dab digital radio technology

PURE EVOKE Flow – Initial review of a converged radio


Along with a number of luminaries of the radio and consumer electronics world, I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch of PURE’s new converged radio – supporting FM, DAB and WiFi in one familiarly styled case. I’ve been lucky to know the guys at PURE since the early days of the original EVOKE-1, and as well as their remarkable marketing skills, they’ve got a great in-house technical team, headed up by Nick Jurascheck.

So this is my initial experience of using my EVOKE Flow, based on about the first hour of usage.

You can feel it’s a well built radio, and the piano black casing is very attractive (matches my new eee pc 901), and the power supply has shrunk right down. Plug in, switch on, and it’s ready to go.

The display is such an improvement (although not yet colour), and the initial user experience is dead simple. There’s a short “setup” guide in the box, which guides you through setting it up. Selecting “DAB Radio” did a band scan, which picked up all the stations I expected it to. Similarly, setting up the WiFi was simply a question of finding my WiFi network by name, and entering in the password. The unit obviously does a variety of “brute force” attacks to find out exactly which encryption is in use, and correctly worked out that I use WPA-PSK.

It’s quick. There’s no sluggish response to the UI, and the display and soft keys keep up with even the speediest actions. The station lists are quick to show, and the filtering (by location, genre, keywords, sound quality etc.) works exactly as it needs to when you’re handling thousands and thousands of WiFi stations.

It sounds good. That warm, rich sound is just as good as it’s even been, even on some of the ropier internet streaming.

The navigation is pretty good. The top level divides things into logical blocks (DAB, The Lounge, FM etc.) and there’s reasonable consistent use of a “back” or “cancel” function to get back where you were. The only area I stumbled around in a bit was when I was using filters to find stations, and adding them to favourites, although I suspect it’s just a case of getting use to it.

The radio is designed to be used in conjunction with PURE’s “The Lounge” website, which is a device portal. This isn’t yet live, so I couldn’t test out the interaction between the two, but I can see it’s probably easier to manage favourites from The Lounge.

Other nice features – there’s a comprehensive list of “On-Demand” and “Podcast” content, which appears to have scraped the BBC dry. PURE sounds gives you access to the kind of incidental and background audio that has made Birdsong a minor celebrity station.

Any bugs? Well, yes a few. Once of the immense challenges of doing a WiFi radio is trying to keep track of all the darned streams and what they are. I tried finding a particularly big, popular, public service pop station in Europe (not in the UK!), and found it was linked to another stream from the same PSB. So I went hunting for a way of manually entering a stream address, and there doesn’t appear to be one. Maybe I can add it through The Lounge?

Navigation of the WiFi content (even on a decent screen, with a fast UI) continues to be a real challenge because there’s just so much stuff. Again, I guess that’s what The Lounge is for.

The DAB and WiFi are two very distinct modules in the radio, which are kept separate from the main menu downwards. I couldn’t find a way, for instance, of having a common favourites list between DAB and WiFi. I have some DAB stations I want, and some stations I want to stream – I intensely dislike using my bandwidth to stream stuff I could be getting over the air. (And I get text information from DAB too, which is finally readable on this display).

The DAB is lacking an EPG, which would have been so much easier to navigate on this device. I know the support of it from broadcasters is currently weak, but it would make navigation and discovery better. Maybe that’s also something that could be integrated into The Lounge?

Overall, I like it. It looks nice, it works nice, and it’s a significant improvement in user experience over the Acoustic Energy unit that it’s taken over from in the kitchen. The SRP is £150, which seems to be in the right ball park for this kind of radio, and it does do nice things for you.

So I know what you’re thinking – a WiFi/DAB radio isn’t new.

Some of the most interesting stuff in the Flow is under the bonnet, and it’s why it’s an exciting development. PURE have talked about enabling music downloading and tagging, and the reason they can talk about those kind of developments confidently is that the Flow is built on Linux. As far as I’m aware, it’s the first large scale production DAB device that’s got Linux at the core (kernel 2.6 for the production model, if you’re interested).

This is a remarkable development. It means the radio can be upgraded to support new functionality, and that functionality can be programmed far more easily that the traditional micro-coding (which makes you go blind, sterile and your hair falls out) associated with embedded microprocessors. Nick and the PURE team have written drivers for the hardware, and used the power of Linux to build a radio that behaves really well. It’s now a connected computing device, optimised for audio and radio. Brilliant.

I’m looking forward to what the radio industry could do with connected, software based, devices like Flow, to speed up the delivery of innovation to consumers. All it needs now is a lovely QVA Colour Screen, it will be darned near perfect.