Cowon PLENUE M2

Build

If we had to sum up the design of the Plenue R in a word, it would be “sharp”. While many portable music players have similarly angular designs, most of them don’t look as striking or as clean as this one. The Plenue R looks like it’s been cut out of metal with a craft knife.

This is something of a double-edged sword – while it does give the Plenue R a premium look, when holding it, the bottom right point presses too sharply into the middle of your palm, making it a little uncomfortable to use. We’d recommend Cowon’s leather case for those with sensitive hands.

The Plenue R feels solid too, weighing in at 154g, it’s just a little heavier than an iPhone 8. On the left side is a slot for a 256GB MicroSD card, to boost the player’s 128GB of on-board storage.

This means it should comfortably store around 32,000 standard MP3 tracks, although fewer hi-res tracks, of which the Plenue D will support all the major formats like FLAC, ALAC, WAV (up to 384kHZ) and DSD128.

There are 3.5mm and 2.5mm outputs on the bottom, as well as a micro-USB port for charging, transferring data, and putting the player into its DAC mode for use with another music source.

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There are the expected buttons for volume control and playback on the right – although they aren’t as responsive as we’d like – while on the top is an LED power button which changes colour from white to green and red to indicate the battery level on the device.

That’s a nice feature, letting you quickly glance to see the status of the player’s claimed 17-hour battery, rather than having to press a button and wait for a screen to turn on.

Интерфейс

Интерфейс программой оболочки – это первое на что обращаешь внимание после внешнего вида устройства. Если проводить аналогию с автомобилями, то с «интерьером» Cowon поступили так же как и с «экстерьером»

Строгость и функциональность – именно так можно описать интерфейс Plenue 1. Решение довольно разумное, ведь портативные Hi-Fi плееры предназначены именно для воспроизведения музыки – Android тут не нужен.

Каталоги воспроизведения имеют возможность сортировки по папкам, исполнителю, альбому, жанрам, а также метаданными cue. Особенно порадовала категория «новая музыка», предназначение которой является сортировка файлов по времени добавления. Искать «свежие» треки становится гораздо проще.

Раз уж заговорили о поиске, то стоит отметить, что он доступен не только на английском, но и на русском языке – поклонники отечественных исполнителей будут довольны.

В наличии пять графических оболочек основного экрана, а также два варианта отображения поканального уровня звукового давления – аналоговый и цифровой. Всё это отлично приспособлено под сенсорное управление – не промахнешься.

Необходимо отдельно отметить наличие встроенных пресетов, которые объединены в систему JetEffect 7. Авторство восьми из них принадлежит компании BBE Sound Ltd. К слову, именно их настройка BBE Headphone 2 мне приглянулась больше всего.

Разумеется, присутствует 10-полосный графический эквалайзер, который поможет настроить Plenue 1 под любые композиции, а также возможность создания 4-х собственных пресетов.

У плеера есть и дополнительное преимущество – возможность его использования в качестве внешнего ЦАПа для компьютера. Все что для этого нужно – подключить девайс к MAC/PC при помощи кабеля USB и выбрать в настройках соответствующее выходное аудиоустройство.

Sound

But load it up with music of a sufficient quality and the Plenue R will provide a satisfyingly detailed and clear sound.

We try it out with a range of headphones, from the Beyerdynamic Byron in-ears (£50) to the AKG K550 over-ears (£250), and the character remains consistent.

Beginning with Mozart’s No.24 Allegro (performed by the late Eugene Istomin), the Plenue R conveys a satisfying sense of space between the streaking strings and the deeper notes that lay the foundation of the concerto.

And when the trills of the piano begin, rolling up and down the scale, the Plenue R puts it front and centre.

It conveys a distinct difference in impact and intensity between the playful melody and the deeper, stronger, chords that reintroduce the strings into the composition. So far, so good.

Switching to Elvis Presley’s cover of Johnny B. Goode from his From Memphis to Vegas / From Vegas to Memphis tour, has a good deal of dynamism and energy that captures the vibrancy of the track. It won’t be long before your foot starts tapping along

Where lesser players might lose their grip trying to keep track of the rapid piano, guitar, vocals and sound of the audience, the Plenue R keeps each element well organised. When Presley’s guitar solo does start (accompanied by a cheer from the crowd) the Plenue R doesn’t muddle the details.

And in the deep end, the twangs of the bass guitar that ends Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain are weighty enough, while still maintaining a distinct shape.

The Plenue R offers layers of low frequency notes rather than one amorphous blob of bass. Vocals are convincing and well-balanced, able to project widely without ever sounding strained.

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However, there are areas where we think the Plenue R could use some improvement, especially when compared to the class leader at this price range, the Astell & Kern AK70 mkII, which manages to provide a more nuanced sound across the board.

