image: Pal red
Tivoli's PAL is a portable, rechargeable version of Henry Kloss' Model One tableradio. Tivoli calls this color Sunset Red.

Henry Kloss was an audio inventor and a genius. When he died earlier this year, he was working on another radio breakthrough — a device with all the amazing hi-fi quality of his other designs with the ability to take that sound with you wherever you go. He called his new invention PAL, or Portable Audio Laboratory.

InsertArt(1610173)IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, Henry Kloss has probably touched millions of lives with his life-long work in the field of hi-fi.

In the 50’s, while a student at M.I.T., he worked on live broadcasts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra — he was asked to help by FM radio’s inventor Major Edward Armstrong. Upon graduation he worked on acoustic suspension speaker designs at his company, Acoustic Research (AR). His next company, formed with two other partners was named KLH (what do you think the K stands for?). Along with speakers he was the first to combine Dolby noise reduction with cassette decks. Advent, his next company’s speakers were all the rage in the early 70’s. Then came something new — projection televisions for your home. Kloss Video’s TV won him an Emmy in the late 70’s. After that, he and friend Tom DeVesto started Cambridge SoundWorks. They sold that company then started Tivoli Audio.

Beginning with the KLH Model 8 in the 60’s, Kloss took great pleasure in designing FM table radios that sounded great. He had a gift for “voicing” speakers — stressing the good sounds and hiding the less-good ones — and equalizing small little speaker cones until they sounded like they were much bigger than they really were. Try to find one of his early KLH table radios — you won’t believe what they go for these days.

I proud to say that I own one Kloss KLH radio (actually an AM-FM clock radio) — an Advent — and a few Cambridge SoundWorks FM-stereo designs. When Henry and Tom formed Tivoli, their first priority was to recreate and improve upon the original monophonic KLH design. Henry argued that true stereo can’t come from a small box. Thus was born the Model One.

In case you don’t own or you’ve never heard a Model One, get with it! Buy one now. It retails for $99.99 and sounds like a hi-fi component system 10 times its size. If you must have stereo, you can buy a Model Two. For $159.99 you get a box the same size as the Model One with a second box housing the stereo speaker. There’s an available matching subwoofer ($79.99) to add a little more bass — but the Model Two is really fine as is.

image: Model One
Tivoli's original radio -- the $99.99 Model One.
I have a Model One which sounds great sitting next to my bed, and a Model Two system fills a living room with glorious sound. I never wanted to move my Tivolis to other rooms, or heaven forbid, outside. When I wasn’t near my Tivoli I was out of luck. Until now.

Kloss was working on the PAL when he died back in January. His goal was to produce a usable portable table radio with the famous Kloss sound. I’m happy to announce that’s he did just that. PAL is a small, lightweight, portable Kloss radio that sounds great. No, it’s not a boom-box, or oversized “portable” stereo with detachable speakers, or a cheap transistor design. It’s actually something completely different.

Kloss’ Portable Audio Laboratory is an AM/FM radio measuring 3.7 by 6.3 by 3.8 inches. PAL weighs 2 pounds. Inside: a tiny 2.5-inch full range driver speaker, Kloss’ amazing tuner/amplifier/equalizer design, and a rechargeable nickel metal-hydride battery. On the outside is an auxiliary input (to plug-in a CD player, MP3, cassette, etc.) a stereo headphone/record/line output, a telescoping FM antenna and of course a place to plug in the AC power supply.

The box is wrapped in a rubberized covering that comes in 8 spiffy colors including Spring Green, Neon Yellow, Sunset Red and Electric Blue. For the record, those input and output jacks all have a little rubber protective cover when they’re not in use, making PAL water resistant for outdoor use. That’s water resistant — not water proof — you shouldn’t try to dunk it in a pail of water.

As with all other Kloss-designed radios the proof is in the sound — and the PAL comes through with flying colors. I can’t believe anyone can get that kind of sound from a 2.5-inch speaker. If you’re expecting ultra-deep or even booming bass you’ll have to look somewhere else. If you value the real sound of instruments and voices, this little marvel is for you.

image: Model Two
The Model 2 adds a second speaker enclosure -- and the ability to connect an optional subwoofer.
Station selection is easy, and with the built-in, always-on AFC (automatic frequency control) stations stay tuned-in. I listened to the PAL for about 5 hours and battery was still going strong. Officially, Tivoli says battery life depends on how loud you like listening to your PAL and won’t play the numbers game. Off the record, if you listen with the volume control at “9 o’clock” you can expect 12-15 hours or more in between charges. PAL should provide you with an entire day of outdoor listening.

I also tried using the stereo headphone output making PAL the tuner section in my big, component hi-fi system. I have to tell you that it really sounds very, very, very good. I plan to do some extensive testing in the near future — but I’m pretty sure that some of my older tuners will now be moved to the closet. PAL might be a great component for a budget stereo system column I’m working on. More about that shortly. Barring Tivoli creating a separate hi-fi tuner for component stereos — with no AFC, no volume control and an external antenna connection, PAL is the least-expensive, best-sounding tuner option to date. And while we’re asking for new items, how about a Tivoli clock radio? My KLH still sounds great but the digital clock portion never really worked properly.

PAL is a bargain at the $129.99 asking price. I can think of a dozen places where the Portable Audio Laboratory would fit in perfectly — from bathrooms to kitchens to guest rooms to bedrooms to dorm rooms to garages to back porches. If you cherish your music and good sound — and you like taking it with you — you now have a choice.

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