Take it to the limit: Cowon Plenue M high-res music player
Great, you splurged on a set of high-end headphones. The Plenue M music player is your next logical purchase.
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
You bought a new Audeze EL-8, Oppo PM-3 or high-end Sony MDR 7520 headphone, or maybe a great in-ear monitor, but you're still listening to tunes on your smartphone? Sorry, but you're missing out on most of the sound quality you paid for. To hear your uber headphones at their best, you need a music player like the Cowon Plenue M.
Right away, the Oppo PM-3 headphones proved an ideal match with the Plenue M. The sound was incredibly well-balanced, open, and spacious, and the player had no trouble driving my original Hifiman HE-400 headphones really well (they're much harder to drive than the current HE-400i headphones). Deep bass from rapper Earl Sweatshirt's "I Don't Like Sh*#" album was satisfyingly big and deep in ways you'll never experience from an iPhone with headphones as capable as Audeze, Hifiman, or Oppo
With my Audeze EL-8 headphones the sound was big, warm, and inviting. Bluegrass diva Gillian Welch's vocals, banjo, and guitar were fully present and transparent, but the sound was definitely not thin or too lean, so acoustic instruments sounded like themselves. Switching over to the more expensive and bulkier Hifiman HM-901 music player the sound was slightly clearer, with better resolution, and the bass had a touch more oomph with the Audeze and Oppo 'phones. Curiously, with Sony MDR 7520 headphones the two players sounded more alike, but I preferred the HM-901's user-interface. I also used the Plenue M as a desktop USB digital converter/headphone amplifier. I didn't have a Cowon Plenue 1 player on hand to compare with the 'M player.
Listening to high-resolution FLAC files of "Led Zeppelin II" with by Sennheiser IE800 in-ear headphones the Plenue M unfurled a huge soundstage that seemed to come from outside and around my head.
The Plenue M's front is dominated by a big and bright touch screen, and there are physical volume, play/pause, and next/previous track buttons on the side panel. Measuring 4.4 by 2.5 by 0.5 inches the all-metal Plenue M is a lot smaller than an iPhone 6 Plus, which is 6.22 by 3.06 by 0.28 inches. The bottom panel houses a Micro-USB port, microSD card slot, and a headphone jack that doubles as an optical digital output.
You get 64GB of internal memory that can be expanded with a microSD card. The Plenue M plays WAV, FLAC, DFF, TTA, DCF, AIFF, APE, ALAC, WMA, OGG, MP3, DXD and DSD files, with up to 192 kHz/24 bit resolution. Playback time runs 10 hours, charging takes 4 hours.
The Plenue M is beautifully built, sounds and looks great, and while I'm not a fan of touchscreen-controlled devices in general, this player was fairly easy to use.