We started our general usability and audio testing with the iPod dock, popping an iPhone 4 into it and having a flick through a few of our favourite tracks. One of the first things we noticed was that opening the tray didn’t automatically turn the radio on and change it to iPod mode, which one might’ve expected. The controls work well with a conventional iPod but don’t hold up quite so well with iPhones and iPod Touchs, though you can get by.
In terms of audio quality, the Contour delivered a rather schizophrenic performance. One minute it seemed pleasant enough with a fairly hefty dose of bass and a generally pleasing mid to top range, then other times it really fell flat.
The overarching characteristics are of it producing a very narrow sound that simply never creates an absorbing stereo effect, having a slightly muffled top end, and it having a very separate bass sound. With music that has a fairly flat mix or that uses few localised instruments, this isn’t too much of a problem, but if you’re listening to some orchestral music, or just some well mixed multi layered pop music, it just sounds so flat yet disjointed. What’s more, sometimes (Blur’s Country House springs to mind) the vocal parts just jump out the mix and sound like they’re coming from two feet in front of the rest of the music, and not in a good way.
The separate bass is best demonstrated by Adam Freeland’s Fabriclive.16 album where the opening gently swells into life before kicking in with the full bass drum line after a couple of minutes. On the Contour, the opening is slightly muffled and distant, and lacking in warmth then suddenly the bass kicks you in the nethers. Conversely, listening to both some Eric Clapton, from his The Blues album, and some solo harpsichord Scarlatti sonatas produced a nice, easy to listen to performance.
All told, while this is certainly a cut above smaller bedside radios in terms of sheer power â€“ the top volume means this could certainly serve as the beat provider for your bopping â€“ there’s little to set it apart in terms of refinement. Though we’re well aware that cheap mini Hi-Fi systems can be just as ropey, we can’t help but think such a device would deliver a more rounded performance.
Moving onto DAB, we found it easy to tune and flick through stations, while setup and recalling of our favourite stations was also a breeze, with up to 30 presets available (for both DAB and FM). There are no dedicated buttons for recalling your absolute favourites in one fell swoop but a couple of intuitive button presses should get you there. Sound quality benefits from the less than clinically accurate audio the unit produces in general, with many artefacts from a poor quality signal or low bitrate masked. It’s much the same with FM, which can easily be tuned either manually or by seek tuning to the next station.
Jumping into the Lounge, you can access Internet radio, searching for what you want using an onscreen keyboard, and adding your favourites to, well, your favourites (of which you can have many). Podcasts can also be accessed, along with listen again services, and Pure Sounds. The latter gets you access to a whole host of sounds from whale calls to pneumatic drills. It’s quite a powerful service that, when combined with the online portal, is surprisingly easy to manage.
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Costing around Â£200, the Pure Contour is okay value but can arguably come into competition with many different products. You could opt for a a higher quality though smaller and less well featured radio like the Vita Audio R1 (or indeed it’s larger sibling the R2, if you willing to fork out an extra Â£50). A mini HiFi such as the Onkyo dr645 offers an iPod dock and conventional FM radio, as well as old school CD playback, and produces much more pleasing audio. Or, you could simply get the proper bedside equivalent of this radio, the Pure Evoke Flow â€“ it lacks the audio power but is easier to use.
The Pure Contour is a great audio all-rounder with it delivering DAB, FM, iPod, and Internet radio in one compact unit that looks tidy, includes a remote and can fill a room with sound. However, it’s let down by sluggish operation, a mediocre screen, and most importantly of all audio quality that just never quite satisfies.
Score in detail