Review: Cowon Plenue L – Romance

Cowon Plenue L

We’re back with another DAP review, this time of the new flagship by Cowon – the Plenue L. How does it fare up against the current competition? Let’s find out.

Disclaimer: Cowon provided the Plenue L free of charge. I only had to pay for importing it from South Korea. Cowon is not affiliated with Headfonia and not a site advertiser. Many thanks for the generosity and opportunity to review the Plenue L.

About Cowon:

Cowon is a South Korean manufacturer of digital audio players, earphones, multi-media players and dash-cams. They originally started out developing software and microelectronics in 1995. Back then, their main focus was on their multimedia playback software JetAudio, speech synthesis and speech recognition. It was in 2000 when they first explored the audio player market with the CW100. Since then it has become their core business.

When looking at their history of being software developers, it doesn’t come as a surprise that they have developed their own sound enhancement technology with Jet Effect and AI Audio. Both of which are implemented in their products. Jet Effect brings an EQ, BBE Effects and special sound effects like reverb or stereo enhance. AI Audio is an automated software that learns from the user’s behaviour.

Their Plenue line of products is where the audiophiles are most interested in. Cowon has received good reputation for their previous models, like the Plenue 1, the Plenue D or the Plenue S. Nathan also reviewed the Plenue J last year.

Today, we will be looking at their latest flagship model. The Plenue L.

Cowon Plenue L

Cowon Plenue L

About Plenue L:

The Plenue L is Cowon’s latest addition to the high end DAP segment. It has an eight core ESS9038 Pro chip in there, which decodes PCM up to 32bit/384kHz and native DSD256. To give you enough space for your high resolution files, Cowon has opted for a 256GB on board memory. If that’s not enough there’s always the option to add more memory via the micro SD card slot. Cowon states it works with cards up to 256GB, but I’ve been successfully using my 400GB card as well.

The AMOLED display measures 3.7 inch and comes with a resolution of 480×800 pixels. The built-in CPU is a dual core 1.2GHz ARM Cortex. It handles the software pretty well and guarantees a smooth and almost lag free operation.

The file limitation of the Plenue L is very slim, as it decodes pretty much every file out there. Though MQA lovers won’t be satisfied, as this particular format is not on the list of the Cowon. I myself don’t care much for MQA, but I know others like the small file sizes it brings with it as a supposedly lossless file format.

Plenue L has two separate headphone outputs. A single ended 3.5 mm and a balanced 4.4 mm Pentaconn output. I’m really growing on the 4.4 mm connection, as it feels very sturdy and robust. Both outputs measure differently in terms of SNR, THD+N, Crosstalk or Output Impedance. The single ended also moonlights as an optical output.

Cowon Plenue L

Cowon Plenue L

The single ended output has an impedance of 0.9Ω while the balanced doubles that. The measured Signal to Noise Ratio is 125dB (SE) and 128dB (Bal). The balanced output is rated at 4V RMS, while the single ended comes to 2.1V RMS. There is no dedicated line output for both, but Cowon suggests switching to Headphone mode and turning the volume all the way up. This way there is no damping applied and the signal is untouched.

The battery life of Plenue L is said to be approximately nine hours using low resolution MP3 files and 8.5 hours for 24/96 FLAC files. Though in my review time I got around eight hours on the Plenue L before I had to recharge the battery. The battery has a capacity of 3,050 mAh.

Recharging is done via a micro USB port on the bottom of the unit. This port is also used for data transfer. In today’s standards, I feel Cowon missed out on not including a USB C port, which offers much faster transfer speeds and gives the option of quick charging the battery.

Updating the firmware has to be done old-school. You download the file from Cowon’s website and place it on the internal memory of the Plenue L. It then installs the new software and after a reboot you’re good to go. I have been using the fw version 1.11 during my review time.

A full list of technical specifications can be found here:
http://www.cowonglobal.com/product_wide/PLENUEL/product_page_4.php

The Plenue L retails for 1,999€ or 1,999$ and can be purchased through one of their dealers.

The review continues on page two!

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A daytime code monkey with a passion for audio and his kids, Linus tends to look at gear with a technical approach, trying to understand why certain things sound the way they do. When there is no music around, Linus goes the extra mile and annoys the hell out of his colleagues with low level beatboxing.

    10 Comments

    • Reply March 28, 2019

      Ali Arghavan

      I know it’s not the main focus in DAPs but 480p screen on 2K$ device? It’s a shame for such a beautiful looking device.

      • Reply March 28, 2019

        Linus

        Hi Ali,
        thanks for your comment.
        Yes, indeed Cowon did not put the highest resolution screen available in the Plenue L, but that’s because they focussed on sound rather than a screen, or WiFi or Bluetooth. For them their highest priority is sound, which is a good thing.

        • Reply March 28, 2019

          Berkhan

          And maybe for the battery life too.

          Sony WM1 series also utilize a screen with similar resolution.

          • Reply March 28, 2019

            Linus

            Maybe that too, but the Plenue L doesn’t really have a battery life that good.

    • Reply March 28, 2019

      solary

      How about the pair up review of those popular IEMs like Solaris, Tia Fourte, U18t, etc? Also the comparison between Sony WM1Z and Plenue L?

      • Reply March 28, 2019

        Linus

        Hi Solary,
        thanks for your comment.
        I don’t own a WM1Z so I can’t compare them, sorry.
        The A18 and Fourté both match well with the Cowon, but I prefer them on other setups to be honest. The Fourté gains a bit of mainstream-treble tuning with the Plenue L, making it a bit less direct and taking away some speed of it.

    • Reply July 28, 2019

      Alessandro Sabatino

      I already own an AK SR15, I would like to make a quantum leap in audio without frills and that’s why I was thinking about Cowon PL, my concern is to take something that comes close to what I already have. What do you think about it? I for the moment with AK SR15 and the audiotechnica ath sr9 with balanced connection I am great. Give me some advice, thanks.

      • Reply August 28, 2019

        Steven Zore

        I upgraded from the SR15 to the SE100, and loved it!

    • Reply August 7, 2019

      Alessandro Sabatino

      I’d like a comparison between cowon PL and AK SE100

    • Reply September 12, 2019

      Qiang

      Hi HFN does this PLENUE L support DAC with Phone (ios or android)? thank.

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