Sound Impressions

Bass

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 Planar’s like the Audeze Sine and even my older ESW11LTD from Audio Technica, which is a dynamic driver headphone that gets better with more power than what typical DAP’s 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. I feel like the Plenue D took a page from the Digizoid Zo’s handbook (an external amplifier that was geared just for bass EQ) and has ended up sounding like the DAP that those with lower end or middle tier bass enthusiast headphones would enjoy a ton.

However, those looking for a clinical or natural tonality to their low ends should not buy this player. You will be incredibly disappointed by it, due to the fact that this DAP is completely setup for exaggeration, abundance in every area of the frequency response and that was developed for the musical enthusiast, rather than the neutral chaser. You can get a ton of bass through the Plenue D, thanks to the silly amount of BBE/MachBass EQ’s available inside.  But, the overall quality is just “good” to my ears.

Sadly, I’d rather recommend the DX90 with Rockbox at this point, as you can purchase a used DX90 for the same price as the Plenue D these days. However, the DX90’s battery lasts but a few hours, maybe 6 at the most, and the Plenue D is rated at 100 hours via standard .mp3 usage, roughly half that with .Flac files. I can attest to the battery life of the Plenue D, it is almost as if the battery bar doesn’t deplete and I swear I’ve gone well over an entire week before I saw the power icon dip to ¼.

With that EQ active and likely the extra volume needed to power headphones that are mildly efficient, headphones like my Audeze Sine, the Plenue D ends up feeling stressed on the bass end at all times and one that isn’t capable of offering a pure tonality. Is the quality good? Absolutely. Is it up to par with the Fiio X5, DX90 or the Luxury and Precision L3? No, there is an audible inferiority between the Plenue D and those other mentioned DAP’s which are all in the same ballpark in price.

5

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 actually 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 headphone more than the Plenue D for 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 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 DAP’s I had here to test. Summed up: on flat EQ, a forward headphone will sound forward, a recessed one will sound recessed on the Plenue D while using little to no EQ. This isn’t always the case, as some DAP’s 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 the 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 treble head, grab a used DX90 instead.

6

Imaging

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 factor available in the DX90/L3 and the older Studio V from Hisoundaudio are 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 with regard to imaging potential. But, those coming from iPods or cell phones will be happy enough.

Final Thoughts

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 really 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 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.

At the end of this, I look back and cringe at my unwillingness to dive deeper into the impressive Features list the Plenue D has, but it has so many things to talk about inside the UI that I just can’t seriously hope to pen it all in a review. Outside of .DSD, this player did everything I’ve ever wanted all those new “audiophile/expensive” DAP’s to do for me, it far exceeded what I even needed or desired as a whole. All of that extra bonus material isn’t in the way either, it is all neatly packed in a sub-folder of the primary Settings menu. That is a great sign that someone took care to develop the software inside the unit with great attention to detail…instead of just shelling out the player half-done to the market. Yes, I will be recommending this player to anyone who wants to take the first steps into the Audiophile world and who may be getting serious about their listening pleasures. This Plenue D is a great stepping stone and gateway drug to the higher end stuff out there.

True, it doesn’t have the literal quality of the DX90, which can be purchased for the same price, but it does  fit into the realm of portability that I consider suited for actual on the go listening. I can’t take my DX90 with me on trips, I know the battery will deplete in mere hours. I can’t take the L3 from Luxury and Precision with me on trips either, nor the Studio V. We’ve forgotten what portability actually is because, over the last 5 or 6 years, audiophile companies have been swinging towards 3:1 ratio of sound quality vs functionality.

9

Again, I was actually criticized for asking for a better UI in the L3 by some, but I was shocked to read (on a certain ‘other forum’) that some users were pro-my thoughts and almost entirely against the person who was anti-my thoughts on that DAP. We need to demand better, stand up and shout with me! Multi-hundred and even near $1,000+ portable players like the CalyX and the L5Pro should never be an expensive and wonderful sounding file browser and nothing more. We deserve better and Cowon gave us better. I’ve not had a chance to hear the upper-end models from Cowon yet, but I can safely tell you that for general, non-DSD or high res audio needs, I’ve shelved the DX90/L3 for the time being and have been using the Plenue D for most of my leisure time. If the Plenue D sounds that nice and has that grand of a UI system, I am extremely excited about the Plenue M or the P1 and how they sound!

