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Tivoli Audio Radio Silenz (Black) review: Tivoli Audio Radio Silenz (Black)

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The Good The Tivoli Audio Radio Silenz headphones are lightweight, relatively comfortable for on-ear headphones, and attractively designed, with earcups that are decked out in wood trim. You can also use the headphones without engaging the noise-cancellation.

The Bad Overpriced; noise-canceling creates an audible hiss on quieter tracks and gaps in playback; sound should be more refined for this price.

The Bottom Line The Tivoli Audio Radio Silenz noise-canceling headphones have some likeable qualities, but they aren't worth anywhere close to $160.

5.1 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6
  • Value 3

Let me start by saying that I'm a fan of Tivoli Audio and have always liked the company's tabletop radios and portable PAL radios. They offer an excellent blend of design and performance, which makes it easier to overlook their relatively high price tags.

Alas, the company's first foray into the headphone market -- the noise-canceling headphone market no less -- is a different situation altogether. Instead of coming up with a unique, high-quality product, Tivoli's put something together that's both unoriginal and decidedly entry-level, with a misaligned $159.99 price tag that doesn't match its performance.

The reason I say unoriginal is that the Radio Silenz headphones appear to be an off-the-shelf Chinese design that's gussied up with Tivoli's signature wood trim on the earcups (the wood comes in walnut, cherry, and black ash colors). The headphones actually look pretty nice, are lightweight, fold up for transport, and are fairly comfortable for on-ear headphones. The only problem is that aside from the inline noise-canceling circuitry, which doesn't do much when activated, the Radio Silenz is very similar to the $25 MEElectronics HT-21. What's disconcerting is that the Tivoli headphones come with the exact same thin, cheap plastic carrying pouch that's included with the HT-21s.

Separated at birth: The Radio Silenz and MEElectronics HT-21. Sarah Tew/CNET

True, two headphones can look the same on the outside (share the same housing) but sound different altogether. In fact, the Radio Silenz and HT-21 do sound different. The Radio Silenz offers more bass, but in the process sacrifices some detail. The HT-21 seems a bit thin by comparison but offers a touch more clarity. They both lack any sort of refinement associated with headphones that cost $150.

That said, we did give the HT-21s a good review largely because editor Justin Yu liked their design and thought they sounded quite decent for the money. But let me reiterate: the HT-21s are $25 headphones and these are $159.99 headphones.

Again, you can't expect too much refinement from entry-level $25-$35 on-ear headphones, but your expectations rise dramatically when you get into the $150 price range. I expected tighter bass and more detail from these guys, particularly because I have a lot of respect for the sound that Tivoli radios deliver. Instead, there's something a little mushy and bloated sounding about these headphones that puts them squarely in the sub-$50 camp. They don't sound bad, but they don't sound terribly good either.

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