More than just All-Round DAP!
PROS: JetEffect 7, solid build, responsive touch-screen, neutral revealing tuning, customizable GUI (skins), 17hrs battery life, Bluetooth w/aptX, 128GB internal storage.
CONS: leather case is optional, power output more suitable for IEMs and efficient Full size.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
Cowon has been on a roll with Plenue releases that include both updates and brand-new models. When it’s an update with incremental number, you have some idea what to expect, though Plenue 1 (P1) to Plenue 2 (P2) had a few surprises. But when we have a brand-new model, it becomes a guessing game, just like when Plenue R (PR) was announced as being “all round player”. When you hear that marketing reference, many will probably assume a “jack of all trades” with an average performance. But once you read the full spec, you’ll quickly realize it’s going to be something else!
I’m sure many Cowon fans already noticed a trend with every new Plenue release having some new design teaser which going to appear in the next model. The transformation from boxy P1 and PM to sexy PD set the design tone for future PS and PM2 chassis. The balanced output of PS, though a less common 3.5mm TRRS, paved the way for 2.5mm balanced in P2 and the latest PR. The LED light of P2 appeared as a new Sound Source LED in PR. And now, PR introduced Bluetooth with aptX, which I have a feeling we probably going to see in future flagship models.
What I’m trying to say, Cowon likes to push the envelope one step further with every new release, building on a legacy of their previous models. Ever since 1995, they continued down this path, evolving with every new model and trying to stay relevant and competitive as a pure audio player with world class JetEffect dsp effects. Plenue R is another fine example of this progress, which I found to be like a lovechild of PM2 and P2. Now, let’s find out more!
As I mentioned in my previous Cowon reviews, this company takes a lot of pride in presentation of their products, and I always found the unboxing experience to be rewarding. Here we have a traditional Plenue all black formal dressed box with a silver ribbon. When you lift the cover up, you see PR in a secure form fitted cutout to make sure the DAP arrives safely to its destination.
Unlike P2 unboxing where the analog volume/control wheels got my attention from the start, here it was a more traditional looking slim DAP with a display occupying the entire top view.
Cowon usually doesn’t spoil us with too many accessories, but the one you get are well thought of. You get a warranty and a manual printed on a premium paper, and if you want you can always download a full manual in many different languages directly from their website. The manual is detailed enough to give you a good idea about the DAP and its operation prior to purchasing it. They also provided micro USB cable, used for charging, data transfer, and usb dac connection, and I found it be of high quality. And that’s about it.
Leather case (optional).
Due to PR being a more budget oriented DAP, almost half the price of P2, leather case is optional here, but I highly recommend it. I will cover this more in Design section, but I found the lower right edge of PR chassis to be not as comfortable, digging into the palm of my hand. Not sure if it’s a pre-production sample quality, but I found handling of PR to be more enjoyable with case on.
The case is pure leather and fits the DAP like a glove, doesn’t easily slide off, and doesn’t hide the beauty of PR shape. The quality of the leather is different from P2 case, softer to the touch, nearly the same as PM2 leather case. It also has a soft inside lining to make sure PR doesn’t get scratched. On the outside, it has a neat red stitching and a stamped Plenue logo on the back.
The top is fully open, that’s where PR slides in. Left side is solid, covering uSD slot as well; if you need to remove/exchange the card, you will have to remove the case. Bottom has one generous opening for micro-usb and both headphone ports. Right side also has one generous opening for the whole cluster of volume and playback buttons. I prefer it over being covered because you can easily slide your finger to feel every button, and the cutout makes buttons recessed so you don’t accidently press it while in a pocket.
I’m sure the idea was to trim extra accessories to keep the price at $599, thus a leather case is optional, but in my opinion, it worth every penny.
Like previously reviewed PM2 and P2, PR feels very solid in my hand, has a brushed aluminum chassis, a rubbery non-slip back panel, and 3.7” AMOLED symmetrically positioned touch screen with an assignable home button at the bottom (like in other Plenue models). The footprint of the DAP is very compact, measuring 61.5mm x 112.9mm x 13.8mm and only 154g in weight. It is more compact than PM2 and P2, smaller than majority of my other mid-fi and flagship DAPs. Since there is no volume wheel to worry about, you can just drop it in your pocket with HO connectors facing up toward you.
