First Looks Special: Tivoli iSongBook Portable iPod Music System

First Looks Special: Tivoli iSongBook Portable iPod Music System 1

We’ve been hoarding most of our newest discoveries for our Holiday 2005 Buyers’ Guide (coming next week), but something arrived today that was too interesting not to show off straight away. Though it hasn’t gone through our rigorous testing yet, Tivoli Audio’s iSongBook ($329) may well wind up becoming the premium iPod speaker buyer’s pick of choice. Put aside the price for a moment, and just take a quick gander at the checklist of features it offers.

First Looks Special: Tivoli iSongBook Portable iPod Music System 2

First, there’s the Tivoli name, which inspires a lot of passion amongst the audiophile crowd, and the styling, which shares a lot in common with the company’s earlier iPAL speaker for the iPod. You still get the (largely) waterproofed silver and white enclosure, rubberized knobs and port covers, and metal speaker grilles. Well, that last part is one letter inaccurate. With iPAL, you got one speaker grille. With iSongBook, you get two.


First Looks Special: Tivoli iSongBook Portable iPod Music System 3

There’s not only a second speaker, but Tivoli’s actually made it detachable – a holy grail of sorts for dedicated iPod speaker design. Then, as you’ll notice on the left, there’s an iPod dock – not just any iPod dock, but a true “universal dock,” as Apple has put it, and the first one we’ve seen on a third-party accessory. Tivoli includes seven Dock Adapters (1-7, for those keeping count since our review of the Apple Universal Dock), which is enough to cover every size of iPod from 3G to 4G and mini. iPod nano and 5G owners get Dock Adapters with their iPods.

First Looks Special: Tivoli iSongBook Portable iPod Music System 4

Tivoli’s dock flips down from iSongBook’s side, and like Apple’s Universal Dock, inserting or removing different-sized Dock Adapters is a snap. If you don’t want the dock down, just fold it back up into the speaker enclosure.

First Looks Special: Tivoli iSongBook Portable iPod Music System 5

The two speakers are connected to one another through a retractable cable on the right speaker’s back. Winding and unwinding the cable is a manual process – better, in our view, than a cheap spring-loaded mechanism – and provides roughly 6 feet of separation between the right speaker and the iSongBook enclosure. Attaching the speaker to the system relies on metal nubs and rubberized ports, a good choice for a sturdy fit.

First Looks Special: Tivoli iSongBook Portable iPod Music System 6

A quick study of iSongBook’s rear reveals a large battery compartment, which is sealed with a screw on the unit’s bottom, ports for power and an auxiliary input, and an antenna. A headphone port is on the unit’s left side above the universal dock.

First Looks Special: Tivoli iSongBook Portable iPod Music System 7

The battery compartment yields only one disappointment by comparison with iPAL, which featured a rechargeable battery: six AA batteries are used to provide power. Truthfully, it’s hard to complain much about this, given that iSongBook actually runs off of batteries, which is more than can be said for certain other speaker systems in its class.

First Looks Special: Tivoli iSongBook Portable iPod Music System 8

And what can iSongBook do when powered on? There’s a digital AM/FM radio on board, tuned via a backlit LCD screen. Five presets are available for AM and FM, plus an alarm, a sleep timer with a 20-minute countdown, and a digital volume knob that runs from 0 to 30. On the far left center of the system is a dark red circle, which interfaces with the included remote control.

First Looks Special: Tivoli iSongBook Portable iPod Music System 9

The remote’s more sophisticated than your average, say, Apple Remote. There are full iPod play/pause, track, album, and playlist controls, system volume and mute controls, tuning and preset buttons for the radio, a backlight button, and an off button that works when the iPod’s connected to shut down playback.

Expect our full review soon, but in the meanwhile, here are a few other notes: total system volume is dramatically enhanced by the presence of the second speaker; the system is a lot quieter without the second speaker attached. We very much like the look and feel of the whole system, which has evolved nicely from iPAL (and obviously shares a lot in common with the company’s standard SongBook, as iPAL did with its PAL predecessor). And audio quality? We’re going to have to test more. Because of its thin cabinet, it’s hard to imagine that this will stack up to the rich bass of the cavernous, milk carton-sized PAL, but we’ll see.

