (go here: http://www.cowonglobal.com/ to get it) - which fixes this particular problem (the vorbis distortion). it was a significant problem for me (as my music collection is predominantly in ogg-vorbis format), but i didnt find out until after i had purchased the player. to be honest, i couldn't find another player which ticked all the boxes for me that the i7 does, so i was pretty peeved, and loathe to start the hunt for an alternative, so i emailed cowon support (as many other people have probably done too) and got a few replies, the last one being a few days ago, saying they were releasing a fix :) i have now downloaded it and tested it, and can confirm that it has resolved the vorbis-distortion-caused-by-low-frequency problem. may i say, on a personal note... "woo-hoo!"

this seems to be my player.

Anonymous's picture

this seems to be my player. there is one feature that i cannot find a in depth documentation over. id like to record dj-sets via line-in and am wondering if there is anything such as a visual meter? i need to see if the signal is to quiet or clipping ...

thanks tim from kt

Synching, Filenames

Amanda's picture

I'm struggling with colons in filenames in a lot of my podcasts. Is there a smart workaround?

And, has anyone sorted out a smart way to automate synching? I'm just lazy on that front.

Finally, I'm kind of getting the hang of navigation through trial and error but has anyone seen a better how-to on using the iAudio 7 interface to find and listen to tracks?

Thanks!

Playlist limitations

JD's picture

Great article, and based on it, I asked "Santa" for one. She obliged, and after just over a week, I agree with you that this is one fantastic device.

But, there's one thing seriously missing: per-folder playlists. Is there any way to make them? The problem is, many CDs are built in a specific order (song sequences, classical pieces with multiple parts, etc). The DPL is REALLY LAME for this - I don't want to rip my CDs, build a playlist for use on my computer, and then have to manually walk through every single one of the pieces, again, and one-by-one, to add them to the DPL playlist. And THEN have to step through the DPL for the "album" I want to play.

Is there any way to build and use better playlists? Mind you, I'm not giving up the fantastic FLAC quality (kills MP3 in it's tracks, especially for harpsichord, organ, and violin) or this device, and I'll suffer through DPL if I really, really have to, but anybody bright enough to build a unit this nice must surely know how to build a per-folder playlist too? And make them loadable along with the FLAC files? PLEASE?

tip for smooth video playback

-=terry=-'s picture

If when you start to play the video you get some stuttering just press pause/play and it should play smooth since now on.

Avidemux

-=terry=-'s picture

The new Avidemux 2.4.3 has a little different interface than the one you use. Here are the same steps you took in Avidemux. Thxs much for this great article, after reading it I end up buying an iAudio7 and I love it.

Within Avidemux:

VIDEO/COPY/MPEG-4 ASP (Xvdid4)

CONFIGURE

Main:
Encoding mode: Constant Bitrate
Target Bitrate: 384
Al the rest unchecked

Motion:
Unchecked all the boxes
GOP Size
Min: 2
Max: 66
Max B Frames: 1

Quantitzation:
Trellis Quantization Unchecked
Quantitation Matrix: may not matter?

FILTERS

Mplayer Resizing:
Source A:R : 4:3
Destination A/R: 4:3
Width: 160
Heigth: 120
Bilinear
OK
Note: if the source is 16:9 ratio then change the
Source A/R: 16.9
Destination A/R: 4:3
Width: 160
Height: 90
In this way the images are not distorted.

Resample fps:
New frame rate: 15
Check Blend

AUDIO/MP3 (LAME)

CONFIGURE
Chennel Mode: Stereo
Bitrate mode: CBR
Quality: 2
Bitrate: 128
Disable reservoir: unchecked

FILTERS
Check Resampling and set it to 44100

FILE/SAVE/VIDEO
be sure add the .avi as extension

command line script

pug2694328's picture

GREAT article and a really nifty little player. I was looking for just this thing for my bike commute and just received my iAudio 7 today. A few comment/questions:

-- It looks like I can only create one FM tuner wake/record item. If I want to record Car Talk on Saturdays from 9-10 am and a different show m-f from 1-130pm, I will have to reset the scheduler once a week to toggle between the two schedules. Am I not getting it or is the FM recording scheduler really this limited? Maybe I'm better off using something on my server to capture the shows? Is there any recommended programs for auto getting new .mp3 files when I plug the usb into my home linux box (I'm using ubuntu with gnome). That could be handy for importing podcasts too I suppose.

-- Your tutorial on converting video to the required format is most welcome, but requires several GUI tools and clickity clicking. Does anyone know of command line tools that can be used to script conversion of files for the iAudio 7?

Thanks!

answers & command line script

tvphil's picture

Sorry it took awhile to respond. To answer your first question, yes (unfortunately), its scheduled FM radio record function is that limited. Its nice they have it, but it looks like it was a development engineer's after-thought as in "we have an alarm function, lets script it to record FM radio too!".It is what it is.At least you can schedule one event for either one time or recurring, but that's it. I use Ubuntu on 4 different computers, 2 32 bit versions, 2 64 bit versions. There are several good podcatchers for Ubuntu, but my favorite is the Ubuntu default player/podcatcher Rhythmbox. As I said in the article, it also catches video podcasts, it just won't play them. With video podcasts, after it downloads them, it will say "failed", because it only recognizes audio file extensions. In fact it doesn't fail catching a video podcast, they will show up in your designated folder. It's just a false warning.

Finally, here's a couple of command line examples for encoding without using Avidemux. However, you still need to follow these with i7 remux, here they are:

FFmpeg:
$ ffmpeg -i -f avi -g 1 -b 256k -r 12 -s 160x120 -vtag XVID \
-vcodec libxvid -ab 128k -ar 44100 -ac 2 -acodec libmp3lame

MEncoder:
$ mencoder -ofps 12 -vf scale=160:120 -ovc xvid -xvidencopts \
bitrate=384:max_bframes=0:max_key_interval=1 \
-oac mp3lame -lameopts cbr -of avi -o

If you use this script to

Anonymous's picture

If you use this script to transcode a VOB file, you may encounter audio-video sync problems. To solve this, add "-async 2" on the ffmpeg line.

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