- Wood grain looks neat
- Sound lacks finesse and detail
- Annoying external housing
- Poor noise cancellation
- Review Price: £119.00
- Active noise cancellation
- Wood finish
- AAA battery-operated
- Separate volume control
- Shirt clip
A key attraction of many of Tivoli’s audio gadgets is that they use real wood finishes. This has become the company’s trademark, alongside good sound and a distinctive, retro-tinged look. And the wood is back once more in these Radio Silenz headphones.
The rear of each earcup is topped with a cap of real wood – either walnut, cherry or black ash. As neat as it may look, it’s pretty clear that it’s a surface-level thing, and doesn’t look impressive as high-end wood-backed headphones like the Audio Technica ATH-W1000X. In part, this is down to the large grilles that sit atop each one.
These cover the microphones used to monitor ambient noise for the active noise cancellation feature.
Underneath the wooden caps sits an otherwise normal-looking pair of black plastic on-ear headphones with faux-leather padding and a metal-reinforced headband. Intended for use primarily out and about, rather than at home, the earpieces fold up into the headband for ultimate portability.
However, they’re not quite as handy as some on-ear noise cancelling rivals. Aside from the microphones, the rest of the ANC gubbins is packed into a chunky housing 45cm down the cable, which hangs down from the left earcup.
It features a shirt clip to let you stop it from dangling annoyingly, but it’s far less convenient that pairs that squeeze everything into one of the cups. A further inconvenience, the Radio Silenz headphones are powered by an AAA battery rather than a rechargeable unit, adding to the maintenance factor.
Aside from the battery, this not-so-little unit has an on-off switch, an old-fashioned dial volume control and a “defeat” button. This reverses the role of the microphones, using them to enhance outside noise rather than zap it – useful for when a spray-tanned steward offers you a cup of coffee on a plane.
During a flight is when ANC headphones come into their own, and Tivoli has sensibly included an airplane adapter, as well as a simple carry case. However, compared with several noise cancelling alternatives, the Tivoli Radio Silenz aren’t particularly comfortable. The padding isn’t all that soft and unless the battery unit is clipped to clothing, its weight is very noticeable.
Among on-ear headphones in general, comfort is pretty good as the headphones themselves are light, and the headband and rotating cans flexible enough to make fitting them on your noggin problem-free. ANC headphones are often unusually comfortable, though, and these aren’t.
Noise Cancellation Peformance
The Tivoli Radio Silenz battery compartment may be annoying at times, but it does provide the headphones with great stamina. A single battery lasts for up to fifty hours, and you can play music without having ANC enabled – many sets cut out the signal completely as soon as it’s turned off.
Performance of cancellation is poor, though. Like any active set worth consideration, it removes low-end hums, but it actually seems to increase mid-range and top-end noise. Across the board, the Radio Silenz do not come close to matching the best of Bose – the class leaders in terms of noise cancellation performance – and there is some hiss audible when cancellation is on.
On the train, we found that they made for a more pleasurable listen with cancellation turned off, and that the noise created by the ANC was actually more noticeable than the natural ambient sound you have to deal with when it’s off. It makes the clacking of keyboard keys much more noticeable, for example.
Headphones with active noise cancellation rarely escape without feeling compromised on sound quality and, unfortunately, the same is true here.
With noise cancellation turned off, the sound is reasonably
well-balanced and neutral. We’re generally fans of this sort of
signature, but some will hanker after more bass. Insight and detailing are unimpressive at the price. There’s a definite top-end roll off that leaves music sounding boxed-in, and vocals disappointingly low-fi and reined-in.
The soundstage is fairly small too, with a narrowing effect. Turning the noise cancellation on doesn’t help, either. It has a deleterious effect on the mid-range, giving it a strained edge that’s not too easy on the ear at higher volumes – as if it has been squeezed up against a sieve and started falling apart.
With ANC turned on, the sound isn’t too smooth or natural – which is it, relatively speaking, when turned off. The at-times alarming difference between in tonal quality in cancelling headphones is one of the reasons why some only output sound when cancellation is turned on. Here, it’s a difference that seems to alter depending on how hard the noise cancelling “brain” has to work. In the relatively quiet Trusted towers, the difference was small, but was much more prominent on public transport.
We have a lot of time for Tivoli and its charming radios, but the Radio Silenz headphones prove that even within the world of audio you can’t simply saunter onto someone else’s patch and become king. A combination of poor noise cancelling performance, comfort that’s a way off several key rivals and sound quality that just make the grade at £120 ensure this pair doesn’t quite perform well enough to earn a recommendation.
We found the similarly-priced closed-back non-noise-cancelling GermanMaestro GMP 8.35 D and Philips Fidelio M1 were both much more comfortable, more successful at isolating you from the outside world, and able to supply better sound quality.
UK radio maestro Tivoli’s first try at noise cancelling headphones is not a great success. The Tivoli Radio Silenz’s wood finish is welcome change from the norm, but noise cancelling performance, sound quality and comfort do not particularly impress. A trio of so-so- showings does not add up to £160 worth of headphone. And for that reason, we’re out.
Score in detail
Design & Features 6
Sound Quality 5