Cables: 1,5m Hosa Pro 3,5mm stereo to dual 3-pin XLR (around 8$); bespoke y-split 2,5 TRRS to dual 3-pin XLR made by Musashi Sound Technology.
NL – no load
SM2 – Earsonics SM2
Assuming my Lynx HILO’s ADC is accurate at insanely low voltage levels, the situation is reversed; Plenue D nearly sweeps the test suite, dropping only stereo crosstalk numbers below AK Jr levels. Unless you’re hell-bent on using external amplification, normal listening levels are where critical focus should be drawn.
You won’t max out the volume of either player through sensitive earphones. I’ll be damned if even a minority of GR10 users listen at volumes of over 50. Which is to say that normal listening levels don’t even begin to tax the limits of 16-bit audio. Not from the Plenue D. Not from the AK Jr. Not from the iPod nano. And not from the AK380 – which is the thesis behind this article. Normal listening volumes limit the dynamic range, noise levels, stereo separation, distortion, etc., values of files certified to fulfil all requirements of 24-bit audio. 16-bit audio spec is the absolute upper limit of most, if not all portable listening needs.
Understanding this should free the mind. Through your earphones and into your ears at safe listening levels, a 3500$ player won’t magically play your music in any higher fidelity. The situation doesn’t change when moving up to portable headphones. Playback volume is the magical, limiting factor.
Which is to say: if you really tax the output (and damage your ears) an Astell&Kern AK380 may best the Plenue D. In other metrics – one of the most important of which is stable frequency response – it will not. Plenue D has it where it counts: low noise, good frequency response, good distortion figures, and all of that shoehorned into a compact player with great battery life. And, while I prefer the warmer sound of the AK Jr’s DAC to both the Plenue D and the AK380, that is no basis to say that it sounds better than either.
Expect Plenue D to be the driver behind most Wright Ups (thanks Fook) about portable earphones and headphones.
My few quibbles and dislikes regarding its interaction method and its stammering scroll engine, could be said of any audiophile-level player out there. Compared to some, Plenue D is far ahead. Do I prefer the ease of use of an iPod nano 7G? Yes. Do I prefer the nano’s size and interaction model? Yes. But my nano is plagued by on-again, off-again battery life, and, as Fook keeps telling me, 16 GB really foreshortens lossless David Bowie, Nick Cave, DJ Tiësto, and John Denver binges.
Cowon: well done. You’ll be back.
At my discretion and according to my schedule I will update this article with links to drunk analyses of: SD card/library integration, library scan speeds, reboot speed, etc. and so on. Stay tuned.