Boston-based Tivoli Audio products are known for great sound, but they’re also known for their eye-catching looks. Design-oriented speakers are nothing unusual, but Tivoli’s vintage-style radios and speakers are particularly irresistible. If you have an Eames Hang-It-All or Emeco chairs, you kinda need a Tivoli Model One sitting on a shelf nearby.
Last year, Tivoli attempted to translate its signature style to portable products with a new line called Tivoli Go. So far, the line consists of a gorgeous, outrageously priced, small Bluetooth speaker called the Andiamo, and the Fonico, a set of wirefree buds that are not outrageously priced.
The Fonico are intended for an “on-the-go lifestyle,” as Tivoli puts it. That means traveling, walking, commuting, and working out. Accordingly, I have used them for the past week while running, doing calisthenics, and hiking with my dogs. I had a few quibbles with the Fonico, but mostly they work well and sound wonderful. And obviously, they’re pretty cute, too.
Like most wirefree buds (and by “wirefree” we mean there’s no cord around your neck like some wireless buds), the Fonico click into a rounded, pillbox-sized case that’s about 3 inches long. The buds click magnetically in the case. To recharge them, you turn on the power button after you place them in the case. Blue LED lights indicate the case’s battery level, and an LED light on each bud lights up when they’re charged.
At least, that’s what the manual indicates is supposed to happen. The LEDs on the buds never lit up, so I had to connect them to my phone to check if they were fully charged or not. The buds charged whether or not I pushed the power button, which I couldn’t complain about, since that’s how it should be. And putting them in the case didn’t always make them disconnect and turn off.
The fit on the Fonico is excellent. I have minuscule ears that are hard to fit, especially with workout headphones, but the smallest ear tips on the Fonico worked perfectly. Not only do they come with three sets of tips, they also come with two different rubber ear hooks that wedge the bud into the fold of your ear.
The Fonico had the most secure fit that I’ve had so far with wirefree buds. And the hooks come in two different colors, red and black! They look like a pair of kettlebells for mice. If you’re going to wander around town with a pair of pebbles wedged in your ears, the Fonico are some of the better-looking buds I’ve tried.
You control the buds with a round, shiny multi-function button. This seems like a good time to confess: I can never remember which buttons do what on a pair of wirefree buds. The Fonico are no exception. Usually the left button makes the volume go down and the right button turns the volume up—I’ve gotten that far.
But as far as skipping tracks or pausing podcasts, it’s a lost cause. If someone could engineer a pair of buds that make these functions intuitive, they would Win Earbuds Forever. As for now, it’s still much easier to pull out my phone than to stand in the middle of the sidewalk clicking different buttons in my ears, or to try to memorize the manual like I’m taking a driver’s test in 1992.
On paper, the Fonico gets about 3.5 hours of battery life. I got a little more time than that during my testing (about 15 minutes more, to be exact). On top of that, the case holds about three charges, and it takes less than an hour for the buds to recharge fully. Compared to other wirefree buds, 10(ish) hours of battery life isn’t great, but I didn’t have a problem with it. It was more than enough to get me through a 20-minute trek to and from the coffee shop, a morning of work, and walking the dogs.
Nothing makes me feel like more of a bully than picking on a product for having wonky Bluetooth, but alas, I have to. The Fonico has Bluetooth 4.1, and sometimes the connection between the buds cuts out. Once while running, the left bud started clicking so loudly, and so repeatedly, that I started to worry that it wasn’t the headphones at all and maybe my neck vertebra had popped out of place. When I reached out to Tivoli for comment, they noted that being outside in the wind, rain, and cold—all notable features of a Pacific NW winter—can affect the connection.
As it turns out, I will forgive a pair of wirefree buds almost anything if they fit well and sound great. Listening to different kinds of balls bouncing back and forth in Yosi Horikawa’s “Bubbles” or hearing a distant snare drum rattle in Solange’s “Losing You” sounded so good that it made my back teeth ache.
In fact, I started picking up things on tracks that I’d missed on the first—or four billionth—go-round. I’ve had the album since it came out in 2013, but it took me this long to realize that there’s a recording of Waffle House chatter and dish clatter in the intro to Kacey Musgraves’ “Blowin’ Smoke.” Podcasts also sounded clear, and phone calls were easy to pick up and intelligible to both me and my caller. And I could hear the call in both earbuds, not just one! (This is sometimes a problem for wirefree buds.) Sound-wise, my only complaint was that warm, reedy voices, like Emmylou Harris, didn’t quite have enough oomph behind them.
Bluetooth issues, wonky LEDs, and short battery life aside, the most important part about a great pair of workout headphones is that they stay put and sound excellent. With a pair of wirefree buds, nothing terrifies me more than carelessly pulling off my jacket and watching an expensive bud pop out, bounce away from me, and get lost forever, like the proverbial meatball on top of spaghetti.
I didn’t worry about the Fonico falling out at all. The buds stayed put on hour-long runs, under beanies, and in the rain, and I got to enjoy a lot of sweet tunes (and some weird ones). Along with those flashy red ear hooks, that’s all I really want from a pair of workout buds, and more than worth the hassle of toggling your Bluetooth a few times every other day.
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