What Hi-Fi (UK)
Cowon Plenue D3
Cowon proves that small really is beautiful with its matchbox-sized portable music player, the Plenue D3
Remember matchbook quotes – those little sayings written on complimentary matchbooks you could pick up in high-end bars or hotel lobbies? Should the Cowon Plenue D3, a matchbox-sized portable music player, come adorned with its own saying, it might read, “Be cautious of people whose actions don’t match their words.”
The Plenue D3 arrives with no boastful fanfare whatsoever. Despite both its previous iterations gaining five-star reviews and What Hi-fi? Awards, the demure black packaging divulges little about this machine, apart from the fact that there’s now a Cirrus Logic CS43131 dual DAC onboard where the last generation used just one.
There’s also Bluetooth support, so you can pair your wireless headphones or speaker, and a new rotary volume wheel. Despite its decorated lineage and all these useful extras, the D3 is just £20 dearer than its predecessor.
As we’ve come to expect from this line of miniature PMPS, the PD3’S build is minimalist and chic, with a black mirror finish on the front and back, a matte finish for the sides, and a silver metallic panel across the top of the player. It’s also available in a gold finish. Cowon’s isometric edge design – where two faces meet, each edge has been cut with precise calculation – creates an angular player with nice clean lines and proves that beauty really is in the detail.
The new Plenue D3 is a few millimetres longer and thicker than the original Plenue D, but unless you place the two side by side it’s almost impossible to tell the difference. The extra depth is down to a cracking new volume dial on the top right of the player, where the power button used to sit.
This glorious rotary wheel seems like an homage to Astell & Kern and feels just as premium as its pricier competition. As with the A&K Kann Alpha, a recessed light also shines out from beneath the dial. Here, it periodically flashes blue when playing, or glows red when charging or loading music, but you can turn it off in the settings menu if you like.
The power button has been relocated to the top right side of the player and, because there’s no need for volume buttons here any more, the three other little circular controls for play/pause, skip forward and skip back are now even easier to locate and use in your pocket. And the player still weighs just 103g.
The touchscreen is the same 2.8in wide-angle LCD (240 x 230) display as on the previous model. If you think one interface looks a little dated, you can choose between three different ‘skins’ and also alter the text font.
The PD3 responds well, displays album artwork and offers easy navigation and grouping of your music. Considering the challenging amount of screen real estate it has to work with, that’s no mean feat. Once you get used to hopping through the settings and back to your music, the Plenue D3 is a joy to use.
Solid battery life
The PD3 boasts a battery life of up to 45 hours if you’re playing MP3 files, or a solid 30 hours when listening to hi-res files at normal volume. There is support for 24-bit/192khz WAV, FLAC, ALAC and AIFF files and 64GB of built-in storage, which is expandable to 192GB with the addition of a 128GB microsd card. Like its older sibling, the PD3 boasts DSD128 file compatibility – and that support is native, so DSD files aren’t converted to PCM during playback. Again, there’s a balanced 2.5mm and unbalanced 3.5mm headphone jack.
So why should you upgrade to the PD3? If the new volume wheel doesn’t tempt you, Bluetooth 3.0 (with support for SBC and aptx codecs) might. We go into the PD3’S Settings menu, hit the Bluetooth menu, select our Earfun Air Pro headphones and pair. Later, we wirelessly connect our Tribit Stormbox Micro Bluetooth speaker. Both pair and automatically re-pair with ease.
If you’re going away for the weekend and want a tiny sound system for your room that is both ultra-portable and leaves your phone free for actual calls, this is a top solution. Go to the Jeteffect5 tab in Settings and you can stream your music with effects such as ‘X-bass’, or ever-more creative profiles such as ‘Feel the wind’ or ‘Reverb cathedral’, according to your room or tastes.
Plenty of presets
There are 48 of these Jeteffects in total, including 44 named presets, four user presets you can create with a five-band equaliser, and nine special ‘reverb’ modes. Want to hear a track up to 50 per cent slower or at 1.5 times its original speed? The PD3 can oblige here too. Although DSD files can’t be played over Bluetooth or with Jeteffect sound profiles, most of your music will work with all of these functions perfectly.
The PD3 charges via USB-C and takes around 3.5 hours to fully charge. Loading tracks via the same port is a breeze. We hook it up to our Macbook Pro, find it under our ‘devices’ tab and drag and drop files into the ‘music’ folder – no thirdparty apps required. You still need to physically connect the PD3 to your source to add music, but when adding files is this easy, it genuinely feels like the best way of doing things.
We enjoy toying with the PD3’S Bluetooth connectivity and Jeteffect features, but the bulk of our testing is carried out using the wired Grado SR325E headphones (with a 6.3mm to 3.5mm adaptor) and with sound profiles set to ‘Normal’. However, in the Audio Output tab here, you can select between in-ear ‘earphones’ or harder-to-drive ‘headphones’, just to optimise the performance to suit your existing kit.
We cue up Queen’s Greatest Hits, (a 16-bit/44.1khz FLAC file) and there’s a
glorious amount of separation on offer from the outset of Fat Bottomed Girls as the band sings the anthemic chorus. Freddie Mercury’s vocal is central, but the instruments are allowed plenty of space in which to shine too – a detailed drum fill towards the raucous end of the track, vocal trills, guitar ideas – proving there’s an extra level of detail on offer here that some players can’t access.
The album continues to Bicycle Race and the character of the vocals and the playful bass completes an exciting, zealous and transparent listen. The bicycle bells towards the end of the track are sparkling, separate and distinguished through the treble.
Upgrade in musicality
This is a talented player that betters its previous generation counterpart for detail, separation and transparency. It is sonically similar in character to its older siblings, but there are small upgrades to be had in terms of rhythm, timing, detail and musicality.
From the start of Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ (a 24-bit/192khz FLAC file) the bass riff is notably deep and agile in our left ear and the central melody is zealous and
“This is a talented portable music player that betters its previous generation counterpart for detail, separation and transparency”
remarkably energetic from such a tiny box of tricks. The complex layers of vocals as the track progresses are handled with precision so that each one is impactful across the frequencies.
Switching to Hans Zimmer’s Gotham’s Reckoning (a 24-bit/192khz FLAC file) from The Dark Knight Rises original soundtrack, the pensive and fast-paced percussion builds to a full-bodied snap of thunder within a brooding and expansive mix, brimming with emotion and forceful low-end punch.
When considering the Cowon Plenue D3, it’s important to note that wi-fi streaming is off the menu – so you will have to go without on-the-go streaming of Tidal, Deezer and the like. But if you have the files and you like the idea of pairing your portable music player to a speaker or headphones for one of the smallest wireless systems you’ve seen, there’s no better shout currently on the market for the money. The Cowon Plenue keeps things simple: it plays your hi-res music – and it does that very well indeed.