Tivoli's debut wireless earbuds give Apple a run for their money
As much as I love new travel gear, I’m a bit old-school when it comes to headphones. I still like the look, feel, and audio quality of traditional corded cans. That they never need to be plugged in — and can survive even the longest long-haul flight without a recharge — is another plus. But, like manual transmissions and cable TV, they’re a dying breed. Wireless is the next evolution.
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Every audio brand from Apple to RHA to Bose is getting in on the wireless earbuds game. Even Tivoli — a brand who’s stylish, high-end desktop radios I’ve loved for decades. Their new Fonico wirefree buds (versus wireless which usually involves a cord around the neck) are designed with the same simplicity and high-quality audio in mind. But how do they sound? I took them for a spin this summer, and here are my thoughts.
With Fonico, Tivoli is looking to compete squarely with Apple’s AirPods. In their own words:
Your life never stops and neither should the music. The durable and premium Fonico earbuds keep up with you. With 3.5 hours of playback and 3 additional charge cycles in the small magnetic carrying case these true wireless stereo earbuds with always be ready to play. Customizable adapters for a perfect fit and water resistance mean the Fonico Bluetooth earbuds will keep up with you no matter your lifestyle.
THE TRAVELER’S TAKE
The quality of a product’s packaging often reveals a lot about what’s inside. If clear thought was put into even the wrapper, there’s a good chance the designers carefully considered the product itself. Tivoli goes beyond the typical plastic blister packaging with a sharp, magnetic clasp display box that makes the Fonico feel like a pair of earbuds marketed at three times the price.
The included pill-shaped carry case is small, sleek, and well-designed. The inside is just large enough to accommodate the two buds. Each fits snugly into its own left/right receptacle, clicking into place with a satisfying magnetic snap. Between the two, dime-sized buds is a strip of blue lights indicating the remaining charge on the case’s built-in battery. Once clicked into place, the buds automatically begin charging.
Fit & Comfort
Earbud fit is a very personal thing. It’s impossible to know how a particular pair will fit without trying them for yourself. The Fonico fit my ears very comfortably. Snug but not tight, ensuring they don’t fall out even during vigorous activity. The small rubber loops built into each bud help wedge them securely and comfortably into the folds of your ear.
Over the course of two days and two cross-country flights, I wore them for about 12 hours total. They never became uncomfortable or irritating. After the first 15 minutes, I often forgot that I was wearing them.
Because this style of ear bud fits snugly into the ear canal, the audio quality is noticeably richer than their traditional “rest-in-ear” counterparts. The sound is far more satisfying with podcast voices sounding more resonant and mid-range and bass response in every kind of music fuller and deeper.
Tiny, ultra-streamlined products like these can suffer from something of a “design anemia.” Physical buttons must be removed due to space constraints. In the case of the Fonico, all functionality is handled through a series of taps and presses on the single button on each bud. Two taps on the right bud, for example, will pause the audio. Two more taps will begin playing the audio again.
It’s mostly straightforward once you get the hang of it, though honestly I didn’t play with them long enough to dive into every possible function. If you use them frequently, the system quickly becomes second nature. But, it’s easy to forget if you go awhile without fiddling with them. Overall, I like it, though some may appreciate more dedicated physical buttons to directly access frequently accessed functions like volume and play/pause.
The lack of a battery indicator on the individual buds is their biggest drawback. Without it, it’s difficult to know if or when they’re going to die out. I had to pair them with my phone to check the battery life and, even then, the tiny icon on my phone only gives a vague approximation of the battery percentage remaining.
What’s more, the 3.5-hour battery life is passable, especially given their diminutive size. But, for most flights, that means recharging them mid-flight. For me, that means I need to pack a backup pair of headphones/earbuds which is less that convenient. The good news is that the included case/battery pack will recharge both buds in less than an hour. It also boasts enough capacity for three full recharges on the pair.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Minor battery indicator quibbles and battery life aside, there’s a lot to like about the Tivoli Fonico earbuds. They’re lightweight, comfortable, and boast great sound quality for everything from voice-heavy podcasts and audiobooks to ABBA and bass-heavy electronic music. Plus, at an MSRP of around $130 (roughly $30 less than Apple’s AirPods), they’re an affordable, competitive alternative.