Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/03/06/review_highway_in_car_dab_radio/

Pure Highway in-car DAB radio

DAB in your motor, without breaking the bank

By Lewis Caliburn

Posted in Hardware, 6th March 2008 12:08 GMT

Review If rumours are to be believed, Ford will soon be fitting DAB as standard on some vehicles. But the retro-fit market still has massive potential and to fill that gap digital radio specialist Pure has come up with a really neat little gadget: the Highway.

It's like all those iPod-oriented FM devices. Highway picks up digital radio transmissions then sends them to your car's radio via an FM signal. The unit is intended to be powered by a car cigarette lighter, although for DAB on the move it also can run on two AA batteries. It comes with its own "easy-to-fit" windscreen aerial.

Pure 'Highway' in-car DAB radio

Pure's Highway: relaying digital radio to FM receivers

The antenna lives up to its description - it really is a straightforward job to stick it onto the inside of the screen. The Highway and its mount are discreet enough not to interfere with the driver's view through the windscreen.

A powerful magnet attaches the Highway to its mount and also makes removal nice and quick. Enough antenna cable is provided to make the fit as close enough to the driver as possible. We put our Highway in a Land Rover Freelander and found plenty of power cord too. Fortunately, the Highway comes with some cable clips to tidy the job up afterwards and avoid to much spaghetti hanging on the dash or around the passenger foot well.

The Highway is complaint with DAB Band III, with ETS 300 401, and can decode all DAB transmission modes (1-4) up to and including 256Kb/s. When you turn it on, an automatic search begins, and our unit picked up 60 stations, a better performance than some DAB radios intended for indoor use.

Once the unit has collected the DAB stations, it searches for a suitable FM frequency between 87.6MHz and 107.9MHz to transmit to the car radio. You tune the car radio to the frequency displayed on the Highway. If your radio has RDS, the job is made even easier as the words "Pure DAB" will appear when the tuner reaches the designated FM frequency.

Quite a few up-to-date in-car set-ups have a line-in, and the Highway can plug straight in, eliminating and sound quality lost in the shift from DAB to the very busy FM band. We found that in general the DAB signal was pretty reliable. However, problems can develop in built-up areas with interference on the FM frequency used to deliver the DAB signal to the car radio.

Pure 'Highway' in-car DAB radio

A powerful magnet, yesterday

Pure has supplied an answer here, and the next suitable FM transmit frequency can be found by a quick press of the rescan button, and the car radio can be retuned accordingly. The unit can store four FM transmission frequencies, each triggered by pushing the numbered buttons on the top of the unit. The user then stores these pre-sets in the car's radio. You can fine-tune the signal in increments of 0.1MHz by using the Highway's manual tuning mode.

You'd be forgiven for expecting the sound quality on a digital-to-analogue device like this to be a little patchy, but not at all. The sound quality on DAB is really excellent, with the top of the mid-range and treble frequencies enjoying particularly good levels of clarity and bounce. Detail throughout all levels is very good.

A bit of Pink Floyd later and we discovered there was enough room to appreciate even this band’s kitchen sink approach to sound production, complete with gently sobbing babies, manic laughter and penguins being fired out of cannons.

Clarity on voice stations is also good - a real boon as digital has much to offer in that respect, particularly for sports fans who until now have had to make do with AM whilst in the car. The unit can store 20 stations, which are straightforward to programme in and three of which can be stored on the pre-set buttons on top of the unit.

Highway actually comes with four stations already programmed in, including Planet Rock and the Jazz. These last two are a bit unfortunate as both stations are facing closure - a big shame this, as both have strong listening figures. Planet Rock recently won a Sony Radio Award. News of the closure of these and other stations has been seen as a sign that the DAB format is seriously faltering in the UK.

Pure 'Highway' in-car DAB radio

Attachment and removal is nice and quick

But a quick look at the listening figures for DAB, and the amount of DAB radios sold, shows the format is alive and kicking.

Still, the little stickers that denote the plumbed in preset channels come off easily and the buttons themselves can be reset to an alternative favourite station.

The unit’s control wheel gives easy access to all the unit’s features and functions, and the DAB suite is topped of with several different on-screen displays allowing the user to choose from basic displays or enhanced scrolling text. There is also the ‘Re-Vu’ function, which lets the listener quickly replay what they've just heard.

Length of the Re-Vu segment varies from station to station, but at best it’s a few minutes and is suited mostly for hearing a favourite song again or repeating a traffic bulletin.

Other handy features include the ability to trim the station list, to adjust the order in which the stations appear and to leave the backlight on so the Highway's easily visible at night. The unit's software can be upgraded as and when Pure issues improvements or new functions - just connect the Highway to a PC with a Mini USB cable.

Pure 'Highway' in-car DAB radio

The Highway comes with its own windscreen aerial

The unit’s capabilities to not end at DAB, as a line-in jack allows the machine to take digital files from a personal player and send them on to the FM radio in the same way as it does with the DAB signal. Sound quality here isn't as good as it is with DAB, but it does provide a really handy way of using your MP3 player in the car with out the need for multiple fM transmitters.

The Highway can also act as a handheld DAB radio, with around six hours of life from two AA batteries. OK, so this unit is pretty big to carry around with you on a regular basis - it's 122 x 70 x 29mm and weighs 156g - but the sound quality's still pretty good. It makes use of your headphones as an aerial.

Verdict

Pure's Highway, a really easy to install and use package, delivers all the joys of digital radio into a car. Sound quality on DAB is excellent, and the addition of the compatibility with personal music players might seem obvious, but it's no less welcome and no less useful for that. Retailing at around £70, its price is pretty keen too, and much cheaper than ripping your FM receiver out and retro fitting a completely new set-up.