Review: Cowon Plenue R: The Plenue R, one of the latest additions to Cowon’s range of portable audio players, is the bearer of a great first for the Korean manufacturer: it is its very first Bluetooth compatible player. But this is only a small bonus that adds to the main purpose of the machine: to offer first-rate sound performance over wired. Let’s hear what it is.
Cowon Plenue R – Design
No great revolution for the design of the Plenue R, which adopts a language perfectly usual for Cowon: a block of aluminum and glass with angular lines, with the only originality of a rubberized plastic back. The latter gives the player a good grip when it is placed flat on a table or desk; it’s appreciated. Relatively small for an audiophile player, the Plenue R however remains far from the hourglass figures of today’s smartphones: with 14 mm thickness, it has no chance of being forgotten in a jeans pocket.
The front is adorned with a 3.7-inch Oled screen, displaying a very modest definition of 480 x 800 px. As the latter does not allow our own images to be displayed, we were unable to measure the accuracy of its display, but reasonably accurate colors can be seen with the naked eye, even if they remain far from perfect fidelity. Readability is excellent in poorly lit surroundings, due to the almost infinite contrast of Oled technology and its almost total viewing angles. In broad daylight, however, the relatively low brightness of the screen can be a problem, especially since the glass does not have any anti-reflective treatment.
On the right side of the player, we find the usual physical control buttons for Cowon: volume control, play / pause, navigation between tracks. On the top is the on / off button, circled by an indicator light. On the left, the microSD card reader has taken place; the latter allows you to add up to 256 GB of memory to the internal 128 GB of the player, to arrive at a very comfortable total of 384 GB. At the bottom, finally, is the connection: a 3.5 mini-jack output , mm stereo which can also act as an optical S / PDIF output, a balanced output on a 2.5 mm sub-mini-jack, and finally the micro-USB port.
Via the latter port, the player can be connected to a PC not only for recharging and managing the contents of the memory, but also to function as an external DAC (on Windows, macOS or Android mobile device). Note that this is a simple USB 2.0 port, and that the file transfer speed is unfortunately downright slow: whether in the downward direction or in the upstream direction, we have never exceeded the 17 MB / s during our transfers. Suffice to say that to fill the entire memory of the player, it will be necessary to be patient – especially if you add a microSD card …
But as we have said, the main attraction of this Plenue R is the appearance of Bluetooth compatibility, a first for Cowon. Unfortunately, the latter is marred by two particularly annoying software bugs. First of all, there is a violently restricted maximum sound volume, which means that as long as you do not use a very powerful headphone or speaker, it will simply be impossible to achieve a satisfactory listening volume. Then, the player sees fit to apply a very aggressive noise gate to the signal emitted , which not only cuts off the background noises, but does the same with the quiet passages of the music! Is it necessary to specify how painful the thing is … Obviously, nothing forbids firmware of the player. We will update our test if necessary.
In the meantime, the Plenue R’s Bluetooth connectivity can at least find another use: it is possible to pair the player with a smartphone, so that the first is able to warn the user of a call received on the second. It’s always taken.
The autonomy of the Plenue R was around 3.30 p.m. during our measurement, with a volume set to 100/140, a 32 ohm impedance headphone connected, and a playlist mainly made up of Flac files in CD or 24 quality. bits / 96 kHz, sprinkled with some DSD files. This result is not exactly impressive, but it remains honest – and much better than what many music players do. You can of course expect to lose a few hours of use when Bluetooth is activated. Note also that the recharging time of the player is very long: it takes no less than 4 hours for a complete refueling.
Finally, when it comes to its user interface, the Plenue R is in the middle of audiophile players, and this is not a compliment. On the contrary, it means that its interface is not only slow, but also very unintuitive. Just access to the options menu and the library is via pictograms with perfectly nebulous meaning … At a time when smartphone interfaces have long since reached their maturity, we understand less and less how Walkman manufacturers can demonstrate such immobility in their software ergonomics.
