In the last couple of years, Tivoli Audio has iPod-ified a couple of its single-speaker premium portable radios by inserting an i in front of their names and, in the case of the iSongBook, by making a few clever design changes (namely, adding a hideaway dock and including a second, detachable speaker). Jumping on the iPod craze has been a smart move for the company, and it's helped attract a broader audience to its products. However, for those who don't own an iPod--or simply think the iSongBook ($329) is too pricey--the nearly identical SongBook offers two-thirds of what its big brother does and costs half as much.
Simply put, the SongBook is a portable clock radio that sounds good but not great. Measuring 7.3 by 6.1 by 2 inches (WHD) and weighing 2.2 pounds with batteries, it's boxy but slim, so it can fit on thinner shelves than the deeper . It has a nice rubberized feel to its finish, but the drawback to that finish is that it might attract dirt and grime more easily, especially if you opt for one of the lighter colors (our review unit was white).
As noted, the biggest differences between the iSongBook (available in white or black) and the multicolored SongBook are the dock, the detachable second speaker, and the price. The iSongBook also comes with a credit card-style remote that lets you tune in radio stations, adjust volume levels, and exert some rudimentary control over your attached iPod.
The SongBook's notable features include a built-in AM/FM clock radio with an alarm, a dedicated sleep/snooze button, and five assignable presets for quickly jumping to your favorite radio stations. The LCD shows the time and the currently tuned radio frequency, and it has a blue backlight that you can turn on and off with a press of a button. In addition, the SongBook has a headphone jack and an input for connecting other audio devices, such as a portable CD or DVD player (though you'll need to supply your own minijack cable). Of course, you can also connect an iPod or any other MP3 player with a standard headphone jack, but you won't have the recharging dock or the remote-control access that you would with the iSongBook.
Unlike most previous Tivoli radios (namely the PAL/iPAL, the Model One, and the ), the SongBook has a digital rather than analog AM/FM tuner, but it does just as good a job of pulling in stations. If you read our review of the iSongBook, you know that we weren't entirely thrilled with its sound. But that was largely because we felt that a model costing $329 should sound better. The truth is, the SongBook doesn't sound all that different from the iSongBook. Yes, the iSongBook's extra speaker means you get stereo sound, but that doesn't mean the iSongBook sounds twice as good as the SongBook--we'd peg the difference at maybe 10 to 15 percent better.
In short, because of the lower price tag--and our lowered expectations--we're willing to say the SongBook sounds quite respectable for a compact, portable radio. Basically, it's in the same league as the single-speaker PAL models. But the SongBook does sound slightly thinner--most likely because it is thinner. Don't expect to hear much bass or to crank the volume and have the sound hold together. You can fill a small room with sound, but any music with even a moderate amount of bass will begin to distort if you push the volume dial past the midway point.
If you're trying to decide between this model and one of the PALs, the SongBook does give you the benefit of the integrated clock and the alarms, as well as the one-touch presets associated with the digital tuner. The SongBook is also a bit more compact and travel-friendly. However, the PAL radios feature an integrated rechargeable battery, which is a nice plus. By contrast, it's up to you to supply your own rechargeables for the SongBook, which takes six AAs and works fine with standard nonrechargeable batteries. If Tivoli had opted to include the rechargeable batteries with the SongBook, we'd be more inclined to call it a good value. As it stands, it's a nice portable radio that's slightly overpriced.