Students rejoice: a built-in microphone provides a dictation machine function -- no need to show up for lectures anymore. There's also line-in recording to WMA format (at various bit rate qualities) plus the FM radio can be recorded live to the disk at CD quality. There's a whole heap of EQ and playback options, much more than competing players, and it'll work with Windows, Macs and Linux! If you're a podcast fan, the Podcast Ready service (check their Web site for details) is compatible and works very well.
Sound quality is excellent, once you've discarded the average bundled headphones for something better. MP3, OGG and WMA files sound excellent at decent bit rates, but sadly there's no gapless playback. Only a small gap appears between tracks on a live album.
Where this player really shines is when using lossless FLAC files. We did notice, however, that FLAC music is only supported when encoded at a compression level of six or below -- anything higher and the player freezes.
The FM radio's auto-seek, while nippy, is poor. It found 20 stations but all required fine-tuning. You'll be better off searching for channels yourself and saving them as presets. The player can also be scheduled to switch itself on to automatically record radio, which is a superb feature for radio fans and works perfectly.
The built-in microphone for voice recording is extremely sensitive and gives great results even at low bit rates. It's more than capable of recording a lecture or meeting, and with 8GB of storage, even 'Advanced Rocket Science with Quantum Mechanics' lectures will fit.
Battery life is a lot longer than most -- Cowon claims the player will keep pumping music for 60 hours. Transferring 1GB of music from a Windows office PC took five minutes, and a full charge can be completed in just under four hours.
The iAudio 7 is a feature-packed player with heaps of customisation potential and awesome sound quality. Only Creative's players beat it in terms of audio performance. Apple's video iPod is arguably better if you're a style-conscious consumer, but for £149 (or £109 for the 4GB version), it's great value. The major downside is video, no thanks to the tiny low-res screen. But if you're all about the music, you will not be disappointed.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Kate Macefield