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Tivoli Audio SongBook speaker review: a retro-style portable musicians will love

Tivoli Audio SongBook held in hand.
Tivoli Audio SongBook
MSRP $449.00
“Retro and guitar-friendly, the Tivoli SongBook just needs more features to justify its price.”
  • Slick, retro style
  • Ultra-simple operation
  • Very portable
  • Warm, smooth tone
  • Doubles as a guitar amp
  • Pricey for what you get
  • Mono-only sound
  • No playback controls
  • Short battery life

If you’re a Sonos customer who has recently (and painfully) been reminded how frustrating it can be when your technology utterly fails to work, I have the antidote: Tivoli Audio’s $450 SongBook.

As portable Bluetooth speakers go, it doesn’t get more stripped down than this. Mono sound, a single analog input, a set of analog tone controls, and a 10-hour battery. There’s no app, no Wi-Fi, no speakerphone, no voice assistants … heck, you don’t even get a play-pause button.

That makes its $450 price hard to justify unless you place a high value on retro design, sound quality, and the SongBook’s peculiar superpower: the ability to double as a guitar amp. I spent a few weeks with the SongBook, and here are my thoughts.

Pure Tivoli design

Tivoli Audio SongBook top view.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

If you know Tivoli Audio, you’re probably familiar with the company’s two most iconic products: the and the of compact portable speakers.

Those products epitomize Tivoli’s approach to design and acoustics, with large, robust selector and volume controls, and a mono sound produced via a single driver, protected by a perforated metal grille.

The SongBook mirrors these cues, while putting its own spin on the formula.

Wrapped entirely in high-gloss plastic, you can choose between a two-tone brown/cream combo (seen here on our review unit) or a monochromatic green that looks like it was plucked directly from an early ’70s kitchen.

Tivoli Audio SongBook on a park bench.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Despite the two matching metal grilles, it’s also a mono speaker, with a 3.5-inch full-range driver and a 3.5-inch woofer sharing the load.

Those drivers share the front of the speaker with the controls: a set of matching knobs for volume and input selection, a pair of metal flip switches for power and line-in/amp selection, and a triple set of sliders to adjust the EQ (more on that later).

As mentioned, the SongBook has no way to play, pause, or track-skip when streaming from a Bluetooth device. I suppose you could argue that this is simply one more way that the SongBook sticks to the Tivoli story (the Bluetooth version of the PAL doesn’t have these controls either). And yet, unlike the PAL, which has a built-in AM/FM radio, the SongBook’s primary mission is to be a Bluetooth speaker.

Portable, but not protected

Tivoli Audio SongBook rear ports and cover.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

At 6.7 pounds, the SongBook is almost the exact same weight as a Sonos Move 2, and almost 3 pounds lighter than the similarly priced JBL Authentics 300.

However, of the three speakers, the SongBook is the easiest to carry thanks to its relatively shallow depth (just 5 inches.) The thin, metal carry handle can hardly be described as ergonomic, but it’s comfortable enough for short hauls from the car to the park (or even just from the kitchen to the patio). I like that the hinges let the handle disappear into the top when not in use, giving it a much cleaner appearance than the Authentics 300.

Tivoli Audio says the speaker has IPX4 protection from water, which means rain or the occasional splash of water shouldn’t pose any problems — just keep it well away from the pool. Without any dust protection, you may want to think twice before taking the SongBook to the beach.

In fact, you might think carefully about moving the speaker in general. The glossy plastic looks great when you get it out of the box, but it quickly becomes marred with fingerprints. It also scratches very easily.

Those metal grilles provide excellent protection for the drivers, but metal can dent. Our review unit arrived with a very slight dent on the right-side grille, despite the packaging showing no signs of impact.

PD power

Tivoli Audio SongBook (side view).
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Charging the SongBook is done via the USB-C port on the back panel, and a charging cable is the one accessory Tivoli Audio includes in the box. The port is hidden behind a small rubber flap along with the speaker’s Bluetooth pairing button and a USB-A port that, sadly, is strictly for service-related uses.

You can charge the battery from almost any USB-C port, but one with support for 15-volt USB-C PD will fill the battery in as little as an hour.