The only negative here is a sharp lower right edge which makes it not very comfortable to hold in my hand without a case. I’m not sure if it’s only with my review unit or intended by design, but I felt a lot better when I got leather case on, feeling a lot more comfortable to hold it. Plus, as mentioned before, the leather case is of a high quality, like premium Dignis cases (but this is Cowon own design).
Upon closer examination of PR, you will find on the left side at the bottom a slot for microSD card which can accommodate 256GB card and I think the latest 400GB should work too. At the bottom, you have micro-USB connector for charging, data transfer, and USB DAC connection, 2.5mm TRRS balanced headphone output, and 3.5mm single ended headphone output which also doubles as optical digital out.
At the top in the upper right corner, Cowon has a unique looking power button in a shape of a camera shutter-release. This specific power button design, including its physical placement, is now common among the other Plenue DAPs, such as PD, PS, and PM2. But what’s different is Sound Source LED indicator (like in P2) inside of the upper left corner cavity of the chassis, underneath of that power button. It changes its color according to the sound source. Teal color whenever it’s a normal lossy playback, magenta color when it’s HD sound with lossless file playback, and Yellow color with its DSD/DXD playback. Nice eye-candy feature, though I have it turned off to squeeze more battery life without causing extra drain.
Identical to PM2, on the right side you have transport control and volume buttons. Volume up/down is placed logically at the top and it’s a combined rounded button, adjusting the volume in 140 steps, 0.5dB at a time. Play/Pause is a separate button below it with similar rounded corners, just shorter. And then you have track skip next/prev, a combined button in the same shape as volume, also multi-functioning as rewind/fast forward when you press’n’hold it. All the buttons have a clear marking on the top, very nice tactile response, and absolutely no wobbling. They are accessible to control volume and playback with screen either on or off.
The back has a ribbed non-slippery rubbery/plastic material, making it safe and secure to place on any surface. It feels nice and helps with a grip of PR, but as I mentioned before – I still prefer to dress this DAP in a leather case.
Under the hood.
PR makes a comeback with Burr-Brown PCM series DACs, using PCM5242 model. Even so it’s not as common as 1795 or 1792A models, judging by its sound performance, this is not a cheap entry level DAC. Also, like in other Plenue DAPs, you have a low jitter dual clock precision TXCO oscillator. In the heart of the DAP you still have ARM Cortex A9 1.2GHz dual-core processor since we are not running a demanding environment requiring high level of processing power. But it’s plenty of power to easily decode and process any lossless or lossy audio formats, such as DXD, DSD (DFF, DSF), FLAC, WAV, AIFF, ALAC, APE, MP3, WMA, OGG, WV, TTA, and DCF. Just keep in mind, it only supports up to DSD128.
Display has 3.7″ AMOLED touch screen with 480×800 resolution and deep rich colors. PR has 128GB of built-in memory and microSD card expansion to add another 256GB (and probably 400GB) of storage. In addition to 3.5mm single ended HO which doubles as optical digital output, PR also adds 2.5mm balanced HO. Per spec, the balanced 2.5mm port is rated at 1.6Vrms with output impedance of 1.6 ohms, and the unbalanced 3.5mm port is rated at 1.4Vrms with output impedance of 0.8 ohms. It’s below 2Vrms like in P2 and PM2, and I noticed that when trying to drive higher impedance more demanding headphones. But it had plenty of power for iems and efficient headphones, and 1.6 ohms output impedance wasn’t an issue with multi-BA iems.
The rechargeable battery is a nicely sized 3,000 mAh li-po @ 3.7V which you can charge in under 3hrs using 5V/2A charger. In my testing with occasional screen on, I found hi-res (FLAC) file playback to be around 16hrs, while 320kbp mp3 playback lasted a solid 17 hrs. This is a very impressive battery performance for a touch screen DAP packed with so many features. The battery performance is better than PM2 and P2, though nothing can beat PD.