“Nothing On But The Radio” - Sounds From Sangean & Tivoli
Sangean WR3 Tabletop Radio/CD & Media Player
Tivoli Audio Model Two AM/FM Stereo Radio
Tivoli Audio Model CD
Sangean is a Japanese company that’s well known to ham and shortwave enthusiasts, but is not so much in the awareness of radio and tuner fans. Recently the company has brought to North America some very interesting and innovative products, including an HD Radio equipped FM tuner, and a range of high performance radios, of which the WR3 is one of the most interesting. Here’s why, as succinctly outlined (but with spartan punctuation and amusing grammar) by the folks at Amazon.com:
“In addition to all this [is] the stunning Hi-fi sound produced by the 8W + 8W amplifier that pushes two 3 inch Polypropylene speakers and dual front facing bass ports. Featuring the Sangean AcoustaCase technology and a 3D audio projection technology, the speakers produce an unmatched level [of] surround performance and bass response and clarity in a table-radio. For the custom sound that many listeners covet you have the ability to adjust bass and treble controls providing 14 full steps and it is sure to have a range that will provide for optimal listening enjoyment whether for music or talk radio.”
“This unit also features an auxiliary input that allows connection of your iPod , DVD player, or other audio source. Included in the box you will find an owners manual, power cord, full-function IR remote control, a telescoping FM antenna and a one year limited warranty card. Full-function IR remote control 3D audio effect Aux-in for playing an iPod or MP3 player Port for Stereo headphone (3.5mm) Record out socket Large, bright, backlit LCD Color - Black 2 Integrated speakers for full-range stereo sound 110V AC Powered.”
Those last few sentences read rather like a Dylan song to me (”Must bust in early May, orders from the DA”, “Don’t cause a scandal, the pump don’t work ’cause the vandals took the handle”, and like that), but the ideas ring through. This is your serious (but not Sirius!) type radio, with a lot of features in an innovative user-friendly array. We had quite a bit of fun with it, though we left the media player stuff for iPod types.
I was more interested in the sound quality and FM performance, so I immediately hooked it up to our outdoor Yagi FM antenna via its coaxial jack. In fairly normal FM reception conditions it pulled in 55 stations, proving to be highly sensitive, and almost as selective, with excellent stereo on most. This is outboard audiophile tuner performance we’re talking about here, and I guess I know it when I see/hear it, being still in the process of evaluating over 40 tuners in our FM Tuner Project.
The AM radio is also very sensitive, a Sangean trademark, with more than decent sound, and seemed to find more stations at each end of the dial. Its sound was generally free of buzzes, hum, and whistles, and better than you’ll find in all respects than that of many, if not most, component AM/FM tuners.
Overall sound quality was surprisingly good for its size, with good, solid bass, and a clean, open midrange without the usual chestiness in between. A small slide switch on the rear panel marked Effects spreads the stereo image outside the speakers, and adds a nice spatial…effect.
The CD player also sounds fine, and works well, but I found level generally somewhat lower than from the tuner section; this can be easily and instantly remedied using the neat little card-sized remote control. It also has numeric and programming buttons, as well as handling the numerous other features outlined above. The CD player operates somewhat like a car unit, with slot-loading quick play. There are also mini-plug Aux input and line output jacks, and we did quite a bit of listening through the latter into the big audio system.
Based on that experience, I’d have to conclude, that this system, especially the FM tuner, is pretty much the match for a really good audiophile unit, the WR3 coming astonishingly close to our Accuphase T-101 sonically. And here I’m referring to what may be the best sounding FM tuner ever made, and my first choice among the 40 or so auditioned. Sure, the WR3 doesn’t have quite the separation and definition, but on a day when your ears are tired from all that claret and caviar, who’d notice?
And I suppose that’s a good way to close this review. The Sangean WR3 is a radio/CD player that can play with the big boys when it isn’t being cute and capable on its own, and I rate its performance very highly overall.
The Tivoli used to be downtown, not too far from the Bijou and the Capitol, where we went for Saturday afternoon matinees with Audie Murphy and Abbot & Costello. Boy, I guess that sure dates me, though I did also enter the TV revolution early in life, too. A place once known for silent movies may not be quite the right name for a radio, but what the hell. I think the idea was to emphasize the large, theatrical sonic image.
According to the company’s web site, “The Model Two stereo offers all the features” of the Model One, “including its unmatched tuner, audio contouring circuits, and its delightful analog tuning dial - with the addition of a second speaker cabinet for true stereo separation.” “As with all Tivoli Audio products, the Model Two stereo radio is compatible with iPod and other players.”
