Tivoli Audio is a small, Boston-based audio company with a worldwide reputation for producing high-quality radios. Its very first product, the Model One, raised the performance bar for table radios. For its Model Three, the company essentially took its venerable Model One and added an alarm clock--and almost doubled the price, from $120 to $200.
The Model Three measures in at 4.5 inches high, 8.37 inches wide, and 5.25 inches deep, and while it's available in just one color--a metallic-taupe front face--the real cherrywood cabinet is a big step up from the usual flimsy, plastic-bodied radios. Like Tivoli's Model One and PAL, the Model Three uses a proprietary AM/FM tuner (with a smooth-turning tuning dial) that harnesses technology originally developed for cellular telephones to produce superior reception--but it obviates the possibility for station presets that you'd find on a digital radio. However, unlike like its siblings, this radio's upward-firing three-inch speaker is set into the top of the radio instead of the front. The Model Three runs off an included external AC power pack, but you can also use 12-volt DC (car or boat) power to make it go.
The clock is analog--its fine quartz mechanical movement provides accurate timekeeping, while the clock face's pale blue backlight is easier on the eyes than the cold glare of a typical digital readout. But that pale light may be too bright for some who like to sleep in the pitch black. Conversely, we found the radio's frequency markings only marginally legible under low light conditions.
In terms of performance, AM and FM radio sound quality is nicely balanced in the bass and treble, easily besting the tinny sound of plastic department store radios. Reception is also above par, and after we experimented with the included FM wire antenna (you can also hook up higher-quality antennas), the Model Three pulled in our favorite low-power college stations. Bass-wise this model is identical to the clock-less Model One, but the Model Three's top-mounted speaker reflects sound off the wall, which makes for a softer, less direct sound, which we prefer.
Connectivity choices are downright generous for a tabletop radio. You get a headphone jack, an auxiliary input, and a mix input (the latter for intermingling audio from an external device, such as a computer, with the Model Three's radio signal), all of which are standard 1/8-inch stereo minijacks. The auxiliary inputs mean the Model Three doubles as a speaker for your iPod, or any other connected device that has a standard headphone jack; you need only supply a standard patch cable. Spring for another $99, and you can get Tivoli's matching Dual Alarm Speaker ($99) that gives you stereo sound, as well as a second clock/alarm. If you just want stereo and don't need the second clock/alarm, Tivoli offers the Companion Speaker ($49). There's also a matching compact subwoofer, the diminutive Model Subwoofer, to extend the bass response. It's $79.
While the Model Three is a great AM/FM radio, it has one big flaw: the alarm clock. The clock itself is fine, but the analog alarm leaves a lot to be desired, especially if you're used to a digital system. Setting the alarm (you can wake to standard beeps or to your favorite station) is simple enough--just rotate the indicator on the clock's bezel to the wake-up time and press a button to activate the alarm. But it's a 12-hour system, so it'll activate twice a day unless you cycle it fully off in the morning, then back on again just before bedtime. And the snooze button works only a handful of times, so especially drowsy users might find themselves late for work until they acclimate.
The Tivoli Model Three is a great solution for anyone in the market for an upscale tabletop clock radio. If you're looking for a more robust alarm, however, check out the Boston Acoustics Recepter. It loses the retro "woody" look of the Tivoli, but the Boston's digital design offers a solid dual alarm that's perfect for the bedside table--and it sounds great, too.