Review: Tivoli Audio iYiYi
At a Glance
When we reviewed Tivoli Audio’s $300 iSongBook in late 2005, we were impressed. The company took its excellent SongBook radio, added a flip-out iPod dock, changed the color to iPod-matching white and silver, and ended up with one of the best-sounding and most fully-featured portable iPod speaker systems on the market. Although we had a few minor complaints with the iSongBook, overall it was difficult not to love the system’s performance and versatility. Tivoli has since released the iYiYi (pronounced “eye-eye-eye”), an entirely new iPod speaker system that is, in many ways, a non-portable version of the iSongBook at the same price; but the iYiYi also addresses some of the iSongBook’s minor flaws.
At 12 inches wide by 7.7 inches high by 8.2 inches deep, the iYiYi is a bit taller and wider than the iSongBook, but nearly 6 inches deeper. Part of this increase in size is due to the iYiYi’s larger speakers (3 inches in diameter each, compared to the iSongBook’s 2.5 inches), a central iPod dock, and a larger LCD screen, but a good deal of it is due to an enclosure that houses both an internal power supply—there’s no “wall wart” or bulky AC adapter here, just a simple, generously-long (nearly 10 feet) power cable—and ported enclosures to enhance the system’s bass response. Like the iSongBook, the iYiYi is available in white with silver and gray trim or black with black trim; and unlike many of the desktop speaker systems I’ve tested, the iYiYi feels sturdy and well-built.
Tivoli took advantage of the iYiYi’s larger size to angle the face of the system back slightly, which makes the the controls and display easier to use than those of the flat-faced iSongBook; the angle also improves sound quality at close range by aiming the speakers up towards the listener. In addition to the larger LCD display and bigger speakers mentioned above, the front of the iYiYi also hosts buttons for power, source (AM, FM, iPod, or Aux), RDS (Radio Data System), clock set, alarm, and sleep, as well as five buttons for radio presets. You also get rubber-coated dials for adjusting the volume and tuning the radio—both welcome improvements over the iSongBook’s up/down buttons for each. Overall, the appearance of the iYiYi is somewhat retro; this design may turn some users away, but I personally like the look.
The iYiYi’s larger screen is a big improvement over that of the iSongBook, and is one of the better LCD displays I’ve seen in an iPod speaker system. Text is large enough to read from across a bedroom or office; there’s ample contrast between the background and text; and, because the system is AC-powered, the backlight remains on all the time. Those who dislike bright displays when trying to sleep at night will appreciate the fact that the LCD’s backlight automatically dims as ambient light dims; however, the dimmest level still may not be low enough for especially sensitive sleepers, and you can’t turn the display off completely.
The chunky iPod dock on the front of the iYiYi—which also charges your iPod—uses Apple’s Universal design, so you can use the dock insert that ships with all recent iPods for compatibility with those models. Tivoli also includes a set of seven adapters that accommodate all older dockable iPods. On the front of the dock cradle are a power-indicator light (which gets brighter when the iYiYi receives a signal from the wireless remote) and a 1/8-inch (miniplug) headphone jack; plugging headphones into the jack mutes the speakers. Interestingly, inserting an iPod into the iYiYi’s dock automatically switches the input to iPod mode—and starts or resumes playback (depending on the iPod’s playback mode when you placed it in the dock). This can be a convenient feature, but it can also be annoying if you’re just trying to charge your iPod.
On the back of the iYiYi, you’ll find the system’s inputs and outputs. You get two stereo-miniplug inputs: an auxiliary-input (aux-in) jack and a mixed input (mix-in) jack. The former serves as the switchable Aux input; when the iYiYi is in Aux mode, an audio device connected to this input serves as the primary audio source. Audio sent to the mix-in jack is, as the name implies, mixed with the primary audio source. This is a useful feature, found on many of Tivoli Audio’s systems, that lets you, for example, connect your computer to the mix-in jack so you can hear your computer’s audio along with the audio source you’ve chosen—iPod, radio, or aux-in. There’s also a coaxial FM antenna connector (a simple wire antenna that fits this connector is included, but you can connect a higher-end coax antenna instead), as well as a switch to choose between using this connector or using the iYiYi’s internal FM antenna. Finally, you also get a line-out jack (labeled Record Out), which lets you connect the iYiYi to a home stereo system or to recording equipment; although this line-level output isn’t normally affected by the iYiYi’s volume control, you can temporarily mute the output by setting the iYiYi’s volume to 0.
