The R2 focuses on playing music, but its overall sound is unadventurous. Read our Cowon Plenue R2 Review.
Cowon’s first portable MP3 player (the CW100) hit the markets in 2000, a year before Apple’s first iPod legitimised the whole notion for the mainstream. Cowon has hung on in there ever since, turning out digital audio players of lesser or greater quality, with an occasional What Hi-Fi? Award thrown in for good measure.
On the face of it, this new Plenue R2 (or PR2) is more of the same. By leaving the current craze for Android interfaces and streaming service apps to its rivals, Cowon is positioning the PR2 as the purist’s choice. Cowon is betting that £-worth of carefully specified electronics and 128GB of internal memory sounds better than an Android- powered alternative. Can it be true?
Square-edged and pointy
At 11cm tall and 14mm thick, the PR2 fits comfortably in the hand. But, thanks to its 154g weight and glass, aluminium and contoured plastic construction, it feels like a serious piece of kit. Build quality is impressive, and the finish is pretty much flawless – although the design is quite square-edged and pointy in places.
On the left side of the frame there’s a microSD card slot. The PR2’s 128GB of on-board memory can be boosted by as much as 256GB, which should make it good for more than 100,000 songs, says Cowon. On the right, there are physical controls for volume up/down, play/pause and skip forwards/backwards.
At the bottom are a couple of headphone outputs: 3.5mm unbalanced (which also doubles as a digital optical output, in case you want to use your Cowon as a source into an external DAC) and a 2.5mm balanced output. There’s also a USB-C input for charging, data transfer and so on. The PR2’s battery can go from flat to fully charged in less than three hours, and from there should be good for around 18 hours of playback.
Because the Cowon uses a linux-based system for its user interface and music player, there’s no possibility of
- 3.7in AMOLED touch screen
- Dimensions (hwd) 11.2 x 6.2 x 1.4cm
- Weight 154g
The Plenue R2 feels like a serious piece of kit
downloading apps or getting the wider functionality of a few Android-based alternatives. In some respects, this is an admirable stance – we’ve heard worse ideas than a focused, do-one-thing-and- do-it-well portable music player.
But it leaves the PR2 feeling a bit backward. The 3.7in AMOLED touch-screen, for instance, is bright and colourful, but its 800 x 400 resolution and humdrum graphics make it seem less sophisticated than many rivals.
On the inside, though, the PR2 seems less compromised. Twin Cirrus Logic CS43131 DACs are able to cope with any digital audio file (except MQA) up to a 32-bit/384kHz or DSD256 resolution.
Cowon’s ‘JetEffect 7′ selection of preloaded EQs have fairly out-there names, from ‘Rap’ and ‘Blues’ to the somewhat vague ‘Feel the Wind’ and ‘Reverb Room 2′, but aren’t worth your time. Without exception, they play havoc with the PR2’s bass response and, as a result, you can safely ignore them.
With ‘JetEffect7′ set harmlessly at ‘Normal’, though, the Cowon has definite areas of audio expertise. Playing a 24-bit/44.1kHz file of Thom Yorke’s I Am A Very Rude Person allows the PR2 to demonstrate its ability to serve up deep, full low-frequency sounds that carry decent levels of detail and texture. Edges into and out of bass notes are pleasantly straight and well defined too.
The Cowon also puts a decent amount of space between the individual elements of the tune. It doesn’t describe the most generous sound field, but it has no problem locking instruments in place, so there’s a coherent sense of timing to the PR2’s delivery.
A less flattering light
But a switch to a 16-bit/44.1kHz file of Charles Mingus’s Duet Solo Dancers shows the Cowon in a less flattering light. It’s quite reticent in the way it delivers this music; there’s little of the immediacy and attack, and consequently the energy, that the recording thrives on. The soundstage switches from ‘compact’ to ‘cramped’ and the PR2 isn’t as explicit with the details as is ideal.
Something in the Cowon’s overall presentation suggests a desire to play it safe and to round off any unsightly sharp edges. Ultimately the Plenue R2 comes up short. It’s a nice enough object, but it’s not all that nice to use. It has an eloquent low-frequency response, but its overall sound is unadventurous. None of which is ideal in a product that’s meant to be honed and focused on just one thing.