Cowon S9 review

Cowon’s moving in the right direction with its S9 MP3 player, but it still can’t quite match the class leaders Tested at £170.00

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

Cowon’s moving in the right direction, but it still can’t quite match the class leaders


  • +

    Excellent screen delivers sharp, vibrant pictures

  • +

    very good format support

  • +

    decent audio detail


  • -

    Slightly lazy musical delivery

  • -

    no iPlayer support

  • -

    fiddly to operate

Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.

Korean company Cowon has been quietly but doggedly chasing the MP3 market leaders for years now, and this S9 is its most stylish and sophisticated player to date.

It's big to handle, but it's very lightweight. In fact, the feel of the unit doesn't match the luxurious looks or premium price-tag; instead it feels a little plasticky and insubstantial.

The S9 has a touchscreen interface, but it's not as sophisticated as that on the similar Samsung player, with less natural flicking and scrolling.

It is, in fact, a rather difficult machine to use all-round, thanks to Cowon's preference for customisability over usability: as soon as you leave the S9's home screen you're confronted with an abundance of indecipherable icons.

One of the Cowon's key strengths is its format support, which consists of MP3, WMA, OGG, FLAC, WAV and APE for music, and AVI, WMV9 and Xvid for video.

One disappointing absence is iPlayer compatibility, but the list is otherwise comprehensive. It's worth noting that the player works well with Windows Media Player, but can also be filled up using simple drag-and-drop.

New 'phones won't fix everything

The headphones aren't quite as nasty as they look, but they're not far off, producing a rather harsh and thin delivery.

Spend £40 on a decent replacement and although the performance is unsurprisingly better, it's still not quite good enough: our 320kbps rip of Tori Amos' Cornflake Girl sounds rather fat and lethargic, despite any fiddling you might do with the substantial equaliser options.

Uncompressed FLACs are equally stodgy, despite decent detail levels overall.

Videos fair much better, thanks to a 3.3in, 480x272, AMOLED display. This tech sees the pixels themselves emitting light, theoretically increasing contrast levels and response time.

It works well here, as the S9 produces a brilliantly punchy, sharp and vibrant picture, with very solid motion and decent black depth for a device of this type.

Oh, and the built-in accelerometer means you only have to turn the player on its side for the picture to rotate and take advantage of the genuine 16:9 aspect ratio.

The problem is that if you're in the market for a small capacity player, music is likely to be your priority, and the S9 doesn't quite cut it in this department.

And if you're really after a portable movie player, Apple's Touch does it better for similar money.

What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, Reading and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.

Read more about how we test