The AK70 has tighter timing, a deeper bass with a more distinct punch to it, and there’s a greater clarity in the midrange. Playing R.E.M’s Everybody Hurts, it draws your attention to the wobbles in Michael Stipe’s emotional, haunting vocals much more effectively than the Plenue R does.

It’s a similar story when in DAC mode; though it can easily dig up more energy and detail than our laptop’s in-built converter can muster, it falls short of providing the same experience that competing players do. It simply doesn’t have the same ability as a dedicated DAC such as the Oppo HA-2 SE (£290).

Verdict

But for a little fine tuning, this player might have received a five-star review. There’s a lot to like here; a stylish design, an easy-to-use operating system and an undoubtably good sound quality.

However, each of these characteristics come with small niggles that, when considered as a whole, just bring it down – especially since its little sibling, the Plenue D, avoided all of these pitfalls. Yes, the Plenue R sounds better in comparison, but pound for pound the smaller player gives a better performance.

The Plenue R is a good product, and for the most part we enjoy using it. However, we were really hoping for something really great, and it falls short of being that.

Read all our Cowon reviews

Features

The Plenue R is straightforward to use and getting music onto the player is as simple as drag-and-drop.

Cowon has opted for a Linux-based operating system, rather than the Android one used by manufacturers such as Fiio and Astell & Kern, so MacBook users don’t have to go through the hit-and-miss middleman that is Android File Transfer.

However, we experience a few software bugs, where the unit doesn’t respond with the fluidity we expect. Hopefully these will be ironed out in a software update, but we expect a more reliable experience at this price.

On board is a 24-bit/192kHz stereo DAC (specifically, the Texas Instruments PCM5242), and for those that want to use Bluetooth mode, the Plenue R has aptX support too, providing a ‘CD-like’ (16-bit/44.1kHz) resolution.

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Plenue has also included a few extra bells and whistles in the form of JetEffect 7, the company’s range of EQ settings that go from the conventional (Rock, Jazz etc) to the more niche (“Flange» and «Reverb Stadium”.)

Whether you use these settings is down to personal taste. The Rock mode, for example, can certainly make your music sound more exciting and punchy, but trades off detail and has a hard edge to it.

One omission here is streaming service integration. Other players have built-in Tidal (or other high-quality streaming sites) and it’s unfortunate that the Plenue R doesn’t offer the same convenience.

MORE: Best music streaming services 2018

Build

The Plenue J doesn’t look like the rest of Cowon’s range.

Our review sample is a rose-gold affair (called ‘Jupiter Gold’ — ‘Misty Ocean’ is also available) that has foresaken the smooth back and rectangular design of its kin in favour of something new.

Most striking is the cylindrical ridge at the top of the player for the 3.5mm headphone output, which Cowon says “invokes images of walls and pillars in ancient Greek temples”. It also offers greater protection to the connection, which makes much more sense to us.

That means there’s a lot of empty space at the top of the player, and the Plenue J has a large chin at the bottom too – we’d estimate the screen, slap bang in the middle, probably takes up half of the player’s body.

At a time when the screen is pretty much the whole body on many other gadgets, it doesn’t exactly scream «modern!».

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On the back, meanwhile, is a plastic, ridged coating that feels a little like a tiny washboard. While there’s no doubt it improves grip, some people might prefer the more streamlined designs of other players.

There are some design flourishes that Cowon devotees will recognise, however: the button layout on the right-hand side of the player – volume switches, power and playback control – and on the left is a port for a MicroSD card to expand the Plenue J’s 64GB of internal memory to 128GB.

The device charges via microUSB, and Cowon claims it can last for approximately 53 hours of MP3 playback.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t quite meet the ‘thinner, lighter and longer-lasting’ specification Cowon has set out for. While it’s certainly the first two, the Cowon Plenue D manages to keep going for a claimed 100 hours before requiring a recharge.

MORE: Best portable music system under £500

Sound

Plug some headphones in and you’ll be met by the same great sound quality as the Cowon Plenue D. In fact, to our ears the difference between the two is minimal – which is exactly what the company intended.

We plug in AKG’s K550 headphones and play Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way (24bit/96kHz) and hear the same potent dynamism from this player – the punchy, bouncy chorus unfolds with an excitement that’s hard for the competition to match.

It also demonstrates good handling of rhythms. The tingling strums of the track’s opening guitar shimmer onto the soundstage snappily, and it’s not long before our foot starts tapping along.

As the drumbeat starts, the Cowon Plenue J delivers it all in an enjoyable, tightly timed presentation.

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This player treats low-frequency tones, such as the drumbeat, with the weight and punch they deserve.

