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Pure Elan E3 digital radio: review

Pure's best-ever budget radio has a great interface and a colour screen for the future

By James Cridland
Posted 24 September 2016, 4.38am edt

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Announced in July, the new Pure Elan E3 promises a lot: the first sub-£50 DAB+ radio with a colour screen. Pure have made the decision to retail it, at least initially, exclusively with Argos; so your chances to play with the set before purchase are almost zero. I thought I'd play with one for you.

The radio is plastic, but is well-built with a satin finish. It's dominated by a large mono speaker and the 2.8" TFT screen, with one rotary control below and a set of four preset buttons. All the buttons are nicely contoured, and feel solid.

The back of the unit has a battery compartment (4xAA batteries); 3.5mm connections for auxiliary-in and headphones; a micro-USB connection for software updates and a power connector. A large, solid-feeling metal antenna extends from the back.

Also in the box is a mains adaptor, and a fold-out instruction leaflet in many different languages.

Simple and great user interface

This unit is an entirely new interface for Pure (for me, at least). Pure has retained a two-line display on almost all its receivers since the Pure Evoke-1 was launched nearly fifteen years ago. It's a welcome change.

It's surprisingly difficult to find a simple digital radio with easy presets and a rotary volume control: but this is it. A big power button on the bottom-right of the unit turns it on; the rotary control is for the volume, and there are four preset buttons prominently visible just below the screen. Most listeners tune in to less than four channels every week, so this is all that's required (though you can actually program forty presets). The buttons are large, easy to use, and instead of being on the top of the device, they face the user.

Changing the station (beyond the simple presets) is also relatively simple. You hit the "Stations" button, and the unit displays a list of stations - unabbreviated - which you can use the rotary control to scroll through. The only slightly unintuitive bit is a need to depress that rotary control in to select the station you want. Personally, I'd have made the unit tune to stations as you scroll down the list - and that's the behaviour in FM mode anyway.

So, as a radio for an older listener - particularly coupled with the clear screen - this is an ideal purchase.

The unit sounds okay. The speaker sounds a little 'boxy', and while it does have EQ controls in one of the menus, there's probably little you can do to improve that. But this isn't a hifi device, and the sound quality's good enough for a little radio for the kitchen, the bedroom or the office.

The receiver also has two alarm functions and a kitchen timer. In standby mode, the screen displays the time and date. The broadcast time is used, which should be accurate. You can set the display to be "dim" in standby mode, which is properly dim enough for a bedroom overnight. (Ask me how I know.)

The colour screen

DAB radio (both DAB and DAB+) has the capability for something called SLS, or "slideshow" - broadcast images while you listen.

However, a UK purchaser will be disappointed: no national radio stations carry any artwork. Slideshow is limited to Capital and Heart in London, and some channels in Portsmouth. If you're a BBC listener, or to any other station, you'll probably never see anything other than a DAB logo. This isn't Pure's fault; but it means most listeners won't get the true potential of this device.

Listeners in Germany or Australia (and many other countries) will, however, find graphics accompanying most broadcasts. They appear fairly quickly - within ten seconds or so of tuning in - carried in the audio signal.

By default, the slide image gets resized by this unit to be very small. Brisbane's 973 carries short news stories that are reduced, on this device, to indistinct grey lines; and now-playing information on Nova is unreadable.

It isn't mentioned in the manual, nor online: but you can make the display larger. Hold down the volume button for three seconds, and you can flip between a "slideshow plus DLS" view, or even a "slideshow in full screen" view. This isn't intuitive; but it's a permanent setting that's worth knowing about (if stations have SLS where you are). I'd recommend that Pure makes this feature a little more obvious.

A little frustratingly on the default view, status indicators on both the top and bottom of the screen don't leave enough space for the DLS, the text accompanying radio broadcasts, which can be forced to scroll. With a screen this large, that's unnecessary.

For FM it displays FM RDS RadioText; though my receiver consistently added a random character at the end - it's unlikely you'd use FM on this device, mind you, when you've DAB available. And, while I'm being picky, when you turn the radio on, it says "Connecting..." rather than more correct "Tuning..." - the unit has no internet connectivity. But now I'm being a little too niggly for a device that doesn't deserve criticism.

Summary

This is a great, simple, radio with unfussy and easy controls. It looks great and feels well-built.

It's probably the best budget radio that Pure have ever built in terms of simplicity and ease of use. The colour screen offers much potential. For its current Argos price of £49, it's unbeatable value.

For Australian users, it would open up the additional information on display on most stations. Pure are hard to find in Australia, and the SRP is AUD$149 - about £87 - which doesn't make it quite so cheap. You should, though, seek one out somehow, once it ends its exclusive period with Argos.

Disclosure: the author once worked on a project for Pure's internet connected radio service, but hasn't worked there for over five years. The receiver was a gift from an industry body, and was not given to review.

James Cridland — James is the Managing Director of media.info, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. His website is at james.cridland.net, where you can subscribe to his weekly newsletter.
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Comments

11 months ago

It's a good little radio, although you have to get the screen set to auto time out if you run it off batteries otherwise it doesn't last long. But turning off the screen then defeats the point of having a radio for slideshow!

The other thing with this set is that the broadcaster must transmit slides precisely to the letter of the spec. If they don't (for example the image is progressive), then nothing is displayed.

But those niggles aside, for £50 it is a decent radio. I'd agree with what James says. It also means that in the £50 and under category that there is finally a decent rival to the £45 Sony XDR-S40DBP (although for battery use I'd go Sony).

PS: DAB Slideshow can also found on some services on the Aldershot, Birmingham, Bristol and Norwich minimuxes too!

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