Tivoli has been making good-looking audio products for years now. The Music System BT ($699.99 direct) continues that tradition, as it echoes a decades-old tabletop radio with built-in stereo speakers. It’s also modernized, thanks to its oversized blue LED display, Bluetooth capability, and integrated, downward-firing subwoofer driver. If you’re not super-picky about sound quality, the Music System BT could be all the stereo system you need. But while it sounds quite good, it’s simply way overpriced.
Design, Setup, and Features
The Music System BT is based on an earlier Tivoli design from the mid-2000s, except now with Bluetooth capability. It’s pretty substantial, measuring 5.38 by 14.13 by 9.5 inches (HWD) and weighing 13 pounds. You can get it in walnut with a beige faceplate, cherry with a metallic taupe faceplate (like our review unit), or black ash with a silver faceplate. Our test unit was well crafted, but not any more so than Tivoli’s venerable $150 Model One radio.
There are plenty of controls on the speaker. Above the oversized display is a slot-loading CD player that works with CDs, CD-Rs, CD-RWs, MP3 CDs, and WMA CDs. Surrounding the display are Clock and Sleep buttons on the left, and Alarm 1 and Alarm 2 buttons on the right. Below that is a multi-mode plastic dial that clicks nicely as you turn it in either direction. To the left of the knob are Source, Display, and six radio preset buttons. To the right are Audio, Power, Play/Pause, Track Skip, Track Seek, and Stop buttons.
The dual independent alarms work with the top-mounted Snooze button, which is easy to find by feel and also doubles as a Mute button. A 3.5mm headphone jack sits at the bottom left corner of the front panel. On the back is a large knob that controls the built-in subwoofer level, plus 3.5mm Aux In, Mix In, and Rec Out ports, plus connections for the included AM and FM antennas, and a switch that lets you hook in an external FM antenna.
The remote is a flat, dark gray slab with a large number of membrane buttons. In addition to the usual controls, you can also set the alarms and sleep modes, adjust the audio and display, and snooze from the remote control. A costly system like this should come with a more substantial remote.
Before you get started, you must also insert the two included AA batteries into the small compartment on the back panel of the speaker; they power a memory function for the clock, alarms, radio presets, and other settings in case the power goes out.
Since this is a Bluetooth speaker, you can pair it with any phone, tablet, or otherwise compatible device and listen to your music collection. You can also fire up an app like Pandora, Slacker, or Spotify and listen to Internet radio and streaming music. Still, I would have liked to see an integrated streaming radio capability of some kind. Also, there’s no AirPlay support, which is becoming less of a deal-breaker these days but still surprising on such an expensive system. Pairing took two tries, but otherwise, I had no problem streaming music from an iPhone 5.
Performance and Conclusions
The speaker contains three drivers: two front-firing, 3-inch full-range cones, and a downward-firing 5-inch woofer. As is typical for the company, Tivoli doesn’t disclose much in the way of specifications, such as how powerful the amplifiers are or the system’s frequency response with plus or minus decibel figures.
Overall, the Music System BT sounds pleasant, airy, and detailed with all kinds of music. It’s a nice sound that’s easy to listen to, and with the illusion of more stereo separation than you would expect once you engage its SpacePhase Wide mode. In my tests, Muse’s “Resistance” sounded smooth and powerful, especially with the rear bass knob turned up a notch. Ani DiFranco’s acoustic guitar work in “Knuckle Down” was powerful and energetic, and you get a good sense of the wood body and the space she recorded in through the Music System BT. Depeche Mode’s “Suffer Well” had plenty of punch, if not quite enough low-end extension.
On our standard bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Music System BT distorted a bit at high volumes, but generally sounded clean once I backed off a bit. It also delivered a nice, tight, punchy kick that was well separated from the bass synth, despite the fact that the two inhabit nearly the same frequency ranges. Thanks to the separate subwoofer driver, once the high arpeggiated synthesizer kicked in, it was smooth and clear at that volume even with the pulsing kick.
Aside from the remote, using the system itself is a pleasure. The display and controls are easy to understand once you get the hang of what each one does. The Display button, for example, toggles RDS scrolling text for radio stations, and CD scrolling text for CDs in the appropriate Source mode. The tuner works well and sounds clear and full. To adjust treble, you press the center knob. To set each alarm, you hold the appropriate Alarm button in for a few seconds, then set the time and the source it’s going to play. The display updates slowly—you can see it “paint” the numbers and letters as it refreshes each time—but I got used to it quickly.
The single largest problem with this system is its cost. At $700, Tivoli is asking several hundred dollars more than Bose’s tabletop radio, and Bose isn’t known for its budget pricing to begin with. In terms of pure sound quality, at this price, there are plenty options that deliver more detail, punch, volume, and sheer transparency. Two favorites immediately come to mind: The Bluetooth-and-AirPlay-compatible Cambridge Audio Minx Air 200 delivers thunderous bass and smoothly detailed sound compared to the Tivoli, and for $100 less, while the AirPlay-only Bowers & Wilkins A7 is also much more powerful and detailed-sounding.
With either the Minx Air 200 or the A7, you don’t get the Tivoli’s AM/FM tuner, slot-loading CD player, or dual alarm clocks. But you can get all of those things with a separate iHome or Philips product for under $100, and you get a much better-sounding system otherwise. Finally, on the lower end, our Editors’ Choice Bluetooth speaker remains the portable, well-designed Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II, which offers roughly equivalent sound and punch, if slightly less bass extension and left-right dispersion, for less than half the price.
I wanted to really like the Music System BT, because the vintage aesthetic appeals to me, and because I suspect many more people still listen to CDs and AM/FM radio than the tech press realizes. At $400, I’d have little reservation recommending it. At $700, though, it’s way too expensive for what is otherwise a pleasant-sounding and attractive tabletop radio.
|Wireless Remote Control||Yes|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc