Cowon is a well known brand for its audio products and we’ve come out quite happy with its excellent budget earphones the EM1’s. At first, we were a bit sceptical about the Plenue D as our past experience of Cowon music players, with the D20 and higher-end X9, hasn’t particularly wowed us. However, when it comes to music players, it’s quite a different ball game. You’ve a tonne of things to consider, including the relevancy of a dedicated music player in today’s smartphone era. Let us see what the Plenue D is capable of.
Build and Design: 7/10
Cowon’s Plenue D is one smart looking player, it has all the premium-ness that a device in its category demands. It certainly wowed everyone at the office with its aluminium brushed metal look with the capable 2.8-inch capacitive screen. It weighs only 94g and is delectably compact, about 3.2 x 0.6 x 2.2 inches which makes it one of the smallest high-resolution player out there.
The power button is thoughtfully housed lower than the main body for easier access with a circular status LED to indicate what the player is doing and when it is being charged.
It can happily handle audiophile-grade 192 kHz/24-bit music and can play common lossless and lossy formats such as FLAC, AIFF, WAV, WMA, APE and MP3.
I love it that it comes with a big 32GB storage inbuilt, while one can fit another hefty 128 GB capacity into it with the microSD card slot on the left.
On the right, it houses three hardware buttons for volume, play/pause and skip/rewind, fast forward track.
The Superb EQ
The best thing about this player is the incredibly superb EQ functionality called “JetEffect 5”. It is rather ironic for a player that wants to represent the sound, as true to the original as possible, comes with an EQ that is so good but also much needed to enjoy music as per one’s tastes. You’ll see yourself tinker around with it and its myriad effects for hours. It is incredible to listen to music differently than you are used to, rather than the general boring EQ offerings such as rock, pop, party, etc.
Here you’ll experience new options such as BBE, Mach3Bass, Viva modes, several headphones modes, 3D surround and several Reverb modes. There is also an MP enhance switch to bring lost flavour back in compressed recordings. Unlike most EQ’s, the special settings give you much greater control over the bass to be boomy or tighter without causing ‘V-shaped’ effect in the EQ.
What I felt was a great missed opportunity is the capability to use current EQ preset and tinker with them further, as soon as you want to alter the sound in “User” mode everything is set back to default. “Jeez, all I want to do is up the bass a little not redefine everything!”
There are so many modes (44 in total + 4 user modes), with the EQ having 5 band EQ filter capable of altering the width of each band individually (who would have ever thought of that).
Totally average UI/interface
Cowon put a lot of thought into the hardware of its product and it shows. However, the same cannot be said about the software in the player. While the UI is adequate and does the basic job, it just feels and behaves like an “average” player.
In spite of using a good capacitive screen, Cowon Plenue D does not utilise it as well. Plenue D’s UI fails to deliver where one would expect certain swipes and pull down screens from the UI especially in this smartphone era. It is far too menu driven for its own good, particularly when trying to activate important features like the EQ. It is as if someone designed it with a ‘for-desktop-only’ mindset.
This shows evidently well, where necessary features such as search is hidden so well in menus that I almost gave up thinking that it doesn’t come with a search at all. And that too the search isn’t “search as you type”, one must type in the name and then press enter for the results to appear, if no results, go back and check the spelling or try another. This certainly seems like the Windows desktop search (Windows XP) in the yesteryear’s effect still looming in Cowon’s Plenue D player.
There is no landscape orientation which one would quite expect from a touchscreen player, the option included is limited and only for album view which is restrictive as it is special mode rather than having a true landscape-capable functionality.
The EQ which has a lot of options could have been much better displayed in this mode than the current restrictive style in portrait mode and easy to miss “Next page” scroll that the player forces upon the user. Scrolling, on the other hand, is weird, it stammers and can get to be quite an irritant with the menu scrolling away on its own.
A superb example of great player UI in a smartphone is Poweramp by Max MP. The guys at Poweramp know how to optimise software for a touch screen format. All that Cowon needs to do is copy it at the very least, couple it with their fantastic hardware and VOILA, you have a PERFECT player!
The Plenue D player was tested with Audio Technica ATH-M50s and Sennheiser HD 471i in the labs with and without EQ enhancements. In comparison, Nexus 5 Android phone and Window 10 desktop with FiiO Q1 DAC + Amp were used.
The sound of Plenue D is warm, rich and satisfying. The player doesn’t come in the way of sound, it adds a satisfying warmer signature to the sound which I personally quite enjoyed. There is smoothness to the sound which is hard to describe, classical music sounded like it had much more emotion to it than on FiiO Q1 DAC. Comparing with a Nexus 5, the sound of Plenue D was cleaner, smoother and much better balanced.
While comparing it with other players (including phones) costing less or even half the cost, it is an obvious bump up in quality. However, these subtleties are easy to miss, Plenue D would require equally excellent headphone/earphone to really enjoy it. We wished we had better hardware just to appreciate this little player’s full musical capabilities.
Unfortunately, not much in details are thrown in by Cowon for a high-end resolution player, as to which DAC it uses other than just “High-Quality 24bit Stereo DAC” (rumoured to be Wolfson WM8998) and the Ohm’s capability of this player to drive bigger headphones. Strange that this information is actually omitted in tech specs here of an enthusiast/audiophile grade player.
In contrast, the FiiO M3 budget player which we’ve reviewed before and quite liked it could drive headphones till 100 Ohms easily. I’m betting the Plenue D can drive 300 Ohm’s headphones easily, if it can do 600 Ohm’s headphones that would be great but most probably that is reserved for the Rs 50,000 Cowon Plenue 1 player.
The battery lasts long, really long, so much so that you can easily forget to charge it as it does seem to go on forever. The (1800 mAh) rated battery provides 100 hours of MP3 playback and about half of that for FLAC files. While testing, I certainly cannot claim 100 hours as there was a lot of tinkering around, I spent more screen time trying to figure out the UI, switching between MP3’s and FLAC files and the like. I ran the player throughout the night for 10 hours continuous playback then resumed tinkering, the battery still showed little less than half the juice left. I expect it to run for more than 20 hours with minimum screen tinkering time.
Verdict and Price in India
Would I recommend the Plenue D player? Oh boy, this is a loaded question.
Go for Plenue D if you want:-
- A high class, high performing player
- A small and light player
- A long-running battery
- Have good headphones (less than 300 Ohm’s) to couple with the player
Don’t go for Plenue D if you want:-
- The ultimate in sound quality, perhaps Plenue 1 or S would be ideal
- Better build quality
- A better interface
In short, it is a high-resolution player with really sweet sound, but not audiophile grade. It would have been a good starting point as an audiophile grade player, but with the atrocious pricing here in India of Rs 27,000 (actual USD pricing $240), I’d give it a skip.
Of course, apples-to-apples comparison cannot be made here, but considering from a pocket-friendly perspective and a starting audiophile/sound enthusiast perspective, I’d recommend FiiO X3 for Rs 14,500 or the FiiO X5 (2nd gen) for Rs 21,300 audio players.
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