As we make the move to streaming services, for many, the idea of an elegant and simple system as a substitute for the traditional collection of components, makes sense. So, it’s time to seriously look at all-in-one systems. The aim is to fill your room with quality music. Let’s learn about how to make this happen.
Pictured above - Tivoli Music System Home Gen 2 (NZ$1800) on the left, Sonus faber Omnia NZ$3500) on the right.
Both Tivoli and Sonus faber have been core brands for us for the better part of 20 years. While they come from opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of price, they both have sound quality at the heart of what they do. The more you know about the history of both, the more parallels you see.
So here we are in 2022 with two complete systems from Tivoli and Sonus faber that come to a remarkably similar end point – the best Tivoli sound ever and the most affordable SF experience ever; how do they compare?
How we listen to music has changed remarkably since the inception of both companies, yet they have adapted, and indeed excelled in meeting the challenges of a rapidly evolving market. We’ve gone from analogue to digital and CDs to streaming. Yet the basics of what makes great sound haven’t changed that much; while being technically adept is a given, being able to deliver a sound that’s both satisfying and involving takes more and that’s where the experience of both companies comes to the fore.
The Tivoli is a funky almost retro design with roots in modernism. If you’re into architecture – it adheres to the ‘less is more’ dictum and has just 3 front panel controls. The brushed aluminium front plate, light fabric speaker covers and curved walnut cabinet are design statements in their own right.
Sonus faber pull out the stops with their aesthetic; the Omnia is evocative of a James Bond lifestyle, curvaceous and sleek with a beautiful walnut top panel inlaid with a series of illuminated strips that also serve as control and display. The dash panel of a high performance car, the deck of a bespoke Italian speedboat.
Both components have their roots in previous models. Tivoli originally produced a system of separate components which were then amalgamated into a single box – the first epnonymous ‘Tivoli Music System’. They improved upon this with the ‘Art’ system – their first foray into wifi. The new Gen 2 system is vastly better again and we’ll explain why shortly.
The first Sonus faber model ever was a wildly unconventional speaker system in 1980 dubbed ‘the snail’ which probably loses something in the translation from the original Italian.
In 2016 this concept was revisited with their first all in one system – the SF16 – which was extravagantly engineered and had the end price to reflect this. These provided the groundwork for the much more affordable Omnia. Read more about these here.
While Tivoli and Sonus faber have their roots in Europe and the US, they make the most of the unarguable advantages of Chinese manufacture to keep their systems both affordable and consistent in quality. Tivoli have long done this and Sonus faber gained valuable experience with their Venere range which informs the Omnia.
Underneath the physical, is the controlling software which is at the heart of any streaming experience. In the recent past many companies attempted their own controlling Apps but this has proved to be a massively difficult challenge for all but a few, so both Sonus faber and Tivoli concentrate on broad compatibility. Apple AirPlay 2, Google, direct connection to Spotify and Tidal, Bluetooth AptX.
While ‘Bluetooth speaker’ has become shorthand for a plethora of devices there is a world of difference between those and the two systems we’re examining; what we have are viable alternatives to the traditional component systems. I’ll go further – it’s difficult if not impossible to construct an equivalently priced conventional two speaker and amp system that matches either the sound quality or capabilities of these options. While we have undeniably higher performance options in separates, they can and do cost significantly more.
The Tivoli and Sonus faber systems give you great ‘out of the box’ performance and relatively simple operation that anyone can easily master. But in both cases you can fine tune and optimise to reach a really worthwhile level of performance. I’ve now spent a lot of time with both systems, in my office and in our living room, and have to say, I’m impressed. So let’s look at them individually.
First the Tivoli Music System Home Gen 2. While previous iterations have included a CD player, the improvements made with both this system and streaming services such as Tidal and Spotify have rendered disc playing effectively obsolete – there’s no longer any sound quality advantage, and to not have to deal with both the cost and inherent reliability issues of disc spinning enables you to have a considerably better sounding system at around the same price as the older version.
if you don’t absolutely need a CD player, the new Gen 2 is an easy choice over the original CD Playing Music System BT version which is still sporadically available. Tivoli Radios have been a phenomenon over the years simply because they made radio sound appreciably better and anyone could hear this.
