The Table Top Ride – Cambridge Soundworks vs Tivoli vs Bose Wave vs Boston Acoustics Receptor HD!
The search for the simplest of things sometimes can turn out to be a rather harrowing experience. This tale is of one such instance.
Once upon a time,
in the not at all that long ago,
a shopping did I go,
for a small table top radio.
Many did I see,
each touting themselves the best,
little did I know,
it would turn out to be such a mess.
I like any other started my search at the local stores, much preferring to listen to one instead of taking it on blind faith. As it turned out, the local stores don’t really stock the darlings of internet praise. Surprise, surprise. Some Googling later and after digesting very many reviews which there are no shortage of, I had a shortlist of these few. The Bose wave, Boston Acoustics and Tivoli. This took me on a small journey of discovery…. on marketing hype and hyperbole.
Well to whittle the list down, I managed to audition the much lauded Bose wave at a local store. It sat there all neat and gray before me as I gave it a listen. Aaaannnndd… I was rather confused by what I heard. This was THE Bose Wave table radio. The Neo of table radios…. The ONE. I stood there for a little bit, shifting my weight giving this some thought. Listened some more. Moved a round a little.. and listened some more. And I still wasn’t seeing it. Where was the music from heavens.. the angels by my shoulders. Turned and look.. Nope. No angels anywhere. You’ve got to give the man (Bose) credit though. Its an interesting idea, this wave guide thing. But it’s a gimmick. Does it sound better than most.. oh yes, sure it does. Only that it would probably be ranked lowest in a small elite group of good table radios . I compared its performance to a Denon, Polk Audio and Yamaha table radios which were also on display and frankly, I assure you, the Polk came away with the gold followed closely by the Denon. I came so close to giving the Denon a nice cozy home on my nightstand. Then something kicked in bringing pause to my cluttered mind which it so often does, and I decided to go research this some more before parting me and my hard earned benjamins.
Some time went by. I mulled it over still pretty set on the Denon until the Tivoli which initially piqued my interest became a nagging snaggled toothed puppy that would not let go. Ive got to admit.. all that wood and that lovely knob brought back memories of my childhood.. its really quite pleasant the eye. The more I thought about it.. the warm touch of genuine wood finally got the better of me and I started giving it some serious thought. Reviews read and mind firmly decided.. the inevitable happened. I got carried away and instead of just a table radio, ended up with the complete kit and kaboodle. Didn’t matter though.. from what I read and from what I was told.. this was it. The holy grail of table radios (this should have rung a bell.. shouldn’t it), sweet sounding, sweet looking accenting my bedroom with a touch of woody class, pun not intended. The purchase had to be internet direct but how could I go wrong. Opted for the sub and CD player as well thinking I would take it to a level above any table radio could ever imagine to go.
Oh boy.. was i ever disappointed. It was lovely to look at though. Very pretty indeed. I loved the minimalistic styling, the kind that would please mom with its simplicity and sense of grace. The cherry wood and taupe combo looked stunning just about anywhere… It was all so deliciously good to look at, until you turned it on and it was what I can best describe as a divine chocolate with a quinine center. It sounded downright atrocious. There seemed to be a hole that sucked the very life out of vocals…. which is strange for several reasons. Most sensible table radio designs would incorporate a midbass boost to make up for small drivers (the sub is an accessory mind you and it hardly helped) and second of all this was a Henry Kloss design. The man knew a thing or two about radios. I didn’t get it. The worst offender was the station drift. Left to its own devices, the station would drift off on its own from the strongest signal strength of the tuned station. While this looks analogue, it wasn’t. This was supposed to be a clever radio design with the receiver using tech form cell phones to lock in stations with shark like ferocity. Heck, my 1980 Pioneer tuner has automatic tuning that centers stations that actually works putting this thing to shame. A phone call later assured me that if anything should be wrong, it would be made right.. fair enough. Could just be my bad luck. But the sound signature of the Tivoli simply didn’t sit right with me. It was downright annoying. The CD player faired a little better, but it was the tuner that I primarily wanted a table radio for and this was a letdown. As gorgeous as it was aesthetically, it had to go.
