Tivoli Audio Music System Home

Tivoli Audio Music System Home
100% human

Stylish, and surprisingly smart, the Tivoli Audio Music System Home is a sort-of-retro-but-not-really all-in-one music system for the home.

Tivoli Audio Music System Home features

The Tivoli Audio Music System Home is kind of unique. It packs a stereo amplifier and stereo speakers into a box that’s 410mm wide, 221mm tall and 165mm deep. In there also is CD player, a network music player, a Bluetooth receiver and a full radio receiver.

Let me pause on that full radio receiver for a moment: it has DAB+, FM and AM. It is extremely rare to see AM included in a device that also offers DAB+.

The body is supported by four angled aluminium legs. It’s available in a walnut, black or white. The review unit was walnut, which meant it had a wraparound walnut veneer (or is it full timber? I couldn’t be sure) on the sides, top, bottom and back. At the back is an Ethernet connection, a 3.5mm analogue audio input and a 3.5mm line output. There is not an optical digital audio input, so the most natural way of connecting a modern TV is missing. There’s a connection there also for the included AM antenna and another for the pre-attached telescopic antenna for the DAB+ and FM tuners. You can undo that one and connect a cable for an outside antenna.

And, of course, since it’s 2019 the unit supports Bluetooth. It also supports network audio, but not Apple Airplay.

Tivoli Audio Music System Home

Setting up

The four short legs upon which the unit rests aren’t pre-installed. They have a kind of spring-loaded catch to hold them in place. Jamming them in far enough for this to grab took a bit of effort.

I put off setting up the Wi-Fi network for a while and just plugged in Ethernet. But later when I was trying to explore the Alexa compatibility, I could find no settings in the app to get it going so figured I’d better see if it worked with a Wi-Fi connection.

The documentation says that to setup Wi-Fi and to set up Alexa you have to install the “Tivoli Audio Wireless App” on your iOS or Android device. I went to the app store. There is no “Tivoli Audio Wireless App”. Nor is there one in the Play Store.

But there was in both stores a “Tivoli Audio ART App” and a “Tivoli Remote”. Which one? The latter’s details were clear about which models it worked with, and the Tivoli Audio Music System Home wasn’t among them. So, the ART app it was. A little reluctantly. In the App Store it has a rating of just one star out of five. In the Play Store it gets a mediocre 2.5 stars.

Still, you do what you have to do.

Setting up Wi-Fi on the Tivoli Audio Music System Home

Setting up Wi-Fi used the common method of connecting to a temporary Wi-Fi access point established by the Tivoli Audio Music System Home. Then you tell it which access point you want it to use (2.4GHz only) and feed it the network password. That worked well. When I returned to the ART app, it said that a new firmware was available. Did I want to update it? Yes, but it still took a little digging around in the app menu to find the place to do it. The upgrade took about ten minutes, principally due to a fairly slow download.

Which raises the question: why wasn’t the upgrade offered when I was using the wired network connection?

Then it was time to set up a Zone. Tivoli Audio wireless stuff can be operated in zones. This zone consisted of one speaker. The app gave a mini tutorial and suggested I select a music source. And there was the setup function for Alexa. This required activation.

When activated, “Party Mode” doesn’t work. That’s a mode where you have multiple Tivoli speakers. Party Mode takes over them all so that they play the same music, regardless of zone settings.

Activating Alexa turned out to involve downloading and installing another firmware update. This one seemed to take longer.

Using the Tivoli Audio Music System Home

Initially there look to be only two controls on the Tivoli Audio Music System Home: two knobs, both of which can also be pushed. The left one is for volume and cycling through source selection. The right one is for adjustments.

But there’s another big control. The aluminium bezel around the central display can also be turned and pressed. Its function varies according to mode. Rotate to the right during CD play to skip a track, press to play or pause, press and hold to eject. And so on. This works smoothly. You can also control stuff with the slim remote control that comes with the unit. Or with the ART app to some extent.

There are also some small push buttons on the back for things like the aforementioned Party Mode.

Tivoli Audio Music System Home

Playing music

I pulled a couple of CDs down off the shelf for the first time for a couple of months – I generally stream music from my NAS these days. The CD slot grabbed CDs readily. If you eject a CD and then don’t remove it within a minute or so, it’s sucked back inside.

You can set presets for the radio and then readily select them from the ART app. The app and Tivoli Audio Music System Home can allegedly stream music from TIDAL and Spotify amongst others. I have no idea how. When I tapped on Tidal in the Sources list, the app took me to something called “speechdump.wav”, which may be a recording I made on my phone. I tapped on that and it showed the screen for whatever music was then playing on the unit. When tapped on Spotify, it took me to the Spotify app, but the Tivoli Audio Music System Home wasn’t shown as an available speaker in there.

Left: what happened to TIDAL? Right: app showing music playing from CD on unit.

Hmmm. Other sources perhaps?

I could play music that was on my phone using the app. But when I went to “Additional Sources: Network Devices / Servers”, there was nothing in the list, nor an apparent way to specify them. I downloaded the manual and there was nothing in there about how to set it up. Then, a couple of hours later a list did appear, but when I tapped on one of the network music sources, a message came up saying “Zone unreachable.” In fact, the same message was shown for each of the sources.

I think I can see why the app is rated at 1 or 2.5 stars. Around then I gave up on it.

(Note: perhaps all this had some kind of solution. But the system was due for pickup the next day and I ran out of time to try exploring further. Anyway, a system like this should just work. I’m pretty experienced and persistent with such systems. This would be truly troubling for a regular consumer who’d paid a lot of money for this svelte bit of kit.)