The Plenue R offers fairly comprehensive audio library navigation options: files can be categorized by folder structure, albums, artists and genres. The indexing of the database is efficient and quite fast, and the creation of playlists on the fly is possible. A search function is available.
The list of compatible file formats is very complete: answer the call MP3, WMA, Vorbis, AAC, WAV, AIFF, Flac, Apple Lossless, DSD and DXD, as well as the much more confidential Monkey’s Audio, WavPack and TTA . PCM formats are supported up to 24-bit resolution at 192 kHz (with the exception of DXD which by definition goes up to 384 kHz), while DSD is supported up to 5.6 MHz ( DSD128). Downmixing of 5.1 streams is possible for PCM streams only.
Having no network connectivity, the Plenue R is obviously not compatible with music streaming services. On the other hand, one would have hoped that it had a radio tuner, which is not the case either.
In the audio settings menu, we find all the usual treatments for Cowon, grouped under the names BBE +, Mach3Bass, and other JetEffect. Chorus , reverb , flanger effects , virtual spatialization, 10-band parametric equalizer with variable bandwidth … Nothing is lacking.
The Plenue R is equipped with a Texas Instrument PCM5242 DAC, a priori less upscale than the chips designed by Burr-Brown, a TI subsidiary. ” A priori ” only, because in fact, the audio performance delivered is difficult to fault … except for one detail.
As always, we performed our measurements on the 3.5mm mini-jack output, which gives us a fixed point of comparison for all the devices we test. On this output, we measured a maximum output level at 350mV RMS (for a 32 ohm load). This measurement was carried out with the operating system in “non-European Union” configuration, which completely unleashes the available power.
If we have already seen higher values on audiophile portable music players, the latter remains very generous, and is sufficient to power very greedy hi-fi headphones. Even a Sennheiser HD 800, with its 300 ohm impedance, does not shake the Plenue R amps, which always manage to ensure a very satisfactory dynamic.
At the same time, the distortion does not exceed 0.002%, and the dynamics reach a very nice value of 110 dB. The cleanliness of the signal provided is therefore impeccable. Only crosstalk (stereophonic separation) seems to be perfect: at -76 dB, it stays away from the best in the sector, which can reach -80 dB and sometimes even -90 dB. Let us remain measured however: with the naked ear, it is extremely difficult to perceive the least tightening of the stereophony.
The Plenue R offers the choice of the type of filter used by the DAC, a setting which, as always, has virtually no measurable effect on audio reproduction – and therefore obviously no audible effect. Regarding the different treatments available, they are unchanged from previous players … or almost. For a reason that we cannot explain, their activation causes a very strong attenuation of the treble extremes, which is obviously not beneficial for the sound reproduction. Here again, we suspect a software bug, which we hope will be corrected very quickly by a firmware update …
The main attraction of the Cowon Plenue R should have been its Bluetooth compatibility; what a frustration, therefore, that the latter is for the moment marred by bugs making it almost unusable … For the rest, it is a good audiophile player, with a powerful headphone output and providing a ‘excellent quality (as long as you do not want to use the equalizer). Despite everything, it must be noted that it does not have any characteristic clearly differentiating it from its many competitors.
Positives of Cowon Plenue R
- Overall sound performance of a very good level.
- Major power.
- Presence of a symmetrical connector.
- Generous memory (128 GB internal + microSD card reader).
- Can be used as an external DAC with a PC or smartphone.
- Management of “on the go” playlists.
- Completely comprehensive file compatibility.
- Possibility of pairing a smartphone via Bluetooth to receive notifications of incoming calls.
Negatives of Cowon Plenue R
- Slightly perfectible stereophonic separation.
- The activation of the equalizer degrades the quality of reproduction.
- Severely bugged Bluetooth compatibility (in transmission).
- No radio tuner.
- Poor navigation, not very intuitive.
- No cover provided