If you’re in the market for a small form factor radio that can act as an external speaker for a computer, iPod or other audio source, there is no shortage of choice. The iPod can be credited with the incredible explosion of these products that range from the cheap and cheerful to the gorgeous and extravagant. But before the iPod became a household word, Tivoli Audio was already hard at work trying to create great sound from a small package. Their first, and arguably finest effort, is the Model One. Tivoli Audio recently re-introduced this product and I welcomed the opportunity to spend some time with it.
Designed in conjunction with the late audio engineering legend Henry Kloss, this simple, single-speaker AM/FM radio eschews both the feature set and high-gloss looks of its competitors, focusing instead – somewhat single-mindedly – on high fidelity sound and superb radio station reception.
The very first thing you notice about the Model One, before ever turning it on, is the unit’s incredibly solid build and quality of fit and finish. It weighs far more than you’d expect for something with such a small footprint. It has the same heft as a small home theatre surround speaker. The substantial mass comes from the 3" full-range speaker, solid wood enclosure and the internal power supply – no external AC adapters required.
Once powered on, the next thing that hits you is the sound that the Model One creates. It’s hard to describe, but others have called it "rich", "warm", "full" and "deep". They’re all true. Most people who listen to it have a hard time believing the sound they’re hearing is coming from one tiny little radio.
Increasing the volume brings out even more detail in the source material, be it radio or other. You can easily fill an entire room with sound without even a hint of distortion.
The controls are all analog dials – two small knobs for volume and input, and a much larger dial for AM and FM tuning. The tuning knob reminds me of my father’s high-end Pioneer receiver from the late 70’s. It too sported a tuning knob so inviting, I was routinely reprimanded for playing with it without permission. I have a hard time keeping my hands off the Model One’s knobs.
Around the back, you’ll find mini-jack inputs for external antennas and auxiliary audio, as well as outputs for both headphones and an external recording device. The latter is levelled and balanced audio – unaffected by the volume control. Much to my surprise and delight, these are commercial-grade mini-jacks with superbly-snug all-metal fittings. Unlike so many of these kinds of jacks found on everything from phones to MP3 players, Tivoli’s are built to last. Also, there is a coaxial connection for an FM antenna and a DC power supply jack, though the unit only ships with an AC cable.
I’ve been delighted with the Model One in our kitchen. We placed it immediately beside our 19" LCD TV, whose puny internal speakers have always disappointed, despite their stereo sound. Now, we run the TV’s audio through the Model One and find that the lack of stereo separation is more than compensated for by the single speaker’s incredible sound. Dialog is especially enhanced by the rich tones that the unit is capable of.
Do I have any criticisms of the Model One? Well, a few come to mind and I’ll list them here, but I’m aware that most fans of Tivoli’s minimalist Model One will dismiss them as the rants of someone who has clearly missed the point.
As I mentioned, I love the tuning knob. However, I’m an impatient radio listener and prefer to hop between my favourite 5 stations when I hit commercials. A digital tuner with presets would be a welcome relief from the sometimes painstaking task of dialling in a station manually.
Finally, the price, at a MSRP of $149 seems a tad high when you look at the Model One’s feature set, especially when you put it up against some of the units coming out of Asia. But, as with anything, you get what you pay for. The Model One is clearly designed by and for people who agree with the sentiment "do one thing and do it well". In this regard, the Model One is in a class by itself.