Cowon’s brand new hi-res player the Plenue 1 has finally arrived, and it sure looks good. Cowon have used the experience of many years (and many players) to truly build something special.
It’s easy to see that Cowon have really upped their game with the Plenue 1. Out of the box the player itself is stunningly designed and yet simple, and once turned on the design of the UI immediately appeals to the eyes. Even if you’re not a huge fan of the default skin, there are several others to choose from so everyone’s kept happy.
Building strongly on the success of such players as the excellent X9 and Z2 the Plenue 1 is aimed squarely at the growing number of audiophiles out there who are demanding better quality sound. With a Burr-Brown DAC on board and featuring DSD support, the Plenue 1 is not messing around. Mind your back Astell & Kern, there’s a new kid on the block.
Comparisons with the recently launched Astell & Kern AK100 ii and AK120 ii are perhaps justified – apart from being pricey and featuring DSD support, the P1 even looks a bit like the A&K range. Heck, it even comes with a free genuine Italian leather case – sound familiar? All this being said, it may not be a bad thing that Cowon seem to be emulating A&K as it means that they have a pretty high target to aim for.
Impressively, the P1 ships with 128GB of internal storage on board. Perhaps not the most exciting feature of the P1, but it is incredibly important. As I’m sure most people will be aware high quality audio takes up a lot of space than your average mp3 files, so if you have encoded all your songs to FLAC then this on board storage is going to be quite important. And this is upgradable too as Cowon have fitted the P1 with a Micro SD card slot on the bottom so you can expand the total memory up to 256GB. Both the AK120 ii and the AK100 ii feature on board memory (128GB and 64GB respectively) and memory expansion via a Micro SD card slot (up to 128GB on both), but it is impressive that Cowon have managed to cram in 128GB and still keep the price down. Ahem.
The build quality and design are definitely worth mentioning as the P1 is certainly a very nice looking piece of kit. The outer part of the player is made from a single block of Aluminium which lends the player a nice heft, but also gives the impression that your brand shiny new P1 can take a bit of rough handling. Despite being a touch-screen device, the P1 features the usual play/pause, skip track and volume control buttons. Also a nice touch, the on/off ‘Digi-Logue’ switch located on the top right of the player is fitted with an LED light which glows a lovely blue colour when connected for charging and the button itself is oddly satisfying to depress when powering on or off; not all that important, but nice nonetheless.
Perhaps the best element of the design of the P1 is the new UI. For those of you already familiar with Cowon products, the UI in the new P1 will be a big change and will probably be considered a step in the right direction by many. From the first use, users will notice that the screen is much more responsive than Cowon’s previous efforts, bringing it much closer to a user experience that will be familiar to any smart phone user. The GUI itself looks great on the 3.7” AMOLED display and is very easy to navigate. Don’t like the look of the interface? With the inclusion of 5 skin options, Cowon have it covered. Also new are the 2-channel Level Meters which bounce up and down in relation to whichever song is being played at the time.
Cowon weren’t being shy when they claimed that the P1 gave the ‘World’s Best Hi-Fi Audio Performance’. Sonically, the P1 is definitely impressive, and is certainly a great sounding player – just what we’ve come to expect from Cowon products. The heart of the P1’s power comes from the Burr-Brown PCM1792A DAC chip inside each one, enabling support for DSD and 24bit/192kHz PCM as well as all the usual suspects in terms of file formats.
There may be a few less pricey options that offer more tricks, such as the Sony NWZ-ZX1 which runs on an Android system and offers Bluetooth and Internet connectivity, but the P1 was designed to put sweet sounding music in your ears which it does with ease. The higher end of the market seem to be going back to basics and focusing on getting the music to sound as good as it possibly can.
The Cowon Plenue 1 really feels like a serious contender in the higher end of the portable DAP market, especially when you consider the price of the top-end Astell and Kern AK240 and AK120 ii. The P1 even has advantages over the AK100 ii – it’s cheaper for a start and it comes with twice as much on-board memory and boasts a slightly bigger screen. It may not be as funky looking as the space age Astell & Kern range with their signature sticky-out volume knob, but certainly is a great looking device. The Plenue 1 is looking like it could be a bit of a dark horse, and it’s certainly something consumers should consider when looking at the higher end of the portable DAP market.
The Cowon Plenue 1 is available from Advanced MP3 Players now, and if you are a music lover we are sure that the Plenue 1 will take you to audio bliss.