Great job, Cowon. This is probably the best overall “portable” DAP on the market that I’ve ever used. It is one of the first portable players that never gave me a single worry, never gave me any trouble, never froze or glitched, never had micro SD card issues and never left me desiring more with its extremely abundant software and overall UI layout.  You know what this is?  It is ear candy…simple as that.  Yum.

Price: $275

Linkhttp://www.jetaudio.com/products/cowon/plenued/

Where to buy: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1241976-REG/cowon_pd_32sb_plenue_d_high_resolution.html/BI/20219/KBID/14477

Technical Specifications

  • 24bit/192kHz High Definition Sound, High-Quality 24bit Stereo DAC
  • SNR 123dB, THD+N 0.004%, Crosstalk -105dB
  • Jet Effect 5 & BBE+, FLAC/WAV/AIFF/ALAC/APE/MP3/WMA/OGG
  • Wide Angle Touch Display, Isometric Edge Design
  • Music Playback 100 hours, 32GB Internal Memory, microSD Card Slot, Matrix Browser
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73 Responses

  1. tom j balmes

    Is it possible to use the remote control buttons which are found on various headphones

    Reply
    • J.T.

      With the Plenue D3 it doesn’t work with the line control buttons, so it is not likely to be supported on the Plenue D I think!

      Reply
  2. DrDavid01

    I recently bought the Cowon Plenue D. I’m very disappointed. Certain reviews state that the DAP should ideally be played in normal mode, that is to say, without using EQ settings or filters. This eliminates distortion and gives a more natural sound to the DAP. However, in normal mode there is very little power or punch or oomph to drive my Hifiman HE-400S headphones. The sound is flat and lean on the Hifiman. I bought the Cowon on a budget – that was a mistake. I should have bitten the bullet and budgeted for a better DAP such as an Astell&Kern. My home setup is fine with other audiophile DAC’s / headphone amplifiers. I want to use the Cowon for on the go. Can an audiophile or Headfonics suggest audiophile headphones (perhaps closed back planar headphones) that will be more compatible with the Cowon (in other words, that the Cowon will do justice to)? Besides the normal audiophile qualities of transparency, detail, wide soundstage, and imaging, I want a compatible headphone that has power and punch coming through from the Cowon. And of course, the headphones must not have surface noise or a hiss! The headphones must also be able to eliminate as much as possible external or ambient noise (hence the idea with closed back planars).

    Reply
    • Michael

      I am not on board with EQ-less anything, just because or for the sake of staying true to the track. That is specifically why I try to talk about EQ and what the device potential is with EQ active. As an example, with my Shanling M5s, the EQ is not strong, its less than moderately responsive but the sound quality is excellent. My custom EQ sounds more clean vs the EQ deactivated experience. The Right EQ can really add a lot to the experience. It depends on the device. As for the Plenue D, as nice as it is, I’d be opting at this time for an AP80 by Hidizs in that price tier these days. For about $100USD its got the MSEB DSP function and its wonderful. It is moderately powerful too, and small. It is my daily portable when I use headphones like my JVC SZ2000 and fun sounding headphones. So I’d be recommending that for you instead. It is a better overall portable.

      As for headphones to mesh with the Plenue D, I love my AKG K267 Tiesto with the Plenue D, although it isn’t great at Noise Cancelation and its not a planar. But, if I have to recommend a planar, you’ll never receive Noise Canceling properties. Midrange Planar NC headphones currently dont exist. But, the Audeze isine on ear is probably the place to start for punch and kick that can be driven well by a portable.

      You might also want to consider the Audeze Mobius. Maybe, a used Oppo PM1. Consider also the Hifiman HE400 original, the one with blue cups. They sound very good and punch, and should be easily driven by the Cowon. I also prefer them over the other HE400 variants from Hifiman. You have some options, the Plenue D doesn’t have the juice to get the job done most of the time. You’ll need to toss an external portable amplifier in there of your choosing if you want to stick with the Plenue D and also drive some lower end planars.