There are times when they thwack into your ears with a definitive kick, but the Plenue J doesn’t overstep the mark when it comes to sounds higher up the frequency range by trying to make them bigger than they are.

Switching to Unbelievers by Vampire Weekend, Ezra Koenig’s singing in the midrange comes across clearly and with insight. The natural sibilance in his delivery is recognisable without being overstated, and midway through the song when the rest of the instruments drop out – leaving just Koenig’s voice and an uptempo drumbeat – both elements are balanced nicely.

The Plenue J manages to keep instruments separate and present them spaciously, while still delivering the song as a cohesive whole. The distance between voice and drumbeat is palpable, but you never lose the sense it’s building to a crescendo in the climactic chorus.

MORE: Listen to the What Hi-Fi? playlist

Sound

We start off with the 2015 remaster of Alanis Morissette’s Wake Up and are impressed with what we hear. This 24-bit/44.1kHz recording is delivered with an authority and solidity very few portable players come close to. Alanis’s vocals come through with delicacy and power, while the driving bassline is pleasingly weighty yet agile.

Yes, there is a touch of excess richness, and perhaps it could do with a degree of extra grip, but neither of these go far enough to be an issue for us. Instead we wallow in the authority of the presentation and the pleasing warmth the rich bass helps to impart.

Moving onto Bjork’s Lionsong (24-bit/96kHz), the P1’s articulate and refined nature is neatly demonstrated. The player’s laid-back sonic balance works well here, as does its ability to dig up instrumental textures and render them in a subtle way.

This is a relatively sparse recording yet it still needs a firm organising hand as the string-led instrumental backdrop can easily veer towards hardness and confusion. The P1 does this superbly.

This player’s civilising approach becomes more obvious on tracks that demand some attitude. alt-J’s The Gospel of John Hurt (16-bit/44.1kHz) sounds relaxed when it should excite. The P1 doesn’t capture the bite in the track nor the relentless momentum as well as we’d like.

Yet, that’s not to say its rendition isn’t enjoyable. We found ourselves paying more attention to the vocals than usual, enjoying the insight on offer – there’s a plentiful supply of detail here. That authority we so liked before is clearly evident here, as it’s the player’s ability to stay composed when things get complex.

We used the Plenue as a stand-alone DAC and got some fine results with an Apple MacBook loaded with Pure Music software as source. We listened to a range of files from Eminem’s Mockingbird (320kbps) to Hans Zimmer The Dark Knight Rises (24-bit/192kHz) and thoroughly enjoyed what we heard.

The sound of the Cowon when used this way is a significant improvement over that of the laptop alone, delivering a combination of resolution, insight and dynamic expression the computer barely hinted at.

Features

The look of the display is customisable, with Cowon offering a range of skins as well as a number of distinct options for the look of the barely useful but somehow highly appealing power meters.

On the whole the P1 is easy enough to use and offers a number of tweaky adjustments – such as the type of digital filter used or adding gain to DSD recordings to reduce volume discrepancies between these recordings and those on PCM.

Less useful, for us at least, are the multitude of EQ settings. There’s a staggering 50 EQ presets on offer – from the usual Normal and Bass Boost options to leftfield settings such as Feel The Wind, Mild Shore and Flange. We settle on using the Normal setting and something called BBE, which claims to improve transient and phase of the original recordings.

Sonically, it adds a touch of bite compared to the less processed-sounding Normal option, and that works well with some material. If all that adjustability isn’t enough, there are four users presets that allow almost unlimited opportunities to manipulate the signal for those with the time and inclination.

File compatibility is impressive and includes PCM files up to 24-bit/192kHz, single and double speed DSD as well as DXD. Chances are, whatever file you have, the P1 should play it.

All the number crunching is done by Burr-Brown’s well-regarded PCM1792A chip, which bodes well, as it’s also found in a number of higher end stand-alone DAC designs.

The Cowon has 128GB of built-in memory as standard. This is expandable to a maximum of 256GB thanks to a microSD card slot (hidden behind a plastic flap on the base).

A microUSB under the flap opens up the P1 to being used as an outboard DAC for a computer, which is useful. The player’s headphone socket also doubles as an optical output, which is less so.

MORE: High-resolution audio — everything you need to know

Built into the Cowon’s case is a 3000mAh battery that is good for a claimed 8.5 hours of continuous use. That’s broadly what we achieved, but of course, such figures can’t be particularly accurate as much depends on how much volume you use and how demanding your headphones are.

We used Sennheiser Momentums and B&W P3s along with a pair of Grado PS500s for most of this test. You’ll need headphones too, as the Plenue doesn’t have built-in speakers. It doesn’t have Bluetooth either, so you can’t stream music wirelessly to a speaker or system.

