PURE has a good reputation for high-quality DAB radios. We've previously been impressed by their efforts at smaller kitchen-type-radio design. The hi-fi separates market is a different field though, and enthusiasts can be particularly demanding in their performance expectations.
The DRX-702ES is ostensibly the most high-end DAB radio unit we've looked at. With a standard 19-inch chassis, it's designed to stack on your existing separates system -- alongside a poweramp and CD player, for example. To this end, PURE has provided professional-grade output options from the DAB, including S/PDIF and, for an extra £70, balanced XLR outputs.
Within the inherent limitations of current DAB radio broadcasts, the DRX-702ES is equipped to deliver the fidelity of sound that audiophiles demand. Its full-band coverage and 24bit/192kHZ delta-sigma digital audio converter (DAC) circuits suggest that the weakest link should be the broadcast source, not the receiver.
Disappointingly, UK DAB broadcasts barely skulk above a 128Kbps. Even the highest quality station, BBC Radio 3, transmits at a meagre 192Kbps. At the other end of the scale you'll find stations broadcasting as low as 80Kbps. Compare these bit rates to CD at 1411.2Kbps, or the 256Kbps we consider desirable for MP3, and the outlook is depressing for audiophiles. So, do we think buying the PURE Digital DRX-702ES is justifiable even in the face of the UK's current low DAB bit rates?
There's no doubt that the PURE Digital DRX-702ES is an extremely high-end DAB. The thick, brushed-metal fascia, heavy weight and solid chassis are all hallmarks of a well-designed unit. Controls on the front are minimalist and well laid out, with a tuning dial to the right of the bright, clear LCD.
The rear of the DRX-702ES proves the units audiophile appeal. Alongside the traditional gold-plated phono outputs are optical audio outs (S/PDIF), balanced XLRs (optional), RDI and USB ports. The balanced XLR outputs are something we're used to seeing on professional-grade studio equipment. If you're interested in feeding a DAB radio signal to a professional mixing desk and PA, this is the most effective connection to use.
The third pin on XLR connectors balances the signal to reduce noise. Sometimes you'll find XLR inputs on high-end poweramps, but you're extremely unlikely to find them on most home stereos. For this reason, the connection is optional -- the standard DRX-702ES does not ship with it. For domestic use, the S/PDIF offers a superior signal.
Other rear connectors include phono inputs, DAB, FM and AM aerials and a good solid kettle-lead power-input socket. Usefully, this features a plastic drawer which stores a spare fuse. It's little touches like this that quickly warmed us to Pure's approach with this DAB.
As with all DABs, the PURE Digital DRX-702ES autotunes within a few seconds. Provided the external aerials are properly attached you'll find the radio has stored every station available in the UK in a scrollable list. We can't imagine anyone having any problems tuning the unit.
Connecting the DRX-702ES to your existing hi-fi will mean using one of a number of possible connections. If your amplifier has an optical input, we suggest using the DRX-702ES's S/PDIF ports to run a length of optical cable to the amp. If you have a limited number of optical inputs on your amp, or none at all, the DRX-702ES's phono connectors are a generic and effective way to interconnect the radio.
The PURE Digital DRX-702ES covers Band III broadcasts between 170-240MHz, and all UK broadcasts fall within this frequency range. Where this tuner differs from lower-end models is in the quality of its DAC stage -- PURE engineers many of the components in these radios itself, so there's special attention to detail here.
As with all DABs, the DRX-702ES includes an auto-tune function, a range of preset options and date/time display. Unlike some lower-end DABs, there're four levels of LCD brightness, and also technical and signal quality information. Defining this radio as a professional unit, the S/PDIF stage includes Optical Toslink outputs as well as a coaxial port. There's also an optical RDI output. A USB port on the rear of the unit allows for software updates via a computer.
Those who enjoy a more intimate listening experience can plug headphones directly into the 1/4-inch 'phones socket on the front of the DRX-702ES. Standard fare for most hi-fi units, this kind of socket is exceptionally rare on DAB separates. The Denon TU-1800 DAB, for example, goes without.
The PURE Digital DRX-702ES sounds clear and rich with the mainstream DAB stations. All the BBC radio channels came across well -- certainly radio broadcasts were as clean and detailed as we've heard from other top tuners in this class. Arctic Monkeys on Radio One sounded as keen and vibrant as we've ever heard them, with good imaging and decent punch.
As we've found with other DAB separates, the DRX-702ES is not limited by its abilities to resolve broadcasts from digital into analogue, but by the inherently low bit rate of UK broadcasts. If you're looking for a future-proof DAB that delivers exceptionally good sound, this is one of the finest hi-fi radios available. It's just a shame that we couldn't really put it through its paces. At times it felt like driving a Ferrari along a dirt trail -- UK broadcasters aren't yet providing a signal that can do the DRX-702ES justice.
Audiophiles will already understand that a strong FM signal is superior to DAB, and luckily PURE has integrated a very capable FM receiver into the DRX-702ES. The quality of the FM tuner is reason enough to consider the DRX-702ES, with DAB reception as a bonus. Provided you're aware of the limitations of UK broadcasts, this radio can't fail to impress.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield