Pure Contour i1 Air £180
6th Nov 2013 | 17:20
AirPlay, Lightning and 30-pin dock connectors, plus clean sound – the perfect Apple fan's speaker?
We loved the compact, sweet-sounding Pure Contour 100Di but wished it had at least the option for Apple's new Lightning port as well as the 30-pin dock connector, plus AirPlay for wirelessly streaming audio from iOS devices and iTunes.
And we loved the Pure Contour 200Di Air, its bigger AirPlay-native brother, but as well as being a bit too chunky to sit comfortably on a bedside table, it lacked the cute swing-out dock of the 100Di (of which more soon), and it too only had a 30-pin dock connector.
We should, therefore, be utterly delighted by this, the new Contour i1 Air, which uses the same basic chassis as the Contour 100Di, adds AirPlay, and has a clever interchangeable dock system that lets it neatly work with devices that use 30-pin dock connectors or Lightning connectors. And we are, mostly – there are just a few niggles remaining that stop it from getting top marks.
Still, this is a speaker dock that it's worth getting excited about – and that fact alone marks it out as special.
Being able to switch between the older and newer Apple docking connectors might not seem like a particularly big deal – many people would be unlikely to switch between them very often, though it's a process that takes seconds so there's no reason not to – but it does matter.
It matters now especially, because while lots of people will have iPods and iOS devices that use the older connector, they're likely to want to upgrade at some point, and being able to convert the Contour i1 Air from 30-pin to Lightning means you don't have to throw it away when you do.
And it makes sense if you want to create a multi-room AirPlay audio network, but have a mix of older and newer Apple devices in the house that you want to keep charged – an iPhone 5S by your bed, and your retired old iPod touch in the kitchen, say. (Of course you don't have to use just i1 Airs for this, but there is something pleasing, for some folks, in having the same device, say, on either side of a shared bed.)
It's not the only speaker dock to include both 30-pin and Lightning connectors – Philips' Clock Dock and Dual Dock Triple Charging Clock Radio, for example, do too – but it's likely to be a rare feature. We believe Apple isn't allowing certified devices to ship with both connectors, and that these few models currently available snuck in just before this rule was enforced.
Of course, its AirPlay abilities are interesting too, and while it's not the cheapest AirPlay speaker you can buy – look at Philips Fidelio AD7000W or DS3880W SoundRing for example – and nor is it the best even ignoring high-end systems such as the Denon Cocoon or audiophile amps such as the Marantz NA7004, it's a good balance of price and performance. Let's examine it in more detail.
Specifications and performance
Let's start with the audio. It's very good; clear, precise and neutral. That said, it definitely lacks richness and resonance, it lacks punch and guts at the bottom end, and it loses it a bit if you crank the volume much past half-way.
For some, that's enough of a reason to discount it straight away, but if you listen mostly to gentle acoustic, classical or simple poppy tracks – in broad terms, anything that isn't dance or RnB or metal – it should suit you well. Vocals sound terrific, and if you listen to a lot of speech radio, it's ideal.
Well, we say that, but note that while the i1 Air looks identical to the 100Di, it lacks the latter's built-in DAB and FM radio, so you have to use an app on your smartphone to get radio. Pure would like you to use its Pure Connect app – not least because that gives it the chance to tempt you to subscribe to its music streaming service – but iPlayer Radio, TuneIn Radio or any other app on your iOS device should work just fine, whether docked or over AirPlay.
Still, it's a shame to lose the convenience of the built-in radio; the i1 Air does have an alarm function, but you can't wake up to a radio station (obviously, since there's no radio function) and if you use an app on a docked device it usually has to remain on all night.
Otherwise, it's a terrific dock to have on your bedside. The volume increments are nicely fine – vital for a quiet room – and the lowest level reasonably quiet. The glowing LCD automatically adjusts its brightness, and it's easy to stretch your arm out and feel for the controls that adjust volume/mute, and activate a sleep timer, plus there's a remote control that, neatly, is held magnetically in a recess on the back of the speaker. And at least with the devices and apps we tested it with, it gracefully switched from AirPlay to docked at the end of the day.
AirPlay is a great feature to have, because in addition to streaming audio from iTunes or your iOS device directly, you can also create a multi-room audio system very easily. Sadly you can't stream to more than one AirPlay device from iOS, but you can do so from iTunes on a Mac or PC on the same network – and then you could use the Remote iOS app to control the volume of each speaker or Apple TV, and playback.
Adding the i1 Air to your network is easy: dock an iOS device, press a button on the back, and the speaker requests the network login details from the iOS device – just tap Allow and you're done. (It appears on your network with an ungainly name, but, although it's not documented anywhere, you can enter its IP address – which you can find out from the menu system on its display – into a web browser and change it.)
A note of caution: it doesn't support 802.11n (or ac), or 5GHz networks, but there was no explanation or indication specifically of this when we unthinkingly tried in vain to connect it to a 5GHz network. 2.4GHz 802.11a/b/g – plus Ethernet – only.
The lovable swing-out dock buys it a lot of slack, though. Press one corner and it pivots out in a most pleasing manner so you can dock and charge your iOS device – even full-sized iPads sit comfortably on it, partly thanks to the little rubber nipple above the dock that supports them.
You can swing it back in for neatness. Switching from Lightning to 30-pin is easy too; there's a little button on the lip of the dock which you press to release a lipstick-sized cartridge that has the connector on it, and then you can drop in the other.
There is, then, a lot to love about the Pure Contour i1 Air, but there's a price to pay. Actually, there's literally a price to pay, because while we lauded the Contour 100Di as being well-, even aggressively-priced (you can pick one up for under ninety quid today) the i1 Air is almost £200 at launch.
Part of that isn't Pure's fault – Apple makes AirPlay an expensive technology to implement – and we imagine the market will push the price down to nearer £150 in the next few months, at which point it becomes – or at least seems, which is just as important – a more affordable buy. It's also worth noting that when we reviewed the Pure Contour 200Di Air about a year ago, it considered sub-£200 a 'budget' AirPlay option, as it was the first good AirPlay speaker we'd seen that wasn't a premium offering from boutique manufacturers such as Bowers & Wilkins, Bang & Olufsen or Loewe. Still, markets and expectations change, and £180 remains a lot of money.
It works well, though, as a charging station into which to dock your iPhone or other iOS device when you go to bed, it sounds at worst good, and it's well considered and well put-together. There's an aux-in 3.5mm jack on the back so you can play music from things other than iPods or iOS devices, AirPlay is a useful and friendly technology, and the ability to switch easily between 30-pin and Lightning adapters to accommodate old and new Apple devices really endears it to us.
It would likely have driven the price up further, added to complexity, and truthfully we imagine decreasing numbers of people are listening to broadcast radio these days, but we do miss the DAB/FM radio from the Contour 100Di here; if it was there, we reckon Pure really might have the formula for the perfect speaker dock for the bedroom, the kitchen or the home office. Still, for many the trade to add AirPlay, plus the option of a Lightning connector (the 100Di only does 30-pin), is worth it.
The main thing we object to is the price. We're not saying Pure has been greedy in setting this price – AirPlay speakers in general just _are_ expensive, sadly – but once you're over a hundred pounds, never mind approaching two hundred, most people would have to think much harder about getting the credit card out.
Part of the joy of AirPlay as an iTunes-driven multi-room audio system, compared to Sonos, say, is that you're not limited to a small selection of speakers from a single manufacturer. You can have an Apple TV in your living room hooked up to your home cinema system, a battery-powered iHome iW1 in the garden, and a JBL SoundFly Air in the kitchen, and if you chose you can stream music to all of them simultaneously from iTunes.
You don't have to invest in it all at once, either – start with the Apple TV, perhaps, and add others as you can afford them. The Pure Contour i1 Air is a worthy addition to the market. We like it enormously, and it both deserves to find itself under many Christmas trees this year, and should be a well-received gift at any time of year – especially to yourself!