After the Tivoli fiasco, I acquired a well regarded Boston Acoustics HD receptor. Its performance was much better than the Tivoli.. sounding remarkably like the Bose in some way. It had a lovely warm non fatiguing presentation that lends itself well to radio. To compensate for small drivers, the Boston implements a volume controlled bass boost curve which it calls bass trac. It works reasonably well. Theres a bass trim function to cut the bassy presentation when placed in a corner or too close to a wall as the small overdriven speakers are rear ported. I could see myself being happy with this neat little thing. It sounds very decent. Had proper stereo separation with a separate speaker and just about every feature one could ask for in a table radio. Its highlight though, is HD radio reception. No, HD does not stand for High Definition. Read all about it here. It works well and having multiple channels to individual stations only served up more choices to choose from. It’s a good thing. It also has an RDS like capability displaying station info and artist and track information. Something the Bose and Tivoli didn’t have. It’s a fairly useful thing… putting the digital display screen to good use.
The only gripes I have is that the build quality is not up to the mark. It could be better. And the display it uses is not very easily readable. Those quibbles aside, it looks very charming with its old style looks and its performance is decidedly good for a table radio. As I write this, its been discontinued and replaced by its successor that is decidedly non HD. While the replacement is no slouch, being quite a decent performer, its not quite as charming as the Receptor HD. Im holding on to mine.
The Receptor HD kept me quite happy for some time until I heard about another company that’s gone Internet direct. Cambridge Soundworks. They’ve been quietly marketing table radios built on the success of renowned Henry Kloss design, the model 88. There’s Henry again.. the mans been around apparently. I was made to understand that the Cambridge Radio 730 was a remarkable performer and sounded like no table radio should or even could sound. With a healthy does of skepticism I once again enlisted the help of Google, my trusty aide to fish from the interweb what could be garnered by this prince of table radios. The reviews were certainly positive and based on its specifications I had a sneaking suspicion I had heard this sound signature before and was eager to give it a try. In fact given how common the basis of its design had become I was surprised there weren’t more offerings incorporating the basic premise. The original Kloss design the 730 was based off also had a 2.1 design… 2 small speakers and a small subwoofer underneath the unit. Sound familiar? Bet you have something quite like it sitting next to your workstation or home pc. These frequently go on sale on the Cambridge website and can be had for much less than MSRP.
It arrived double boxed and was much heavier than I expected it to be. This was no lightweight contender. On either side sit 2 small speakers and there’s a subwoofer under the unit the provides the bass. Its cleverly been incorporated that its almost seamless. This is a remarkable little thing. It has RDS and a full complement of tone controls. While the front seems a little too utilitarian and seems to have been designed by a committee hell bent on scrounging on every penny they could.. the layout is easy enough get accustomed to . The screen is sensitive to light and dims itself according to the ambient lighting. The single knob functions as the volume control (its digital, not analogue) as well as the jog dial to control various other settings. The sound quality is simply fantastic. It is far better than the Receptor HD or many other models available. It easily bests the Bose, Tivoli and Denon offering. I’ll admit its not as pretty as some of the others, in fact It looks rather ugly duckling-ish. I can live with that… its performance is very good for a table radio.. scratch that, it sounds more like a small table top mini system! Admittedly, there is no deep bass and the treble is not stellar. The bass/midbass that’s present is palpable and thumpy in a foot tapping way. The two smaller speakers now free from low frequency duty produce with much less distortion, a cleaner midrange and treble. The technicalities aside, this thing simply sounds good. The tuner pulls in stations strongly and is stable even with just the built in antenna in areas of good reception. An external antenna is supplied for areas of weaker reception. The remote isn’t particularly inspiring, a little credit card thing that works but leaves something to be desired. Two auxlilary ports are supplied, front and back to accommodate what ever one would want to plug into it.
Dual alarms, battery backup, 2 speakers with a built in down firing subwoofer, FM/AM with stable reception, tone controls and the option of an integrated ipod dock + cd player that come with the bigger models. At this price point, one would be hard pressed to find anything better.
The Cambridge radios are available here. : http://store.cambridgesoundworks.com/
And with that gentle reader, concluded my search (felt more like a quest honestly..) for a decent table top/bedside radio. Its been almost a year now since I acquired the 730 and its been a joy to own. Its plain jane looks brings Cinderella to mind. The 730s dressed kinda drab, but the shoe fits.. and it sounds divine.