The Tivoli Audio iSongBook Portable iPod/Radio Stereo Speaker System Page 2
Two sound quality characteristics were readily apparent: the iSongBook is amazingly clear and intelligible, and it's got very little bass.
I listen to quite a bit of news radio, and nothing makes me more ornery than a radio that can't enunciate. So often the colorations from the flimsy plastic cabinetry on boomboxes and table radios make it very difficult to hear and understand voices clearly. Not so with the iSongBook, this little radio is crystal clear. I simply never had a problem understanding the talking heads.
More impressive was that when used as a stereo listening system, the iSongBook did deliver surprisingly good imaging. I would have thought that two 2 1/2" speakers with ample opportunity for close first reflections off the desktop surface would have presented a very poor image. I was wrong. The iSongBook delivers a very nice sense of space, indeed. No, not the kind of pinpoint, holographic imaging delivered by my $2000 Harbeth HL-P3ES-2 mini-monitors, but far, far better imaging than any portable radio I've ever experienced. To this day, I'm still surprised and satisfied when I sit down in front of it.
The tonality is likewise surprisingly good...to a point. Above about 100Hz the iSongBook seemed quite neutral but for a slight high treble emphasis. Not bright or harsh, mind you, it just seemed to add a bit of pleasant sparkle. Below about 100Hz the response fell off like a rock; and by 70Hz the sound was all but inaudible. If you're at all used to a good set of mini-monitors, however, you'll know that lack of bass can be forgiven if all else is good, and the midrange clarity and dynamics were quite good. I did hear a mild honky coloration, but when I lifted the speakers off the desktop surface, it completely changed. Placing the speakers on some short desktop speaker stands slightly improved the imaging and clarity; but it also lost the desktop's acoustic gain in support of the low notes--which helps quite a bit with these small speakers. My point here is that it's the surrounding acoustics mainly contributing to this system's colorations, and less due to any acoustic failings of the design and construction of the iSongBook.
The other place where sound quality dropped off was when playing at high volumes. The iSongBook does manage to play louder than one might expect, but the little 2.5" drivers have a tough time filling the back yard without sounding compressed. They do fine filling a room with satisfying music, but this is no party speaker.
Grins and Gripes
My public radio station (Yellowstone Public Radio) signal is pretty weak, and I regularly have trouble tuning in with run-of-the-mill boomboxes. The iSongBook seemed to have good sensitivity, easily locking into the stereo mode without significant noise. We don't have a lot of stations up here in Montana, so I can't really speak to the selectivity of the tuner.
Tivoli does make a powered sub-woofer and many of their products have dedicated sub-woofer output. The iSongBook unfortunately doesn't. Man! I would have loved to try that; I gotta believe the iSongBook would sound great with a nicely matched sub.
Tivoli does offer an optional carry case for the iSongBook. While the extra speaker fits snugly into the main unit, it is a friction fit without a positive locking mechanism and may be prone to detaching if jostled. The carry case would prevent this, and I recommend it if you'll be traveling often with the unit.
The iSongBook accepts 6 AA batteries; rechargeable batteries may be used and will charge while in the iSongBook. There is a switch in the battery compartment to identify whether rechargeable or regular batteries are used. Also in the battery compartment is a switch to change AM radio tuning steps from 10kHz to 9kHz for use outside the Americas.
If the unit is unplugged with no batteries installed, the clock will not keep time. The time will flash when power is reapplied to indicate the clock needs to be reset.
The iSongBook is a wonderfully versatile audio gadget, and a very capable performer. I thoroughly enjoyed it as a kitchen, bedroom, and camping radio, but my favorite application was as external speakers for my laptop using the aux input while writing out on the back porch. The sound was clear, dynamic, and the sense of stereo space with the detachable speaker was very good indeed.
The price at $399 is quite steep, however, and those looking for big bass or loud music should look elsewhere. I do gladly recommend it to those who need a versatile portable player, and appreciate quality in small speaker sound and product build. I really enjoyed the iSongBook, it gets a solid recommendation from me.