Tivoli Networks, left, with companion speaker. For years, Tivoli Audio's Model One AM/FM tabletop receiver has set the standard for clear, full-range radio reception. Such success is a double-edged sword: Every time the company comes out with a new audio product, critics are quick to compare it against the Model One's standards to see if it measures up.
In the case of the Tivoli Audio NetWorks Internet/FM radio, the company has hit the mark. Of many Internet radios I have tested over a decade, the Tivoli NetWorks is so far the best when it comes to audio quality and overall performance.
This doesn't mean that it is perfect by any means. Moreover, at $649.99 for the wood-veneered Internet/FM receiver and $100 more to add a second speaker for full stereo, the NetWorks should be the best.
Nuts and bolts
Both the Tivoli NetWorks and its companion speaker are built into wooden speaker enclosures that measure 8.74 inches tall by 5.51 inches wide by 5.12 inches deep. The speaker comes with a 15 foot connecting cord, which I applaud: A radio that sounds this good needs good separation. The speakers are 3.5 inch magnetically shielded full-range drivers that can be used close to computer and other devices sensitive to magnetism. (Note: This was more of a problem in the floppy disk days.)
The NetWorks radio has a bright blue monochrome display that indicates what audio source you are listening to. This can be Internet radio, FM, Music Player (connected to your PC's music library) or attached MP3 player (using the NetWorks' USB port).
The radio is designed to be controlled by the included small remote control. For redundancy's sake, all of the remote's functions are duplicated on the back of the radio, along with an extendable FM whip antenna, Ethernet port, Balance knob and Mono/Stereo switch (depending on whether you have purchased the companion speaker or not). On top of the Networks is a nearly flush-mounted dial that controls volume and muting and which can be used as a snooze button with the NetWorks' alarm clock.
A nice detail: The NetWorks' cable connections — including power; it has a built-in adaptor — connect underneath the radio inside a raised cavity. This makes for a neat appearance on the desktop.
In the cavity, the NetWorks has an Aux In for other music sources; a Mix In that allows you to input your computer audio to the radio, so that you hear both as need be; a Sub Out connection for a Tivoli Audio subwoofer; a 3.5 mm stereo mini-jack Rec Out port; and, of course, an Ethernet port.
The NetWorks also connects to Wi-Fi networks; punching in WEP passwords is painless thanks to the large display and ability to switch between numbers and alphanumeric characters with a single button push. (On other Internet radios, you have to scroll through the numbers to get to the alphabetical characters, and vice versa.)
For Internet radio tuning, the Tivoli NetWorks accesses a site operated by the company itself at www.networks.tivoliaudio.com. NetWorks owners can go here to add any radio station to Tivoli's lineup, chat with other members of the NetWorks community, get NetWorks news and receive technical help electronically or live from audio experts.
Format-wise, Tivoli's organization by location and genre — with the ability to select and save favorites — is similar to the Frontier Silicon Radio Portal (www.wifiradio-frontier.com) used by the Sangean WFR-1. However, the Tivoli version offers extra genre categories I don't recall seeing on the WFR-1 such as "Scanners," police and railroad broadcasts captured by scanner and made available on the Web. The variety offered is impressive.
Part of a set with CD player and subwoofer. In terms of audio quality, the Tivoli NetWorks is unsurpassed. It offers more range and clearer playback than the Sangean WFR-1, which I tested side-by-side; and the WFR-1 is a very good Internet radio.
What makes the NetWorks exceptional is that the audio is so good, you forget that you are listening to an Internet radio station. Part of the reason is the unit's "Super Buffer," which buffers incoming signals to compensate for data dropouts. These almost never happen on the NetWorks radio.
In fact, the audio is so good that you soon forget that you are listening to a radio; it just sounds like a decent shelf stereo system playing a CD or similar music source.
Internet tuning is relatively easy on the Tivoli networks, although you do have to hunt through numerous drop-down menus. However, once you have found a station you like, it can be stored as a preset (five are offered per band on the remote), or include it on a personalized Favorites folder for quick access. FM tuning is also simple using the remote but can take time due to the radio's use of 0.1 MHz tuning steps. Once you save your five favorites using the presets, access is fast.
Technically speaking, there is little that I do not like about this radio. In fact, my only quibble is that the top-mounted dial allows you to mute the system, but not turn it on or off. In an office, it is useful to not have to search for the remote every time the phone rings.
Actually, I don't get to have even this quibble. After I checked the paragraph above with Tivoli, it turned out that I simply have to press the top dial down a bit longer to turn the radio on or off. So I'm sorry; in two weeks I have been unable to find a single technical problem with this radio.
I do have concerns, however, with the confusing pricing of the Tivoli NetWorks on the Web site. This page is not intuitive.
(Tivoli radios are sold by selected dealers; they can be found on a state-by-state basis at www.tivoliaudio.com/dealers.php. I suggest buying directly from Tivoli, to minimize problems and maximize selection. You buy on the site by going to the Products page, then adding the radio you want to a Shopping Cart. The key is to research what you want throughly, then make your selection.)
After I got my bearings on the site, I worked out the prices. The $599.99 base model (no companion speaker; no FM) is finished in cherry, walnut or wenge wood veneer. If you want FM, that's $50 extra, bringing the price to $649.99. If you want the companion speaker as well — and it is silly to buy a radio this good and not have stereo — that's $100 more. In short, the top-of-the-line model is $749.99, FM and companion speaker included.
My advice? Pay full price and get the package. I could live without FM, given that I have other radios in my office. But to listen to this radio only in mono would be a crime.
Pricing aside, the Tivoli Audio NetWorks is the new standard for Internet radios; at least in my office. Unfortunately, it is priced as such. After all, you pay more for a Porsche than you do a Toyota. Although both are good cars, the Porsche leads the two on performance and looks.