The Tivoli Audio PAL has been around for some years, but its update with Bluetooth for wireless streaming brings it bang up to date.
It cost a whopping £199 at the time of review (now £175); it's questionable whether any mono speaker-endowed DAB radio can justify that kind of outlay, but the PAL+ BT makes a compelling case.
Not only does its built-in 16-hour battery make it completely portable around the home, but its weather-resistant casing makes it great for bath-time and trips outdoors, and a big, bold sound from both DAB and music streamed over Bluetooth gives it all-round appeal.
Make sure you don't confuse the PAL+ BT with the PAL BT, though – the latter ships with Bluetooth but not the DAB digital tuner, and won't give you the wider offering of digital radio stations.
Design and features
Available with a high gloss blue, black, white or red front (though the top, sides and rear and always white) the PAL+ BT has a DAB, DAB+ and FM tuners inside, which tune automatically when it's switched on. Although it's clearly designed to be taken around the house (there are two indents to grip it easily from the top), it's fairly bulky at 875g and 157 x 92 x 93mm.
But then it does include a huge battery, which few other DAB radios do.
I'm also not convinced about the old school 70 x 30mm LCD display on the front; despite being easy to read and having plenty of room for scrolling text, it does rather flood a dark room with light when switched-on, and goes completely to sleep when switched-off. Neither is great for a bedside table, and considering its price, it should be using an OLED panel like the Revo SuperSignal.
The PAL+ BT is best for the bathroom, boasting a water resistant design that extends to rubber tabs that safely close the ins and outs on the rear. As well an an inlet for charging-up the built-in NiMH battery, there's a 3.5mm aux in for wiring-up a non-Bluetooth gadget alongside a headphones slot.
Pairing, and other functions of the PAL+ BT, are best done via the credit card-sized remote control, a 30g, 52 x 115mm device that also comes with a sticky-back wall holder. It's a nice idea, but that kind of permanence jars slightly with its portable design. However, the remote holder can clip onto the side of the radio, which is a nice touch.
Still, that remote proves crucial because the top-mounted control wheel is a little complex. It twists to alter the volume and change the radio station, while a three-second hold of its centre switches the unit off. Figuring out any of the other functions – such as toggling to Bluetooth mode – is tricky, so don't lose that remote. It's especially needed for programming the PAL+ BT's wake up alarms.
Pairing with the PAL+ BT is very easy; just select Tivoli Bluetooth in a smartphone's Bluetooth menu and the unit will beep quietly and start a counter. I managed to stream seriously good sounding music from iTunes and audio from the Downcast podcast app.
There's also a Tivoli Internet Radio app for iOS and Android that offers a curated collection of the top 100 Internet radio stations.
PAL stands for Portable Audio Laboratory, and it's a moniker well earned. There's plenty of low frequency action, with even subtle acoustic guitar having plenty of depth and width.
Trebles are clipped and could be clearer, but as an all-round speaker – albeit a mono speaker – for music and speech radio, the PAL+ BT is cut above.
Few digital radios have built-in batteries and splash-proof, portable designs, so the PAL+ BT is a bit of a one-off. Its 16 hour battery is simply superb, and makes it a great – though expensive – alternative to a Bluetooth speaker that you might take into the garden or park. Its headline slot and aux-in are handy, while the sound quality is thoroughly decent.
But bluetooth isn't exactly an expensive technology and the sound quality isn't close enough to perfect for Tivoli to be charging the kind of money it's asking for the PAL+ BT. Its unusually large remote control proves critical because its top-mounted control wheel isn't quite proficient enough to control the PAL+ BT's core functions.
In the end, this is a compact, versatile DAB radio that can be taken around the home (and anywhere else) quite easily thanks to a 16-hour battery, and it's nevertheless the PAL+BT's inclusion of Bluetooth and a a bass-heavy sound that helps justify its high price. Perfect for occasional forays into the bathroom.
- Best DAB radio: what are the best options out there?