Review: Cowon Plenue J – face up

Disclaimer: Cowon supplied the Plenue J direct, for the purposes of this review. It doesn’t do DSD and it doesn’t have balanced out, but it is a solid, long-time DAP replete with sound-altering functions the like Cowon users are familiar with. It can be found from 250$ to 300$. Find out more here: Plenue J: Perfect Sound, Perfect Design.

Relevant links:

Report – A case for the Cowon Plenue D
Review: Onkyo DP-S1 Rubato – Dehumanise
Review: Sony ZX300 – Hi Res for Walkmasses
RMAA: Cowon Plenue J 24-bit
RMAA: Cowon Plenue D 24-bit
RMAA: Onkyo DP-S1 rubato 24-bit
RMAA: iPhone SE 24-bit
RMAA: Apple iPhone 6 24-bit
RMAA: Apple’s Lightning to 3,5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter 24-bit

Few players out there are as sleek as Plenue J. Fewer are as humble in gold. Typically, gold means kitsch. And, as far as I know, there’s no gold player out there as light and compact. Typically, gold means brick, means bullion, means, or represents mecha moola. But the Plenue J is anything but $$$. Its price, spec, litany of playable files, and branding are solid, if staid.

Not sound

Like the original iPod nano, Plenue J fits in coin pockets of all but the tightest of jeans. And, as I hinted at before, Cowon’s devotion to tasteful hardware fastening, screen placement, and basic control layout make the J easy to use. What’s not easy – or necessarily tasteful – is its screen, which hides beneath a large, control-less chin, and tends to wash out at angles. Owners of the Plenue D, let alone Onkyo’s DP-S1, of course, are in the know. Various things got chopped to make the price fit an idealised market niche.

That also means no DSD- which for me at least is of no consequence. But I’m a low-end audiophile. I may be the last writer at a high-profile audio site that bothers with MP3, AAC, and who actually loves MIDI. I’m also chuffed by Apple’s iPhone SE, their iPhone 4s, and even their lightning-to-stereo dongle. Buried under general low-end frippery is a sincere respect for low-end audio, and the promise of sonic upgrade paths therefrom.

Surely, Plenue J outperforms an iPhone 6 and iPhone 4, right? In fact, it does- just not always. But that’s the case with all DAPs, high or low end. The iPhone is kind of a beast where THD and IMD are concerned. And, despite showing only so-so in stereo crosstalk tests, it holds left and right separation better than many medium-end DAPs I’ve tested when driving the Earsonics SM2, and the Audio Technica ES7.

Plenue J is easier to use than Plenue D. Sure, its battery drains faster, and yeah, the D is more impressive under hardware measurements, but J is brilliant in the hand. Unlike the D, J’s controls sneak further up the player, making it easier to control from the thumb or index finger. By comparison Plenue D feels cramped. Next to the DP-S1, there’s a lot going on, but because the DP-S1 places volume opposite basic controls in an easily-spun attenuator, you’re as apt to change tracks as you are to blast your ears with another six or seven steps of volume. Also a plus is J’s volume scale, which ends at 100 rather than 60 (seriously, what is 60?). Each step differs slightly from the last, making it simple to find the right volume setting for your ears. With a number of other players, you may never find that ‘just right’ spot because jumps from one setting to another are too big.

Basics controls: play/pause in the middle, volume rockers above that, and below it, tracking forward and back, work like a charm. Next to the power button is a glowing LED; green for go, I guess. A real win is the J’s micro SD card slot, which eats cards face – rather than ass – up. Most DAPs have you insert the card face down, which is idiotic and absolutely subverts expectations. The card I have in now is a 200GB Sandisk. Works like a charm.

Not sound continued after the jump:

4.3/5 - (27 votes)

Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.


  • Reply April 5, 2018


    Hi Nathan, do you think the Onkyo DP-S1 is better than this for sound? Any idea how the DP-S1 or the Cowon compare to the Hiby R3?


    • Reply April 5, 2018

      ohm image

      The DP-S1 truly performs and sounds like a high-end player. I’ve not tried the Hiby R3.

      • Reply April 6, 2018


        Thanks! Looks like DP-S1 it is then.

  • Reply April 6, 2018


    Do you know if the DP-S1 runs both DACs for unbalanced output, or only1 DAC?

    I usually use unbalanced so I’m wondering if twin DACs will be overkill then.


  • Reply March 28, 2019


    Hi, may I know how does Cowon J compare sonically with Fiio X5iii?

  • Reply September 2, 2019


    Excellent review, very informative. I have a few questions about the J. Did it play iTunes m4a files? Is its output power better than or similar to Fiio M6?
    I don’t own very fancy audio hardware. 3 kids to raise so titanium diaphragms might as well be unobtanium. But I do love music and strive to pick out any subtle nuances with pleasure. I do most listening on a CCA C10… while running, and sometimes listen to my m50’s and Vmoda m80’s. My current dap is an aging (ancient!) Sansa Fuze+ which barely powers the bigger cans but very adequately drives the CCA at 40% volume. The J or M6 will replace it. I am leaning towards the J because of how you describe its sound.

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