Cowon Plenue 2
FOR Incredible levels of insight; sturdy build AGAINST Awkward to use; lacks punch; no streaming
We shouldn’t begrudge Cowon describing the Plenue 2 as the “world’s finest DAC”, but these things must always be taken with a pinch of salt: after all, for every ABBA Gold there is a Best Of Vanilla Ice.
Let’s also not forget that the Plenue 2’s primary function is as a hi-res personal music player, with its alternative use as a portable DAC more a welcome bonus.
It’s a weighty unit, so tighten your belt before putting it in your pocket, but that's befitting of the amount of technology Cowon has managed to fit inside.
Beginning with that DAC: it’s a premium AKM model (AK4497EQ) incorporating ‘Velvet sound’ technology, which is said to reduce any noise and distortion and, working alongside a Soundplus amplifier, is capable of supporting playback of up to 24-bit/192khz PCM files as well as DSD.
The Plenue 2 combats jitter by using an Ultra Precision Dual Temperature Compensated Crystal Oscillator (TCXO) Clock and also welcomes Jeteffect 7 & BBE for Eqing, tone adjustment and personal sonic tweaking.
Weighing almost 200g, the Plenue 2 feels like a high-end product, and the general build and tactility doesn’t disappoint. Two analogue wheels on the top control volume and menu navigation, and are as pleasant to twizzle as they are useful.
Beneath buttons for power and playback on the Plenue 2’s side, protected from dust and the elements by a leather case included in the box, is a micro SD card slot, which allows you to double the already fairly generous 128GB internal memory.
Once we've turned the Plenue 2 on, however, we don’t find it to be the most user-friendly product we've ever tested. Aside from its nine-hour battery life (8.5 hours if playing hi-res) not being overly impressive, given that it takes around three hours to charge to full power, the whole interface could be a lot more intuitive.
Menus aren’t always the easiest to locate, and the volume increasing in steps of 0.5db means a lot of scrolling to reach the heights we’d like it. It all feels just a bit clunky, sometimes to the point of frustration.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Plenue 2 has no way of connecting to the internet, so if you’re looking for a hi-res player to access Tidal as well as store the 12 music you’ve already bought, your only option here is to use this as a USB DAC alongside your phone or laptop.
However, when we finally manage to fill the Plenue 2 with our music and hit play, the initial returns are impressive. There’s a class-leading level of detail in Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm’s collaborative EP Loon, exposing textures in the synthesizers that other personal music players simply wouldn’t be able to dig out, and setting them in oceans of space.
A tight grip
The balance is spot on as well. There’s plenty of depth to the low end, but it remains taut and lean, refusing to forgo any of the levels of detail immediately apparent through the midrange, while the treble is quite happy to stretch its arms toward the ceiling with plenty of room to spare. Essentially, the Plenue 2 just feels comfortable picking out notes wherever in the frequency range they may lie, not bothering to overdo or roll off any part.
Maturity is a word that comes to mind when describing this Cowon’s performance, as is precision. Again, the Plenue 2 keeps time with ease, letting instruments come, go and intertwine as they please, introducing each with care as and when they want to converse.
But that maturity comes at the expense of a little fun. The performance could do with some extra punch, a greater level of expression that could take it from being exact to becoming truly musical. It isn’t that the Plenue 2 is dynamically flat – there are swells as there are leaping crescendos – but it’s all done with a tight grip. We’re never quite immersed in the music the way we might be if the Plenue 2 were to let itself go once in a while.
The same is true when using it as a DAC. By plugging it in via USB and selecting the DAC option when it pops up, we gain access to extra insight our laptops cannot reveal. It isn’t quite the world’s finest DAC – if you’re after a portable DAC rather than a personal music player, the Chord Mojo at £400 is still the way to go.
Overall, we’d be more than happy using the Plenue 2 as our main source of music on the move. It doesn't have the drive some listeners might want, but it more than makes up for that with incredible levels of detail and insight. For anyone sceptical of the talents of hi-res audio, this effort from Cowon should be more than capable of convincing you.
The Plenue 2 is primarily a hi-res music player, the DAC function is a welcome bonus
It feels high-end and the sound is impressive, but the Plenue 2 isn't particularly user-friendly