The front panel features the speaker (behind a round metal grille) at left, with Volume control at centre top, and the Selector knob below, which has OFF as its first position, with, clockwise, FM, AM, and AUX. The Tuning knob at right is almost as big as the speaker, and has a “5.1 tuning gear ratio” for “easy, accurate tuning”. The tuning indicator, between the two centre knobs, “glows bright amber when the best tuning has been achieved”, according to the owner’s manual.
On the rear panel are mini plug connectors for AUX in, MIX in, REC out, Headphone out, and SUB out, all in a vertical row (listed from top down). To the left is a Balance control, and below it the out to the right speaker, and a 12V DC input for portable powering, the AC input being to the right, with 300 and 75 ohm antenna inputs above. All the mini plug ins and outs are recessed, and a little tightly packed for me and my aging fingers.
The matching Model CD (either comes in black woodgrain or cherry veneer) uses a slot-load transport, with front-panel control buttons below, these duplicated on the credit-card style remote control, but a few other functions are unique to the remote, such as INTRO 10-second sampling, Volume (CD Only), SHUF[fle] play, and REPEAT. I feel that Tivoli founder and designer Tom DeVesto missed an opportunity by not offering any of the radio functions on this remote, but I do acknowledge that this would have added complexity and cost to the matched system. And, of course, these functions (volume, tuning, and input selection) are all manual and analog, not microprocessor-based.
The rear panel of the Model CD is much simpler than that of the Model Two, with a pair of RCA outs that connect via an appropriately terminated cord (RCA-to-miniplug; included in elegant white, with gold-plated connectors), and a mini plug headphone output. Unlike the radio, the player has only a 12-volt DC power receptacle, and comes with a wall-wart power converter, also white. And, as far as finishes are concerned, I much preferred the light cherry veneer of the pictured units to the dull black woodgrain of the supplied review samples. However, we had them not for show, but to evaluate their performance and sound quality, so this did not deter us in our quest.
The Tivoli Model 2 Radio was connected via its coax input to our outdoor Yagi antenna, after I unscrewed its own provided telescopic 75-ohm aerial. With such station pulling power from our outdoor tower, it brought in 46 FM signals, and might have managed more, were it not for its quite aggressive AGC/AFC circuits, which made sure every strong station was right there, but meant also that it skipped over the weaker members of the broadcast society. Some can be fine tuned, but the lack of a defeat switch makes this a tricky exercise, especially when the tuner is presented with rapidly varying reception conditions in stormy or changeable weather.
No matter, this is excellent reception, and if a station comes in, it will stay the course in very listenable stereo. And that’s what a good radio is all about. The AM radio is quite sensitive on its internal antenna, though not quite as quiet on the weaker stations as the Sangean, which was designed by radio reception specialists.
The overall sound of the Model 2 is very pleasant, with quite good bass, which can augmented by the addition of the aptly named Model Subwoofer. It’s a similarly sized box that “extends bass response by a half-octave”, according to the web site info. If we assume the lower bass limit of the Model 2 to be about 80 Hz, this extension would be to about 60, and with break-in and judicious placement, it would probably go down to 50 Hz.
So, all we need for the making of a quite nice little compact and cute system is a matching CD player, the Model CD. It’s a fine performer, with a shock resistant transport (probably a car mechanism), and a very easy one to use. This is, of course, aided by the little remote, which itself, is very easy to lose! I’ve always thought that these things (I’ve got one in my audio system, and a couple in the HT room) should have beepers built in, with a device front panel button to activate it to help locate the remote. After all, it’s only fair, because they do have a gravitationally-aided couch-cushion-gap-seeking mechanism as standard included equipment.
All couching aside, the Model CD does complete this system very nicely, and sounds, if anything, even better than the radio itself. It will certainly sound better than any iPod connected to the system, which is another option. The whole Model Two system can also be taken to the cottage, ready to be operated directly from solar or other 12-volt direct-DC sources, and could even be operated in the mini-van, though most have such amenities already built in.
Finally, the system as a whole can be had in two finishes, which are not just light cherry or black veneer, but differing facias, the former in “metallic Taupe” with black remote control on the Model CD, while the latter in black offer silver on front panel and remote.
When you add up the individual prices of this Tivoli system’s components, you realize that it is in the price range of some other excellent, and more technically oriented compact systems, and therefore that part of the price here is style and architectural harmony. But there is no denying that it is a very fine system, with quite a bit better electrical and acoustic capabilities than some others similarly priced, which claim the same performance, but don’t provide it.
Oh, and one last thing…the quote in the headline of this review has been attributed to Marilyn Monroe in answer to a reporter’s question in a telephone interview about how she was dressed that day. Every feature review needs a little, uh, titillation, don’t you think?
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