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Review and Measurements of Cowon Plenue 2 DAP

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Cowon Plenue 2 portable Digital Audio Player (DAP). It is on kind loan from a member. The Plenue 2 costs US $599 with Prime shipping. The owner took advantage of a 20% sale so price may be lower.

EDIT: List price seems to be US $1599.

The Plenue 2 feels quite chunky and heavy and is in typical style of other DAPs:

Cowon Plenue P2 portable audio player DAP Audio Review.jpg

The exception is two rotary controls. The top one is dedicated to volume control. The other is a multi-function one that can be assigned to different purposes.

I am not a fan of either control. The knobs are too small to rotate even though I have rather narrow fingers. Worse yet, there is no acceleration in volume control. By default it sets the level to mid-point and you have to crank it forever to get up to max value of 140.

Cowon does not list this player in their support page so I could not get a manual for it there. I found it elsewhere but formatting was poor, often overlaying chinese characters on top of text. There is not much that is intuitive in the interface.

For testing, I connected the unit over USB to my Windows 10 system. It prompt me the option of acting like a DAC or "MSC." I happen to know that MSC stands for Mass Storage Class driver but I suspect most people don't. Why not say "file storage" or some such thing that makes sense to people? There is plenty of space on the unit.

Going into settings menus, I was greeted with a bunch of Chinese characters. I am not sure if there is a language selector or not. If you look above, my sample audio signal also has some chinese characters below it. Why?

Anyway, let's get into testing.

DAC Audio Measurements
As noted above, I started my testing the unit while connected to Windows 10 PC using USB cable. I put the unit in DAC mode and started my dashboard measurement:
Cowon Plenue P2 portable audio player Audio Measurements.png


This is actually pretty reasonable output with 2 volt RMS and pretty low level of distortion and noise in a portable package. SINAD of 105 dB is decent. However, when I started the test, the SINAD was jumping between 98 (or was it 92?) and 102. Distortion products were not changing but the noise level would constantly jump and down. Strangely that started to settle down after a few minutes. My guess is that when it first "boots" there are background processes that are causing CPU activity that is bleeding into the DAC.

Using the "warmed up SINAD" we are securely in second quarter of all DACs tested which is good:

Best Audio DACs measured and reviewed 2019.png


Dynamic range at full volume is good but drops a fair bit when measured at just 50 millivolts for sensitive IEMs:
Cowon Plenue P2 portable audio player Dynamic Range Audio Measurements.png


Cowon Plenue P2 portable audio player 50 mv Audio Measurements.png


Intermodulation distortion versus level was excellent:
Cowon Plenue P2 portable audio player IMD Audio Measurements.png


There are some variations though and that was what I was seeing in a more magnified way when the unit had just booted.

Low level of distortion contributes to low intermodulation distortion with 32 tones:
Cowon Plenue P2 portable audio player Multitone Audio Measurements.png


That is 120 dB or 20 bits of distortion-free dynamic range which is very nice.

Jitter test shows some interference in the output of the DAC but is not of any audible concern:

Cowon Plenue P2 portable audio player jitter Audio Measurements.png


Filter response is "slow" as is fashionable (but incorrect) these days:

Cowon Plenue P2 portable audio player Filter Response Audio Measurements.png


There are different filter settings though and if I could manage to navigate the unit, I could have changed it.

THD+N versus frequency shows high level of noise and distortion due to wide bandwidth of this test, extending to 90 kHz:
Cowon Plenue P2 portable audio player THD vs Frequency Audio Measurements.png


We can dig into the cause by looking at the 90 kHz bandwidth of a 1 kHz tone:


Cowon Plenue P2 portable audio player 1 kHz Spectrum Audio Measurements.png


Our 1 kHz tone is hugging the left side of the x axis. We see the distortion products which are all less than 110 dB which is good. But then we see a pair of tones around our sampling rate of 44.1 kHz, indicating aliasing products due to slow filter. Translating in English, the actual distortion products are very low as our SINAD indicates. What pushes the above graph high is ultrasonic products which should be benign at those levels. A sharper filter setting would eliminate most of it.

DAP Mode Audio Measurement
To make sure performance was the same in DAP mode versus PC connected, I ran the dashboard without USB connection and local playback from internal memory:

Cowon Plenue P2 portable audio player DAP Audio Measurements.png


Distortion products are the same. Noise level improves without connection to the PC (bottom of the distortion spikes) but is of no audible consequence.

So you can trust the rest of the measurements to be representative of local playback.

Headphone Amplifier Measurements
Let's measure power versus noise and distortion into a 300 ohm load:

Cowon Plenue P2 portable audio player Power vs Distortion at 300 ohm Audio Measurements.png


Wow, that is very low level of noise and distortion, essentially matching the excellent Topping DX3 Pro in low gain. At peak power distortion is down 106 db which is very nice. Won't get super loud though at just 11 milliwatts.

Switching 33 ohm load to emphasize current delivery, makes the unit sweat a lot more:
Cowon Plenue P2 portable audio player Power vs Distortion at 33 ohm Audio Measurements.png


The Plenue 2 has balanced output using 2.5 mm jack so let's compare that and the 3.5 mm jack using 50 ohm load:

Cowon Plenue P2 portable audio player Power vs Distortion at 50 ohm Audio Measurements.png


The balanced mode provides not only more power but also a lot less noise and distortion. So it seems the process of conversion to unbalanced is adding good bit of distortion and noise.

Output impedance is a very good 2 ohm:


Note: the original review had this wrong at 16 ohm. Corrected above.

Headphone Listening Tests
There was sufficient power and good fidelity to drive the Sennheiser HD-650. With recordings at lower level than 0 dB, I had to ride the volume control to max but that was good enough.

