38 Tivoli Audio Music System aIs a CD slot retro yet? Tivoli, a brand always big on retro, has unveiled its new stand-alone Music System Home and you can’t miss the CD slot. So last century.

The retro thing has been happening in hi fi for much of this century and its clear implication is that we’re all yearning for old designs. With this I disagree. Take the Bush TR82 portable radio for example. The original was an overly big, heavy, ugly thing in the 1950s and the modern interpretation looks just as big, heavy and ugly. And, cynical me, I suspect the retro styling being promoted by one big brand is more about cost than aesthetics.

I acknowledge the old saying about beauty being in the eye of the beholder (and the helpful advice added by Spike Milligan – that you can get it out with Optrex), but I am growing impatient with the compromises a retro look demands. Seriously, how do you make a digital radio, a radio that needs a screen to tell you where you are and what you’re listening to, look like something from the 1950s? Especially when it has a CD slot.

38 Tivoli Audio Music System cTivoli makes components that sound good so the Music System Home sounds good. But Tivoli is also a true retro believer so the Music System Home aims at looking like something you’d see at your granny’s. When I saw the pictures I thought it looked a bit like a dog’s breakfast. But after a week in the man cave I softened a bit; it looks better in the flesh than in the photographs and the stubby legs unclip. It looks miles better without them.

The timber cabinet and the fabric covering the four drivers (two 2 cm tweeters and two 9 cm woofers being driven by a 60-watt amplifier) are all nicely heritage but the large, round centre screen surrounded by a rotating bezel looks uncomfortably out of place here, think of Ed Sheeran at an old folks home.

I was looking forward to using that bezel. If you’ve ever used a Tivoli Model One AM/FM radio you’ll know the pleasure of the beautifully tactile tuning dial. This one feels a bit rough and ready by comparison, a minor disappointment. But the Music System has all the stuff; Bluetooth, internet, digital radio, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Alexa et al.

The trick is learning to use it. Being retro the visible controls (there are a few more at the rear) have been kept to a minimum, so they’re multifunctional and not terribly intuitive. For example turning the system off requires pressing and holding the volume button for four seconds, a long time when you’re heading out somewhere, but hold it any shorter and the input changes.

The good thing about the screen is seeing what’s being played as title and artist information scrolls across the screen, but this screen scrolls at one letter per second; good if you’re learning to read, a test of patience if you already can.

38 Tivoli Audio Music System bIts saving grace is that it sounds terrific, with strong and even bass rolling seamlessly into the mids, and beautifully defined and lustrous highs, and it goes loud enough to fill a decent room. Bass? It’s pretty generous. Mongolian band The Hu fuse metal with throat singing in Wolf Totem; a fine test, and on this a genuine blast.

The $1199 Tivoli Music System Home measures 41 x 22.1 x 16.5 cm (WxHxD) and weighs 5.25 kilograms. Three wood-veneer cabinets are available; walnut with grey fabric, black with black and white with grey.

First published November 2019.


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