Tivoli Audio Fonico earbuds
- Stay put, even during most workouts
- Price is right
- Can be controlled via earbuds or with voice commands
- Audio quality is poor compared to Apple’s products
- True wireless stereo with a full dynamic range
- Water- and sweat-resistant
- Carry case with three charging cycles built-in
- 3.5 hours of playback
- Multiple adapters for proper fit
- Multifunction controls on earbuds
- Mic for voice commands
- 6mm drivers
- Up to 93 dB at 1 kHz
- 20 Hz- 20 kHz frequency range
- Sweat- and rain-proof (IPX5 rating)
- 2 sets of buds and ear adapters for a comfortable fit
- High-quality Bluetooth 5.0 audio file transfer
- Micro-USB charge
I’ve never been able to get earbuds to stay in my ears for more than a few minutes before they fall out. After trying different kinds over the years, I eventually chalked it up to having weird ears, bought myself a pair of hooks for my earbuds, and moved on.
So I was intrigued when Tivoli Audio introduced its new wireless Fonico earbuds that they claimed were “built for all” and would “stay put through the toughest workout”.
I decided to put their claims to the test.
Look and feel: 5/5
When my earbuds arrived in the mail, they were packaged in a sturdy cardboard box — which is to be expected from any company that wants to compete with Apple’s knack for presentation. Inside the box were the earbuds, charging case with cord, a quick start guide, and some different adapters to customize the fit. One obvious omission was the lack of a square to plug into the wall. There was a USB cable that fits into the case, but no way to plug it in. Obviously, Tivoli assumes anyone buying high-end earbuds will have a few USB-to-wall outlet plugs laying around. While that might be true, it seemed like a weird corner to cut on a product that originally sold for $139 (that price has since been cut and Tivoli is selling this model for $99).
The whole presentation was very aesthetically appealing. Both the small pill-shaped charging case and earbuds themselves looked stylish and cool. The charging case fit well in my pocket and seemed pretty sturdy. I was worried the earbuds would be a bit heavy, considering the features Tivoli packed into them, but they were surprisingly light.
The adapters are at the heart of Tivoli’s claim that their product will work for any ear. The box had three different sizes of tips, and two different sizes of what the company calls “hooks” but are actually more like loops, to keep your earbuds firmly in place. There were actually four different sets of these loops in the box and it took me a second to figure out that they were offering me a choice of color between black and red. If you look at the back of the loops you’ll find a tiny “L” or “M” indicating whether the loop is large or medium. The loops are designed to fit under a tiny fold in the ear, so spend some time figuring out what works best for you. Tivoli recommends using the largest size that will fit comfortably in your ear canal. These particular earbuds are designed to fit deeper in your ear than most similar products, almost more like earplugs than traditional earbuds. To place the earbuds in your ear, you push them in and then twist them into place. I found I had to push fairly hard to get them in but once they were in they didn’t feel uncomfortable. I cautiously turned my head from side to side, gave it a few shakes, and was pleasantly surprised to find they stayed in place.
I decided to test out their fit right away by taking them on a 40-minute run. I could hardly believe they didn’t budge after the first mile. I was just starting to trust them around the 15-minute mark when the right earbud popped out and landed on the pavement. Luckily I was on a trail and not a road so I scooped it right back up and placed it back in my ear. It kept falling out the rest of the run and eventually I gave up and carried it in my hand the rest of the way. I was disappointed but on the upside, the thing hit the ground five or six times and seemed no worse for wear. If nothing else, the earbuds are sturdy. Also since no other earbud had ever stayed in my ear more than a few steps, Tivoli had already outperformed them all.
A few days later, I gave them a second try at the gym. This time I used the largest tip and stayed with the medium loops. I did 20 minutes on the elliptical and another 20 on the stationary bike with no problems. Since those exercises aren’t that jarring, I added some pushups and situps. I even hung upside down from the pullup bar and shook my head around a bit (and got a few weird looks) but the earbuds didn’t budge. The lesson is that you really want to take your time and find the right adapters for your ears.
One of the biggest complaints about Apple’s AirPods is their lack of inline control. Sure, you can use Siri, but not everyone wants to yell at their phone while at the gym or going for a run. Tivoli’s Fonico’s come loaded with functionality. They can be paired with Siri, Google voice assist, and Skype. You can also control playback by tapping the earbuds. Tapping the right earbud turns up the volume, tapping the left turns it down, you double-tap to pause, and on and on. It takes some time to remember which earbud you tap to do what, but once you get it down it’s fairly simple.
They are also IPX5 water-resistant, a big feature Apple doesn’t offer (click here for a quick guide to water/dust resistance ratings).
Performance and Power: 4.5/5
Tivoli claims the earbuds will last 3.5 hours on a full charge and the case will last 13. In my experience, it’s even longer: I used the earbuds on a four-plus hour car drive and they didn’t cut out.
I had some minor trouble pairing them with my phone at first but seemed to clear up the issue by updating my phone’s iOS. At one point only the right earbud was working and not the left. I put them both back on the charger for a bit and then unconnected and reconnected them to my Bluetooth and it started working again. I didn’t have the problem again and I’m still not sure if it was connectivity problem or something with the battery.
Sound quality: 3/5
Obviously with any audio product, sound quality is king. You can pack all the cool features you want into a slick-looking product, but if it doesn’t sound good, what’s the point? Tivoli’s new Fonico earbuds sound…fine. Certainly not bad, but also not what I’d expect from a $100 product or from a relatively high-end company like Tivoli. I, strangely, couldn’t find a friend with AirPods to compare them against, but even compared with Apple’s last-generation of corded earbuds, the Fonico’s sounded less full. A decent pair of over-the-ear style headphones will almost always outperform any earbuds, and I much preferred the sound of my standby Phillips headphones.
I also asked my daughter for her opinion, and she actually preferred her corded Apple earbuds to my headphones, which says a lot about Apple’s audio quality. She rated the Fonicos the lowest of the three. She also didn’t like the feel of having the Fonicos jammed in her ears. While they didn’t bother me, some people might find them uncomfortable.
Overall score: 4/5
Tivoli created a sturdy, highly usable product that looks great. They score big points for staying in during exercise, something I’ve never experienced with earbuds that don’t have over-the-ear hooks. I’m still a little cautious to go running on the road with them, but that might change given time. They’re also currently $44 dollars less than the lowest-priced AirPods.
Some people might not enjoy the way they feel, but I found them comfortable enough. It’s worth noting that since they fit like earplugs, the Fonicos actually block a lot of sound even when they aren’t turned on. This could be a disadvantage if you want to pause your music and talk to your friend but could be useful if you wanted to play some white noise and take a nap in a noisy environment.
Unfortunately, Tivoli falls short in the most important category of all: Sound quality. Again, they aren’t bad — but they aren’t as good as Apple’s, and that’s what they’re competing against. Contrary to what most people I talked to believed, AirPods can be paired with non-Apple devices, making them an option for everyone who can afford a pair. Unless you’re worried about getting your earbuds wet (a totally reasonable fear), it’s probably worth it to spend the extra money and get a pair of AirPods with some cheap ear hooks. If you care about sound quality above all, then the extra cost is worth it.
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