Tivoli Audio is no newcomer to the audio space, having been in the market since 2000. And its latest entry, the Tivoli Audio Model One Digital Gen 2, recently sent out for review, goes a long way to showcase expertise that only decades of experience can impart.
The biggest selling points for this smart speaker are the design language, audio quality, and the plethora of features. Of course, as we’ll discuss, there are at least a few areas on both where I was disappointed. But setting those aside, this is ultimately a fantastic speaker that most would find to be well worth its cost.
So how does the Tivoli Model One Digital Gen 2 stack up to its competition under review? Let’s dive in and have a closer look.
Tivoli Model One Digital is a masterclass in intelligent, thoughtful design
The combination of real wooden panels, cloth fabric for the speaker grille, and metal accents made generation two of the Tivoli Model One Digital a joy to use during this review. For the asking price, it’s hard to imagine a better arrangement of premium materials. Or at least that’s going to be the case for those who love the retro-stereo aesthetics it brings with it.
Regardless, aesthetics and build quality are areas this smart home-connected speaker really shines. And the materials, feel, and functionality of it isn’t really done justice by the images here.
On the quality front, the company’s focus appears to have been both the screen and speaker. Albeit, not just because the former of those occupies the right-hand side of the device in a square panel format. While, conversely, the speaker occupies nearly the other half entirely.
The display shows time information, even when turned off, as well as the status of connectivity in the upper row. It also showcases exactly what’s playing in larger digital characters. So the interface here, in terms of visuals, is exactly as I’d expect any high-end stereo to be.
Conversely, the speaker grille blends seamlessly in with that, as does the power button/volume knob. The latter of which is centered between the fabric and the display in the bottom half of the cabinet. Both the power/volume knob and the larger, ring-style knob surrounding the display are firm and clicky. But each also turns smoothly and effortlessly.
As hinted above, the larger knob serves multiple purposes here. It’s used for controlling playback, including turning for seeking stations, rewind, fast-forward, skipping songs, as well as clicks to select from pre-set radio stations in FM mode.
Similarly, the power/volume knob and button, with single-tap actions, works to cycle through input modes.
Around the back, things are more subdued. Understandably so, since most users won’t ever be looking at that side of this gadget. The rear panel is effectively one flat, black plastic panel. The only real adornments are the model designation and branding elements. But that panel includes ports for service (micro USB), an Aux cable, power cable, and buttons for setup and muting the system.
That’s also where you’ll find the robust FM radio cable. The connector there attaches just like a coaxial cable. And that equates to a firmer fit with less jostle. But also aids in the quality of the signal this speaker can capture and the old-school aesthetic. Better still, Tivoli Model One Digital Gen 2 doesn’t just come in the “Walnut” coloration shipped out for my review. It also comes in black or white colorations, without losing any of its great aesthetics.
Tivoli Audio Model One Digital audio is good but is it $350 good?
Of course, since Tivoli Audio’s Model One Digital Gen 2 is a home smart speaker, there’s nothing to say in this review about battery life. It’s hardwired to the wall. And there’s no waterproofing or dust proofing to speak of either. But there is quite a lot that can be said about the audio quality. And not all of that is going to be good.
It’s important to note here that all of the tones were present and accounted for. And there was quite a bit of power behind them too, despite this speaker’s somewhat diminutive size. That’s in every song and genre I tested this speaker through — and almost every input mode I tested. With the sole exception to that being FM radio. Although that mode actually performed much better and with more clarity than I had expected for my region.
The real issue arises when comparing this smart speaker to others, some of which are in a different — and lower — price class.
My current primary audio setup for my upstairs living room is comprised of two Google Nest Audio speakers. Those are priced at around $99 per speaker and are paired together with smart home integration. Of course, the audio output from that arrangement doesn’t quite live up to the Model One Digital. The latter offers more stable leveling, balance, bass oomph, and clarity. But the difference here isn’t necessarily stark and I can push my Google smart speakers louder.
But, while hardly perfect, that arrangement is also around $150 less to buy than Tivoli’s offering. And, as noted above, the audio here is great. It just isn’t quite the leap forward I had expected going into this review of Tivoli Audio’s Model One Digital Gen 2. The most noteworthy improvement, in fact, seems to be that audio stability is near perfect, especially when comparing at lower and higher volumes.
