Cowon – Plenue L (1,999$)
Hardware and Features
The Plenue L is one of the few other DAPs that does not come with an Android system. Cowon has built their own operating system based on Linux. Both softwares are very good, but I can’t deny that the Lotoo’s is just that bit better. It’s faster, snappier and better thought out. Nothing against the Cowon OS though.
Cowon gives the advantage of 256GB internal memory and an extra micro SD card slot. While Lotoo only gives their customers the external storage option. That’s a point for Cowon. The PAW 6000 has built-in WiFi for OTA updates, while Cowon users will have to check the website for updates and download them manually. Both don’t come with any streaming support. Neither via apps, nor via UpnP.
Cowon’s Plenue L is a pure audio player that can only be fed by the files located in its library. With the Lotoo you could at least send digital streams via Bluetooth to the P6K. The bi-directionality enables their customers to use Bluetooth headphones or TWS IEMs with the PAW 6000, while these are completely left out with the Plenue L.
The Korean Cowon have spent a considerable amount of time on their AI Audio system. It is the only one that can compare to Lotoo’s parametric EQ and ATE filters in my opinion. For sound-tweakers these both offer high value.
The Plenue L uses an ESS9038 Pro chip as DAC and offers support for native DSD256 and 24bite/384kHz. Lotoo uses an AK4493EQ chip with support for native DSD256 and PCM up to 32bit/768kHz. Lotoo’s PAW 6000 again offers a longer lasting battery. The P6K gives me full 16 hours of music, while the Plenue L has to be recharged after about ten hours.
Where these two are also very good is noise floor. Both don’t produce any noticeable hissing with my Empire Ears Wraith.
Sonically these two are pretty different in my opinion. The Plenue L gives a more romantic, a richer and fuller sound. That makes so many tunes just oh so enjoyable. But it’s undeniable that the Plenue L gives coloration to the files. The PAW 6000 stays pure reference and does not boost anything.
With the Cowon you get a fuller, thicker and slower bass response. It’s a pretty sound that can fill up light gear and give them some harmony and emotions. This is an area where the Plenue L really shines in my opinion. Emotions. It manages to produce a very convincing sound throughout.
The Lotoo however, to me seems more extended into lows and highs. Treble is a frequency range where the Cowon sometimes can sound a bit rolled off. The Lotoo to me creates a slightly wider and deeper stage. It keeps a better and more stable structure in complex situations as well. In terms of resolution they both are very close to each other. The PAW 6000 has sharper imaging to my ears, where musicians are portrayed cleaner and clearer.
Cayin – N6II (1,199$)
Hardware and Features
These two DAPs couldn’t be more different when it comes to hardware and usability. The PAW 6000 has a “closed” UI where the Cayin features a fully open Android one. The Cayin lets you install APK’s, allowing you to run any software on it that you want. As a result it can stream your favorite tracks from Tidal, Spotify and so on. For now the PAW’s WiFi connection is only to update the FW via OTA.
On the other hand the Lotoo is so much nicer and smoother to use. Using the Lotoo interface to play music is so much nicer then using the Cayin or HiBy Music software. True, it is more simple and it might have less options and configuration possibilities, but it’s much nicer to work with. And I just love the 4th screen during playback which shows the FR graph.
Hardware wise the Cayin of course has the unique modularity feature. The N6II (for a rather hefty price) allows you to change the motherboard and you can use different DAC and amplification chips. You can tune the sound with the hardware so to speak, where the PAW 6000 only offers you their EQ function.
It’s very difficult to compare the sound of both DAPs as the Cayin sounds different with each motherboard. At the same time the PAW 6000 doesn’t sound anywhere near how the N6II sounds with either of the motherboards. The PAW 6000 sounds smoother, fuller, more spacious and yes, warmer. The layering, and depth are also better and the airiness of the PAW 6000 is much more pronounced.
The PAW 6000 reminds me a lot of the WM1Z from Sony, and you get that warm, full, smooth and musical sound which is so incredibly easy to like and enjoy. The PAW 6000 offers you a perfect mix of technical refinement and musicality, but it will always sound smooth, relaxed and engaging.
With the PAW 6000 Lotoo set out to create a machine nearly as good as the PAW Gold Touch. They took out a few hardware bits here and there yet managed to keep the clean reference sound from their flagship. Most companies would try to cut down in sound quality to make a clear ladder of product-hierarchy. Not Lotoo. They want to offer their customers the best sound they can make, even if it means it will rival their own products in some way.
Sure, the PAW Gold Touch still has some advantages, like the superior PEQ, the hardware upsampling or the extra output power and more sophisticated layout. But for a almost a third of the price, the PAW 6000 is a damn serious contender. It offers a neutral sound, that should be treated as a blank canvas to work with. You can use this as base and create your own ideal sound with the parametric equalizer. Make your sound, with Lotoo’s expertise in professional gear.
The PAW 6000 has superb build quality, is pocket friendly by today’s standards and comes with a very mature user interface. I am still baffled how they managed to pull off a firmware that stable with basically their first try. On top of all that, the Lotoo PAW 6000 lasts longer than almost any other DAP on a single charge.
The biggest disadvantages of the Lotoo PAW 6000 are the non-existent on board memory and no support for streaming apps or UPnP/DLNA. For those who want to stream Tidal or Spotify, or those that want to install other Apps, the Lotoo isn’t the right one. However, for the people who care about sound and sound alone, I would fully recommend the PAW 6000. Personally, I have all my needs covered with the Lotoo PAW 6000.
The Lotoo PAW 6000 is a very good proposition in my opinion. Sure, it doesn’t offer all the bells and whistles of the PAW Gold Touch, but at that price it also shouldn’t. They are so close in sound-performance that for everyone, who wants the big guns, but can’t put the money down for one, should give the PAW 6000 a damn serious consideration. For me, it is one of the best DAPs in its range and deserves to be placed on our Best DAP list.