There was actually no problem with playing network music. The Tivoli Audio Music System Home makes a good DLNA Renderer. That is, you can use any of a dozen programs on Android, and some on the iPhone, to send music to the unit via DLNA. And it plays well. But it does seem to be limited to 44.1kHz/48kHz content. None of my high-resolution stuff worked.

Left: Alexa required a new firmware; Right: app wouldn’t play back my network music

Listening

The sound produced by the Tivoli Audio Music System Home was quite remarkable in view of the unit’s size.

By dint of some careful placement of ear to different parts of the front panel, I determined that each side had both a tweeter and a woofer. Well, I’m ninety percent sure that’s the case. And with this combination of drivers and careful digital control of the signal, the system manages to sound much larger than it is. That’s most evident in the bass. In track after track there was remarkably weighty and extended bass. In tracks from the album Synchronicity by The Police, Sting’s bass guitar is clean and powerful. This came through remarkably well on the Tivoli Audio Music System Home.

The rest of the sound was nicely balanced as well. There wasn’t much in the way of stereo spread, which isn’t surprising given that the left and right speakers are only centimetres apart. The volume levels were sufficient for fairly loud listening in a good-sized room. In general, there was good dynamism, with drums being clearly reproduced within the music mix.

Tivoli Audio Music System Home

Digging into the bass

But I want to return to the bass again, because that was a standout. You will see below that my measurements suggest that the electronics in the Tivoli Audio Music System Home monitor the signal and adjust it to kind of maximise performance while avoiding damage. So after I did those measurements I decided on some torture tests. First, I played a Chinese orchestral piece called “Overture of the Dagger Society Suite”. The opening section repeats each conclude with a mighty strike on a massive Chinese bass drum. With big powerful speakers the percussive impact is intense, if they can take it. And the after tones of exceptionally deep bass are revealing.

Played on the Tivoli Audio Music System Home, the strike of the drums was really quite muted, and not particularly laden with bass. But the deep after-tones were present, with truly deep rumbling for an instant after the strike.

Tivoli Audio Music System Home

Drums amazing, cannons not so much

Then I tried the famous original Telarc digital recording (from 1978) of the Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Famous? Perhaps infamous is the better word. The cannons in this recording are probably the most difficult-to-reproduce elements ever committed to the bits of a CD. (The LP version was bad enough, but the CD had the level of the cannon increased.)

I played this back at full volume on the Tivoli Audio Music System Home. (The average level of modulation is quite low to leave room for the cannons.) The early section of the music has a bass drum, lushly recorded as was Telarc’s wont. Was delivered with decent power and fullness. The cannon? There was no discernible bass in the blasts.

Clearly the processing identifies the elements of the music potentially dangerous to the system and reduces their bass content. But if the bass is low enough in level to not pose a danger, through it comes.

That’s extreme stuff. I went back to something a little more mainstream to remind myself of how the unit performed with regular music. Pearl Jam’s Lightning Bolt was delivered with excellent tonal balance, good dynamics, and a very creditable kick drum.

Tivoli Audio Music System Home measurements

If I was startled by the amount of bass I heard emanating from this compact unit, I was even more surprised by the measured amount. I used a white noise (the same average level at all frequencies) test signal with the microphone close to the woofer. Measuring at any distance and you’re measuring the room as much as the speaker. That’s why properly equipped loudspeaker makers employ anechoic chambers. These don’t reflect sound.

Back to the Tivoli Audio Music System Home. What surprised me? How about a bass output that was essentially even from 500 hertz down to 28 hertz. That’s not a typo. To be clear, the output starts to diminish a little below 40 hertz so that the output at 28 hertz was down by 3dB.

I’ve measured many subwoofers incapable of reaching down that far.

Now, there can be problems if a smallish woofer is called upon to deliver too much deep bass. It’s clear that the Tivoli Audio Music System Home digitally tailors the sound to avoid this. Below 28 hertz, the output is cut hard. Loudspeakers handling sound naturally roll off far more gently into the bass. This one is down by a further 6dB at 25 hertz, and more than 24dB at 20 hertz.

I conducted that measurement with the output set to 30 on the 40-point scale. So I re-ran it at 40. Now the output shoulder at 28 hertz was down by 7.5dB from the mid-bass, compared to the 3dB of the earlier measurement. Clearly the signal processing takes into account the playback level.

Bass output (ignore upper frequencies – not captured properly because of microphone placement): Top with volume setting of 30, bottom with setting of 40.

Conclusion

The quality, volume and depth of the sound product by the Tivoli Audio Music System Home is simply astonishing. And it’s quite out of proportion to the unit’s size. Sure, using some recordings I’ve carefully hoarded over the decades I can catch it out on a couple of things. But, hey, to properly hand that 1812, you’re looking at one very big system, and one that won’t leave you much change out of $20K.

But the Tivoli app is tremendously frustrating. I suppose TIDAL and Spotify might work for some. But they wouldn’t for me. And as I’m finalising this review, I’m listening to music delivered from TIDAL on a Denon audio streamer, so I know TIDAL works.

More details on the Tivoli Audio Music System Home here. Our previous coverage of Tivoli Audio here.

Features
Value for money
Performance
Ease of use
Design
Astonishing sound, especially bass
Very stylish
Elegant front-panel control system
Couldn’t get TIDAL or Spotify to work
Couldn’t get app to play local network sources
4.3