While Cowon's Plenue series of portable high-res music players may not be as well known as Astell & Kern's or FiiO's, I've thoroughly enjoyed the two previous Plenue models I've tested on this blog. This new Plenue D is smaller and more affordable than its siblings, and first impressions of its build and sound quality were extremely positive. I love the Plenue D's clean lines; it runs $299 in the US, £199 in the UK, and AU$429 in Australia.
The all-metal player is deliciously compact, just 3.2 x 0.6 x 2.2 inches (77 x 15 x 53mm), which makes it one of the smallest high-res music players you can buy. It handles up to 192 kHz/24-bit FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, WAV, WMA, APE and MP3 files, and Cowon claims that the Plenue D will play for up to 100 hours on a charge. You get 32GB of built-in storage, and the microSD slot lets you add another 128GB capacity. The left side of the player has volume up/down, play/pause, and next FF/previous RW track buttons; the top of the player has a power button and a 3.5mm headphone jack, and the bottom panel hosts a Micro-USB port.
As for the Plenue D's user interface, it was average, and just like with all of the other high-resolution music players, I never figured out how to load or play playlists on it. The touchscreen is fairly responsive, but I'm more of a fan of physical buttons.
Comparing the Plenue D with the Sony Walkman NWZ-A17 player with high-resolution FLAC files of Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" album, the Plenue D sounded sweeter, richer and warmer overall. The NWZ-A17 was no slouch, just a touch lean-sounding on my Hifiman HE-400S full-size headphones. The Plenue D has plenty of detail and power aplenty to drive full-size headphones; I also had great results listening with my AudioQuest NightHawk headphones.
Those impressions about the relative sound of the two music players held true with my Hifiman RE-600S in-ear headphones, so the Plenue D was consistently more natural-sounding. The Plenue D sounded especially powerful; bass plumbed the depths, and the stereo imaging was broad, while maintaining decent focus. The RE-600S reasserted itself as one of the best audiophile-grade, yet affordably priced in-ear headphones.
I next compared the Plenue D with my Astell & Kern Jr player, with the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 over-the-ear headphones. These two players were pretty close, but the Jr was a little more transparent and could play the headphones louder than the Plenue D.
Summing up, the Cowon Plenue D sounds nice, it looks and feels like a bona fide audiophile design and its smaller than average size should make it an attractive alternative for first time high-res buyers.