  1. Hi Jeremy,
    Jon Schwartz from Tivoli Audio here. Thank you for your first look at the new iSongBook. Please note in addition to playing with AA alkaline batteries, the user can also load NiMH or NiCAD batteries and the iSongBook will automatically charge them using its built in recharging system.
    It is important to note the iSongBook will also charge the iPod. Thanks again for your first look in to the iSongBook!

  2. whoa this looks nice. it seems to be giving ppl what they’re paying for, as opposed to some other pricey systems. hopefully the sound quality is up to par. anxiously awaiting the full review!

  3. Yes Jon – for readers, it’s worth adding that the iSongBook has a switch that lets you flip between rechargeable and standard battery mode, but still doesn’t include the rechargeable battery as iPAL did.

    The unit we received came in a final box but not with instructions, so a few of these little things are “discover by testing” features 🙂

  4. The instructions for the iSongBook can be found here:

    As I type this, I’m listening to my 4G iPod over my Tivoli PAL. I also have a Tivoli Model One (at the office) and a Tivoli Model Two (which replaced an Onkyo system – the Tivoli sounds better and takes up a lot less space). Now I seriously want an iSongBook!

    I anxiously await iLounge’s review. I’m very curious to know how the sound compares to the PAL. I also look forward to your battery endurance tests. I get 10+ hours on my PAL if I keep the volume at a reasonable level. If you test with rechargeable NiMH, please tell us the brand and mAh rating.

  5. i was reading the isongbook manual (pdf from Tivoli website) when you unplug the right speaker the isongbook changes automatically to mono with left and right channels coming from the left speaker.

    I’m thinking this would probably save power when you wanted to go portable and when stereo makes less sense like outdoors.

  6. The iSongBook looks very nice. We love our iPAL and use it everday–great sound indoors and outside. The best accessory for our iPAL was the black canvas (long-strap) carrying case with pockets for cables and iPod. Any plans for a similar carrying case for the iSongBook?

  7. So when are these shipping to retailers?

    I just spoke to Magnolia A/V here in town, and though they show the product in their database, they don’t list any arrival date.

    As with others above, are you going to make it in any other colors than white or even the iPod-predictable black? I’m sort of partial to the silver that the regular SongBook comes in (fact is, some around here might say that grey matches my personality to a T).

  8. Tivoli has the design distinction of “staunch utilitarian funk.” They are but one of the few that can still incorporate wood in a product, as they do without the melancholic retro, and only make me want it more. Quality-built, great sound, undeniable virtually timeless hallmark design…hard too beat. If only there were more like Tivoli; I can only dream.

  9. Gents,

    I agree, this is fantastic, exactly the sort of unit I’ve been waiting for. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE — release a black model as well. Something that replicates the newer “glossy” finish Apple introduced with the Nano would be incredible. I and my black 5G-sporting friends would snap these up faster than you could make them. (Well, almost ;^) ).

  10. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for too; I strongly second the opinion to make this in a finish to match the black iPods. Very impressive that it can take rechargeable batteries!! If it sounds as good as it is supposed to I’ll buy it in a heartbeat.

  11. … although it still doesn’t look as cool as the iPAL. that wee beast is one of the most beautifully designed things in the entire world. period.

  12. I was thinking of getting my son the JBL Onstage for his dorm room, but this looks pretty nice. Anyone have any comment on the JBL vs. this?

  13. I have to say that I would also like to see a black model to match my black iPod.

    Jeremy, in the review please comment on the backlight on the clock. I would like to know how bright it is in the dark. I’m thinking of getting this instead of the iHome for my bedroom and wouldn’t like the bright light when the room is dark at night.

  14. hi Jon Schwartz and Jeremy

    thanks for the review! this looks fantastic. I guess the only thing that’ll stop me buying one is that I bought an iPAL about a year ago. Honestly, it’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. We’ve just moved house, and my stereo and CDs have been packed away for a few months whilst we’ve been in transit. My iPod and iPAL have been my only source of music, and you couldn’t ask for a nicer combo. The iPAL’s sound is just fantastic.


