For the purpose of this review, I used my Onkyo IE-C3 for IEM testing and the all-new Fearless S6-Rui and the Fostex TH-610 for headphones comparisons. All files were FLAC 16/44 or FLAC 96/24 from Qobuz.
Out of the box, the Cowon Plenue D2 is very, very flat. It sounds more like a professional system rather than an audiophile setup : clean and dry with a very wide soundstage. Dynamics are excellent and you easily discern every detail, even when you listen at quiet volume. Stereo crosstalk is so good, that I even got this delightful sensation where you turn your head, thinking someone is calling for you.
After a few hours of listening, I had to admit this sound signature wasn’t exactly keen to my ears. It was a bit… tasteless. Sure, you hear every detail, tremendous vocals and pitch-black background, but that didn’t shake me up. Until I began to play with the BBE Effect, and more importantly with the BBE Mach3Bass.
It’s night and day once you activate this mode : as if a veil was lifted. I know I know, it’s a sentence you may have read… a lot. But bear with me this time, the Mach3Bass is the only DSP you may ever, ever, need. The preset doesn’t just lift up the bass, it applies a few delay effect, soundstage correction and a swift push from 20hz to 100Hz.
I couldn’t listen to the Cowon Plenue D2 without this preset anymore. It’s like going from a petrol car to an electric car, you know it’s better but you can’t grasp how good it is until you put the foot down. The bass is never oppressive and gives you one of the most accurate “live sensations” on any source, at this level of price.
Highs : accuracy without the harshness. The Cowon Plenue D2 is made and dedicated by sound engineers : no sibilance and flat render up to 20kHz. I listened to my usual test track, Summer 3 from Vivaldi, found on Remastered from Max Richter and could spot each violin and viola. A very good job from Cowon.
Mids : flat and subtle. Mids aren’t bad nor are they amazing, voices are clean but it doesn’t grasp you as much as I would expect. What helps is the superb soundstage, Tender Surrender from Steve Vai is a great track to understand how far the Cowon Plenue D2 is good in this aspect.
Lows : amazing. Just activate the BBE Mach3Bass and I dare you to deactivate it, later on. Seriously.
Noise and power
Noise : absurdly silent, even on my Onkyo which are prone to hiss. I think it’s one of the cleanest DAPs I have listened to at this level of price.
Power : output power is rated at 4Vrms in balanced mode. This can be attained once you activate the headphone mode from the main menu (high gain) and helps to drive bigger cans. Of course, there is no miracle here, don’t expect to drive massive headphones like the HD800S or the HD820, but a Fostex TH-610 was powered with ease.
On portable gear, like IEM or headphones such as the Meze 99 Classics, it’s perfect. I never thought the Plenue D2 lacked power at any moment, and with 140 steps there is room for any listener out there. No channel imbalance was detected, even at the lowest volume. Hurray.
The Cowon Plenue D2 is a strange player, one that sits between two eras. It boasts no wifi, no streaming, no USB, no USB-DAC or USB-out and even suffers from a low-res screen… Yet, it grew on me.
It’s fast, easy to use, blazing fast to boot up and battery life is nothing short of amazing. It’s the perfect player for long travel or commute, if you don’t mind relating on hard copied music. Something very strange for me.
Soundwise, it’s faultless as long as you stick to portable gear (no Sennheiser HD800). BBE Effects are still, and by far, the best DSP you can get for any DAP at this point. I’ve used the BBE Mach3Bass from the first day and I think this player can compete with high-end sedentary gear on this point. The Plenue D2 could be used as your main source on the go, if you’re a sound engineer.
I’m still a nerdy guy, leaning toward quirky players and DACs, but sometimes simplicity is best. And that’s the Cowon Plenue D2 : simplicity at its best. A sure choice for today and tomorrow.