Easy connections

Getting the SongBook paired via Bluetooth is dead simple — just long-press on the pairing button and then look for the speaker in your Bluetooth devices list. However, it can take a few moments once you power the speaker on for it to find and reconnect to your phone.

Once connected, the signal strength is excellent. I was able to put 50 feet between my phone and the speaker indoors, and more than 100 feet when outside.

Needless to say, plugging an analog source into the SongBook is also easy, but I’m disappointed that Tivoli didn’t include a 1/4-inch to 3.5mm or stereo RCA adapters. That omission might make sense if the SongBook were intended to be just an instrument amp, but that extra power is perfect for turntables, while the line-in mode clearly speaks to other uses, like connecting a phone via a DAC/amp, or a CD player. None of these devices typically come with 1/4-inch connectors on their cables.

Golden tone
An electric guitar plugged into a Tivoli Audio SongBook.

Tivoli Audio fans know that the company refuses to compromise on sound quality, and the SongBook stays true to that philosophy. Amplification is incredibly smooth as you twist the volume knob from one extreme to the other. And as for distortion? It’s non-existent, even at the speaker’s 40-watt maximum. It’s certainly loud enough for even a large room when indoors, but if you want something that will really rock an outdoor gathering, you may want to consider more powerful speakers.

Out of the box, with the EQ sliders set to neutral, you get a balanced sound signature. The tone produced by the two drivers is clean and clear, with just a touch of warmth in the low end. It’s the perfect complement to genres that emphasize vocalists (think Adele, Lenny Kravitz, or Rihanna) or detailed instrumental music like Spanish guitar, jazz, and classical.

Tivoli Audio SongBook EQ controls close-up.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Moving those sliders, however, can have a dramatic effect. Bumping the low to its highest boost will produce a real thump, while dialing it down will let the mids and highs ring out with extra clarity.

There’s something to be said for a set of analog EQ controls like this — I find them much more satisfying to work with than the digital/app-based adjustments on typical Bluetooth speakers.

I wasn’t expecting the SongBook to impress as a guitar amp, but for casual playing, I thought it sounded great.

I’m always happy to listen to mono speakers, especially when I’m moving around and can’t stay centered in the sweet spot of a stereo setup. And outdoors, mono will almost always be your best bet for consistently good sound. Still, at this price, the lack of stereo imaging can be bit tough to swallow if you want to use the SongBook as your room’s primary speaker.

Battery life

Tivoli Audio SongBook and Sonos Move 2.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Tivoli Audio claims the battery life for the SongBook is 10 hours. That’s based on a 50% volume level, so you may get longer life if you play quietly (up to 12 hours), or as few as six hours if you go full blast. Curiously, using the Amp mode on the line-in input doesn’t affect these numbers.

As mid-sized portable speakers go, these numbers are on the low side. Marshall’s Tufton ($399) is rated for 20 hours, the Sonos Move 2 ($449) promises up to 22 hours, and the JBL Xtreme 4 ($380) offers a whopping 30 hours. Still, it beats the JBL Authentics 300 ($450), which can only last eight hours.

Who’s it for?

The Tivoli Audio SongBook is unlike most other portable speakers. It’s expensive for what you get, but its design is unique. It sounds great, with a lovely tone that I’ve become very fond of. But it’s not as powerful as the competition, and I wouldn’t go so far as to say it sounds significantly better than similarly priced speakers.

Its amplified auxiliary input lets it double as a casual jam box, which is undoubtedly cool, but I’m not sure there’s a ton of demand for an amp that has so few extras (like gain, reverb, etc.). Moreover, you’ll need to use an adapter if you’re connecting anything that isn’t an instrument or mic.

And while the total lack of extras (Wi-Fi streaming, app-based settings, stereo-pairing, multi-speaker grouping, Bluetooth playback controls) is refreshing in its simplicity, it also adds to the feeling that you’re not getting as much for your money as you would with other products.

Still, the Tivoli Audio SongBook deserves credit. It may be quirky and expensive, but it delivers on all of its promises, and its retro style is bound to win some love, even if only within a dedicated audience. If you’re in that crowd, this speaker might just make you very happy.

Simon Cohen
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like spatial…
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