      Reply
    • Michael

      Comparisons with the current best (at the time) competition is important. Otherwise, you have no reference point.

      Reply
  3. Marco

    I realized to have missed many useful informations
    I would use it as main home player together with an Okyo CD player.
    The DAP will be linked by a RCA to jack cable to a Meier Jazz and a Darkvoice amps
    My headphones are : Sennheiser HD600, Monolith M1060, Hifiman He400i and Grado Sr80e.
    So oHm are not an issue my budget is around 300 so I was also considering (that i missed in my list) a FiiO X5 2nd gen.
    So is the Cowon still the best option?

    thank you

    Reply
    • 24bit

      Subjectively, I would take the Plenue D over the X5 for tonality and musicality needs. I would choose the X5 if you want purity and clarity. The Plenue D is very musical and has a great deal of EQ potential. So, it is possible to route great rig pairing (headphone and amps) with the Plenue D and end up with a positive result. The odds of that are higher on a subjective level for your enjoyment, I think.

      Reply
  4. Marco

    I’ve used for years a Fiio X3 2nd gen and I liked it, I tried for a bit to use a Fiio X3 Mark III but it’s somehow worse than the 2nd Gen, can you help me with better options please?
    I was considering a Cowon Plenue D , a Shanling M2S, Docooler XDUOO x10 HIFI
    I care mainly about sound quality.
    would you raccomend this one?

    thank you

    Reply
    • Marcus

      Probably the Plenue D out of those choices. The M2s is excellent but lacks touch capability as well as having a 4.8 ohm output than can skew your low impedance IEM sound a little.

      Reply
      • Marco

        I forgot to mention that I would use it as main player for home music, I ‘ve a Darkvoice and Meier Jazz amps, connected to a passive amp and the DAP and an ONKY cd player as players.
        I would use just my headphones : Senn HD600, HifiMan He400i, Monolith M1060 and Grado Sr80E.
        so is the cowon still the best option or a Fiio X5 2nd gen could be better?
        thanks alot

  5. Smackdown

    Hi, maybe i missed it, but no mention if this has aptX Bluetooth? I have two Cowon players, an old S9 and a X9, one with 2.0 Bluetooth one without. Seem they are a bit hit and miss on what devices get it.

    Reply
  6. Matt Wreford

    Thanks for all this info, an amazing resource! I’m looking to get my first DAP (other than iphone…) and am looking at the Plenu D vs iBasso DX80. What would you recommend/advise? Thanks.

    Reply
    • Matt Wreford

      ps I am using a Dragonfly Black with my iphone at the moment but don’t have enough space on there to be my main music player.

      Reply
    • 24bit

      Plenue D is musical and fun, lots of exaggeration.

      DX80 is neutral, not intended for musicality. DX80 definitely has better sound quality overall, but it is also bigger and has far less EQ functionality.

      This depends on your preferences. :)

      Reply
      • Matt Wreford

        Thanks for the feedback. “Not intended for musicality” sounds a bit negative somehow. I think the extra space available on the DX80 is attractive and better sound quality has to be the key thing I think. Paired with a warmer set of headphones do you think the sound would be more “musical”?

      • headfonics

        Hi, I actually reviewed the DX80 and its tonal bias is not unlike the DX90 but a bit more space on the vocals and more linear bass, not as dynamic sounding perhaps. Personally, I think if OS is not an issue for you, but functionality and sound are, then there are superior options to these older lineups such as the Shozy Alien+, Cayin N3, FiiO X5iii and top of the tree DX200 from iBasso. Just my 0.002.

      • Matt Wreford

        Hi, thanks for the review and advice. DX200 is way out of my budget and X5iii is a bit more than I would like to spend although I can see the credit card taking a hit there maybe! Someone else recommended the Cayin N3 to me and I was a bit worried that you get what you pay for and it’s a good bit cheaper than the other offerings but I’ll check out your review and see what’s what. Thanks again for taking the time to reply.

  7. Fritz van Rhijn

    Can you tell anything about the screen comparing with the J3?
    For instance, when I’m walking outside in the sun I can’t read anything on the screen of the J3.

    Reply
    • 24bit

      It is better outside than the J3, but still not great. It is certainly readable, but still lacks good brightness factor.

