Cowon Plenue R2 Review

Cowon Plenue R2

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 My main concern with opting for a DAP was being tied to a buggy, outdated user-interface and connectivity suite when I tend to update my phone every couple of years, on the other hand. 

The last “DAP” I bought (c. 2003 iPod Photo) alongside the Cowon Plenue R2.

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.

Cowon Plenue R2.

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.

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Matty's a musician, music-fan, and 'gear-phile' from Sydney, Australia. Outside of work in creative advertising for global youth media network VICE, Matty enjoys live music, lawn bowls, craft beer, and spending far too much money collecting vinyl.

    9 Comments

    • Reply February 3, 2020

      Booker

      As a long time Plenue fan, it was great reading this and seeing a new convert emerge over the course of the article 🙂

      By the way – there’s four User custom EQ settings shown by default, but in the settings you can switch this to show 16. Presumably all 16 aren’t shown upfront to save scrolling through unused presets.

      I haven’t got the R2 as it’s not available here yet. I’ve already owned the Plenue 1, M, M2, R, S, P2 mk2, V, D and D2 – been doing a bit of a tour 😉 My experience of them is they all exhibit slightly different variations in sound signature but with similar Cowon house sound characteristics. More expensive hasn’t necessarily meant I’ll like the sound more either. So R2 is certainly on my list to check out as I loved the sound of the V and D2 using the same CS43131 DAC/amp chip. The larger screen players all have the same functionality (UI, EQ options, USB-DAC function), with the difference of R/R2 having Bluetooth. So if you’re smitten with it, I’d say there’s little to gain in upgrading up the existing Plenue line as you’ll lose Bluetooth only for a change in sound signature, which may not tickle your ears any better either (and maybe also lose some power/balanced out).

      Surprised to see the mocha case, the photos on their website show a much darker hue.

      On a completely unrelated note, hope you and friends and family are doing okay with the fires over there 🙁

      • Reply February 3, 2020

        Ken

        FYI I switched to the R2 from P2 mk1 for its portability, and turn out I like the R2 better, just because its neutral sounding pairs better with my slightly-warm IEMs (the P2 is still a very very good player though)

      • Reply February 4, 2020

        Matty Graham

        Hey Booker, thanks for taking the time to read – it sure sounds like you know your Plenues! Thanks for asking regarding the recent natural disasters we’ve had over here. I have a lot of friends and family who’ve had close calls (and singed gardens!), but thankfully no loss of life nor home.

    • Reply February 4, 2020

      Negleh

      All these “high end” dap’s are just overpriced cell phones with less features. They’re all junk. Just get a cheap cell phone with a good sound chip and an app capable of playback with your selected file: Done.

      I don’t even k ow why I keep seeing these ads for these players. I once bought the Pioneer something something DAP, and that was the worst experience I’ve ever had. The battery life was terrible, it was glitch, it underperformed more than even my cheapest phone.

      Just get a phone as a DAP, stop buying these overpriced, under performing devices.

      • Reply February 6, 2020

        Mark

        Sorry but I don’t want a sales call half way through my music. Phones are for communication. Music players are for music.

      • Reply February 7, 2020

        Saurav

        This is true. The sound quality of a DAP won’t be audibly better than a smartphone at the same listening levels. However, the main reason people buy daps is for the novelty and experience of having a device engineered to do one thing, play music.

      • Reply February 10, 2020

        Matty Graham

        Hi Negleh, thanks for stopping by. That’s certainly one way of looking at it…if you’re looking for a phone. For a similar budget, a DAP ought to be any comparable phone for usability and SQ. Plus, no one can call you on a DAP.

    • Reply February 10, 2020

      Nicola

      Would you recommend upgrading from Cowon Plenue J? I listen to many songs in flac but also 320 mp3s; classical, jazz, songwriters. As headphones I use JVC HA FX 850 wood and Musical Fidelity EB50, Sony R1..the difference would be perceptible? Thanks

      • Reply February 10, 2020

        Matty Graham

        Honestly, it’s probably not worth it Nicola. If it’s powering your headphones just fine, and Bluetooth isn’t important to you, then enjoy your current set-up.

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