Wednesday, 14 September 2005

Pure Digital's The Bug DAB radio/MP3 player: review, tips

The Bug, an innovative digital radio/MP3 player by Pure Digital, has been around for a while - but in my view it's still the best in terms of features and value for money, if you're looking for a DAB (digital audio broadcasting) radio with its high quality and potential for extra information in the broadcast e.g. the name of the song playing and the artist. (The Pure site has info on DAB generally including e.g. the difference from FM radio).

Tesco's are now selling it online relatively cheap at just over £100 all in, with free delivery. They usually cost over £120, so if you want one, get one while stocks last! (I wonder if this is a sign that maybe Pure are discontinuing the Bug or bringing out a new improved model?? Who knows...)

I personally don’t think the Bug can be beaten - especially at this price. There aren't many DAB radios around which can not only pause/rewind live radio but also record (for personal timeshifting use only, of course) onto any size SD card, including programmable timer recordings as well as live radio (and rewound live radio!). You can have 10 preset stations, the sound is great (with 5 EQ options), and it scores highly in the usability stakes, being beautifully intuitive. There's a digital as well as analogue out and a headphone socket. Oh, and an alarm and timer and sleep function, of course. Little touches like being able to set the display brightness both for standby and "on" mode are nice, but be warned the display is blue which I find slightly less conducive to sleep than say red or green.

A USB connection provides a degree of future-proofing via downloadable firmware upgrades plus the ability to transfer music from your computer to the SD card to play back on the Bug (and vice versa - the Bug will play MP3s). The latest trial firmware has an EPG (electronic programme guide) for the week ahead, so you can just view and select a programme up to a week ahead to record it rather than fiddling around programming. (The instructions are in a window at the end of the installation so you might want to copy and paste them into a document before you close that final window, though you can also get them from the Pure website). Some will like the cuteness factor too, and did you know that its eyes blink when you turn it on or off? Awwww….


  • DAB coverage varies, even within the UK, and many countries don't have it at all.
  • The Bug only records in MP2 format but you can get software to convert that to MP3 such as Easy CD-DA.
  • No SD card provided, nor USB cable.
  • Mains only so you're tethered, though unless you're a retro boombox type you wouldn't want to heft this round with you, it's not excessively heavy but it's not that portable either if you're a weakling like me.
  • Windows only for upgrades (though Pure say you can upgrade via Macs using Virtual PC/Win XP).
  • Firmware upgrades can be tricky, see below.
  • Not related to the Bug, but generally - stations should make more use of DAB capabilities to transmit info that listeners really want, like displaying who sang that song and what's it called, where you could buy or download it from - potential money spinner missed there (and I mean, how many people actually want to listen to the inane twitterings of "me me me aren't I sooooo interesting" (not) DJs who keep talking over the music and never announce what's playing, well I don't care what the DJ just had for dinner, just gimme the music!! [/rant]).

Firmware upgrades

Pure haven't rest on ther laurels, they issued firmware upgrades with bug fixes (if you'll forgive the pun!) and improvements back in August 2004 and December 2004, and in January 2005 they released a beta version with an EPG. Good stuff. Hopefully another full firmware upgrade will be out soon, as it's been a while since the last official one.

But upgrading the firmware requires patience. Their email support is helpful but the full troubleshooting info really should be on Pure's website, although it does contain a few recommendations which should be followed to avoid trouble e.g shut down all other open apps including background stuff like antivirus programs. In addition, make sure the Bug is OFF (or on standby) before you connect it to the computer. Then plug in the USB cable, then turn on the Bug. Let it go through the "new hardware found" routine (clicking Next where relevant, including searching for drivers); reboot if necessary. THEN doubleclick the updating software and follow the onscreen instructions regarding your Bug and computer.

If it seems to get stuck after you press "Yes" on the Bug to confirm the USB cable is connected, that may be because a popup window on the computer hasn't popped up where it should, but got hidden behind the install screen, so look for that window - it's more "new hardware" stuff, and you have to click Next to get it to proceed. Hopefully it'll then work.

The process is not as easy as it should be. It took me 4 tries, plus a fresh re-download of the upgrade, before I could get it to work - with several installation checking failures initially including, heartstoppingly, in relation to the restore of the original firmware (but it was OK - apparently they'd built in failsafes, thank goodness).

Factoids and Tips

  • To find out your exact firmware version, press and hold the Info button.
  • To go back up a level in the Menu without selecting anything, press the Menu key again.
  • Check the Pure website for which SD cards are compatible, not all makes may be.
  • FAQs are actually more comprehensive on the Pure site than on the dedicated Bug site.

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