In this review we’ll be giving Headfonia readers our impressions on the new Plenue R2 Digital Audio Player from South Korean manufacturer Cowon. The R2 is the latest revision to their mid-range ‘R’ series, as is currently available for $549. We’ve reviewed several of Cowon’s products at Headfonia in the past, which you can check-out here.
Note: the Plenue R2 was sent to us directly from Cowon in exchange for out honest thoughts, impressions, and opinions. We appreciate the opportunity!
DAPs, and me.
Let’s get this out of the way up-front: I’ve been avoiding digital audio players (a.k.a ‘DAPs’) for a very long time. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool audiophile of both desktop and on-the-go inclinations, but the notion of adding yet another box (and yet another screen) to my life simply didn’t stack-up in either the value or lifestyle equations. Now, I know that many Headfonia readers are avid DAP fans and come here for advice and impressions on them, so please, hear me out.
Ok, so you need three things to make music “go” on the go: a source; an interface; and something to amplify your headphones. For me, a smartphone checks those first two boxes perfectly, and the third box…adequately. Hence, I’ve been more of a ‘stacker’ – choosing to hook-up the Chord Mojo to my smartphone for when out-and-out sound quality is required on-the-go. More recently, I’ve been using the Earstudio ES100 for a less ‘clunky’ arrangement, favouring the convenience of having slightly fewer wires. My main concern with opting for a DAP was being tied to a buggy, outdated user-interface and connectivity suite when I tend to update my phone every couple of years, on the other hand.
But, smartphones are, by definition, phones. There are all kinds of digital interruptions that tend to prevent you from simply zoning-out and enjoying an entire album end-to-end. And for that very reason, I still use my ancient iPod Photo from time-to-time. This vintage iPod was well-regarded for its Wolfson DAC chip, and I’ve subsequently given it a new lease on life by ripping-out the physical 60gb hard-drive and replacing it with a 400gb microSD card. It’s amazing how much of a pleasure they are to use all these years later, with that intuitive click-wheel interface, and basic, but eminently usable screen interface.
Introducing the Plenue R2
Ok, so back to 2020. Cowon got in touch with us to let us know that they were releasing their new Plenue R2, sitting firmly in the ‘value’ end of their very comprehensive DAP portfolio at $549 USD (at time of writing). Despite wifi being an Australian innovation (represent!), it piqued my interest that the Plenue R2 eschewed internet connectivity, streaming apps and an Android-based architecture. As someone with a digital library of around half a terabyte of lossless audio, the R2 seemed to me to represent a promising purist player + source proposition, and so with an open mind (and clean ears), I set-about finding-out whether Cowon’s new Plenue R2 is a worthy DAP entry-point for Headfonia readers, and perhaps even for the DAP veterans among you.
An update to their previous Plenue R, Cowon asserts that the Plenue R2 will help the listener ‘Plunge into Brilliant Sound’. Sounds good in theory, so how do they manage this? The R2 boasts an upgraded D/A internals compared to the Plenue R, sporting a pair of Cirrus Logic’s premier CS43131 DAC chips capable of processing 32bit/384kHz PCM, and up to DSD 256 natively. The other welcome upgrade from the Plenue R is the addition of a USB-C interface for power and digital connectivity. Power-wise, the R2 can deliver 2.0Vrms from its single-ended 3.5mm headphone out, and 4.0Vrms from a 2.5mm balanced jack. Combined, Cowon state that this results in a signal-to-noise ratio of 130dB (Unbalanced), or 136dB (Balanced), and Total Harmonic Distortion levels of 0.0004% (Unbalanced), or 0.0005% (Balanced).
The Plenue R2 has 128GB of onboard storage to play just about any file-type under the sun (excluding MQA, but let’s not go there), and can accept external microSD cards to boost its total capacity. As well as being able to directly-drive headphones via onboard amplification, the R2 is equipped with Bluetooth connectivity (as a transmitter only), of the older 3.0 codec variety, however, and is capable of both SBC and aptX playback. Those of you considering the Plenue R2 as a digital source should note that the 3.5mm headphone-out doubles as a digital optical output.
The R2 also includes ‘AI Functionality’ allowing it to adapt to the listener’s volume, shuffle music intuitively, and apply settings from its JetEffect DSP/EQ suite. To round-out the topline features, the Plenue R2’s battery is capable of delivering up to 20 hours playback, and is charged via USB-C – a new feature to Cowon’s line-up that is entirely welcome in the year 2020, and also allows the Plenue R2 to connect to a Mac/PC for file transfer, firmware updates, and to also allow it to function as a USB-DAC.
Head over to page 2 to read about the Plenue R2’s build, design, and UI.