Cowon Plenue R2 Review

Cowon Plenue R2

Presentation and design

 

 

Cowon’s packaging and the unboxing experience for the Plenue R2 is absolutely first-rate, giving the sense of a well-designed and considered experience from the very first interaction. The Plenue R2 ships with a USB-C type cable, quick-start guide, and screen-protector for its 3.7” AMOLED 800×400 touch-screen. 

Cowon Plenue R2 retail packaging.

The R2 itself strikes a fine balance between portability and durability, weighing in at a mere 154g. In the hand, it feels like a finely-crafted piece of engineering, with a single rim of darkly-finished matte aluminium around the edge of the device finished in stylish, angular edges and a tapered, asymmetrical base. The ‘PLENUE’ name and other symbols appear to be laser-etched into the metal and overall gives the R2 the appearance of a much more expensive device than its $549 price-tag would suggest. 

Cowon Plenue R2’s coloured LED power button.

Three physical buttons are located on the side of the R2 – two rockers to control volume and track rewind/advancement, as well as a play/pause button. The power button on the top of the device is very neatly back-lit with an LED which provides a pulsing ‘heartbeat’ of light during operation and changes colour according to the file-type and bit-rate being played. It’s genuinely cool to behold. 

Cowon Plenue R2’s playback and volume buttons.

The rear case of the Plenue R2 is made from a single piece of ridged plastic, the only plastic evident in the device’s build. While an all-metal build would have been nice, understandably this has used for both weight and cost-saving measures. 

For my last comment on its physical build, the Plenue R2 is available with an optional leather case, which was supplied with this review unit. It’s a rather-nice ‘mocha’-coloured piece, with red stitching and an embossed Plenue symbol on the rear. It doesn’t add any substantial bulk to the R2, allows full access to the buttons and connectivity, and looks pretty handsome – I’d say it’s a ‘must’ accessory for both its protective and visual benefits.

Cowon Plenue R2 + optional leather case.

User Interface

Rather than opting for an Android-based player (and therefore the ability to use apps, and the like), Cowon has chosen a linux-based player for navigation and operation of the Plenue R2 via its AMOLED touchscreen display. Device start-up time is impressive – you can go from ‘off’ to ‘music on’ in fifteen seconds according to my stop-watch. If you want a device to help you play music wherever, whenever on a whim, this is really nice.

The screen itself is only 800×400, but I found that to be plenty of resolution for the display of album cover art, and to navigate functions – the screen is sufficiently bright, and characters are crisp, contrasted and easily read. The screen itself is slightly different to the type of glass you’d be used to on a smartphone, and it does pick up fingerprints and smudges, so be prepared to give it a good wipe regularly. 

Cowon Plenue R2’s AMOLED touchscreen display.

The R2’s style of screen and playback display is customisable, allowing the user to choose between several cosmetic ‘skins’, including some basic VU-meters which is a cute idea, but not that useful.

A single ‘home’ button is located at the button of the screen and is programmable to perform several functions. One of my biggest worries about using a DAP was the UI, but I found that I was able to grasp basic navigation of the Plenue R2 in no time at all. Interacting with the R2’s various menus and settings is intuitive and straight-forward, and swiping through folders of music was neither laggy or clumsy. It’s simple, and it works – a big ‘tick’ in my book, which helped cast-aside one of my primary DAP bugbears straight-off-the-bat. 

Head over to page 3 for digital connectivity, headphone driving power and sound quality. 

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Matty's a musician, music-fan, and 'gear-phile' from Sydney, Australia. Outside of his day-job in creative advertising, Matty enjoys live music, lawn bowls, craft beer, and spending far too much money collecting vinyl.

    13 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.

    • Reply March 31, 2020

      ERIC TREMBLAY

      Which one has the best sound? Plenue R2 or Fiio M11?

    • Reply May 27, 2020

      Matt H

      When using the optical out is it making the dap a pure audio source? I would think it doesnt go through the dac or amp since optical is still digital. I would like to buy this to use for travel then, at home, as a pure source and get away from using my old PC. Then optical out to a higher end desktop dac/amp set up. But i do not want it to process anything before sending to the desktop set up.

      • Reply May 27, 2020

        Matty Graham

        Hi Matt, it should be a bit-perfect hand-off to another DAC using optical, therefore making it a pure digital transport in your desktop set-up.

    • Reply June 12, 2020

      Andre

      Hi, congrats for the review, i do like the idea of keep it simple / music quality first.
      still, streaming no-go (on Plenue) is a difficult one to deal with… that said, to what sound quality is concerned, how would you rate this Plenue R2 vs a Shanling M6 ? (or similar competitor, like Fiio M11 / iBasso DX160)

      all the best!

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