First Looks Special: Tivoli iSongBook Portable iPod Music System

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, 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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