The Plenue L comes with two individual outputs and both have their distinctive sound characters. The balanced and the single ended do sound different, and using the 4.4 mm does have some advantages other than almost double the output power.
One thing the Plenue L does better than any other of my DAPs is the noise level. It’s absolutely silent even with the most sensitive monitors of mine. The background is pitch black and there’s zero hissing going on. That is thanks to the ultra-low-noise Low Drop Out regulators they are using.
When I first listened to the Plenue L I immediately noticed the well bodied and smooth vocals it transports. The Cowon has a touch warmer than neutral signature, that has excellent body throughout.
The Plenue L goes low down with good definition and speed, it has a finely tuned bass response, that has very nice texture. It however sits at a north of neutral position and that certainly adds a layer to the sound. There is an emphasis on mid and upper bass, rather than sub-bass.
The dynamics of the Plenue L are very nice, and at many times I found myself toe tapping along to my tracks. The Cowon displays notes with a bit more thickness than what I’m used to from other players, but that makes the Plenue a very nice alternative in my inventory.
Mids are well constructed and have superb body for a seductive listen. I guess you can say that the Cowon at times even sounds romantic and sexy, where the focus is on body and emotions, rather than microscopic precision. Not that the Plenue L is missing details though, quite the contrary, it manages a nice split between a lush and organic sound and a detailed and sharp sound.
The midrange is wonderfully rich and doesn’t come close to sounding dry. There is always this appealing extra on top.
Treble is where the Plenue L gets really interesting in my opinion. With a base sound that’s already warmish, highs often tend to fall slightly behind. Not the Cowon. Treble is fast and precise, just as a like it. It’s surprisingly clean of sibilance, even with monitors that can produce an uncomfortable amount of treble.
On the technical side, the Cowon manages to bring out great resolution, texture and layering. It has a well organised sound stage where musicians all find their spot. The venue isn’t overly large or majestic, but it’s realistic and enables you for very good imaging.
One thing worth noting is, that the Plenue L does impressively scale up with higher resolution files. Especially 24/192 and DSD files sound a lot better. That’s something the AK380 also was known for, so it doesn’t come as a big surprise that the Cowon behaves like that.
The difference between a single ended and balanced output can vary from being marginal to significant. Some products have a more obvious change in sound than others, but a balanced output does not automatically mean excellent sound. It’s all about the implementation and the structure of the signal path in the end. I have heard bad sounding balanced outputs and superior single ended ones. The same goes vice versa too.
The Plenue L has a quite apparent difference when switching from Single Ended to Balanced. The sound changes to a bigger venue, with enhanced width and depth. You will get better layering and superior transparency and a more spacious sound overall.
On the balanced output the Plenue also doesn’t sound as warm as before, yet it still retains its romantic character. It’s a more balanced and neutral sounding DAP with emphasis on body and meat. Though the single ended output has definitely more body on the notes than the balanced.
What I especially like about the balanced output is the superior structure of the sound stage. It appears more organised than on single ended. Musicians stand out cleaner from a darker background.
The review continues on the next page.