Pure Highway 400 review: DAB and Spotify for older cars

Pure Highway 400 review

These days, it isn’t hard to find a new car with DAB digital radio fitted as standard. Even the £7,795 Dacia Sandero Essential offers DAB, while the now-commonplace smartphone integration has made it even easier to listen to your favourite music or radio station on the move.

However, what if you have no intention of splashing out on a new car, but want to upgrade your existing audio system? If you’re after digital radio with the added benefit of Spotify music streaming, the Pure Highway 400 might be the answer.

The Highway 400 costs £139.99 and is Pure’s mid-range in-car solution, offering digital radio, Bluetooth music streaming, a wireless display and smartphone voice assistant. For an additional £20, you can upgrade to the Highway 600, which offers hands-free calling.

Yes, you can buy DAB head units for upwards of £99, but a Highway system works with your existing audio system, which might be an important consideration if you hope to retain the OEM look or the present system is an irregular size.

Wired for sound

Pure Highway 400 screen antenna

The flipside is that you’re left with a wireless controller fastened to your dashboard and an antenna attached to the windscreen. Also, depending on the quality of your DIY install, you may have to live with a few exposed wires, but more on this in a moment.

Not that the Highway 400 is an unattractive device. In common with Pure’s range of household digital radios, the battery-powered wireless controller looks neat and obtrusive, while the OLED screen is clear and crisp, regardless of whether it’s night or day.

The system comes with a chunky instruction manual – but fear not, because only the first 22 pages are English. You will need to read it because while the installation is straightforward, it’s important to follow the instructions. Get it wrong and you risk not optimising the digital reception. Worse still, it might fail to function entirely.

It’s not worth running through the entire installation as part of this review, but there are some key things to note. Firstly, the antenna must be positioned as high as possible on the windscreen and at least 4cm from the side of the screen.

The magnetic grounding tail slots through the tap between the roof liner and the roof and needs to touch the bodywork. I chose my £100 Renault Laguna as the lucky recipient of this DAB upgrade and, if I’m honest, I’d have liked the antenna to sit closer to the A-pillar. It’s not a fault of the system, merely my inability to find a magnetic connection.

Aside from that, I’m delighted with the results. The lead is long enough to pull around the inside of the top of the A-pillar, down through the inside of the rubber door seal, behind the glovebox and centre console, and out through the ashtray. It’s a tidy job.

Power to all our friends

Pure Highway 400 BBC R5L

There are two ways to connect to the wireless controller: either using the aux-in socket – which is the recommended way – or via the FM radio. The Laguna doesn’t have an aux-in socket, so the Highway system is broadcasting the DAB signal on 87.6MHz.

The Highway name appears on the Laguna’s OEM display – at least it does when the car’s screen is functioning correctly – before being replaced by the name of the radio station. Save the Highway as a preset and it will make it easy to find if you’ve switched to another FM station.

Assuming the installation has been done correctly, the receiver will pick up the available digital stations within seconds and you’ll have filled the 20 presets in no time at all. It really is that easy.

The buttons are a little small and tightly packed together, but the central dial makes it easy to switch between stations and songs. Speaking of which, thanks to the Pure Highway 400, the Laguna now benefits from in-car Spotify. Who needs Apple CarPlay?

You’ll need a premium account to use the music streaming service, but connecting is easy. You simply download the Pure Go app, login to your Spotify account, and connect to the wireless receiver via Bluetooth.

The sound quality isn’t as crisp and clear as when listening to the radio – there’s a noticeable ‘hiss’ between songs – but it’s good (not to mention a legal requirement) to access Spotify or other apps without touching your smartphone. The songs are displayed on the wireless controller, and you can skip tracks and select playlists via the buttons.

You can even hit a ‘Go’ button if you hear a song on the radio and you want to add it to your playlist. I can’t tell you if this feature is any good, because I tend to listen to Radio 5 Live, where music tends to be off the menu. If I’m honest, I don’t think it’s something I’d ever use.

Do you want to dance?

Pure Highway 400 DAB

Overall, I’m delighted with the Highway 400. I felt pretty smug about the quality of my install – the fact that the wires are almost completely hidden behind the dashboard is a bonus. I also like the way they feed in from behind the ashtray and are therefore hidden away when the lid is closed.

The size of the power adaptor means that the lid cannot be closed when the digital radio is in use, but when I leave the car I simply unplug it, put the adaptor in the ashtray and tuck the wire into the space next to the cigarette lighter. Crucially, the adaptor has two USB ports, meaning you can keep your phone on charge when on the move.

So far, the digital radio reception hasn’t been quite as good as I’ve found when using OEM systems. There are the usual DAB dead zones in rural Devon, but the Highway 400 seems to drop out earlier and reconnect later than the other systems. 

Other gripes? The antenna and aerial look a tad unsightly on the windscreen of my otherwise, ahem, immaculate £100 Laguna, and thanks to the unique way in which the dashboard is sculpted and finished, I could only find one place to mount the wireless controller bracket. French cars, eh?

For me, it adds a little extra to the £100 Laguna. I have simple desires – Radio 5 Live and Spotify are enough for me – so this ticks two boxes. Whether or not it represents good value for money at £40 more than the price of the car is up to you. Personally, I like it.

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