The “clock radio"
As with the other Tivoli Audio products we’ve tested, the iYiYi’s FM tuner is very good—even better than that of the iSongBook. Using the internal antenna, I was able to pull in most major local stations, and even weaker college and public-radio stations, clearly. In fact, the included single-wire external antenna didn’t improve FM reception much; only when trying to tune in distant or very weak stations was there a noticeable improvement, and even then the boost in reception was marginal. However, connecting a powered external antenna improved reception of these weaker stations considerably.
I also liked the iYiYi’s RDS (Radio Data System) feature, which—when listening to RDS-enabled FM stations—displays information about what’s currently playing, such as the song title and artist. Whereas many of the RDS-capable tuners I’ve tested exhibit a considerable delay before displaying RDS information, the iYiYi’s display shows the relevant information immediately. The only real drawback here is that the iYiYi’s onscreen characters are so big that only eight can fit on the screen at any one time, so you sometimes have to watch the screen for a while to see the desired information scroll by.
As for AM radio, the iYiYi provides much better AM reception than the iSongBook, but, as with most AM radios I’ve seen over the past few years, performance is nowhere near as good as that of FM. Still, if you like listening to talk radio, news, or sports broadcasts, the iYiYi will do the job.
The iYiYi’s tuner offers ten presets, five each for FM and AM. The FM band stretches from 87.5 to 108.0 in increments of 0.1, while the AM band goes from 520 to 1710 in increments of 10.
As with the iSongBook, the iYiYi’s clock clearly wasn’t a primary consideration—in other words, Tivoli didn’t design the iYiYi to be the best alarm clock in the world. For example, the single Alarm button is a bit confusing to use: a single press simply displays the current alarm time; you then hold down the Clock Set button to change that time, and to actually enable the alarm, you have to hold the Alarm button down for a couple seconds. The Sleep button works similarly: pressing it does nothing; you need to hold it down for a couple seconds to enter sleep mode. (And you can’t change the sleep time; it’s 20 minutes or nothing. Although the “person-in-bed” icon that appears on the screen during sleep mode is cute.) It’s actually easier to turn on the alarm or sleep mode from the remote, which requires only a single press of the appropriate button. Still, despite these minor UI shortcomings, the iYiYi’s alarm clock is entirely usable and, thanks to the larger, auto-dimming display, is both easier to read and better-suited to bedroom use than that of its portable sibling.
The iYiYi’s built-in alarm is effectively annoying (and I mean that as a complement). It starts out with a single, quiet beep, but after a few seconds the beep gets louder, then changes to a series of two beeps at a time, then two faster beeps, and finally four fast beeps. Oddly, after a minute of sounding, the alarm turns off on its own, then repeats the process a minute later; this sequence will repeat for up to an hour unless you press the Alarm button to turn the alarm off. Alternatively, you can set the alarm to wake to radio or iPod audio, although the process isn’t exactly intuitive: You need to turn the iYiYi on, switch to the desired source, choose the desired volume, set the alarm, and then turn the iYiYi off again. (This means that you can’t use sleep mode at a low volume at night and then wake to a louder volume the next morning.)
One other minor complaint I have about the iYiYi’s alarm is that the system beeps whenever you set or enable the alarm. As I’ve noted when reviewing other alarm-clock-equipped products, it’s not unusual to need to set or turn on an alarm after someone else is already asleep in the room. Silence is indeed golden when it comes to such actions.
