Developer: Tivoli Audio
Requirements: iPod with dock connector
I have long been an admirer of Tivoli Audio’s products. I dig the postmodern retro styling of their designs, especially the wood cabinetry many of their models are clad in. Tivoli is one of those rare companies, much like Apple, that gets design.
I’ve been noting the many iPod music systems on the market, but none of has been particularly appealing. Most are simply portable speaker systems you plug your iPod into, with little more in the way of features. The iSongBook was the first of these systems that caught my attention, because it offered everything I was looking for.
Let’s get this out of the way so we can enjoy the rest of the review, shall we? The iSongBook is expensive, with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $330. A Froogle search yielded nothing available online below this price point. Granted, Tivoli’s iPod music system is full-featured and of the exceptional quality one would expect from a higher-end manufacturer like Tivoli. Still, I think a price over three hundred dollars is too much for most people, given what I didn’t like about the system. I think a price point of $199 would be reasonable.
Other than bedside clock radios, there are two audio systems in our home. The first is a Bose Lifestyle home theater system, located in the living room. The second is an Aiwa shelf stereo system, hooked up to my G4 Cube via an Onkyo USB audio processor, in the study. This is the frame of reference I’m working from when listening to the audio quality of the iSongBook.
Overall, the audio quality of the iSongBook is very good. It’s not great, because it doesn’t do well with low frequency output—that would be your heavy bass sounds. I would slot it in as way better than your average clock radio, but not as good as the Aiwa shelf stereo sitting in my study. And no wonder, since the Aiwa’s speakers have separate treble and bass, and are about two-and-a-half times as deep as the iSongBook.
Tivoli recommends, in the manual, that you turn your iPod’s equalizer off when using it in the iSongBook. I can confirm this is needed. Listening to the same rock song with the EQ on, at the same reasonable volume, was annoying versus with the EQ off.
The two aforementioned issues—the price and the lack of good low-frequency audio quality—keep the iSongBook from getting an Excellent rating, the highest that ATPM awards. Otherwise, I love the Tivoli iSongBook. It looks great, and has proven to be very versatile. My wife remarked that she likes how sleek it looks, and how it takes up very little space for the volume it is capable of producing. With its “iPod white” fascia, it looks great on the island in our kitchen. We can crank the volume to 20 and easily fill the entire downstairs with music.
Like many Tivoli Audio products, the iSongBook features the distinctive singular speaker in the front, but your purchase includes a second speaker that attaches to the main unit for the full stereo experience. It has a very slick docking attachment, including a built-in cable roll-up, and the second speaker can be placed up to six feet away from the main unit. Looking at the front of the unit, the second speaker attaches to the right. The speakers are shielded, to protect your iPod and any other gear that may react negatively to the presence of magnets.
The iPod dock is on the left, and flips down from the main body. The iSongBook comes with a kit of seven different adapter cups for the iPod dock. The manual has a list that shows which adapter to use depending on which model iPod you’re using.
Unlike other iPod stereo docking units, the iSongBook has an AM/FM tuner built in, with a telescoping antenna. It got excellent reception on the full range of stations we listen to on both bands, including a particular AM station that tends to come in worse at night. There are five preset buttons on the front of the unit, so you can plug in five FM stations, and five AM stations. At the end of the row of preset buttons are tuning buttons. A headphone jack is on the upper left side of the unit, which accepts the 1/8-inch stereo male mini connector.
The iSongBook is powered in one of two ways. First, there is a 12-volt DC external power supply included. Second, the unit takes six AA batteries. Tivoli thought of everything, however, and not only can you use NiCad or NiMH batteries instead of alkalines, but the iSongBook will also charge those batteries when the power supply is connected. There is a switch on the rear of the unit that you set depending upon which type of battery you choose to use. The iSongBook also charges the iPod in the dock when power is connected.
The small digital display is located in the upper left of the front of the iSongBook, and shows the time when the unit is off. When on, the function dominates the display: “iPod” if switched to the iPod function, the station number if switched to AM or FM. The time then reverts to a smaller font in the upper right of the display. A blue backlight has an on-demand button on the front of the unit, as well as on the credit card-style IR remote. The remote duplicates the iPod’s controls, but you are unable to switch from listening to the iPod to the radio from the remote. This is due to classic Tivoli design with regard to the manual knob on the unit. The knob has four settings: Off, FM, AM, and iPod/Aux.
The iSongBook comes with an alarm function, and with the second speaker detached it makes a great bedside clock radio. The well-written manual details the alarm setup, which is very easy. You can choose to wake up to the radio station of your choosing, or any song on your iPod. Should you choose the latter, you’ll have to navigate to the specific song, press Play, then instantly press Pause. The other alarm caveat I ran into was if you’ve set the alarm, then change the function knob to something else, like from iPod to FM, the alarm is cancelled. This makes sense, given the interface Tivoli chose for the iSongBook, but I thought it worth mentioning.
One area Apple continues to dominate in is product design. People do care about design, about aesthetics, and Tivoli Audio gets this, too. If my wife, who normally doesn’t pay as much attention to such details, is telling me, unsolicited, how much she likes a product because of its design, I had better listen. Tivoli has a hit on its hands with the iSongBook; I just wish it would lower the price.