Today’s feature is a full review of the Cowon Plenue D, which is a compact 32GB digital audio player capable of up to 24BIT 192kHz decoding. It is priced at $275.
Disclaimer: The Cowon Plenue D3 sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank the team at Cowon for giving us this opportunity.
To read more about Cowon products we reviewed on Headfonics click here.
Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2021 which you can read up on here.
Cowon Plenue D Review
I'm scoring the Plenue D very high, due to Cowon making sure it has an awesome UI, good sound quality, and supreme battery life. You can't ask for much more here, they've thought of pretty much everything.
October of 2015 was a sad month for me as it was around that time that my Cowon J3 finally kicked the bucket after years of strenuous usage.
Despite owning numerous higher-end DAPs at the time, like the Astell and Kern AK120, I’d still considered my J3 as the primary portable music player of choice.
The odds are great that if I still had it and if Rockbox were never released for the iBasso DX90, I’d still be using my J3. Recently, Cowon and JetAudio over in Korea have released a few higher-end and very expensive portable music players, as well as this incredibly adorable middle-tier Plenue D.
Gosh, it is so adorable, that I just want to crochet it a little sweater to keep it warm in the winter!
The Plenue D is unusually heavy at 94g for such a tiny device, looming at roughly 3 inches x 2 inches by 0.5 inches thick. My goodness, when my Mom saw this Plenue D for the first time, she burst out laughing (in a good way) at how cute it was, also raving about how impressively built it felt for being that small.
Surely, the Plenue D has an excellent tactility factor and does not feel cheap in the slightest. In terms of an all-aluminum body and as far as good build materials go, I’ve no complaints.
It feels a lot similar to my old Hisoundaudio Studio V for size and overall density, which was a damned fine DAP in terms of build quality way back when it was released…like 50 billion years ago in audiophile years.
Normally, Cowon used to use a plastic body for the most part, but one with some aluminum parts here and there. This time and as far as I am aware with their newer generation, they’ve stepped beyond plastic cores and exteriors.
Okay, look, I just can’t go into every single thing this DAP is capable of…or else this article would be 20 pages long. Cowon has always been about great UI and features included first, with a moderate focus on good sound quality second.
However, this is the first Cowon in the middle tier ($300 or so and under) that seems to have more of a balanced approach to sound quality vs User Interface and features.
The best I can say for now is that the Plenue D is jam-packed full of useful options and toggles, so much so that I question why the last generation of higher end DAP’s from other Korean companies have completely ignored what I even consider a half-decent UI setup.
Hell, I just reviewed the Luxury and Precision L3 ($400) and was chastised on certain other forums for my thoughts on its poor UI functionality.
Thankfully, Cowon’s Plenue D doesn’t have any issues with the firmware or anything included inside of its software system. Everything works perfectly, it doesn’t currently house anything I’d consider problematic and it simply functions as I expect it to.
If I had one gripe though, it would be the lack of support for a 256GB micro SD card at the moment, as it seems to be hard-locked for a 128 GB micro SD card for its maximum capacity.
This is fixable, so I hope they release an update soon to include that. But, in all seriousness, that is the only “problem” I’ve encountered in the Plenue D. She booted up perfectly, my tunes played wonderfully (no DSD support of course) and oh my goodness, would you look at that! Playlist support!
FIVE PLAYLIST FOLDERS are already there for you to add songs into, shuffle only forward (this is a great thing, I don’t want it to shuffle backward too), and a slew of other useful functions that weren’t broken on release day.
There is even a manual A-Z search function window that lets you scour the memory for a specific file via a little digital keyboard that pops up!
The Plenue D has a ton of EQ options that function and sound very different from each other, just too many to name at the moment or even remotely touch on, as I could write multiple articles just on Cowon’s JetEffect EQ features alone.
So simply put, if you want a specific type of tone or sound setup, odds are great that the stock EQ presets already include something for you and if not, you can custom EQ a bit as well to achieve the desired effect. No DAP should be without at least a basic type of feature system in a custom EQ option.
If Sansa can do this in their new $25 Clip, everyone can do it in audiophile-grade DAPs that cost multiple hundreds and even nearly a thousand dollars. No excuses anymore. This isn’t the Dark Ages!
There are a few user-controlled options for customized EQ, as well as more than two dozen presets developed by Cowon.
Oddly enough, I find myself using the Funk preset more than anything else. It is the only preset that greatly increases the low-end bass, as well as physical slam quantity, but also does not force the midrange to take a hit and become overly V-shaped.
Most of the presets are great and well set up for certain genres out yonder, some are pretty awful and should never be used and that can degrade the sound quality severely.
All in all, JetEffect is the best EQ system I’ve ever come across in a portable player that wasn’t modified by Rockbox, or one that might be able to use Foobar2000’s portable app via the Android market.
A/B comparisons between this DAP and anything else were made very difficult, due to the Plenue D’s snobbishness in resetting the volume to default levels each time you remove the headphone cable: once you remove the 3.5mm adapter from the Plenue D, the volume automatically lowers itself.
Naturally, swapping quickly between it and another portable player is immensely stressful, having to readjust the volume intensity to match the second DAP to the best of my ability each time I swap between the Plenue D and something else. I get it is a safety issue and I can certainly appreciate that, but I don’t think it is needed.
The player has relatively low power output and is not something intended to be used with anything but what most would consider efficient headphones anyway. Because of that lack of power, the low end takes a hit in the quality and substance department.
It becomes very evident with a flat EQ that the Plenue D struggles to do proper justice to mildly efficient Planars like the Audeze Sine. Even my older ESW11LTD from Audio Technica, which is a dynamic driver headphone that gets better with more power than what typical DAPs are capable of offering.
Quality is a bit weak here and it is well into the realm of good, no doubt, but certainly not on par with even the stock DX90 from iBasso…which again, is audibly inferior to the DX90 using the modded Rockbox operating system.
For $275 or so, the Plenue D’s bass end seems more than acceptable in both quality and quantity, but you should not expect anything to shoot above its price point.
Mids and Treble
The player isn’t mid-forward, but it can simulate it with proper EQ, of course. As mentioned earlier, some presets and setups, via the Plenue D’s vast EQ functionality, can dramatically increase the bass quantity without making the presentation feel V-shaped: prominent bass/treble, but distant and recessed midrange.
I think you’ll have to rely on your headphones more than the Plenue D for the forwardness factor. The reason I say that is because the Audeze Sine, for example, is not supremely mid-forward, but it sounds relatively the same in the physical locale in the vocal experience as when I plug into my L3 from Luxury and Precision.
My ESW11LTD is stupidly forward, probably the most forward midrange in a portable headphone that is available, but it also does not change when swapping between certain DAPs I had here to test.
Summed up: on flat EQ, a forward headphone will sound forward, and a recessed one will sound recessed on the Plenue D while using little to no EQ. This isn’t always the case, as some DAPs out there will alter the forwardness factor for better or worse.
A good example of this was found in the Hisoundstudio V DAP that I mentioned earlier, where even forward headphones ended up sounding a bit recessed by comparison to the DX90, L3, and Plenue D.
The upper end of the player is not at all refined, it can sound a bit underwhelming to say the very least. However and again, the JetEffect EQ system can fix quantity and kick if you so desire, but it will not ever sound as natural as some other recent portable players in this price range.
The Plenue D is the definition of artificial sounding and feeling from top to bottom and the top end can’t achieve that desired sparkle I desire: that tendency to feel dense and weighted, but with a gentle bite that is a pleasure to hear without going overboard.
Sadly, the Plenue D sounds too thin up top and the excessive EQ system inside isn’t helping at all by masking it. It isn’t a joy to listen to until I pair it with an external amplifier. If you are a treblehead, grab a used DX90 instead.
Ouch. This is the only real area I can say is a very weak link in the arsenal that is offered with the Plenue D. If sound staging is your thing like it is mine, then you shouldn’t buy this.
Depth and realism that are available in the DX90/L3 and the older Studio V from Hisoundaudio is not as present in the Plenue D.
Despite that lack of excellent staging properties, it does just an alright job. Sure, swapping between the Plenue D and the DX90 results in the feeling of a door or window being opened up in the latter’s presentation, but it isn’t like the Plenue D is severely lacking.
I consider it more than acceptable, but not up to par with the rest of the $300 or so lot available from other companies.
Sadly, I’ve no clue what DAC is included inside this player and that is likely the culprit. Cowon has been supremely secretive about it and I couldn’t confirm what the hell is even inside of this DAP to begin with.
Whatever it is, clearly it isn’t up to par with the current generation of great middle-tier portable players concerning imaging potential. But, those coming from iPods or cell phones will be happy enough.
I’m scoring this DAP very high, due to Cowon making sure it has an awesome UI, good sound quality, and supreme battery life. You can’t ask for much more here, they’ve thought of pretty much everything.
What has impressed me the most is that they’ve simplified the UI to be so efficient, that most of the features you’ll be using are all on a single small pop-up bar that rises when you touch the Features button at the top right of the screen.
Want incredible EQ options? No problem, the Plenue D has that in truckloads. How about a ridiculous battery life that can reach 100 hours, depending on what type of files you are listening to? They got you covered there as well.
Cowon Plenue D Technical Specifications
24bit/192kHz High Definition Sound, High-Quality 24bit Stereo DAC