Switching to Hifiman HE-400i, I had even more volume and a very nice experience.

Overally, there was not much to fault the subjective performance of Cowon Plenue 2.

Conclusions
You probably don't want to listen to me ranting about the lack of usability testing on these devices. They could use some serious testing and refinements of the control. I suspect though once you get used to them, you can figure out your way around.

From performance point of view, the Plenue 2 delivers. It acts as a desktop class DAC when connected to the PC, with little to fault it. It generates the same performance when playing locally which is excellent. Power level in unbalanced mode is just enough with every low distortion figures for 300 Ohm load. For lower impedance headphone, better use the balanced connection for most power and least distortion and noise.

Subjective performance was positive as well as measurements would predict. It just won't blow your head off as some battery operated portable DACs can do. :)

Overall, based on measurements and listening test performance, I am happy to recommend the Cowon Plenue 2 DAP.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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Last edited:
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#2
http://studio51.kr/220975230595

This is a PLENUE 2 review and measurement I wrote. In PLENUE2, clipping occurs at maximum output even under no load conditions. Reducing the level 1 volume increases SINAD to 104 dB.

Output impedance measurements appear to be incorrect. In my measurements, 0.56 ohms was measured. Perhaps the hearing protection built into PLENUE 2 is caused by a volume reset when the earphone jack is removed.

The following are the measurements of PLENUE 2 that I measured. (You can also check the link)

unload
Maximum output : 2.003Vrms
Residual noise: 1.459uVrms
SNR : 123.172dB
DNR: 119.472dB
THD+N (SINAD) : -104.539 dB
IMD : -92.329dB
Crosstalk : -141.833dB
Output Impedance : 0.56 ohms

32Ohms load
1.656Vrms @ -80dB THD
1.563Vrms @ -109dB THD
 

graz_lag

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#5
16 Ohm output impedance on a DAP is an absolute failure imho. Lots of people will want to use it with BA or Hybrid IEMs which are extremely sensitive to high output impedance, causing frequency response deviations.
Oh Come On Cow On!
 

amirm

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Output impedance measurements appear to be incorrect. In my measurements, 0.56 ohms was measured. Perhaps the hearing protection built into PLENUE 2 is caused by a volume reset when the earphone jack is removed.
OK, I will have to measure it again when I get back from my trip.
 
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#7
Amazing! The THD peaks almost to -110dB (very high) but the THD+N is just 0.0005% (very low). I have to improve my interpretation skills!
 

Vovgan

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#9
If you look above, my sample audio signal also has some chinese characters below it. Why?
For the benefit of the curious, in Japanese the two characters that are written there (未知) mean "unknown" (or - not yet known), pronounced "michi", must have the same meaning in Chinese. Unknown artist I guess?
 

pozz

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#10
Amazing! The THD peaks almost to -110dB (very high) but the THD+N is just 0.0005% (very low). I have to improve my interpretation skills!
Just THD at -110dB is 0.0003%, while 0.0005% is -106dB. The difference is the noise contribution.
 

WHO23

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#13
Out of the DAPs that I have, the Cowon Plenue 2 is the only one that produces almost no hiss on the Campfire Andromeda S. The volume controls are nice and the interface is very responsive. It unfortunately lacks a parametric EQ but it has a lot of preset settings to play around with on the go.

I've tried to power my Sennheiser HD800S, ZMF Aeolus and Audio-Technica ATH-ADX5000 through the 2.5mm balanced jack using an adapter and I had no problems at normal listening volumes. However the sound falls apart when I tried it with the Verum 1 and M1060.

Also I've been told that while the Plenue 2 only uses one DAC chip, it uses a differential circuit to reach the low THD numbers. I suspect it to be true looking at the low Crosstalk specs (-139dB) for a DAP.

Edit: There's 3 similar products sold by Cowon. The one reviewed here is the Cowon Plenue 2 / Cowon Plenue 2 Mark I / Cowon P2
Cowon.png


It's great that Amir is now measuring DAPs. I hope someone can send a Colorfly U6 for Amir to measure as they claim THD+N of -115dB
4_grande.jpg
 
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pozz

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Crosstalk : -141.833dB
I'm curious how you made this measurement. It's usually by driving a signal through one channel and measuring the bleed that comes out of the other. How reliable would you say it is? And what would be the limit of the APx555?
 

restorer-john

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#17
http://studio51.kr/220975230595

This is a PLENUE 2 review and measurement I wrote. In PLENUE2, clipping occurs at maximum output even under no load conditions. Reducing the level 1 volume increases SINAD to 104 dB.

Output impedance measurements appear to be incorrect. In my measurements, 0.56 ohms was measured. Perhaps the hearing protection built into PLENUE 2 is caused by a volume reset when the earphone jack is removed.

The following are the measurements of PLENUE 2 that I measured. (You can also check the link)

unload
Maximum output : 2.003Vrms
Residual noise: 1.459uVrms
SNR : 123.172dB
DNR: 119.472dB
THD+N (SINAD) : -104.539 dB
IMD : -92.329dB
Crosstalk : -141.833dB
Output Impedance : 0.56 ohms

32Ohms load
1.656Vrms @ -80dB THD
1.563Vrms @ -109dB THD
Excellent review, very comprehensive in all aspects.
 
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#18
http://www.cowonglobal.com/zeroboard/zboard.php?id=C09&category=60

Here is the product manual for PLENUE 2. I remember PLENUE 2 had 8-12 language settings, including English.

It's a pity that the volume wheel has no acceleration function like the LYNX HILO. However, as you can read in the manual, you can adjust the volume by scrolling.

I have a good relationship with Cowon, so if you talk to me, I can pass it to Cowon.
 

amirm

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