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Old 07-12-2016, 02:13 PM
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dawningistheday dawningistheday is offline
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Default Cowon Plenue D Review

Cowon Plenue D

Okay, letís start off with my ďcredentialsĒ if you can even call them that. Iím very familiar with Cowonís products as I have owned the following players from Cowon over the years: J3, S9, D3, i9+, X9, M2, and now the Plenue D. I currently own the J3, and still consider it Cowonís best player, and my favorite player of all time. I am a huge fan of the Cowon J3 and it is still my daily driver.
So when I say that the Plenue D is certainly the second-best player from Cowon that Iíve tried, and dare I say, it still has potential to overtake the J3, it should mean something.

Design
The player is essentially a little brick, with sharp corners, a large power button on the top (which also acts as a screen lock/activation toggle), and 5 playback buttons down the right-hand side (Volume Up, Volume Down, Play/Pause, Reverse, and Forward, in that order, from top to bottom). The power button has a cool circular LED around it which lights up white when the player is processing, and shows red while the player is plugged in and charging, and green when it is plugged in and the battery is full.

The playback buttons are nice and responsive, with just enough resistance to avoid accidental pressing, just enough relief to be convenient for blind touch, and are laid out in a convenient manner, with enough space between the play/pause button and the others to quickly find the correct one. The Vol Up/Down buttons are oriented in what seems like the opposite direction as the Rev/FF ones, which is weird at first, but Iíve already gotten used to it. What I mean is that Vol Up points toward the top of the player, and FF points toward the bottom of the player. Just another of those strange Cowon design quirks, I guess.

Screen
Iím giving the screen its own section in this write-up because there has been a lot of negative publicity on its performance. I donít find its performance bad at all. In fact, had I not followed the head-fi thread, I would never have given the screen performance a second thought. Perhaps this says more about me than it does the Plenue D, but I think having my expectations set sufficiently low by various older Cowon models (specifically the M2) and their resistive screens, I find the screen response and scrolling and really the overall ease-of-use to be great. Thatís just my opinion, and others are welcome to form their own. Having said that, scrolling through long lists on the Plenue D is definitely cumbersome, and is much easier on the J3. The Plenue D seems to lack a ďhigh gearĒ when scrolling, i.e. when you do a quick swipe on the J3, it zips through maybe 50-60 entries quickly, then slows down for a bit before stopping. On the D, it does basically the same thing except it will only get through about 20 entries. Of course, there is a small cursor on the right-hand side of the screen that you can use to scroll quickly, and it works just fine, plus there is a search function.

But overall I will say that in this regard the D is clearly behind the J3. However, with responsiveness otherwise there is essentially no difference. I have yet to mis-press the screen and wind up in a menu I didnít intend, or go to scroll through a list and end up selecting something instead. This kind of thing happened constantly with the M2 and it drove me nuts.

UI/Interface
It is typically Cowon in its UI. That is, Iím really wishing a Kizune would come along and work some magic on this thing. The Leaf/Sense/Lynx UCI suite improved my experience with the J3 immensely, and if a comparable UCI were to become available on the Plenue D, oh man.
But the UI as it stands now is not bad. Itís typically Cowon, as I said, but it works and does what I need it to do. The aesthetics of the UI reminds me a lot of the i9+, which is fine. It seems that the settings are only accessible through the Now Playing Screen (NPS) though, which I find very strange.

Admittedly I would prefer this to the inverse: not having them accessible through the NPS, but why they arenít accessible from both locations is strange. In fact, come to think of it, there is no home screen at all on the Plenue D. When you boot it up, it goes straight to the NPS, or to the browser if youíve add or removed items from storage.
The Plenue D give you two options for the NPS. One has a black patterned background and a small inset album art in the center.

The other gives you a round ďrecord labelĒ artwork in the center. I was one of the few fans of the rotating record label NPS on the M2, so I lament the fact that this time the album art does not spin, so I prefer the first option, which is the default. Both options allow for a press on the album art to go to a display which shows the album art full size and looks really nice, but doesnít have any other useful information such as the time elapsed, playback controls, or access to the settings, EQ, etc. Iíd love to see a UCI that used this screen as the main screen and perhaps worked in the ďmissingĒ options too.



Gripes
Okay, it seems like Iíve spent most of this praising and defending the Plenue D, so Iím going to gripe about some things that I donít like. First, and most obviously is the physical design. I like that it is small, but not too small. I like the aesthetics. I donít like the sharp corners at all. It can be quite uncomfortable if it gets turned in your pocket and jabs you with one of its pointy parts. Itís a minor gripe, sure, but a portable, pocketable device needs to have smooth edges. I love the insane battery life (rated at 100 hours), but I would definitely take a Plenue D that had 50 hours of battery life and was 2/3 the thickness of this brick. Itís heavy too (94g), for its size, and Iím guess most of that weight is its gargantuan battery.


Comparisons with the J3

Since Iíve already compared the Plenue D with the aging J3, I think a straight up comparison is in order.

Areas where the Plenue D beats the J3:
  • Battery life: Not that the J3 was lacking, but he Plenue D packs a rated 100 hours, compared to 64 hours for its predecessor
  • RMAA results: The Plenue D measures better than the J3. The differences are probably not audible under ordinary circumstances (I would guess theyíre never audible but thatís for a different thread), but the Plenue D does produce a cleaner output, and the biggest flaw from the J3 (and most other Cowon devices), the bass roll off with low impedance loads, has been corrected here. [FYI these RMAA results are found on the ohm-image website]
  • Hi-Res support: Yay? Good for those who love Hi-Res, but for me this is a total non-factor
  • File Limits: Itís about damn time, Cowon!!! The internal file limit is still 8,000 music files (which is plenty for 32GB), but thankfully, the external limit has been raised to 16,000. This makes 128GB microSD cards a realistic choice.
  • Database: The "Songs" database builds instantly (or during bootup after adding or removing items from storage) and you can shuffle all tracks without having to wait for the database to build like on the J3.
Areas where the J3 beats the Plenue D:
  • Scrolling/display: Itís not night and day, but the J3 is still easier to use in this regard. Also, I like the J3ís portrait-shaped screen better. It shows more items at a time in the browser, and allows for a better NPS layout.
  • Design: I like the shape and weight of the J3 better, and the fact that its corners arenít injurious.
  • UCIs: You simply cannot beat the J3 with Kizuneís UCI suite with any UI provided by Cowon. Itís a bit unfair to the Plenue D to expect the significantly diminished Cowon fan community to have rectified this issue already, but hereís hoping.
Conclusions
The Plenue D is a great player. If you are in the market for a DAP, it should be on your list, near the top. If youíre a Cowon fan, or more specifically a former Cowon fan, and you lament the poor choices the company has made in recent years and have ever found yourself thinking, ďTskÖdidnít Cowon learn anything from the success of the J3? Where in the world is the J3+ weíve been waiting for?!Ē then you should look no further, because the Plenue D is the new J3. If it had been released in 2012-13 and called the Cowon J4, Iím sure weíd have all fawned over it then, and even in this era of niche DAPs and ubiquitous smartphones, the Plenue D should still warrant consideration from digital audio enthusiasts.
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