Those that use Smartphones for their regular music fix are in for a treat when they listen to the P1. Compared to even the best of that breed the Cowon is in a different league when it comes to sound quality, as well it should be considering the price.

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Что там внутри


Решив не только полностью изменить экстерьер обновленного плеера, COWON позаботилась и об установке улучшенного чипа. Сердцем Plenue V выступает микросхема CS43131, способная воспроизводить звук в формате 24 бит / 192 КГц.

Чтобы было понятнее, Plenue V воспроизводит музыку таковой, какой ее задумал звукорежиссер. Но помимо полноценного HD звучания с уровнем сигнал-шум в 126 ДБ и минимальным коэффициентом искажений в 0,0004%, у этого Hi-Fi плеера есть еще один козырь в рукаве — автономность.

Хваленый чип CS43131 максимально эффективно использует драгоценную емкость встроенной батареи. За счет чего, автономность Plenue V выше любых похвал. Вы можете расчитывать на 41 час незабываемых эмоций от качественного звучания и детализации.

Build

Take the Cowon out of its packaging and things start well. This is a solidly built player, made of nicely finished anodised aluminium and about the size of a pack of cards.

Its edges are slightly rounded but the overall feel is of a chunky angular unit – an impression reinforced by a weight of around 170g.

The physical control count is low, with just hard buttons for power, play/pause, skip and volume. The power button is a touch vague in use, but the others are precise enough to satisfy, though the small 0.5dB volume steps make bigger level changes slow and mildly frustrating.

The rest of the functions are accessed from the 3.7in AMOLED touch screen. It’s responsive in use, though we wish some of the on-screen icons were a little bigger to help those with chunkier fingers.

Verdict

While the Plenue P1 isn’t beyond criticism, particularly at its elevated price, there’s much to admire here. We love its refinement and articulate nature, and even though the richness tends towards excess, particularly at low frequencies, the side effects of this are rarely less than enjoyable.

Yes, the multitude of EQ options give plenty of scope to fine tune the presentation, but no combination we tried fundamentally altered the player’s mild-mannered nature in a convincing way.

Despite this, we like this Cowon. It’s worth a serious listen.

See all our Cowon reviews

See all our portable music player reviews

Features

Much like the Plenue D, the Plenue J can support 24bit/192kHz in FLAC, AIFF, ALAC, WAV, WMA and MP3 formats.

Navigation remains similar too. Use the touchscreen to move around its gridlike user interface, which sorts your music into categories including genre, artist and year.

While many portable music players have operating systems that could do with being streamlined – compared to smartphones, they can often be a little clunky – the Cowon is relatively straightforward to use.

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It’s also more straightforward on the Plenue J than on any other Cowon player we’ve come across. Compared to this, the D feels too small, while the Plenue R (£500) has pointed corners that dig into the hand. Even with its small screen, the Plenue J manages to hit that sweet spot.

Cowon’s range of EQ settings, called JetEffect 5 sound processing, also pops up on this player. That gives you a host of options from ‘Reverb Stadium’ and ‘Feel the Wind’ to more traditional genre modes, such as ‘Rock’ and ‘Jazz’.

‘Rock’ will give you a bit more punch at the expense of detail and a harder edge but, as with other players, using these modes comes down to personal preference.

One feature we’d liked to have seen is Bluetooth connectivity. With Cowon promoting the Plenue J on its portability, it would be nice if it worked with all available headphones, wired or wireless.

MORE: aptX HD Bluetooth — what is it? How can you get it?

Крутой звук и бесконечная музыка: вместо выводов


Сказать, что мне понравился новый COWON Plenue J — не сказать ничего. Пожалуй, это первый плеер, который заставил задуматься о переходе на специализированный портативный проигрыватель после “мьюзикфона”.

В первую очередь в Plenue J привлекает именно звук. Качество сопоставимо с настольными компактными системами – пусть и без особенных аудиофильских замашек. Просто качественный и правильный. К тому же — универсальный для всех основных форматов файлов и стилей музыки. Что хочу — то и слушаю.

Слушаю удобно и долго. В COWON Plenue J встроен аккумулятор на 1050 мАч. Его хватает на 56 часов музыки в MP3 или больше суток при воспроизведении losseless-форматов на средней громкости. Немало. Смартфон столько не проживет.
Хотя, если признаться честно, то самое крутое в этом плеере — отличный дизайн и невероятно удобное управление. Его не хочется вынимать из рук. И, пожалуй, это первый музыкальный гаджет, который работает в любой ситуации: в транспорте, на тренировке, в офисе или за рулем. Пара прикосновений вслепую — и Plenue J делает то, что ты хочешь.


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Механические клавиши, яркий экран, крутой ЦАП и мощный усилитель — такой плеер нужен всем.

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