Tivoli Audio Model One Digital (Gen. 2) review: One and done?
An upscale wireless speaker masquerading as a retromodern radio, the Tivoli Audio Model One Digital (Gen. 2) gives tuning in a tune up.
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The humble tabletop radio’s evolution kicked off in 2005 with the original analog Tivoli Audio Model One, a radio intended to bring clarity of design and signal. With furniture-grade wood, a fabric grille, and several functional knobs, the original Model One tuned into a very specific aesthetic and offered a similarly singular function. In 2017, the Tivoli Audio Model One Digital updated the original, tweaking the appearance and adding Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to the AM/FM capabilities. Now the Tivoli Audio Model One Digital (Gen. 2) keeps the first-gen’s retromodern cabinet while updating the very modern connectivity, offering the ease of AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast streaming in a stylish wireless speaker with superior sound.
What is the Tivoli Audio Model One Digital (Gen. 2)?
At its heart, the Tivoli Audio Model One Digital (Gen. 2) is still a large shoebox-shaped and -sized radio. Harkening back to another era, there’s an antenna tucked discreetly in the back that you can extend and listen to your favorite digital audio broadcast (DAB+) and FM stations. Beyond that, it’s one of the best speakers for a streaming audio enthusiast. Between AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast, the Tivoli Audio Model One Digital offers comprehensive support for Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer, YouTube Music, Pandora, etc., as well as Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, SlingTV, et al. If you’ve got the speaker connected to your Wi-Fi, you can even use Siri and/or Google Home voice controls for the Tivoli Audio Model One Digital (Gen. 2). What you won’t get, however, is a direct voice assistant response or pulsing LED feedback, as Siri, Alexa, etc., are not supported natively; this is a platform for maximized minimalists.
The Tivoli Audio Model One Digital’s design
Despite its very European-sounding name, Tivoli Audio was founded in Boston, Mass., by acclaimed audio engineer Henry Kloss and entrepreneur Tom DeVesto. The Tivoli Audio Model One Digital (Gen. 2)’s mid-century modern style, meanwhile, looks good on any continent or countertop. As cool alarm clocks go, the Tivoli Audio Model One Digital is a sexy little number and it knows it’s in the running for a top spot in the best bookshelf speakers: looks group. The unit is available in three colorways—Black Ash & Black, Walnut & Gray, and White & Gray—to fit seamlessly into any decor. The fabric front is eco-friendly. The two knobs on the front are both aluminum, although it’s the larger one that imparts an especially high-end vibe and tactile feel that awakens memories of how gear used to work as you spin it. That said, you will probably find yourself, like me, using the slim remote (included, with battery installed) to control the radio and alarm more than the knobs unless you’ve settled the Tivoli Audio Model One Digital right on your desk or next to your bed. Of course, if you’re streaming audio or Bluetooth radio you’ll be using your iOS or Android device for most playback options.
At 4.5 inches by 8.7 inches by 5.5 inches in size, sitting atop four small rubber feet, the rectangular speaker is small enough to fit into your home unobtrusively but big enough for a solid audio punch. And although it might be a stretch to call it portable in the same way the best Bluetooth speakers for pools, parties, and other outdoor exploits typically are, it’s easily transportable. It’s just 3.4 pounds—light enough to move from room to room without too much hassle, assuming you have a convenient outlet (there’s no battery power).
On the Tivoli Audio Model One Digital’s front are the single 3.5-inch full-range driver, the power and volume knob, and a digital readout of the time, naturally, as well as your stream or radio station. This display is surrounded by an aluminum ring that lets you access functions with a smooth turn followed by reassuring clicks. In addition to the aforementioned antenna on the back, there’s a 3.5mm auxiliary input for external audio sources, a set-up button, a mute button, a bass reflex port, a micro-USB port for servicing purposes, and the DC power port for the internal Class A/B amplifier. A couple small quibbles: The mute button sits in an unlikely spot, but owing to the fact that most people are likely controlling it from their phone or the remote, it seems a small quibble. Also, the white power cord might be better matched in color to the wireless speaker itself or just in a standard black or grey.
Setup and key features
Though the Tivoli Audio Model One Digital (Gen. 1) and Tivoli Audio Model One Digital (Gen. 2) look fairly similar externally, there are internal and operational differences. The main one is that instead of pairing with the Tivoli Audio ART App to get your speaker up and running, you’ll use either the Google Home app or an iOS device with AirPlay. This allows you to integrate the speaker into a multiroom audio setup regardless of ecosystem. It’s also important to note that the Gen. 2 hardware cannot connect over Wi-Fi with Generation 1 ART products, only with Gen. 2 or other AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast speakers. Automatic over-the-air (OTA) firmware updates keep the speaker up-to-date.
Almost as easy as just plugging it in
I popped my Tivoli Audio Model One Digital (Gen. 2) out of the box, plugged it in, and within minutes of downloading Google Home, I was streaming from Spotify via Chromecast without missing a beat. My new speaker came right up in my Apple podcasts app. And AirPlay kicked in with several radio stations apps that I use, too. Similarly, YouTube was easy to stream. All in all, streaming couldn’t be simpler. Setting up the alarm was probably the most difficult of the tasks and, like a few other things (like accessing the “settings” and “source”), it required the remote.
A surprisingly robust sound that’s as crisp as the speaker’s looks
Remember that surprise you get at a concert when that buttoned-up dude near the front of the stage starts the mosh pit? There’s a similar feeling of “wow” you’ll experience when you turn this demure-looking speaker all the way up. I cranked the volume, went two rooms away to brush my teeth, and the sound clarity still surprised me. Putting it to the test, I played Radiohead’s skronking “The National Anthem” way louder than most humans would in a small kitchen and the crusty, loping bass line did cause the attached rear antenna to shake a bit. Once I readjusted the antenna, however, that buzzing went away. And the ability to convey the full spectrum of processed bass didn’t break up other frequency regions, despite everything coming from one small speaker. Similarly, the velvety allure of Nightmare on Wax’s “Typical” transported me into Motown’s heyday. There’s an overall warmth to the response, but it’s not at the expense of crisp detail.
While it might not best a Sonos soundbar or select larger connected speakers in overall dynamics, the Tivoli Audio Model One Digital (Gen. 2)’s sound is damn good for its petite size. The balanced sound impresses at all but the loudest settings on all but the most punishing of songs. Wi-Fi audio makes this particularly clear because it comes in higher fidelity than lossy Bluetooth broadcasts. Would I want this to be my primary speaker for my home stereo or TV? No. It’s not stereo and not equipped for any modern surround sound formats (or the connections they require, such as HDMI). But as a room speaker (or even one to tuck into the car and take with you to a vacation rental), it’s more than adequate.
So, who should buy the Tivoli Audio Model One Digital (Gen. 2)?
Audiophiles looking for speakers that will fit effortlessly into their “Dwell”-approved home decor will want one of these “clock radios” nestled on their bedside table, another one perched amongst the art or design books in the library, and perhaps another on a shelf in the kitchen next to the Italian-designed barware. Even the simplest features—whether it’s an alarm or tuning into a radio station—feel both classier and best-in-class. But it’s not just about sexy looks. The relatively small speaker pumps out rich sound with little distortion, making it one of the best wireless speakers in the compact category. Anything you can hear on your smartphone, you can actually enjoy on the Tivoli Audio Model One Digital (Gen. 2).