29/04/2013 10:30 | By Dan Sung, contributor, MSN Tech

Pure Jongo S3 review

Single wireless speaker or part of a complete home audio solution - the everyman's Sonos

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What is it?
Stream music to the Pure Jongo S3 wireless speaker from any device. You can use it alone or link multiple S3s up for multiroom listening throughout your home.

What’s great?
It’s easy to use and set up, the sound quality is very decent and they are excellent value for money.

What’s not?
Streaming over Wi-Fi is limited to the Pure Connect app and the Pure Music service catalogue is not what it could be.

The bottom line:
It’s a really good option for those looking to go Sonos-style without spending the megabucks.

Pure Jongo S3 family (© Pure)

Pure Jongo S3: Review

It’s impossible not to start a review of a multiroom wireless speaker music system without mentioning Sonos, so that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Sonos has set the standard with its high end audio set up that allows you to stream songs, podcasts and radio stations all around your home and all at the touch of an app. It’s of little surprise then that we’ve seen other brands following suit and most with a good degree of success.

Pure is the latest such gadget maker to do so with the Pure Jongo speaker system as debuted at CES 2013 in Las Vegas back in January. Four months later and this stalwart of the radio world has got them up onto the UK shelves for us to peruse and maybe even buy. So, are they worth our time and money? Stay tuned for the details.

Pure Jongo S3: Design

For a portable speaker, the Pure Jongo S3 is not very easy to carry. It’s not that it’s particularly big but there’s a slightly unwieldy combination of the 1.25kg weight and comparatively small 131 x 139 x 135mm body which make this unit surprisingly dense. That would be okay but, unlike other such devices out there, there’s no handle or any kind of good way to grip it. It also quite a bulky, boxy, awkward shape to carry around in a bag as opposed to, say, the Jawbone Jambox or the Braven range. Ultimately, the design doesn’t particularly inspire us to take the Jongo S3 out and about on our travels.

Where the S3 is portable, however, is in and around the home. It’s easy enough to take out into the garden on a sunny day or from the bookshelf of your living room into the kitchen if you’d like a little aural accompaniment to your cooking or washing up. The 10-hour battery life - thanks to the removable Li-ion packs within - fits just perfectly with this ethos although playback is, of course, possible while plugged into the mains for charging too.

As for the aesthetics, the Jongo S3 is typical of what Pure has produced through its Evoke and other radio lines. It looks good. What is very simply a square-based cylinder is jazzed up with a choice of black or white combined with some colourful, interchangeable speaker covers which wrap around the device and come in a choice of monochrome, orangey/red, lime green and a kind of near mustard yellow. In short, they’re dead trendy and will look good on any surface in any room of your abode.

Pure Jongo S3: Ease of use

A big key to success for any wireless streaming system for the house is ease of use. Why? Well, because if it’s a music system for the whole home, then it’s a music system that everyone in the house is going to need to be able to use - not just the gadget geek in residence. So, to test out the usability of the Pure Jongo S3, we decided to get a regular Joe (or Josephine as it was in our case) to set it up.

The results were positive. Unlike the Sonos system, there’s no Zone Bridges to set up. Each Jongo speaker is connected to your home Wi-Fi rather than them creating a network of their own. There’s a few steps to follow to make that possible but, so long as you stick with the quick start guide in the manual, there should be no problems. Of course, the flipside of using your own home network is that the signal strength is only as good as the power of your wireless router. In other words, if the Wi-Fi signal in your kitchen is poor, then you’re not going to get any music on your Jongo there either. Fortunately, the wireless receiver in the S3 is as good as it can be. In our tests, it managed to get onto our home Wi-Fi in places that many of our other devices couldn’t manage. Besides, there's always the Bluetooth option if you can't.

Pure Jongo S3 (© Dan Sung)

Pure Jongo S3: Streaming

Getting your music from A to B, with A being your player and B being your Jongo, is not quite as straight forward as one might have hoped. There are three ways that you can do it. You can use Wi-Fi, you can use Bluetooth and there’s also a aux-in socket where you can plug in a 3.5mm cable from the headphones jack of your laptop or phone or tablet. The last of these methods is simple enough. It’s the difference between the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth that’s the problem.

It’s only with Wi-Fi that you can play to more than one Jongo speaker at once; that might be two or more in one room or multiple speakers in different parts of the house. Bluetooth is a one-speaker-at-a-time-only situation. “That’s okay, I’ll just play everything over Wi-Fi,” you’re thinking. Well, it’s not quite as simple as that. You can only play over Wi-Fi using the Pure Connect app. The S3 is not an Apple AirPlay certified device.

You can get the app for iPad and iPhone, and there’s a rudimentary version for Android as well, but that’s it. From those, you can stream any songs that you have downloaded and stored locally - i.e. on the phone or tablet itself - and any digital and internet radio stations and podcasts. What’s more, if you subscribe to Pure Music (a £4.99 per month all you can stream music service) you can also use Wi-Fi to send a full catalogue of millions of tracks to Jongos all over your house.

What you can’t stream over Wi-Fi are other services such as your Spotify subscription (if you have one) and that’s a touch frustrating because, although Pure Music is good, there are quite a few gaps. All too often you’ll get the message that the track you’re after isn’t available for streaming. Quite shocking is that you can’t stream over Wi-Fi using a laptop or other computer even if you’re playing through the Pure Music website. Another niggle is that the search functionality isn’t that good either. You’ll eventually find what you’re after but it might take some lateral thinking.

See also: Best wireless speakers for smartphones and tablets

Pure Jongo S3: Sound quality

You’re very much getting what you pay for in terms of the sound quality of the S3 wireless speaker. Clearest of all is the upward facing 3.5-inch bass driver which is probably the showpiece of the five speakers on offer within each unit. The other four are the 3/4-inch high frequency tweeters spaced evenly about the faces of the Jongo which certainly complete the job of supplying a balanced, if ever so slightly tinny at the top end, sound. Like we say though, you’re not going to find a wireless speaker with fantastic detail at this price.

The Audio button on the side of the S3 controls the configuration of the five drivers. You can set them to mono where they all play the same sound. They can be in stereo where one side plays as a left speaker and the other the right or you can even have them in forward facing stereo where the back speakers are shut off so that you’re not wasting any output that might be lost if the S3 is positioned right up in the corner of a room. Sadly what you can’t do at the moment is have two S3 speaker playing together in stereo. You can have each working as a left and right speaker on their own but the system does not allow one to take over the job of the left while the other becomes the right. Pure says that’s something that will be coming within the next few weeks as a software upgrade but, for the moment, it’s not possible.

What we do really like, however, is the Outdoor Boost mode which is enough to turn even one little S3 speaker into a fully-fledged portable party device. You’ll have no issues of volume with the Jongos.

Pure Jongo S3: User experience

At the time of review, the Pure Jongo S3 wireless speakers were in their first stage and apparently due a software update within a few weeks. It’s not clear exactly what that might clear up but there are one or two bugs that certainly need ironing out if the Jongo system as a whole is to succeed.

Music can be a touch slow to change volume or start and stop, and there’s also a problem that you can sometimes close down the Pure Music app and the song you were last playing will continue. It’s not criminal but, if not cut out, it’s kind of reason why someone might look elsewhere for a complete home music solution.

Fortunately, most of the rest of the user experience is very good and we’ve a particular nod towards the battery and power system. There’s a complex code of lights around the power button to let you know whether the S3 is in play mode, is pairing, is in standby or is off. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter whether you understand it or not. Start playing your tracks from the app. If nothing’s coming out, then press the power button and it will.

Better still, you don’t even have to turn them off if you don’t want to. After a while, the S3 gets the picture that you’ve abandoned it for the time being and powers itself down to save on battery. Just how and when this occurs is different depending upon whether you’ve got it plugged into the mains or not. You’re welcome to work out the specifics if you wish but what we think is rather key to the UX is that you don’t have to bother.

The only warning that we would give is that it takes a while to charge the battery up again. Oh, and if you’re blasting the beats outside in boost mode, you can forget about getting 10 hours of use from a single charge.

Pure Jongo S3: Verdict

We could chew that fat about the strengths and weaknesses of the Pure Jongo S3 all day but what it really boils down to is whether you should choose Jongo over Sonos or any other multiroom system out there. Sure, the S3 is a single, portable wireless speaker in its own right but if you’ve not got your eye on investing further into the ecosystem, then you’re rather missing the point.

At getting on for £100 less than the equivalent Sonos device, the Pure Jongo S3 and friends make a very compelling start. The ease of use, good looks and quality of sound do nothing but back that up all the way. The only frustrations with the S3 are with the Jongo system as a whole but it’s simply not possible to review one without the other.

Pure needs to increase the options for streaming over Wi-Fi, it needs to iron out the bugs that already exist and it needs to get proper stereo pairing between multiple Jongos going on. Some of this will hopefully be fixed in future software updates but the slightly wanting catalogue with the Pure Music subscription service might well be a sticking point for those of more alternative tastes. Still, at half the price of Spotify Premium, it’s not a bad deal at all.

Ultimately, the Pure Jongo S3 is great in itself but the system as a whole needs a little work. That said, we like what Pure is doing in this space and we’ve no doubt it will become the well-oiled machine that it needs to be in no time at all.

4 stars

Pure Jongo S3: Available now - £169.95 - check the latest prices with Bing.

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