Punches above its weight class for sound!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 24 June 2020
My impressions after 3 months of regular use (often on hiking trips) with MP3 files (lossy, yes, but having one gold source from which I can also copy onto, e.g., a stick for the car player, which does not play lossless, is more important to me)
Sound (depends on iem too, have listened with low-end SoundMagic E80c, with high 64ohm impedance and a 3.5mm jack, as well as with higher-end Dunu DK4001, with a more moderate 32ohm impedance on a TRRS 2.5mm jack)
- Clear and detailed sound, very decent bass depth, speed and punch, well-resolving mids and highs and good imaging
- Balanced-out registers a notable difference in sound strength, definitely worth having iems with a 2.5mm jack
- Plenty of power (especially on headphone mode) to drive these iems without straining to high end of volume range. With the Dunu, even files converted at higher decibels sound much louder, but still clear and detailed, without distortion
- Cowon is renowned for its EQ sound, and this provides EQ, BBE+ and reverb settings, and any combination between them.
- Gapless playback is mostly there
- Monstrous battery life with MP3s, the bar hardly moves at all, after 3-4 hours of listening during a hike.
- Difficult to use with fingers, wobbly, and jittery scroll-down makes it not so easy to pin down a song. Some of the icons are unintuitive. The only serious down-side for the Plenue D2, but will not affect you that much if, like myself, you want a continuous stream of music off a file while performing some activity or chilling over a couple of hours.
- Moving between and setting menu options is easy enough, once you get to know the interface
For its class and price tag, it's got brilliant sound, enough power to drive pretty much anything you'd want with a small DAP, it is compact, light and handy for carrying on you (e.g. during activities/exercise, although buying a case for it is strongly advised). It only offers hard, inbuilt as well as expandable, storage (no internet/blutooth connectivity, streaming, etc.), but plenty of it at that (again for its price). Interface is a negative, but only if you are fiddling with it all the time. Lack of connectivity/streaming options make this less likely, though. In short, it's a purchase that makes very good sense if you want a no-frills DAP that plays off hard storage, has excellent sound (even on MP3 files) and travels well and long. Just make sure you also get a decent enough pair of iems to go with it, to make use of all it has to offer sound-wise.
Sound impressions have not changed really (after a year's long burn-in). For the price (a necessary caveat), sound is really good. If you really want HiRes stuff, you have to go several times up in price.
However, again for the price, software isn't. In particular, as my onboard storage was filled up after a year of use, I got a Micro SD card to extent storage and add to my songs. Sandisk Extreme Pro 128Gb, FAT32-formatted with 32Kb unit allocation, was easily recognized by my laptop and its content read. However, my Cowon unit at first froze twice while trying to read it (although it only contained about 500Mb of content) and then could not display its content properly. Although it would play the songs, when I screen-touched the list, it would fail to display metadata (content was shown in the Folder menu as a list of lines all identically named "Plenue" and on the Play screen the filename was always "Unknown"). This persisted after repeated resets and database update attempts. Amazon were kind enough to replace the unit with one that seems to work fine for the moment (I was almost at the end of my warranty).
I took a mark down from my earlier review, as being able to successfully interface with external storage is basic in the current day and age, especially for a no-frills DAP whose UI is limited to simply playing music without any of the benefits of other DAPs (e.g. Android, Bluetooth, LO, etc.). I also need to mention that FW has not been updated since 2019 (the v. 1.02), which kind of shows Cowon is not really behind this DAP any longer.