For clarity, the audio quality here is approaching what I’d call ‘audiophile’. Although there were a few songs where the depth of sound appeared to drop during playback. Which could point to one or two frequencies where this speaker is weaker than I’d expect. Although that’s going to be difficult to objectively pin down over a short review period.
Most users aren’t going to notice a massive difference between this speaker and much more expensive speakers, aside from volume. This speaker has volume to spare and easily filled the upstairs level of my home, with plenty of that being audible downstairs too. Albeit, not quite as powerfully as I’d have liked.
The question of whether or not the extra cash for the Tivoli Audio offering is going to be worth it remains. And that’s something that won’t be decided on audio quality alone. That’s with one added caveat for those in the market for a $250 to $500 speaker. Summarily, you could certainly do a lot worse than the second-generation Model One Digital.
Special features abound but connections weren’t actually what I’d hoped they’d be
Now, as noted already above, Tivoli Audio’s Gen 2 Model One Digital is a smart speaker priced at $349.99. That’s approximately $250 more than Google’s Nest Audio. And, for the most part, the features and sound here more than account for the added cost. But there are several glaring issues with the features here too.
Most notably, and the biggest caveat for me and the way I have my smart home ecosystem set up, there are no mics on this gadget at all. And it doesn’t have Google Assistant built-in either. Those exclusions are, summarily, undeniably immense. Especially for anybody who wants a higher-end, truly smart speaker. I couldn’t directly ask this speaker to play anything at all. Integration with Google Home extends only to the ability to cast to the speaker.
What that meant, in my real-world use, is that I needed to either use my phone to control the speaker via voice or use another smart device. So, while I was able to control it via a Google Home speaker in the same room, that felt like it defeated the purpose, to begin with.
The other features and connectivity here are, in a word, extensive. And they each work exactly as I’d have wanted. In fact, to my ear, there wasn’t much difference between using Bluetooth, Aux-in, and Chromecast. At least not enough difference that most users would notice it. But that one missing feature kept me from truly falling in love with this speaker at its asking price.
Now, there are some upsides to the way the features have been implemented too. As noted already, Aux-in, Bluetooth, and Chromecast are options. And Tivoli includes FM radio hardware too, complete with an extendable antenna. And Tivoli ensured that all of that can readily be controlled using the touch-wheel surrounding the display face.
That method for control works just fine, for the most part. But the controls on-device simply aren’t as intuitive as I’d have hoped either. I actually needed to go in and actually read the manual on a couple of occasions. Of course, that isn’t too big an issue for those who will be using Tivoli Model One Digital Gen 2 in the long run. And getting everything connected only took a few moments, at any rate. But it’s worth being aware of the learning curve that many users will encounter here.
But my it was an issue for me during this relatively short-term review of Tivoli Model One Digital Gen 2. So there is going to be a learning curve there.
For intuitive control, we need to look closer at the included remote. As shown in the pictures in the hardware segment above, that provides one-press access to just about all of the features included with this speaker. And it does prove convenient for use outside of the above-mentioned Chromecast support.
Is Tivoli Audio Model One Digital Gen. 2 worth the cash?
Ultimately, whether or not Tivoli Audio’s Model One Digital Gen 2 is worth the asking cost will be subjective. From my perspective, this smart speaker comes so close to perfection for its price bracket that it would be irresponsible not to recommend it for anybody’s shortlist.
With that said, as this review shows, Tivoli Audio Model One Digital Gen 2 isn’t perfect either. And that’s summarily not because of the audio quality. While that could have been improved to some extent, it was better than I’d expected, given the speaker’s size. And given its price. I would have liked to see a bit more depth in the audio and better-standardized controls. And more importantly, access to an AI assistant on-device. But that’s a personal opinion.
Additionally, the pitfalls that were there from my perspective could be beneficial to at least some users. After all, not everybody wants a speaker that’s listening to every word they say. The added Chromecast feature does ensure that Wi-Fi playback is possible from a huge variety of services. And that’s setting aside support for FM radio, Aux-in, and Bluetooth.
Overall, the audio quality and connectivity options only fell slightly short of what I’d hoped for. But not far enough to make this speaker less worthy of its price tag. In fact, this speaker will be well worth the cost if it does just so happen to have the features you’re looking for. That’s even more pertinent if you’re not looking for a true AI-enabled smart home speaker. Or explicitly looking for one without the AI.