A Costly Mistak

Incoming Babble/Rant/Whine

I rarely make mistakes when purchasing gadgets and gizmos. I do my research as much as possible, then scour forums for opinions and feedback from owners. I then do some research into the company and learn about their past products and how much attention those products had (e.g firmware/software updates). Finally I make my purchase based on information from the above analysis.
However I think I’m getting old, because I have made a balls up, a rather large one at that. I am mad about music, in fact the ladies at work often comment that I had been born with earphones already in my ears. So it is with some irony that I work in the field of audio too. I love portable audio players (except crummy ipods to you teenyboppers). I have heaps of them, however at present I own an iPod Touch…not the best sounding player like every other iPod in existance but the touch is a unique exception compared to a normal iPod – it has potential. More on that later anyway.

Every morning I head off to work, shoving my lovely Ultimate Ears Super.Fi 5 Pro’s (mouthful!) into my earlobes, only to grimace at the poor muffled sounds I hear from the Touch. Compared to my other players the ‘audio’ is dreadful. If anyone tells me otherwise, they clearly need a slap and to listen to the competition whole have been miles ahead of Apple for years now.

Anyway, it was two weeks ago to this day that I had a brainstorm. Why not dump the Touch and get the best audio player there is, because all I do is listen to music and podcasts anyway! I then backed this up by the fact that I purchased from iTunes two AAC encoded tracks at 44KHz from the rock band Aerosmith. Now I purchased these tracks so they could replace the MP3 versions I already had on the player. For some reason I thought the AAC versions would sound brighter and better. Imagine my horror when it sounded godawful playing through the touch. So I played them through my top end soundcard via iTunes and it sounded acceptable, but no better than the old MP3 equivalent. Angry I became.
Off I went and did research into a player that I had heard people raving on about since mid 2007 – the Cowon iAudio D2. This little bugger had the most powerful music output of all portable players, and was also rated as one of the best sounding too. Essentially it has received rave reviews almost everywhere. The 16GB version is currently due to hit the UK so I purchased the 8GB version. Since it has expandable storage via SDHC cards I could be happy that my player is future proof storage wise anyway.
So the D2 arrived and I fired off some snapshots before eagerly digging into the device. Crikey its tiny I thought to myself. Almost smaller than a credit card! It was also incredibly light. With a quoted 50hr battery life, I wouldn’t be charging this bugger in a hurry. After playing back some of my MP3’s I was blown away – and that was with the default JetEffect settings untweaked.

After much tweakage I came away with a sound that rivalled my superb, if dated iRiver players, which I rate as having the best audio quality out of the portable players I have tried. The sound was equal to my Creative Zen Vision:M in places and better in other places. On the whole the audio tweaks available on the D2 were more extensive than anything I currently own or have owned. All good so far? Well no. After 4 days of use my desire to dump the touch had changed…

Whilst on the way to a friends house in Watford, I had somehow taken a wrong turn in the bad weather and become a bit lost. It turned out I had overshot their house by about two streets. I had both players on me at this stage, so out came the touch. I scanned around for any un-secured wireless connections and found four. Being connected to the internet I could now use the google maps application on the touch and triangulate my very position, and then found my friends house because you can search google maps using your Contacts info, also stored on the touch. It then dawned on me that if I had left the touch at home…
Back to the D2 anyway. I love the little thing, it has a ton of features for the hardcore audio enthusiast, it has a very nice touch screen, it has a radio, hell it works off a USB connection so you can use it as a storage device on ANY computer with a USB connection. Suffice to say there are enough pro’s. So here goes…
Despite all my research, I had overlooked the interface. More to the point I overlooked the twiddly, finicky music navigation browser because the rest is fine. There is so much information on the screen at any one time that everything looks compressed and squashed in on the display. The 2.5" screen is just too small in this day and age, and the interface in places fails to work the way you need it to. Scrolling through my list of albums was a painful experience. Granted the touch does it a lot better but that thing is in a different league to the D2 anyway so direct feature-set comparisons aren’t fair.
I just couldn’t get to grips with tapping/holding the down arrow constantly just so I could find my album. Once I found the album everything was fine, but navigation is obviously the most important part of the user experience on a player and it left me quite annoyed. Especially since I had paid an inflated price for the player since it is so hard to obtain – £174. You can also scroll music lists using the ‘flick’ approach that the touch uses, but it works poorly. This is mainly due to the type of touchscreen that both players use. The D2 uses a tactile based one, whilst the Touch’s screen relies on the static electricity on your fingertips, enough of the geekyness anyway. I wrote a letter to the chaps who I had purchased the player from asking for a refund, or at least a partial refund. I know when I’m wrong!
So its back to the inferior sounding ‘plod’. I had to do something to clear up the audio on this thing. So I jailbroke the bugger. For those who aren’t in the know Jailbreaking an iPhone or iPod Touch removes any restrictions that Apple have placed on the device and allows you to install and run third party applications – and there are literally hundreds of those as I found out. The Touch was hacked in about 3 minutes flat and I was up and running installing useful and pointless applications. I found a core set of useful ones and stuck to those. Virtually overnight my touch had been transformed into a REALLY useful device in many ways I can’t really describe.

Upon browsing the forums I noticed a lot of users changing certain interface elements e.g. Better Battery charge meters. So I dabbled into that and changed a fair amount of stuff. Sadly I was hoping to find an application that resembled a user configurable Equalizer to try and tweak the poor sound but had no luck so that remains one of my wishes.
With Firmware 2.0 on the way for the iPhone and Touch, I now face a decision. Do I eventually upgrade to it and lose all my custom apps, or do I go with Apple’s decision to allow users to download apps both free and paid for from iTunes?

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