      Reply
    • 24bit

      No, sadly. Nothing controlled via a headphone (like touch buttons or Bluetooth) will function with the Plenue D.

      Reply
  8. Bulld0g

    Hi there,
    Does The Plenue D have a Shuffle option when playing, I have a Podcast folder & Music folder & I like the player to shuffle between them & others for variety.
    Can anyone fill me in on this PLEASE.

    Reply
  9. Gee Coc

    Dude sorry but i can play dsd64 for this dap, i did not try dsd128 because i dont have a sample file for this.

    Reply
  10. Fontiac

    Hi! I’m searching for my first DAP after my Ipod died, and wanted an upgrade. I’ve been looking at the Plenue D and the FiiO X3 II.

    I’m currently at 70% Plenue D and 30% X3 but I want to know if this is a good entry player into this world. Your review helped but I would appreciate if you could tell me if it plays Heavy Metal nicely (Rock too).

    Many Thanks

    Reply
    • 24bit

      The Plenue D plays everything nice, with that hefty EQ functionality you can set it up to your liking. I’d recommend that over the Fiio. The Cowon has significantly better battery life and a better UI.

      Reply
      • 24bit

        It isn’t likely, but lets hope not haha ;) The positive red flag here so to speak is that you were looking for a genre specific experience that you feel is good. That is significantly more likely to be found in the Plenue D’s very plentiful EQ options. It is less likely to be found in the more basic Fiio system. If you do get it, let me know what you think, I love hearing about that stuff.

    • Vitor

      I have the Plenue D and I’ve heard X3 II. I recommend the Plenue D without doubt. Outsite factors EQ and batery life, the sound of Plenue D I liked more.

      Reply
      • 24bit

        It is wonderfully musical, isn’t it. I wish it had the resolution of the Plenue M and DSD capabilities. Maybe Cowon will actually make one like that instead of going full on neutral and dry as a bone in their more expensive Daps. I want a Plenue D scaled up so bad :[

  11. Seler

    Hey, thx for the great review! Will Audeze Sine pair well with this DAP + Aune B1 combo? Cheers!

    Reply
    • 24bit

      In theory and on paper, absolutely. But, I couldn’t say if you would enjoy it or not. Qualities between them would be well justified, at least in my opinion. But, you could end up hating it or loving the end result. Totally dependent on your preferences here. The Sine scales up a bit and gets better with good sources and amplifiers, but I think your combo is a good one for the Sine. Not too boosted and not too neutral. Just right for the Sine and ideal actually in terms of tone and setup.

      Reply
      • 24bit

        The Plenue D’s EQ is strong enough to suit a linear amp and headphone combo, or a bassy one, or a treble happy one. I don’t really think it at all matters what amplifier you get to pair with the Plenue D and the Sine, so long as that amplifier is clear and clean enough to justify the Sine.

      • Seler

        I think B1 should be perfect then. It’s by far the best portable amp (Class A!) I came across.

  12. xxx

    Great review, thanks 24bit. Gives me all the information i was looking for. I’d just love to know how does this little plenue D pair with the tiny r2 from Flare Audio, as they are a bit demanding and before pulling the trigger i want to know if i’ll find enough juice for them on the cowon. The Flares sound great coming form my Ibasso dx50 but absolutely dead coming from my weak Sony A15 (which would be the sacrificed for the korean option) They are my daily iems because of your enthusiastic review, by the way…So, if it’s not asking too much, would you mind to try them together?

    Thanks in advance!!

    Reply
    • 24bit

      Thanks mate!

      Ah, you’ll be reaching high volumes on the D to output good volume. It doesn’t have the voltage to drive the R2A or Pro proper, you’ll achieve sufficient loudness but you’ll miss out on the bass depth that comes with actual amping. It’s fine really. The musicality factor on the Plenue D is very nice and it paired well with the Flares in that regard. I would expect a slightly better experience with a D vs A15. I’ve not heard the A15, I’ve reviewed the A17 though and it is also too weak for the Flare iems. Testing with my A17 and the Flares results in a sound I am not happy with, but with the DX90 and my Plenue M, the result is better to my ear.

