Friday, September 05, 2014

Tivoli Radio - spending $150 to get a 1960s radio is very 2014

Ten (ten!) years I wrote in this blog …

Gordon's Tech: Tivoli PAL (or iPAL): the iPod speaker accessory of choice?

… At $130 the price isn't bad. It's not as flash as some of the iPod speaker accesories, but it's ruggedly made and comes with a great radio. It might be interesting to pair this with an Airport Express and use it as a convenient iTunes and iPod extension….

Today, ten years later the iPal features are identical but the price has gone up by $90. Despite the price bump and complete lack of feature change the product remains popular.

Capitalism isn’t supposed to work this way. We should have been inundated by Chinese clones; but instead we are swamped by much cheaper products with inscrutable interfaces. (The latter is why we bought the Tivoli.)

In any case I didn’t buy the iPAL, i bought the battery-less Model One for $140 on Amazon. It has the layout of a $10 radio from 1960 - speaker, volume, rotary tuner, AM/FM switch. The only concession to the past 55 years is an Aux setting (I lied, it’s OFF/FM/AM/AUX).

It’s so retro it’s fashionable. My 12 yo wants one bad.

The back ports do show it’s bit more serious than a 1950 knock-off. Here’s a pro picture from Amazon that obscure’s the “made in China” letters and hides some screw heads ..

Screen Shot 2014 09 05 at 8 09 13 PM

and here’s the real thing, which doesn’t look nearly so pretty …


The radio comes with an (undocumented and easy to miss) coax connector with a 3 foot long external antenna wire. If you plug it in, do switch from internal to external. (In my photo you’ll see it’s set to internal even though an external antenna is connected. I only noticed the switch as I was editing the photo!).

There’s a (stereo) headphone jack, a 12V connector (not sure for what), a record out (!) separate from the headphone jack, and an aux in. The power cable, by the way, is very long and comes with a hefty ferrite core which may or may not help with power line hum.

The aux-in on my device is for the AirPort Express AirPlay output - just as I wrote 10 years ago. Unfortunately, it’s not working very well in our kitchen. I’m getting periodic drop outs, and the microwave completely kills any wifi. As best I can tell it should be working — but the Airport Express I’m using is at least 5-6 years old. I’m going to order a modern Airport Extreme to free up a 2-3 yo Airport Express and try that instead.  (I am annoyed that AirPlay/WiFi is not working as advertised, but I’m not surprised. We Apple veterans don’t really expect our Apple gear to work. Apple is only better than all the alternatives.)

If newer AirPort Express still fails I’ll return the Extreme (yay Amazon) and buy a Bluetooth dongle instead.

Tivoli does make a BT version of this devices for $100 more, but the Amazon reviews are damning, particularly this one

After the Tivoli was initially paired with my mom's iPod, it would autoconnect with it every time she wanted to use the bluetooth function. However, when I paired it with my iPhone as well, that autoconnect feature fell by the wayside and every time the bluetooth function was used, you had to re-connect the device manually. Not really a big deal, but it was pretty cool when the Tivoli connected automatically. Just to be sure, I got in touch with Tivoli and they said that once the unit is paired with more than one device, it loses its autoconnect capabilities. They also said there was no way to reset it to factory settings.

This review is a few years old, so maybe Tivoli has fixed their BT problem, but they’re clearly technically incompetent. I decided to go for the simple device they seem to know how to make with AirPlay then, if that fails, an external bluetooth dongle.

The sound and tuner are both fine. So if it keeps working we’re happy — though it’s weird that we have to spend so much to buy something simple:


Capitalism is not working as expected.

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