Pure Sensia 200D Portable Music Streaming and Radio System

There was a time when the portable radio was a simple device. Not any more.

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

Recommended
Pure Sensia 200D Portable Music Streaming and Radio System
SRP: £240.00

Introduction

Once upon a time, the portable radio was just that. It received analogue radio signals on AM, MW and LW bands and outputted the signal to a single speaker. When FM came along, this was duly added to the spectrum. You tuned your radio to the station of your choice each time- the preset was something fitted to a select number of high end tuners. Of all the items of hi-fi, this was about the most ubiquitous. They were present in pretty much every house in the land and some of the more robust examples are still going strong.
When DAB was launched; the portable radio evolved again and took the new format on board. One of the companies that made the most of the new format was the newly founded company of Pure Digital. Their range of compact digital radios have been extremely successful and the Evoke in particular has gone on to be something of a sales phenomenon and buoyed by the success of the Evoke, they have been hard at work taking the digital radio in new and unexpected directions and adding some new technologies to boot. The Sensia 200D is technically related to the classic portable radio of old but it is a radically different beast.

Design

The Sensia 200D is an evolution of the earlier Sensia and like its predecessor is a highly unusual combination of features and functions. As an all-in-one the ‘expected’ features of DAB and FM, the Sensia is- deep breath- an internet radio, media streamer, access point for on demand music services and a cut down web browser. Naturally it is controllable by an iDevice or smartphone and for good measure you can plug an analogue device into it as well.

Pure Sensia 200D

This is a huge amount of functionality to put inside a single unit and as such the Sensia is designed around pretty much the only interface that is going to be able to make sense of the variety of features- that is to say a full colour touchscreen. Depending on the action you are carrying out at the time, the screen is either a single image or breaks down into sections displaying station or album artwork and allowing you to browse through the media or station option at the time.

As you might expect, the Pure has a full set of DAB and FM radio stations that are found courtesy of the telescopic aerial. As well as the slightly grim sounding MPEG2 DAB that the UK is currently saddled with, the Sensia is also capable of handling DAB+ which offers the chance of higher performance if and when the UK gets its act in gear and upgrades to the newer encoding, your Sensia will be future proof. The FM band is entirely conventional and will largely be dependent on the quality of FM in your area.

Pure Sensia 200D

The most unusual additional feature for the radio is that if you attach a USB stick to the socket on the rear, you can then record radio to it for later listening. The Pure has an effective EPG to make this as simple as possible. Pure says that 2gb of capacity is generally enough to record 15 hours of 128kbps broadcast. I’ve never really got into the habit of recording radio before but given that the most interesting programs seem to happen in the middle of the night, I can see the point to it.

The Pure really comes into its own once you have parked it on a wireless network. Once you have done so (and in this particular unit’s case it didn’t like my wifi key and needed a few goes to get connected), you can then start using the additional features of the Sensia. The ‘normal’ radio bands are joined by a full set of international options available over the internet. Pure doesn’t specify if this is a vTuner service or a more bespoke offering but the list is pretty comprehensive and all the usual suspects that I have come to enjoy in the time I’ve been using internet radio are present.

Pure Sensia 200D

Additionally, the Pure will locate any UPnP servers on the same network and can stream music (and indeed display pictures from them as well). In the same way as the wireless key wasn’t the easiest thing to get up and running and I found that the Pure is happiest if you restart the server while the Sensia is looking for it. The way that my server is set up means this is reasonably simple but if you have NAS drives, this is not going to be very easy to do. The Sensia handles a wide variety of compressed audio but makes no mention of lossless variants including WAV or FLAC which is a bit of a blow.

The other web based features are more unusual and really put the Sensia in a class of one. The first is the access to the Pure Music on demand music service. Pure has been quietly cultivating this as part of the functionality of their more sophisticated products for some time and the result is a good offering of music on demand and themed radio stations. Once you register your Sensia, you can sign up and receive these services.

More unusual still is that the Sensia is a cut down web browser as well. You can access Facebook, Twitter and Picasa among others. I’ve had the Sensia here for some time now and I still can’t work out if web access is included because someone at Pure has a singular view of the future of our internet useage and how our audio devices fit into this or because the design supports it and they decided to include it to see what would happen.

The Sensia is built around a 30w amplifier with a pair of 3in ‘full range’ drivers on either side of the unit- the same configuration as the group test winning Contour from earlier in the year. This contributes to the interesting ‘rugby ball’ profile of the Sensia which is very striking but will divide opinion. The review unit was entirely white which makes it look larger than it is and some of the other colours do make it look rather cooler. The fit and finish is good and the Sensia feels solid enough to use. My only gripe is that the touchscreen has a slightly narrow viewing angle and that the response can be a little sluggish- more of which later.

Pure Sensia 200D

The Sensia can be controlled by Pure’s Connect ap which is available for iOS and Android devices (although there is no dedicated iPad version available). This allows you to access most of the search functions of the Sensia and although the interface is different to the front screen, the effect is fairly self explanatory. The other option available for the Pure is the ChargePAK battery that will allow you to use your Sensia out and about.

Setup

As a completely self contained unit, the Sensia was effectively left to its own devices and wasn’t connected to any other audio equipment during the review. I placed the unit on my home network and accessed internet radio services as well as my UPnP server. The Connect ap was tested on an iPhone 4, iPad 3 and a Samsung Galaxy Android phone. I used the Sensia on mains and battery in a variety of locations where you might expect to use such a device.

Sound Quality

As Pure has their roots in digital radio, I began with using the Sensia ‘off network’ and accessing the range of DAB and FM stations available. The Sensia found what I generally concede to be a ‘full set’ of stations available in the area. The performance with FM in particular is very good but UK DAB stations not broadcasting on feeble bitrates are also perfectly listenable. The driver and amplifier combination that the Sensia uses results in a performance that is very similar to the Contour iPod dock and this is a good thing. The Sensia is warm without being boring and I have found it very easy to listen to for long periods.

Part of this ability is down to the very good implementation of a single driver for each channel. The sound is extremely cohesive because there is only a single driver in operation without any form of crossover in the signal path. The speed and clarity is extremely impressive. The size of the drivers means that the Sensia is never exactly going to be a boom box but it generally goes low enough and sounds fairly lively while it does so. The handling of voices in particular is excellent and for speech radio, the Sensia is likely to be an excellent partner.

Pure Sensia 200D

Once connected to the internet, the internet radio options are good as well. The Sensia allows you to hunt for stations by genre or country or both and I found very few dead or iffy links searching through. The performance of higher bandwidth stations is easily equal to DAB and I found the reception to be stable and reliable. Favourite stations can be saved to presets and re-accessing these stations seems to be entirely reliable.

As a media streamer, the Sensia is unfortunately less convincing. Initial tests with 44.1kHz FLAC resulted in drop outs and stuttering and even turning everything else that usually resides on the network off didn’t fully resolve so the format is not correctly supported. To experiment further, I made my iTunes library available over UPnP and tried to scan this instead. The Sensia was much happier with 256kbps MP3 files and worked consistently throughout.

Pure Sensia 200D

This is somewhat disappointing. I fully accept that this is a much more common file size for people to be streaming but if you have a main system streaming FLAC files you would realistically want to make use of these files on any system capable of receiving them even if the sonic differences between lossless and lossy audio on a unit this size will not be very large. Units like the Revo Heritage and Sonos units proved able to handle lossless FLAC on the same network so I am not sure why Pure has taken the decision not to include it.
The other area where the Sensia is slightly disappointing is the response time to certain requests. The Pure has a huge amount of functionality and is undoubtedly very clever but it never feels as seamless as you might like it to. The wait time between selecting something and the Sensia responding is often long enough to cause a moment of impatience and in a world of iPads and Galaxy’s, the touchscreen doesn’t feel as slick as it could. I love the richness of the colour and the ability to display station information and album art is excellent (although the ability to display adverts for other Pure products when this isn’t available is less appealing) but it isn’t as slick as it could be and it does show after a while.

Pure Sensia 200D

The Connect ap does speed things up a little and obviously the touchscreen is as good as the device to install it to but again it has some weird features. The ap is both a control point and a method of listening to the internet radio station list on the device itself. This means that you need to switch between asking the Sensia or the iPad to play the station and this is not as self explanatory as it could be. On the plus side, the ap is otherwise easy to use and very stable. The web browser is effective and the YouTube section in particular is rather good. I’m still not completely convinced that the Sensia is going to win someone over because they can hover over the unit watching Gangnam Style but at the very least it does work extremely well.

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Excellent sound quality for a device of this type
  • Very comprehensive feature set
  • Striking appearence
  • Record radio feature potentially useful

Cons

  • No lossless streaming
  • Feels slightly sluggish to use
  • No shortage of competition

Pure Sensia 200D Portable Music Streaming and Radio System

I don’t want to come across as thinking that the Sensia is anything other than a very clever unit with a sound quality that is really very likeable. Pure has been working hard to make the digital radio do more and offer functionality that would have seemed impossible even a few years ago. I’m a retro junkie so my personal preference leans more to the retro side of design but I think the Sensia looks bold and imaginative and far more than a normal ‘me too’ product. As a radio for use across FM, DAB and internet, I think it is one of the best out there.

As a streamer though, the Sensia is limited in comparison to some similarly priced units and the fact that it will not reliably stream lossless files over network is a bit of a problem and something of a limitation. This is a very technically ambitious unit and sometimes this shows in the slight lack of seamlessness with certain actions and commands. How much this will matter to you will largely depend on how you want to use the Sensia and there is no doubt that this is a very talented radio that deserves an audition if this is what you are looking for.

Recommended

Scores

Design and usability

.
.
8

Connections

.
.
.
7

Tuner Sensitivity

.
.
8

Features

.
.
.
7

Ease of Use

.
.
.
7

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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