Review : Geneva Sound Systems Model XS

Retro-styled Bluetooth speaker impresses

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Product Manufacturer: Geneva Sound Systems

Price: $249.99

The Good

  • Solid design
  • Retro travel clock design
  • Long Bluetooth range
  • Excellent sound quality

The Bad

  • Presumably pricey
  • Static-laden FM reception
  • Non-intuitive user interface
  • Some bass distortion
It's been said that if you're old enough to have been around the first time a product is released, then you're probably too old to revisit it. How does this change if the product has been modernized? The Switzerland and Boston based Geneva Lab is a boutique speaker manufacturer, specializing in high quality and stylish Bluetooth and iOS device dock speaker sets. In the case of the Geneva Model XS, the design inspiration is clear. When not in use, the device folds up into its own case, which doubles as a stand when open and in use. The Bluetooth-enhanced Geneva Sound System Model XS, by eponymous Geneva Lab, is in essence a retooled fold-down travel clock, modernized for the 21st century.

The old-school saying "If it's not broken, don't fix it" works well in this example in fitting a portable Bluetooth speaker, travel clock, and FM radio in an old-school-styled casing. In case one tires of the music collection on one's iPhone, an FM (but not AM) digital tuner is also present on the device. The tuner lacks programmable presets relying on manual tuning and a scan function, but old-school radios didn't generally have presets either, so that isn't a huge problem with the functionality.

The exterior casing, with its plastic matte finish, has a solid-feeling design and feels pleasant to the touch. The quarter-inch wide -- and very thin -- plastic tabs at the top of the case were cause for some concern. These tabs penetrate openings in the top of the radio itself and are used to turn the radio on. In our examination of the device, we stress-tested the tabs, inserting and removing them repeatedly over 200 times. They proved solid, neither fracturing nor bending nor breaking over the course of our testing.

The controls are LED-illuminated along the top of the radio. The iconography is mildly confusing, so the user interface will take some getting used to. While this isn't a big problem, it's also likely not something one wants to fumble about with in the middle of the night, trying to figure out if one should hit the plus button or the right arrow.

One big sticking point, though, is the static on the FM receiver. We tested the unit near the Washington, D.C., area, where the airwaves are rather congested. The Geneva XS, however, was outperformed by even a cheap digital clock radio with regard to reception quality. A brief trip to a less-congested radio market showed the same static, so the fault lies in the Geneva XS.

In our experience, maximum Bluetooth reception ranges can be a bit shorter than manufacturers purport. The Model XS manual claims a 30-foot maximum Bluetooth range for the device, but our tests showed that the device outperformed even that. