Tivoli Radio Combo System Reviewed

Tivoli Radio Combo System Reviewed

The Tivoli Radio Combo system includes an AM/FM tuner, CD player, speakers and a subwoofer. The heart of the system, the Model Two Stereo Table Radio, uses a 3-inch driver. The new subwoofer uses a 5-¼ inch driver to plumb the depths.

You gotta love it: despite the juggernaut behind digital radio, despite the desire in certain quarters that analogue would just go away, Tivoli is one of home entertainment's biggest success stories. And all because of a table-top radio reminiscent of the no-presets/big-dial classics of the 1950s and 1960s. Oh, and the fact that it was designed by/inspired by one of the industry's canniest geniuses: Henry Kloss. And there's choice of colours. And real wood trim. And because it sounds terrific. And it's about as close to 'cuddly' as home electronics gets.

With the original, mono AM/FM Tivoli Model One radio now a de riguer purchase for secondary sound - try finding someone in the audio industry who doesn't have a Tivoli in his or her kitchen or bedroom - the company laid the foundation for a family of equally-appealing siblings. The recipe is a three-fold masterplan: each Tivoli product has to look funky, work intuitively and sound great. No, make that four-fold: it also has to be a bargain. The mono Model One was joined by a stereo version, a clock-radio variant, an active subwoofer, a CD player and even a portable.

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But best of all, if you've been bitten by the bug that must be considered the 'Swatch of hi-fi' and you can't resist buying Tivolis in multiples, you can see from the above that the company can now offer what amounts to a 'system'. By that, I mean stereo AM/FM radio, CD, a subwoofer to add some mass to the sound and inputs for tape, a headphone socket and even 12V operation if you want to use it in a boat or caravan.

Collectively named the Radio Combo, it consists of the following (alas, only in the Metallic Taupe/Cherry colour scheme): Model Two Stereo Table Radio (£169.99), Model CD Player (£199.99) and Model Subwoofer (£79.99). If you buy it as a package instead of adding the CD and sub later, it will cost £439.99, saving you a tenner over the separates.

Its four enclosures are so compact that there can't be an Ikea- or Habitat-driven home - even a bijoux London rip-off of a flat - lacking the space to house them. The main unit and right channel speaker come in 8 3/8x 4 1/2x 5 ¼ in (HWD) chassis, and the CD player is only ¾ in deeper. The subwoofer? A teensy 6 ½ x 9 ½ x6 5/16 in (HWD).

By now, the look and operation of the primary component should be familiar because the Model One radio is so truly ubiquitous. It contains a full-range 3in driver, an AM/FM radio, volume control, source selector (on/off, AM, FM, Aux), power-on LED and tuning strength LED, plus that big rotary tuning control. At the back are options for the aerial (internal AM and FM aerials or external aerials selectable via a small switch), mains input or 12-16V input, and - through stereo mini-sockets - subwoofer output, headphone output, record out, aux input and an input for connecting a source that mixes with the radio or auxiliary. Also at the back are a balance control, a speaker port and the sockets for the right channel speaker. The latter is essentially a Model Two with everything removed bar the speaker itself.

[Brief note: Although this is a 'closed system' in that only the CD player could be used realistically with other components, there are tweaks available. I haven't tried them yet, but RATA's indefatigable Russ Andrews is offering a line of hot-rodded 12V mains adaptors to run Tivoli components off 12V DC instead of good ol' dirty AC, and there is an alleged improvement. Just thought you should know if you are (a) tempted by Tivoli but (b) hate the thought of using anything straight out of the box without a tweak.]

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Tivoli looked to in-car and computer transports for the Model CD,
eschewing a tray in favour of a motorised slot. Above it is a display
showing track number and time, there's a primary on/off button with
green LED indicator, an IR receptor, an eject button next to the slot
and controls for track skip in both directions, forward/reverse, stop
and pause/play. On the rear panel are a headphone output, L/R phono
sockets - the unit comes with a 2-phono-to-mini-jack lead - and the
mains input via a 12V 'wall wart'. Every function, plus repeat,
track-entry via numeric keypad, mute and volume (CD-only) can be
operated through the supplied credit card-sized remote.

Lastly, there's the subwoofer, with 20W driving a 5 1/4in woofer in a
front-ported enclosure. The baffle features an auto-sensing on/off
button and a volume control; I found the centre-detent position to be
ideal. For such a style-conscious design, it's odd that Tivoli gave this
a red LED while the other components sport green.

Note that Tivoli components come with every single cable you'll need.
Arriving in three boxes, I had the system unpacked and up-and-running
in 10 minutes, without once looking at the owner's manuals. Like I said,
Tivoli works intuitively.

Even without pushing your audiophilic buttons, you'll find that the
system works well. I was familiar with the radio performance, having
bought the review sample of the Model One for our kitchen, and was
delighted to hear that the move to stereo was faultless. However much my
purist wife prefers mono, the appeal was instant: wide and rich, with
talk shows benefiting from non-overlapping voices. But the main reason
for trying this system was to hear the CD and subwoofer as well, to
learn what a complete Tivoli system might do. And bar one 600lb fly in
the ointment, it's all good news.

As with the radio performance, the sound of the CD is smooth and
rich. I wouldn't be surprised if Tivoli had an old dear in the office
who passed final judgement of the Ooh-what-a-lovely-tone! variety before
the designs are signed off for production. It's deceptively large,
warm, valve-like, non-fatiguing and so good that it commits a delightful
sin: you may buy this for background music, but it will continually
make you stop and listen. It does not fade into the wallpaper.

Fed a diet of the sort of pop you'd hear from the radio, it sounded a
lot better with CD than I would have imagined. It's fast and crisp
without being edgy, and there was a reasonable semblance of a
soundstage, though the latter might be compromised by shelf placement
and the likelihood of blocking off the rear ports.

Eyes closed, there is no way you'd mistake this for the sort of
all-plastic dreck sold via mail-order and purporting to make good sound.
Limitations? The bass is a bit one-note and lumpy, but not as bad as
some budget small subs I've heard. Hell, it even handled Hot Chocolate's
'You Sexy Thing' without complaint. As for maximum levels, well, given
the size of the rooms it would be asked to fill, it goes loud enough for
most before audible break-up occurs. Emphatically and inescapably, an
audiophile could live with this as a second system. And certain flashes
of near-greatness occurred: the keyboard intro and hand claps on Bill
Withers' 'Lean On Me' were vivid, in the room, natural. Dylan's voice
had all the requisite textures, Aretha's the warmth, Cyndi Lauper's the
clarity. But...

For less money (and taking up less space), you could have Denon's
mind-blowing UD-M31 CD-receiver. Add to it a pair of baby Epos or
Wharfedale speakers, or even the Mission-made matching models, and you
can better the price of the Tivoli, enjoy all of its convenience, less
wiring, more flexibility, more power and vastly superior sound. What
you'd sacrifice, though, is wholly a lifestyle/aesthetic choice. Don't
get me wrong: the Tivoli Radio Combo is as 'magical' and charming as its
radio-only predecessor. But the competition between full-blown,
multi-source stereo systems - even compact ones - is far more fierce
than that between mono radios.

Then again, selling on style never hurt B&O.

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