Pure DRX-702ES £330
29th Jul 2005 | 23:00
A DAB radio that's serious about what it does
Imagination Technologies, the company behind Pure Digital, actually designs and manufactures DAB radio chipsets and its hi-fi DAB tuners have been bagging awards pretty much constantly for the last three years.
The DRX-702ES is the company's third generation hi-fi DAB tuner and it's not cheap. Designed to appeal to those who want the very best out of digital radio this model packs in very serious 24bit/192kHz delta-sigma DACs, usually the preserve of mid and high-end CD players.
Connectivity overall is absolutely faultless with the option of coaxial or optical digital output alongside analogue stereo RCAs and, for a few dollars more - well £70 actually, you can have fully balanced XLR outputs to hook up to audiophile pre-amplifiers.
It also features USB and RDI ports to make it by far and away the most future proof model on test. The USB port can be used for flash upgrades via your PC and the Radio Data Interface as another potential digital output for new services.
The idea being that, in the future, you can update the firmware, download interface enhancements and adopt new DAB-based services such as datacasting, web-DAB multimedia services and even access pictures and video. OK, such services are still on the boffins' drawing board but the Pure 702 is ready and willing from today - cool.
Who says brains and good looks can't go together? The brushed aluminium fascia and cool blue display are nice touches and integrate well with other Pure components, if very little else on the market. The build quality is fairly solid, albeit not in the Sony league, but the tacky plastic knob really should have been aluminium and the remote looks like a spare part from a Chinese air conditioning unit. A cheap one at that.
Another facet that sets the 702ES apart from much of the DAB competition, and indeed some of Pure's earlier version hi-fi tuners, is a very classy FM tuner section. This is no last minute add-on to get a tick in the FM radio box, this is a serious radio enthusiasts implementation that could alone justify much of the 702's not insubstantial price ticket.
Tuning and set up on DAB and FM is an absolute doodle with speedy auto tuning across both bands. The 702 drags in even the merest hint of a radio signal from its indoor antenna and given a decent aerial maximises the signal better than any other model in this test - pulling the BBC multiplex at over 100dB. Not bad considering the Digital One website is still apologising that DAB is not available in this part of East Sussex.
Station selection (outside of the presets) is done by scrolling through station names and pressing select rather than literally switching to station after station in multiplex order until you get to the one you want like the Sony for example. Of course, this is a great feature if you know what station you are after but a pain when simply channel surfing.
The Beethoven Experience on Radio 3 with Rob Cowan is broadcast at 160kbps rather than the station's prime-time 192kbps, but the 702 made it sound like a revelation in broadcast music. It cracks into the power and passion of the old rocker with rare grace and energy, while the more delicate passages are rendered with a beautiful lightness of touch. The dynamic range between the single string instruments and the big crescendos is enough to pin you to your chair.
Culture shock the 702 with a swift switch to Radio 1 and it hardly misses a beat. Thunderous bass lines roar out of the speakers hitting you with sledgehammer force on JK and Joel's show. Chart material has the sort of energy and gusto that drags you off the sofa for a dance and the highly compressed Radio 1 sound is suitably fat and boisterous.
The DJ's voices suffer from a chesty congestion that goes hand-in-hand with the 'loud n proud' Radio 1 balance but this is more the Pure's accurate interpretation of the broadcast than a sonic foible. You don't listen to Radio 1 for the intellectual banter.
Admittedly, near £400 with the XLR upgrade is a whole lot of money to spend on a tuner but the Pure justifies the expense with flying colours. It is the best sounding tuner here on both FM and DAB, and is by far and away the most future proof too.
This factor alone means you can upgrade cheaply rather than replace the entire unit as DAB services advance, and that alone could save you hundreds over the next few years.