Our Verdict 
Some things – KitKats, for instance – are better for being chunky. We don’t think an MP3 player is, especially not one that’s such a bind to use
For 
Extensive specification
impressive volume
rapid, attacking sound
Against 
Tiny, overworked display
infuriating fascia controls
stocky looks not matched by the sound of the low end
miserable headphones
Reviewed on

We're well aware there's an '80s revival in full swing at the moment, but where retro fashion is concerned it's important to pick and choose – that's why we say ‘okay!' to skinny ties but ‘no way!' to inner-city race riots.

And, for our money, the Cowon iAudio7's chunkily bloated looks and hopelessly overburdened display fall heavily into the ‘no way!' category.

Let's imagine you're undeterred by the derision an MP3 player styled like Knight Rider's Zippo is bound to attract, and wish to investigate the Cowon further.

User interface drives us nutsThe first thing you need to know is that the user interface is among the least successful we've seen, and that's for one specific reason: the touch-sensitive fascia controls get on with the iAudio7's extensive suite of menus about as well as a Rottweiler gets on in a poodle parlour.

This Cowon is a brilliantly adjustable player, with the facility to trim every aspect of its performance – from the speed that track names scroll across the display to cropping or stretching video formats to better fit its tiny screen – which makes the hamfisted vagueness of its controls all the more galling.

More after the break

Menu text is small enough to induce a squint, which makes customising things to your specification almost more trouble than it's worth – and though the iAudio7 can play video files, that squint becomes terminal if you try to watch them.

Music is its redemptionAs a music player, though, the Cowon isn't without redemption.

It almost goes without saying that the supplied 'phones are scarcely fit for purpose, but switch to something with a degree of ability and the iAudio7 demonstrates a surprisingly vivid, speedy sound.

Archie Shepp's Attica Blues is delivered with engaging zip and drive, though low frequencies could be more assertive.

The Cowon's outright volume – it's one of the few players we've tested that can get uncomfortably loud – means that the noise of even the most oversubscribed train journey can be successfully drowned out.

Fair specification, but too much aggroThere are other pluses here too: FM radio reception is on board, and there's a built-in mic for voice-recording.

The iAudio7 is compatible with a good many different file types (including lossless FLAC) and the claimed battery life is a massive 60 hours.

But the endless aggravation of actually using the Cowon is enough for us to draw a necessarily large veil over it.