The new Music System is just the same in this regard but what really stands out initially is the bass – it’s amazingly muscular and defined. In part this is because the default condition is to have the bass boost turned on which is a slightly cunning marketing choice and for many genres, I’d be more than happy to stay at this setting. The Tivoli does convincingly pull off the ‘sounds bigger than it is trick’ but in fairness I’ve gone back to the flat setting when making comparisons.
The Tivoli employs 4 forward-firing drivers, so it’s mimicking a pair of small bookshelf speakers, and this is very much how it sounds – hence bass, even when boosted, remains coherent and tuneful. The earlier Music System used a downwards firing subwoofer which doesn’t work as well. 4 higher quality drivers work better than 5 lesser units.
The feet that the Tivoli stands on aren’t an affectation – they work in a similar way to quality speaker stands, isolating the unit from the shelf and allowing it to better project sound without colouration. It sounds great in almost any setting and isn’t compromised by placement.
Being a Tivoli, there is a very capable radio section with FM and AM (DAB is in there for other countries). The selectivity and sensitivity is on par with other Tivoli models, but as always your location relative to transmission will determine the number of stations and how good the sound. Add to this an auxillary line input, bluetooth and optical inputs.
I really like this Tivoli – you’ll hear the quality of drivers and the construction in the same way that I do – the sound is sweet and balanced. There’s often surprising levels of detail and it makes differences in source quality obvious. Being still a bit of an Apple person I do a lot of my listening via AirPlay, and it’s hard to fault. Tidal works exactly as it should and what I listen to with the direct connection is surprisingly good considering we’ve got Lumin based systems here that are vastly more costly. But, I’m actually happiest playing albums from my Bandcamp collection on the Tivoli – it gets vocals right, in a way that the brand always has.
The Tivoli probably hasn’t got the love it deserves from both us and the hifi world in general as we’ve been chasing more esoteric systems, plus your traditional Tivoli owner has permanently bonded with their little table or portable radio and can’t quite get their heads around a complete wifi based system. While it may not appeal to everyone, I’m a big fan of the modernist aesthetic that’s inspired Tivoli – put it beside your Eames chair and you’ve got the classic form follows function thing happening. Not so much timeless like the original Tivoli’s but also a lot better than most of the bland me-to designs out there.
Which brings us to the Sonus faber Omnia. Described as an all-in-one high end wireless speaker by a company that defines both luxury audio and the high end of loudspeaker design, the Omnia demands to be taken seriously. While by far the most affordable way to get into Sonus faber, it’s significantly more than the Tivoli system, despite the obvious functional similarities between the two. So just how and why is the Sonus faber better?
The Omnia sits lower, longer and sleeker than the Tivoli. Its curves hide 7 separate speakers – a frontal array of four midrange and treble drivers, two side firing units and a down facing subwoofer all driven by a total of 490 watts of Class D amplifier. The Omnia is described as a Stereo 4 way DSP optimised closed box system. While Tivoli have never disclosed any specification, Sonus faber give us both the above power rating and a frequency response of 30 Hz to 25kHz. This is right in the territory of their larger floor standing loudspeakers.
Not to take anything away from the Tivoli, the Sonus faber is dramatically better but it’s also more demanding when it comes to getting the most out of it. And to do this you really do need to read the on-line manual and set it up properly. There are several options in the webpage based menu – loudness compensation, the Crescendo DSP and free or near wall positioning that all have a significant effect on the sound.
As you’d expect the Sonus faber Omnia delivers a much more expansive spacious sound. The Omnia also has a pronounced run in period as both electronics and drivers settle in and being to move as they should. So straight out of the box the two systems do sound more alike but over time the performance diverges and you really start to understand just how much work and experience has been poured into the Sonus faber system.