    Lawrence Mikkelsen

  15. Jon Schwartz from Tivoli Audio here again. Thank you for your enthusiasm for our products including the new iSongBook!

    In reply to several questions posted here:

    Tivoli Audio is considering releasing a Limited Edition iSongBook in Glossy Black, the ETA is to be determined.

    The iSongBook Carry Bag will be available in 30 days. It is designed in such a way to use the iSongBook and universal flip down dock without taking the unit out of the Carry Bag.

    Battery endurance is subjective to volume playback level, music content (bass uses more power) and the type and conditioning of the batteries used. Our tests using FM music playing both speakers with the volume setting at 20 offered an average of 13.5 hours using conditioned rechargeable Energizer 2300mA NiMH batteries and 15.5 hours using Energizer alkaline AA batteries.

    With iSongBook we know you’ll enjoy your music in full stereo for many hours at a time, playing in single speaker mode (summed L&R) will extend playback capability.

    The iSongBook is currently shipping to Dealers in North America, for a list of authorized Tivoli Audio Dealers please visit

    The Apple Video iPod will not record FM via the iSongBook’s universal dock, although iSongBook does offer a stereo output.

    Thank you for your interest and comments!

  16. A black iSongbook will be cool… Though i am perfectly happy with a white one if i can get my hands on one now:) since i have a white 4th Gen 60G iPod and a black 60G iPod video. I will used the white iPod for the iSongbook. I have great experience with Tivoli products and very impressed by the original songbook at the BayBloorRadio hifi store. I have already preordered an iSongbook from the BayBloorRadio in Toronto 🙂

  17. I would have put the drop down universal doc on the front of the unit. Putting it on the side adds unnecessary width to the product taking much more nightstand, desktop, countertop realestate. This would require rearranging some of the butons/nobs but I can’t imagine it being too difficult. There is plenty of space on the top of the unit.

  18. Thank you Jon for the quick response to my inquiry about the Carry Bag. Reviews of the iSongBook’s sound quality have been very good, too. Looks like you have created a very fine upgrade to my our trusty iPAL.

  19. As a dedicated Tivoli Audio customer (we have 3 Model Ones, a Model Two w/subwoofer and and iPAL scattered throughout the house…) I’d like to add that one of the great strengths of Tivoli products for me is the tremendous sound quality and resolution you get at very moderate volume. You can play your music in the office or late at night and still get very satisfying, detailed, full sound. This has the great advantage of not disturbing coworkers and providing non-fatiguing sound that you can listen to for long periods without strain. The iSongBook looks to be a fabulous addition to a product line without peer. Nice work Tivoli Audio – was almost ready to take the Bose plunge and you’ve saved me again!

  20. Will the iPod charge if the Tivoli is running off battery power? It would be nice if when plugged into the wall it would charge the iPod and when running on battery power it would not charge. No sense in wasting the battery on the iPod when you want the Tivoli to last as long as possible on one set of batteries.

    Or perhaps a switch to choose whether the iPod should charge or not?

  21. The backlight on the unit has two settings: on or off.

    It’s hard to make direct comparisons with iH5’s light (3 positions) because the company has apparently tweaked the backlight since the unit we received for review. iSongBook’s is not as bright as iH5’s at maximum power, but still highly visible.

  22. There is mention that a black version of the isong book was possibly in the works. I want to purchase one of the units but would really prefer the black and am willing to wait. If anyone could give me a little more insight into whats happening and the time frame I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks!

  23. I have examined several “options” for home iPod listening and decided that the Tivoli iSongBook is my best choice–especially now that it’s in black. I find, however, that Tivoli still does not provide any sort of “carry case” or protective cover for travelling. Hope that will be coming soon.

  24. Does this have an alarm and if so does it have a seperate alarm volume? Does it have a sleep timer? I need something like this for my office but am wondering if I should have this as well for my bedroom radio/alarm clock or if I am best getting a IH5 for that or a JBL On time. Anyone have any thoughts?

  25. I also have the iPAL and could not be happier with it. I am thinking of purchasing the songbook but I need to know if the second speaker can be detached and used as a separate speaker. My wife travels to Japan often and needs a speaker to attach to her iBook for movie watching, Thanks.


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