      Reply
  13. Hélder

    I have the same problem Vitor has, but even with the songs in the micro SD. All my files are flac 16/44.1 and some records aren’t gapless in the D (in my sony a15 the same records are gapless). It’s annoying especially in live records. It’s a shame because the resto in the player is great.

    Reply
    • Vitor

      What earphone do you use?
      I tried to format the micro SD card (FAT32 file system with an allocation unit size of 32 KB) and copy the songs again. It seemed to me that reduced the noise.

      Reply
      • 24bit

        Tried to investigate this for you guys but wasn’t able to come up with anything. Cowon hasn’t responded since you first asked about this so I’m afraid I can’t help at the moment. How does EQ affect that sound? Could it be certain EQ presets or your custom set produce that noise? Can you disable or normalize them, maybe also try a custom eq with all levels at 1 just to see if there is noise.

      • Vitor

        I was using the preset “normal”. I switched to “user 1 ” and not
        change anything, not activating any feature. The noise continues. And I
        noticed that it is stronger in the internal memory than the micro sd
        card.

    • Vitor

      Finally found the problem! Is firmware problem. I did downgrade to
      firmware 1.10 and the noise stopped happening. When I returned to
      firmware 1.13, the noise returned.

      Reply
      • Vitor

        I wrote in the global Cowon site this message reporting the confirmation of the problem (firmware) as I wrote here and finally Cowon gave me an answer!
        “Dear Vitor,

        I am sorry to reply you late. Thank you for your kindness.

        I delivered your Q&A to the related team to check out the latest firmware.

        It is under testing to find out the problem.

        It might be inconvenient for you to use the downgrade firmware, but
        before the problem is solved, please use the other firmware version.

        Thank you for using Plenue D.

        I hope you enjoy listening music with Plenue D.

        Have a good day.”

    • Vitor

      The noise problem disappeared completely with the new firmware (1.14b1)!

      Reply
      • Hélder

        Thank you for the information. I sent back the PD because that problem was annoying me. If you say the issue is solved maybe i’ll get another one because i liked the player very much. Sorry to ask but did you tried a live record and screen off? No issues between two consecutive songs?
        Thanks in advance.

      • Vitor

        I tested with Diana Krall Live in Paris album, I listened to the track 1 to track 8 and did not hear any noise, totally clean sound. Everything was done with the screen turned off, direct playing without pause.

      • Hélder

        Again, thank you for the information. With no issues, probably i’ll get a new PD soon.

  14. Vitor

    I’m having a problem with Plenue D. The songs of the internal memory of the player (not the micro SD) during the exchange of track to another track are showing noise (very low), but this only happens when the screen is off.

    Reply
  15. Anon

    Looking to upgrade to this from an iPod Video 5th gen. Will there be a noticeable improvement in sound quality?

    Reply
  16. Vitor

    I
    read the review of Cowon Plenue D and what I saw
    was a heavy criticism as the bass, midrange and treble, and even the
    imaging. Only at the end the player was praised as the UI and battery
    life. I’m not understanding why so much criticism about the Plenue D
    because I’m loving it with my JH5 + cable Effect Audio Ares.

    Reply
    • 24bit

      Praised for sure for Battery life and UI, but as far as sound quality goes I think it just a “good” player. Plug out of the D and into the DX90 and you are met with noticeable improvements across the board. But, I enjoy the D much more than pretty much any other DAP in the price tier! I think it is absolutely a good sounding player and justified for the price without a doubt, but compared to the competition at $300 or so, it lags a bit behind in raw quality. But, it doesn’t need to be supremely clean to enjoy at all, because I enjoy the Plenue D so much more than the L3 for example, which is absolutely more clean and spacious. I’m a musicphile, I prefer to enjoy the music much more than enjoy the cleanliness or purity and if you love the combination, that is effin’ great and makes me so happy! I enjoy the hell out of it as well despite the DX90 sounding more clean, despite the L3 sounding much more spacious and pure and so on. I tried to draw lines between what I felt to be subjective and what I felt to be objective.

      It is so hard for me not to use the Plenue D despite having the other top tier DAP’s in the tier as well nearby. It is extremely musical and fun to use, which is what I am personally all about in my music listening preferences! :)

      Reply

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