Multiroom audio is going through a bit of a boon these days. That's certainly what you'd conclude by looking at all the systems on the market that are trying to capture the market for audio systems that can provide music all over your house with minimal fuss, and wiring. Pure, is something of an undisputed ruler of the DAB radio market, and now, it's expanding its products to include multiroom audio.
But to look at, the Evoke F4 is much like Pure's older DAB radios. All very nice, but visibly an evolution of that first Pure Evoke-1 which brough digital radio to people for less than £100. This is good news though, because these radios look fab, and there are a lot of advantages to its compact and attractive design.
The Evoke F4 is a nice little radio, finished in a piano black, with silver highlights. It might not be to all tastes, but we think it looks fab. The biggest problem is that a piano black finish takes fingerprints like a pickpocket takes wallets - easily, and without you even noticing until it's too late.
On the front is a mono display that supports basic graphics. It's not especially breathtaking, but it communicates everything you need easily. There are volume and control dials too, the latter guiding you through the menus and allowing you to select items. There are also touch-sensitive controls, which are enabled and disabled depending on what menu you're in.
You'll also note a record button on the front, this is to allow you to record a radio programme to a USB drive, should you have one. It's a nice feature, and you can also schedule recordings for when you can't listen. We like this feature, although with catch-up radio, it's less necessary.
On the rear of the unit there's a headphone jack, along with a speaker output and USB socket. There's also a battery compartment designed to hold the optional Evoke power pack.
Plenty of ways to listen
Perhaps the best thing about this Pure Evoke F4 is the sheer number of bases it has covered. First of all, if you're feeling retro, or don't live in a DAB area, then you can listen to the FM radio. We did, and it has to be said, it's really good. As an FM radio it locks on easily, even indoors, and is reasonably free of hiss. There are all the most recent FM trimmings, like RDS, so you get information about what you're listening to, and the radio can stay tuned to national stations even if you move about between transmitters.
As expected, there's a DAB tuner. Again, this works marvellously well inside our house, with the radio picking up a decent, error-free signal. We live on the outskirts of London - within the M25 - but not that close to the city, but still close to the capital's radio transmitters. Others in different locations might struggle more. Audio quality is good though, it sounds very different from FM. It's noticeably more detailed, despite being compressed quite heavily. FM is a bit more muddled, but does feel a bit more familiar. No doubt that's just us showing our age.
There is also a powerful argument that suggests we should just ignore broadcast radio and use the internet. We're inclined to agree in many regards, but using the live services from broadcasters has some problems. The biggest is the sheer number of radio stations there are online, and that can make finding the one you want quite diffituly. There are favourites of course, but it's not the same as scrolling through the relatively short list of DAB stations. But internet radio is great. In theory, Radio 1 could broadcast at quality levels that would shame everything, taking radio to the point where home users can get an experience much like being in the studio. This isn't really happening though, and aside from some demos on Radio 3, the BBC hasn't shown willingness to send out HD radio.
Internet radio is great because it gives you a massive selection of stations that are largely DJ-free, and have music that's from a much narrower range than any normal radio station.
Services from the internet are all contained under Pure's "Connect" brand, which means you can either use free services, or subscribe for £5 a month and have access to the firm's own selection of music for streaming. It's like Spotify, but built in to your radio. And like Spotify, there are Android and iOS apps through which you can also listen. This is a big part of Pure's multiroom solution, and it's a well thought-out service. We also like that you can "tag" tracks on the radio, find out what they're called and use Pure's service to stream or buy them.
The other nice feature here is the radio's ability to wander around your network, finding NAS drives or other DLNA servers. Once it's found these, you can connect to them and play music on the F4 from your library. Unlike Sonos, there's no need to have a dedicated client for this. Windows can do it out of the box, as can lots of phones and other devices. DLNA used to be annoyingly flakey, but these days it's great for this kind of thing, and is usually very reliable.
And if all that wasn't enough, there's also Bluetooth which allows you to quickly and easily connect your phone or MP3 player to the Evoke F4 and stream any music from any app you like. This is a bonus on the Pure, because unlike Sonos it does not directly support services from Napster and Spotify. No matter though, streaming music from any site is now as easy as pairing via Bluetooth and hitting play.
The F4 sounds as you might expect. Its modest speaker is capable of producing quite impressive volumes, but it's mostly geared to the mid-range. This is actually fine for most use, especially if you're using this as a kitchen radio for listening to Radio 4 or podcasts. If you're hoping for a Sonos-type experience, then you might feel a bit disappointed.
But, sound quality isn't really the primary focus of this radio. Certainly, you can improve it a bit by adding a stereo speaker, but really, the F4 is about convenience and functionality.
All that might sound like we don't think the F4 is up to much, but that's not the case. For the sort of use it will get, we actually think it's perfect. If you want the best sound from a Pure multiroom system, than that will come from the Jongo A2, which connects to your existing music system, and can give you some amazing audio quality. There's certainly a lot of detail in all the audio we tested, far more than you'd expect from such a small radio.
There are two significant additions you can make to the F4. If you don't want mono sound, then grab the stereo speaker, which attaches to a socket on the back, and gives you a better sound and some stereo separation. This will cost you about £35. For the same price, you can add the Chargepak F1 which is a rechargeable battery for the radio and will make it properly portable.
We do think both are quite expensive, but the battery is a terribly good idea for when you want to listen to music in the garden or have a radio to take to the beach on a nice summer day.
The Evoke F4 is a terrific little device. The number of features and methods through which to find music and other audio via the internet, or your home network, is fabulous. We love how it looks, and its portability is excellent - although you'll need to spend £35 to get the optional battery for true portability.
Sound quality is perhaps not the highest, but that's because of the small speaker rather than the radio itself, and this is somewhat inevitable if you want a small, light and portable radio. Even so, for its intended use, the Evoke F4 is ideal.
We do think it's a little on the pricey side, but there's a lot of functionality here, and it beats Sonos in some regards too, such as with the inclusion of Bluetooth to stream music to the radio quickly, something Sonos just can't do.