As we’ve already intimated, both the Tivoli and Sonus faber Omnia have forms of bass control which is set to the higher level as the default – with Tivoli it’s straight forward front panel adjustment. The Omnia can be reset for via its setup webpage and a QR code and we’d recommend that you do this at the outset or if listening, make sure you know how the unit is set up. For more information on this the FAQ section on Sonus fabers Ominia page is excellent. As is the set up video.
Sonus faber has gone through a process of renewal since the passing of founder Franco Serblin. Without giving up on their heritage of craftsmanship and a devotion to an organic and emotionally involving sound, the influence of a new younger generation of designers and their more modern musical tastes is undeniable and made obvious in new ranges such as the Lumina series.
The Omnia system is part of this new ecosystem and brings the values of Sonus faber to a whole new audience. And enables existing Sonus faber owners to have a simple streaming system you can enjoy and recommend to your friends and family.
The Sonus faber Omnia is, as the name suggests, trying to be the best of all worlds. The speaker array and use of plywood may be an inadvertent echo of the Shahinian designs – Omnia is effectively omni-directional. So rather that relying on a pair of separated speakers to produce a stern image between them, Omnia projects outwards and applies some DSP – Digital Signal Processing – given the more musical name of ‘Crescendo’.
And this works remarkably well – the Omnia creates a sense of space and scale with a credible soundstage that’s apparent not just from a frontal listing position but all through the room. In an open plan environment the Sonus faber sound carries and remains coherent and balanced in a way that considerably more costly forward firing conventional speakers often fall short of. In technical terms the off axis performance is remarkable. This is something we aim for in our best systems but to have a delivery at this level is something else.
You can easily hear the difference the Crescendo processing makes as it can be switched off in the webpage menu – personally I’d never want to be without it now I’ve tried this. It’s positively cinematic and funnily enough does wonderful things with soundtracks. Extending this theme, the light show from the top panel display plus the downlight highlighting the subwoofer is quite spectacular in a darkened room and makes Omnia a real centre of attention (and you can opt for a power down mode which keeps things civilised when you’ve gone to bed).
Tonally, the Omnia is agile and alive in the same way as the Sonus faber’s new Lumina speakers. Both can really kick when you want, but never break into harshness. Give Omnia great signal via the likes of Tidal connect and it can really open out with a power and authority that is directly comparable with serious larger speakers.
Both the Tivoli and Sonus faber do background music perfectly – at these lower levels, the differences between the two diminish and in both cases, with bass management you’ll get a pleasingly rich sound. The real contrasts between these systems become obvious when you take things further. Be it an orchestra in full flight or something a whole lot modern and challenging, the Sonus faber Omnia will quickly show you why it’s at the next level.
There are two other significant features that the Sonus faber has; The Omnia is Roon ready which is important for many with a stored digital music library. And it comes with a phono stage (which can be switched to line level). This input offers very good sound quality which more than justifies a quality turntable such as the similarly priced Well Tempered Simplex 2 which just happens to share the Omnia’s plywood accents.
These systems offer you an honest certainty in terms of performance; they have enough adjustment to allow you to get the sound you want in any environment and placement. The rapidly improving sound quality associated with streaming services and almost infinite choice of music, combined with software and firmware for the actual units mean you can look forward enjoying them more over time.
Each could be the perfect office or bedroom system yet both have the talents to be your primary music listening system. It really just depends on your level of expectation and budget. For this article I’ve made a conscious choice not to listen to our much more costly systems as a comparison and have looked at both the Tivoli and Sonus faber on their own merits. The Omnia in particular has won me over – it generates a remarkable sense of space, a very real soundstage. And I absolutely love the look; if this is a reinterpretation of how a modern music system should be, count me in.
Tivoli Music System Home Gen 2 NZ$1800 including GST & delivery.
Sonus faber Omnia NZ$3500 inclusive