Pure One DAB Digital Radio - a quick review

The budget Pure One is currently available as a special edition for talkSPORT, before a more general release next month. To me, this is the first real ‘builders radio’, to sling in the back of the van: it’s the cheapest radio that Pure have ever made, at just £49: but it’s surprisingly feature-rich.

The unit itself is moderately cheaply built. It’s made of rather too shiny black plastic, which doesn’t half show up fingerprints after an hour or two of use, and there’s no speaker grille other than a differently-textured area. It feels incredibly light - which is probably because it has a large space for a set of batteries or a rechargable battery pack. The printing on the set is not particularly well-done: the yellow of the talkSPORT logo looks distinctly grey. However, the antenna feels very well built - that’s not been skimped on - and the silver buttons are solid and proper-feeling. The radio has good, chunky, soft-rubber feet. Importantly, it also has a USB connection for software upgrades. The right bits have been subject to the budget process.

The sound is fine; as fine as you’d expect from a plastic box. It lacks the warmth and bass of the Pure Evoke, its daddy, but it does sound less tinny, to my ears, than the Pure Elan (the previous budget model).

In operation, it feels as if the chipset has been improved since previous models. There’s one big rotary knob, which operates as you’d expect - it’s the volume control. It’s not instantly obvious how to change channel, which is probably why it comes with a quick-start guide: but it’s simply a case of hitting the ‘Stations’ button and then wiggling around the big rotary knob to find the station you want, clicking it inwards (in Pure fashion) when you want to tune into that station. This control mechanism can be unwieldy, but I found Pure’s implementation worked very well, with the knob doing exactly what you expect it to at any time.

This isn’t just a budget radio, though - it comes complete with at least two new features.

The first new feature is textSCAN: unhelpfully, Pure have claimed this as a trademark, so it’s a feature which’ll pop up on a lot of different radios under a lot of different names. textSCAN simply enables you to pause the currently-displaying text message: hit the dial and it pauses; twiddle the dial and you can scroll through it. It’s a neat idea, though my guess at what it did wasn’t quite right - I was hoping you could scan back through the last few texts that the radio displayed, which you can’t do. The scrolling is a little odd, too - you can scroll right past the beginning and end of the text, resulting in a blank screen, which took me by surprise.

The second new feature, again unhelpfully claimed as a trademark, is Intellitext. This is rather more interesting. Essentially it acts as a cache for specially-formatted text messages. This was the reason I purchased the radio in the first place: to discover how this feature worked in practice, and then to program an Intellitext service for the stations I work for. The spec isn’t being released until after the World Cup, so my aim was to reverse-engineer it, based on nothing more than playing with the radio, broadcasting some test transmissions to it (sorry, Xtreme listeners), and seeing what happened. And it’s quite neat: it forms a way of broadcasting a set of texts, like football news headlines, and the set caching these under a menu structure. So, for example, you can broadcast a text saying ++FOOTY-NEWS:Beckham has new haircut on RadioCheese, and it’ll appear as normal in the scrolling text, but also appear by hitting ‘Intellitext’, then selecting ‘RadioCheese’, then ‘FOOTY’, then ‘NEWS’. (You can therefore deduce that you can read Intellitext while tuned to another station, though it won’t update itself).

Intellitext updates while you’re listening to an Intellitext-enabled radio station; but, cleverly, it also keeps updating itself if you switch the radio off. So, tune your radio to talkSPORT and then switch it off - and the next time you switch it on, it’ll be full of the latest sports news. Neat. Now, purists would argue that it would have been better to keep these texts hidden within the programme data, rather than just throw them out on the main scrolling text: but that’s not as easy as it sounds, particularly since many stations have no access to their actal data feed, but it appears to work well - particularly if you experiment with the categories to make them look a little nicer. Everything in capitals is nice, but not the nicest broadcast experience.

Back to the radio, then. It also contains an FM tuner, with RDS: as is standard with the chipsets that Pure uses, you only get access to the station name from RDS, and not the RadioText. The RDS information seems particularly slow to appear for me: but then, FM reception in London is difficult at the best of times. Curiously, the radio comes preset for FM reception in stereo - you can change this within the menu to mono, which, given that you’ve only one speaker on this, is probably what you ought to set. (Mono normally means less hiss). You can mix FM and DAB within the presets - you’ll find that preset number one is already set to talkSPORT.

A really neat touch: the radio contains a kitchen timer, as well as a sleep timer. The sleep timer lets you fall asleep to the radio - no, there’s no alarm, you’ll need a different radio for that - and works well. The kitchen timer is a neat plan, though - allowing you to set a timer while the radio’s on, and it just bleeps at you once it times out. These two timers mean the radio’s good for the bedroom or the kitchen: for those who care about these things, the display’s configurable to turn off when you leave the radio alone, though the volume control isn’t very sensitive at low volumes.

Finally, a few interesting things: first, the radio comes pre-configured with DRC on, rather than off (that’s dynamic range control, as used on Radio 3 and Radio 4); there’s an option to ’trim station list’, which removes inactive stations from the station list; and it’s now more difficult to display programme type, bitrate, and all the other info that is broadcast along with a station - that’s a foray into the menu, now, rather than hitting an ‘info’ button. (Not a bad thing, in my opinion). And tuning the radio now uses the full 16-character station name, not the 8-character name. All interesting tweaks to Pure radios.

A view from the future: Intellitext, probably because it was a proprietary Pure invention, never made it onto any other radio receiver. Rather a shame.