Tivoli Music System compact hi-fi

Tivoli's compact hi-fi is small, well featured and can produce clear, rich sound

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Tivoli Music System compact hi-fi
  • Tivoli Music System compact hi-fi
  • Tivoli Music System compact hi-fi
  • Tivoli Music System compact hi-fi

Pros

  • Solid build quality
  • Very good sound quality
  • Compact and convenient size

Cons

  • Remote is small and uncomfortable to use
  • Sleep time can't be customised
  • Only 6 radio presets

Bottom Line

The Tivoli Music System is tiny, yet it houses a good quality 2.1 speaker array, CD player, DAB radio, and more within the same wooden frame. It's solidly built, attractive, produces very good sound, and is well suited to a bedroom or small living room space.

Would you buy this?

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The Tivoli Music System is a small, integrated hi-fi that will work wonders in a bedroom or small-sized living room. It has all you need in a sturdy, good-looking wooden enclosure. You might balk at the over-$1000 price tag, but exceptional audio performance and build quality rarely come cheap.

What you get with the Tivoli Music System is a convenient hi-fi that features a CD player, FM radio, digital (DAB+) radio, clock and alarm features, Bluetooth, and, of course, built-in speakers. All this stuff is housed in a solid wooden box. It's a system that weighs about 6kg, and it's 36cm wide and 24cm deep. It's designed to sit on a sturdy piece of furniture, whether it's your TV cabinet, a buffet or any other type of structure that can provide ample space and a solid resting place for it (one that is free of vibrations). You can also make this thing a centrepiece considering how good it looks (we think so, at least).

The strong wooden cabinet is needed to house all the components, mainly because it includes a 2.1 speaker system, which, despite its small size, can really put out ample power. It will easily fill a bedroom or a small living room with clear, enduring sound, although the placement of the unit is crucial in order to get the best results. Ideally, you will want to place it where the listening position will be in front and not too far off to the sides of the unit, and you'll also want to give it a lot of space, rather than placing it in a bookshelf or up against a wall where the bass response from the rear-ported, down-firing 5.25in sub-woofer and the 3in full-range speakers can be affected.

Don't expect earth-shattering sound, and don't expect the bass to remain clear at the highest volume level (it won't), but do expect clear, relatively bright overall sound, and impressive low-end performance at modest volume levels. We found that the Tivoli Music System sounded best with the bass control at the back set to a central position, and we played most of our music with a +2 treble gain in order to give it a little more freshness — depending on the type of music you listen to, the sound can be a little flat from the small speakers. We were impressed with the results overall, and the more we used this system, the more we loved its sound. It has a built-in mode called SpacePhase Wide, which is used by default and makes the sound louder and wider. It's a mode that made for very satisfying listening compared to the standard stereo sound of the unit.

We tested with music of many different styles, but we found that it performed best with music that wasn't too biased towards one particular frequency. Rock music sounded especially good in this respect (think Soundgarden), and so did folk music (we used Spaccanapoli for our tests). That said, electronica (from Royksopp), sounded great after we adjusted the bass and treble levels a little. Music with low frequencies sounded best when the volume wasn't too high, which allowed the sub-woofer to represent the required notes without colouring them — we used The Herd's A thousand Lives (Sietta remix) for our listening session, at a volume level just over the halfway point, and we could actually feel the bass as we sat a few metres in front of the system.

At this point, we should mention the source options. Our favourite source when using the Tivoli Music System was Bluetooth. It comes with this built in, and it made it extremely simple to choose the music we wanted to listen to any time, and with a minimum of fuss. All we had to do was change the hi-fi source to Bluetooth, enable the function on our Android device (a Samsung Galaxy Note II), and pair them up. The whole process took a few seconds and we were then able to sit back, relax and choose tunes from our phone — it also worked fine from our test laptops. The drawback with this was that we had to sit no more than a few metres away from the Music System; the music will break up if you take your source device with you to the kitchen while the hi-fi is in the lounge, for example.

When we wanted to feel old-fashioned, we slid CDs into the Music System's slot (it can play MP3 CDs, as well). These played flawlessly, even when we inserted bass-heavy hip-hop and put the volume up as loud as we could without affecting the clarity of the sound. The hits and rumbles of the bass from the Tivoli's sub-woofer didn't cause vibrations, and the CD didn't jump even once. Where you place the Tivoli can affect this, though, and we placed ours on a thick, wooden buffet that isn't prone to vibrating.

Digital radio is supported (as is FM) and we found this function to be a joy to use, especially when we added our favourite stations to the list of presets (very easy to do by holding down the number buttons on the unit for a couple of seconds). The radio switched almost instantly from station to station when we used presets, though it took a second or two when we were just channel surfing. Depending on the information supplied by the station, the hi-fi's LCD display will show the name of the station and the program that's playing at the time.

More information can be obtained, such as signal strength, by pressing the 'info' button. Reception was good in our test location, although there was some interference when we stood in one particular spot at a diagonal angle to the hi-fi. There is an internal antenna and an external one that needs to be extended, and we used the latter because for the former didn't work in our environment.

You can easily listen to audio from an external MP3 player or any other type of audio source with an output by plugging it in to the Tivoli's AUX port (it's a 3.5mm stereo port). There is also a MIX port that comes in very handy if you want to plug in an external source and listen to it while also listening to one of the Tivoli's other sources — you can keep listening to digital radio while at the same time hearing sounds from a plugged in computer, for example. A REC port allows the output from the hi-fi to be recorded.

Using the Tivoli is easy. All of its functions can be controlled via the buttons on the front panel — though we felt the location of the power button blended in with the other buttons and should have been separated — and there isn't anything that requires setting up apart from the time and the alarms. There are two alarms that can be set, and there is a large snooze button that doubles as a mute button at the top of the unit. The clock can be read at all times, which is convenient, and the LCD display as a whole isn't harsh on the eyes. A battery compartment at the rear of the hi-fi takes two AA batteries and ensures that the clock and alarms work even if the unit loses mains power.

There are some things that could improved with this unit. The main one is the remote control, which is very thin and awkward to use. We'd prefer a larger remote with better-spaced and more tactile buttons. The remote that's supplied feels mis-matched considering how solid the actual hi-fi itself feels. The other things we'd like to see are a user-selectable sleep mode (it only defaults to 20min), a dimmer for the LCD screen and more than six radio presets.

The Tivoli Music System's price of $1199 may seem steep, but it represents a very well built, highly integrated and comparably tiny hi-fi that doesn't make many compromises when it comes to sound quality. In fact, it provides rich and clearly-defined sound that belies its small stature, and it's packed with features that give it great versatility: FM and DAB+ radio, alarm clock, CD, and Bluetooth. We think it's perfectly suited to a bedroom or small living room — and perhaps could even serve as a centrepiece in a modern living environment.

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