Pure Highway 300Di

Pure recently unveiled its latest attempt to get on the road with you - the Pure Highway 300Di; a professionally installed car radio system that will help you with the jump from analogue to digital broadcasting in your car. If the Highway moniker rings a bell that's because Pure also used it for its original in-car digital radio adapter, which Pocket-lint took a look at back in 2008.

But, rather than being a mere follow up to the original Pure Highway, the 300Di is a complete solution rather than just an adapter; integrating not only your car radio but USB media and your iPhone as well. The system comes in three parts, which a trained engineer will have to fit for you – Pocket-lint's review model was installed by a Halfords engineer. Pure is teaming up with the vehicle retail giant for launch with a free installation offer.

A three point turn

The Pure Highway 300Di comes in three parts but you should only see two of these once the engineer has finished his installation. An installation which takes around an hour and a half and requires a bit of a bashing around in your car – although there should be no sign of damage, or any wires hanging around, once it is all done.

The main part of the engineer's work comes in burying the brains of the operation, the main unit, deep beneath your dashboard (or your glove-box or boot if you'd prefer and is possible with your vehicle type). The main unit packs a USB port (which the engineer will leave an accessible cable attached to), a power in supply which connects to your car's 12V supply, a 3.5mm line-out should you car radio support aux-in, an aux-in port, an aerial out for direct FM transmission, an FM aerial in and a DAB aerial in port too.

You may have already figured from that description that you get the option of three different connectivity options when it comes to pairing to your car's radio. The easiest is aux-in, the next best is the FM direct inject method; which effectively takes over your FM source and replaces it with output from the 300Di when switched on (default of 87.6 MHz), and finally; FM broadcast that broadcasts the output to your FM radio via your car aerial, much like an iTrip device. Pocket-lint had ours installed using the second method.

The part of the set-up that you'll see the most, at least from the interior, is the controller which is also the part that will see the most finger action. It packs a OLED display with a Pure Evoke Flow-style neon yellow theme, along with backlit buttons and a rubber tuner dial. There's power/home and mode buttons on the top edge; rewind, fast forward, play/pause and back buttons around the dial on the front and, as Pure users will already be used to, the tuner knob can also be pressed in and be used as a selection button.

The build quality is as you'd expect from Pure – a mix of black plastic, rubber and rounded edges - and the control unit feels sturdy enough. We must state that we had a temporary bracket system installed with our review model – the finished article should come with a much more robust holder in place, ideally one that will clip onto the grills of your vent units.

The final part is the active aerial which comprises of both internal and external parts. Pure states its system beats any DAB car aerial system currently available. It sits on a glass surface on you car and no holes need to be drilled. Although the main unit is the real eye-sore of the trio, it is hidden away so you don't have to worry about it. The aerial is a different matter though - it is pretty big and it is very noticeable, and would stand out on a small car. There is a fear that it may attract criminals as well, although Pure does supply a tool to remove the exterior part should you wish to. It's a fiddly and difficult process though, so we wouldn't fancy doing it regularly. During a car wash, you can leave it attached and simply unscrew the antenna.

Day-to-day use

The key aspect of the D300i is obviously its DAB capabilities. It packs dual tuners, which constantly update a “dynamic station list” so that all searchable stations are always available and any regional stations are cut from the list when the user drives out of that station’s area. There are also live pause and rewind options, and there's plenty of pre-set station love going on as well.

It's easy to find stations and switch between them and, on the whole, it holds its signal pretty well. The trouble is, this being DAB, when it does drop out, it drops out spectacularly. We're not talking a bit of fuzz here, we're talking silence. In urban areas this didn't happen too much but a Christmas trip to deepest darkest Suffolk found the dual tuners wanting on more than a handful of occasions.

We also had issues with the FM pass-through settings of the Pure. The FM direct injection method effectively wipes out your entire FM band when the 300Di is switched on. However, this meant that our RDS traffic alerts didn't come through. Switching the FM pass-through method off meant a less clear signal and distorted quality in certain areas.

But there's more to the 300Di than simply radio playback. Chuck a USB flash drive into the mix and you've got yourself a pretty sweet car music hard drive set-up going on, complete with track information (should you have it attached to your music files), playlists and the like, which you can view and browse using the controller. The USB option also has full support for your iPhone or iPod, and even has enough juice to charge them too. There's also an aux-in method should your main unit be accessible.

Plus, there are a couple of nice extra features that we liked. The picnic mode allows you to continue listening to the Highway 300Di after you’ve reached your destination with the ignition off and your car keys removed. To save power, USB-connected devices will not be charged in this mode and the unit will automatically shut down after an hour.

Forecourt pause is great for when you have to make a quick stop. It keeps the 300Di on standby for 15 minutes after you remove the keys, making sure it’s ready for your return. Once you fire up your engine again, it will immediately resume playing the station you were listening to, or the music you were playing, exactly where you left off.

Verdict

The key selling points of the 300Di are the ubiquitous playback options and the quality of the DAB aerial and, on the first point, we have no quarrels. But whilst the DAB reception is far better than we've experienced with any other vehicle-based digital radio setup, we have to say it was still a hit and miss affair. A lot more hitting than missing in urban areas without a doubt, but in greener areas we did run into more trouble. That said, you always have the option to switch back to your regular FM radio at any time. Although the sound clarity of the DAB broadcasts, where available, are fantastic, so you might not want to - although some audio purists may argue this point.

We're taking into account that the Pure Highway 300Di that we've been messing around with is an early model and, by the time the final product hits the shops, a lot of the little glitches and bugs (such as an infrequent USB non-recognition issue) will be ironed out by software updates as well.

There are a few aspects of the 300Di that we weren't too happy with – the installation is far too lengthy and laborious, the hassle of removing the aerial seems excessive and, on a small car, the aerial is going to look incredibly big and bulky.

But the fact that you're getting, if you cough up a few quid for a 2GB+ USB flash drive, a complete car media server also shouldn't be baulked at. Plus, with the iDevice love on-board, you might find that listening to DAB radio may be quite far down on your 300Di's task list anyway.

The Pure Highway 300Di is launching initially with Halfords. It will cost £179.99 and you'll get free installation thrown in. In March, it will go on general release and we're told installation will be around £25 on top of the retail price.