Golden Brass Trumpet!
PROS: JetEffect 7, 256GB internal storage, high power 4.4mm balanced output, beautiful exterior design, responsive touch-screen, neutral revealing sound, customizable GUI (skins), Dignis leather case.
CONS: still uses micro-usb, no wifi/Bluetooth.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
After reviewing Plenue M2, Plenue 2, Plenue R, Plenue 2 mk2, and now Plenue L, one would think that by now I should be able to figure out the logic behind Plenue DAPs naming. While numbers make sense, I still don’t know what these individual letters refer to. But there is one thing I’m certain about – Cowon is not chasing after the latest trends and instead focusing more on the sound performance as their top priority. The company has been in business since 1995, and to reach this level of longevity, especially in today’s competitive market, they chose to stand out from the crowd by perfecting the formula of the original Plenue release.
Plenue 1 was introduced back in January of 2015, and now 4 years later we have the latest incarnation of that original flagship, Plenue L. It’s hard to believe that throughout all these years Cowon continued to use Cortex A9, 1.2GHz dual-core CPU, 3.7″ AMOLED Touch display with 480×800 resolution, JetEffect 7, nearly the same GUI, and the same Linux based OS. The core of the Plenue design (in 1/2/2 mk2, M/M2, S, and L) hasn’t changed, but the rest got upgraded and enhanced with internal storage reaching 256GB, using the latest AKM and ESS DACs and SoundPlus high performance TI amps, and implementation of balanced outputs.
What surprised me the most was the subtle evolution of Plenue 2 into Plenue 2 mk2 followed by an unexpected step forward with Plenue L, which in my book could be called Plenue 3. So, let’s proceed to my review of the latest flagship from Cowon and find out more about what this Plenue L (PL) brings to the table.
Unboxing and Accessories.
The unboxing experience of PL is very straight forward with an all black formal-dressed box which looks and opens like a jewelry case and arrived with a traditional silver ribbon around it. The back of the box has a detailed spec in silver, though print is very small and not easy to read. When you lift the cover up, PL is in a secure form fitted cutout which can be lifted like a tray to find a leather case and accessories underneath of it.
Cowon doesn’t spoil us with a lot of accessories, but the included one are usually top quality. The micro-USB cable, used for charging, data transfer, and usb dac connection is very durable. Quick guide and warranty card look neat. I also received as a bonus a film screen protector, but I know it’s optional and probably can be purchased from Cowon separately.
My favorite accessory here is the leather case. Plenue own leather cases are always of a high quality, optional with lower end models and included with higher end. I loved the original P2 leather case, with the only complaint of covered buttons being not easy to feel. In P2 mk2 Cowon stepped it up with a custom Dignis leather case which used a genuine Italian Minerva leather. PL comes with the same case, just slightly modified to fit the updated shape of the chassis. This Dignis case is made of red leather, complementing PL chassis color nicely, though from my P2 mk2 experience after some time the corners of the red leather turn darker.
The case has an open top where the DAP slides in, and a generous opening for micro-usb and HO ports at the bottom. uSD card can’t be accessed unless you take the DAP out. There is also a cutout window underneath the wheels to reveal LED lights under the knobs. On the left side, power button has a round imprinted shape with a symbol that is easy to feel. Playback buttons are squared, with Play/Pause in the middle that sticks out more, making it easier to ID when sliding your finger. On the back there is a cutout with a recessed metal right-angle insert, creating a 3D effect pattern.
I love this case but wish it would have been in a different color, not identical to P2 mk2.
PL looks very similar to P2 and mk2 and still feels very solid and comfortable in my hand, has a sturdy brass gold micro-polish alloy metal chassis, carbon fiber glass back panel, and a front touch screen with an assignable home button at the bottom (like in other Plenue models). The footprint of the DAP is very compact, measuring 67.9mm x 119.1mm x 16.5mm and only 199g in weight. It’s identical in width and thickness to P2/mk2, only a few mm taller. The only drawback here, due to headphone jack at the bottom, if you use headphones with a straight connector plug and like to keep your DAP in the pocket, PL should be placed with knobs facing down, making volume adjustment not as comfortable in your pocket. If you have right angle cable connector or L-shaped adapter, you can place PL in your pocket with knobs facing up. Most of my cables are 2.5mm terminated with a straight connector, and I use L-shaped 4.4mm short adopter which works out perfect in my case.
On the left side at the top you will find a power button and underneath – hardware transport buttons (Play/Pause in the middle and Next/Prev above and below it) – all round metal buttons with a nice tactile response when you press them. Also, on the left side at the bottom you have microSD slot which Cowon conservatively mentions as 256GB card, but the latest higher capacity cards usually work fine, and of course you get 256GB of internal storage. At the bottom, you have micro-USB connector for charging, data transfer, and USB DAC connection, 4.4mm balanced and 3.5mm unbalanced (combined with optical digital out) HO ports. At the top in the upper right corner you have 2 identical wheel knobs with a soft click action as you turn it. While some other manufacturers implement a bar guard over the top or around the sides of their volume wheel, here Cowon used a different approach with kind of a bridge bar guard protecting only the bottom part of the wheels. If you look closer, these wheel knobs resemble a brass wind instrument buttons, the actual inspiration behind PL design.
Around the base of the wheels under the guard, you have LEDs surrounding the volume wheel and the multi-function wheel. Both LEDs could be disabled, but when enabled you either see a white led pulsating when screen is off or white/red LEDs lit up when corresponding wheel is being turned. Also, red LED lit up during charging. While these wheels were a bit loose in P2/mk2 designs allowing to operate them with one finger, in PL they’re tighter and require two fingers to turn them.