The iYiYi’s credit-card-size, infrared remote is one the most feature-rich I’ve seen. It of course features the standard iPod-speaker-system remote buttons—power, play/pause, back, forward, volume up/down, and mute. But you also get buttons for changing the input source—something that couldn’t be done remotely with the iSongBook—tuning the radio, cycling through each radio band’s five presets, and toggling the FM radio’s RDS display. When in iPod mode, you can switch to the next or previous album or playlist; turn on your iPod’s backlight (a useful feature that lets you see the screen without having to walk over to the iPod and touch one if its own controls); and—using Up, Down, Menu, and Select buttons—actually navigate your iPod’s own onscreen menus. Finally, the remote lets you quickly enable sleep mode, toggle the clock’s alarm on and off, and switch the screen’s display between source information and clock mode. I can’t recall another iPod speaker system that provides such a comprehensive remote. Thankfully, these 24 buttons are arranged such that the remote is fairly easy to read and use.
Although the remote uses inexpensive “bubble” buttons, the buttons offer decent tactile feedback and are easy to press. And the remote’s range is very good for an infrared model, allowing line-of-sight control from over 30 feet away and also at angles of over 90 degrees to each side.
Given my experiences with a number of Tivoli Audio products, I expected the iYiYi to provide good sound quality, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, as you might expect, given the familial ties but bigger speaker drivers and a larger enclosure, the iYiYi gives you sound quality that’s very much like that of the iSongBook—clear, extended treble response and good midrange—but with a bit more warmth and better bass. However, the amount of additional bass response isn’t as much as you might think. Although the iYiYi does indeed feature a much larger, ported enclosure, keep in mind that the drivers themselves are each only half an inch bigger than those found on the iSongBook. You get a bit more “kick,” and somewhat lower extension, but you shouldn’t expect booming bass; this system, like the iSongBook, focuses on tight, detailed presentation. The iYiYi can also play a bit louder than the iSongBook, but exhibits some distortion at the highest volume levels.
On the other hand, the iYiYi actually lags behind the iSongBook in one sonic area: since you can’t separate the iYiYi’s speakers—the iSongBook lets you space its speakers up to six feet apart—the iYiYi’s suffers from the same issues with stereo separation (or lack thereof) as other one-piece desktop speaker systems. And like the iSongBook, the iYiYi doesn’t offer bass or treble controls.
How does the iYiYi compare to other desktop systems in this price range? Its audio performance is better, in my opinion, than Bose’s still-popular SoundDock, which flaunts the same $300 price tag it had nearly three years ago, even though it’s rather limited in features by today’s standards. The SoundDock is a bit warmer, but the iYiYi offers better clarity and treble response. On the other hand, JBL’s $300 Radial, which lacks a radio or clock but is currently the best-sounding desktop speaker system for iPod, in my opinion, clearly bests the iYiYi in terms of sound quality; the iYiYi offers a bit more treble detail, but the Radial provides better bass response, equally-good midrange, much better stereo separation, and a richer, fuller overall sound. And, of course, if you’re not wedded to the idea of a single-piece system, you can get better sound for less money in a system such as Monitor’s three-piece i-deck; a new version, the i-deck plus, even includes a radio tuner.
In other words, if you’re looking for the absolute best sound quality in a desktop iPod speaker system, the iYiYi isn’t The One. But if you want a full-featured system, or are a fan of radio, the iYiYi is tough to beat and still offers very good audio performance; there’s just a bit of a sonic trade-off for getting all these features in a compact package. (A similar option in this category that we’ll be reviewing in the near future is Logitech’s $300 AudioStation.)
The $300 (and up) iPod speaker market has grown considerably since Bose released the SoundDock a few years ago, which means the iYiYi has a good amount of competition. Still, if you can get past its odd name—which sounds like a not-so-subtle dig at all the “i” product names out there—Tivoli Audio’s iYiYi is one of the better desktop iPod speaker systems we’ve tested. Even though it doesn’t match the sound quality of the best systems in its class, the iYiYi sounds quite good and provides an extensive set of features, stellar FM reception, and an impressive remote. It’s worth considering if your budget extends to the $300 range.