It seems that the digital TV revolution is upon us, with the UK starting the switch off of analogue transmissions. Where radio is concerned though, we will always have FM, MW, and LW, but for a long time now, if you want that bit extra from the service, then DAB (or Digital Audio Broadcasting) has been the way to go. It has been available to the general public since 1999, so it comes as no surprise that a successor (DAB+) is on the way. DAB+ will offer better error correction coding (so less dropouts, better sound), plus MPEG surround audio, which will be really cool.
In its current form, not only does it offer really clear sound, but you also get extra information, such as the DJ you are listening too, or scrolling text with news or current programme information. The choice of stations depends on your area’s coverage, but it is pretty darn good and well worth checking out what you can pick up in your area. Long time leaders in DAB radios are Pure Digital who offer a range of standalone radio, alarm clock radios, and CD combo units, they even do the Chronos iDock which features a dock for your iPod.
In this review we take a look at the very affordable Pure Digital ONE, which is small enough to be used as a portable, whilst just as comfortable as a mains powered unit too. If you are using away from a plug socket, it takes six C-Cell batteries or a ChargePAK. The latter costs £30 and fits into the same compartment. It then charges whilst connected to the mains, and then you have instant battery power when away from home. The ONE is available in white, pink or black, and the white one we have on test is really quite pleasing to the eye. It is an all plastic affair, but does not feel cheap in any way, the standby button is black, with all other buttons finished in polished silver.
So, let’s take a look at those buttons. There are seven small ones arranged in a circle around a larger rotating button, which you turn to cycle through the various menus and then click to confirm your selection. This works very well, apart from I forgot to push it in time and time again... this same large button also controls the volume, so I kept adjusting the volume by mistake. Totally my fault, and after half an hour, I didn’t make the same mistake again. The tiny buttons give you access to the volume, timer, presets (20 in total), info, DAB/FM selection, menu and stations. The arrangement is really nice and makes it very easy to navigate.
The timer works in two different ways. You can either set a sleep timer, to turn the radio off after 15, 30, 45, 60 or 90 minutes, or you can use as a kitchen timer. Set the hours and minutes, then an alarm will sound when your cooking is done, which is pretty neat. The DAB/FM button allows you to switch to normal FM radio, if you need to get a station not available via DAB. The information you can choose to have displayed includes scrolling text, time and date, programme type, signal strength and quality, bit rate, plus the multiplex name and info. This is fantastic, so much information on the clear backlit display, but there is more to come...
The Pure Digital ONE also features Intellitext, which gives you on-demand information from the station you are listening to. This includes headlines and news from the likes of Virgin, talkSPORT and BBC Five Live, or any other station that supports it. It is this extra information that sets DAB way above anything FM radio can offer, and the 16x2 display is very clear and delivers this extra info very well.
Now I have given you an idea of what the ONE offers in terms of features, it is time to let you know how it performs. On first switch on, it goes into a set-up mode, which takes about 30 seconds. This grabs the time and date info over the air, and auto-tunes the available DAB stations in your area. I was so excited that I quickly clicked the ‘stations’ button and scrolled through to Virgin Radio and pushed the centre button. The quality was awesome, crystal clear and very rounded. The quality delivered by this small radio really impressed me, and within a couple of hours I was a convert, swearing that I would pick up a DAB radio for myself before the end of the year (which is only a couple of weeks away). The volume goes up really loud and even at its highest, the 3-inch speaker did not distort at all. Music sounds really good, but the vocals are so clear, it makes commentary a real pleasure to listen to. From the offset of the review I had been running on C-Cell batteries, so I could rate the performance. With lots of switching between menus, setting up, tuning, etc, I managed to get 28 hours before the batteries gave up. This is superb, and with just radio listening, I would expect a couple more hours, so this can really be used as a portable radio.
For just under £50 you can pick up a Pure Digital ONE and I can highly recommend it. You can even connect it to your PC via USB to perform product upgrades, so it has some future-proofing built-in. At this price it gives you the opportunity to try DAB on a very small budget. Having spent the money, you probably will not feel the need to upgrade, as the ONE performs so admirably. I was so impressed, that I will most likely make this my first DAB radio (if not, I will look at something from the same company). In fact, I was so impressed that my Christmas shopping list has changed... I am going to buy one for my Mum and my Sister too !