What if you want hassle-free music and wireless streaming but you don’t want a fabric-jacketed orb, cylinder or pebble with its own voice and pulsating ring of light on your kitchen worktop? What if you want something that just looks like a (whisper it) normal radio but with AirPlay 2 and Chromecast built-in? Meet the Tivoli Model One Digital Generation 2.
It’s been over four years since Tivoli’s inaugural Bluetooth- and wi-fi-connected DAB/FM radio proposition, the original Model One Digital, first stole the hearts of avid wireless devotees (and by wireless here, we do mean radio). And its successor, the new Generation 2 update, we have here adds Google Chromecast and Apple AirPlay 2 streaming to the diminutive package.
AirPlay 2 and Chromecast – both reliable wireless technologies that easily let you play content from your mobile device through an external speaker – mean that the Tivoli can stream audio from all apps that support them, such as Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, Tidal and Deezer. It also plays ball with Alexa or Google Assistant voice control, too.
So, it’s basically a wireless streamer? Not at all. At its core, the Model One Digital Generation 2 remains a wi-fi radio, with DAB+/FM taking the reins and the aforementioned Chromecast, AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth connectivity its valuable passengers.
At £299 ($350, AU$449), the Gen 2 is just £20 ($50) dearer than the 2017-released Model One Digital. On the one hand, then, the addition of a Google Chromecast and Apple AirPlay 2, plus a remote control, has added value to this real-wood product. One could argue that the price was steep for a DAB radio to begin with – the Roberts Stream 94i, our current and five-time What Hi-Fi? Award winner, launched at a more palatable price tag but can now be found for quite a bit less. So it’s not cheap, then.
Build and features
The Tivoli Model One Digital Generation 2’s ideal environment might be the cover of Livingetc. backed by Farrow and Ball painted walls in a hue called 'Purbeck Stone'. Our walnut sample (it’s also available in a lighter cabinet with grey trim, or darker finish with black trim, both furniture-grade wood) has grey, eco-friendly fabric covering the speaker portion on the left of the cabinet, which comprises a Class A/B amplifier to drive a single long-throw 3.5-inch full-range driver. The central power/volume knob is cool aluminium, as is the bezel ring control around the display.
Press the small central knob to power on and select a listening source – there's FM/DAB, Bluetooth or wi-fi, remember – then switch to the bezel control to facilitate track-skips in Bluetooth and wi-fi modes, or to tune in when you’re listening to DAB or good old-fashioned FM radio. Want to add a station to your presets? Simply short-press the bezel, or double-press it to reload the DAB station list. For volume, it’s back to the central knob.
Around the back, you’ll find a small slotted bass reflex port, aux-in and DC power port (the Tivoli needs to be plugged in at all times). There are also two buttons; one mutes the speaker and the other labelled ‘setup’ enables it to be connected to a home network.
Four small rubber feet and a classic shiny, retractable antenna complete the look. Yes, it’s pricey for a DAB radio, but you can certainly feel the quality. In terms of size, it’s smaller than we had imagined – its footprint is closer to that of a paperback book rather than shoebox – but at just over 1.5kg of wood, aluminium and workmanship, it is reassuringly heavy and a pleasure to behold.
Dimensions (hwd) 11.5 x 22.2 x 14 cm
Connectivity DAB+/FM radio, Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, Google Chromecast, Apple AirPlay 2, Aux-in
The remote is a small plastic affair, but it is fully featured and functions very well as we use it to set the alarm, switch sources, access presets, tune the FM radio and scroll through DAB stations.
To set up the Model One Digital Generation 2, we select wi-fi as the source on the Gen 2, wait until the clear and classy screen reads “WiFi Setup Enabled” and use our iPhone to add the product to our wi-fi network as an AirPlay speaker. It’s simple and takes barely two minutes.
Anything that’s available on our iPhone can now be streamed on the Model One Digital Generation 2 over AirPlay 2. And what if someone comes over and wants to play a tune but you don’t feel like handing over your wi-fi password? They can hook up via Bluetooth.
Set the Model One Digital Generation 2 down, give the remote a few clicks, read the LCD screen as it calmly relays the time, the station and the track playing, and we defy you not to fall for it. If it sounds good too, it’ll be a home run for Tivoli...
Tuning in to good old Capital FM first, we extend the antenna and enjoy the time-honoured task coupled with the clean, neutral and very modern presentation as reward. Spoken voices are crisp and Mabel’s Don’t Call Me Up is grippy through the low end and snappy for timing. Keys through the treble before the chorus feel nicely three-dimensional.
We switch to DAB radio and use the remote to select BBC Radio Surrey. Julia Says by Wet Wet Wet is accurately relayed across the frequencies as the Generation 2 pays due diligence to Marti Pellow’s velvet, emotive vocals in a cohesive and pleasing mix. A historic news segment from Tomorrow’s World is played about the introduction of email, and the story sounds far more nuanced sonically here than we remember it, when it was first broadcast on TV in 1994.
The added joy of AirPlay 2 means that your Apple device can also be used as your volume control, albeit in increments of three rather than one (as with the on-unit dial or the remote), and as we cue up Fester Skank by Lethal Bizzle, we note that the Tivoli isn’t scared to go loud. At just 16 of a potential 40 clicks on the volume knob, the sound is more than enough for the neighbours to know about it, but it is still sonically regimented, particularly through the low end where we might have expected issues as we crank up the volume.
Considering the Tivoli is a relatively small, single-driver product, it would be churlish to think that it could challenge your main system for dynamic build and separation, but there’s more than enough detail and zeal to excite us as a secondary, stress-free source – and it is a truly likeable radio.
Our only minor gripe when using the Model One Digital Generation 2 concerns the user convenience, rather than the sound. It is a small issue, but during testing we note that, at times, rotating the large dial to select DAB stations can lag a tad and thus it can take a little while if you don’t know exactly what you’re in the mood for or you haven’t loaded up presets of the stations you love. And here you can store a maximum of six, where competing products offer up to 30 presets. That said, we really enjoy Tivoli’s winning little box of tricks.
With old-school radio feels and thoroughly modern AirPlay 2 and Chromecast, the Tivoli Model One Digital Generation 2 scores consistently high marks.
- Sound 5
- Features 5
- Build 5
Read our round-up of the best internet radios 2021
Read our review of the Award-winning Roberts Stream 94i
All you need to know about Apple AirPlay 2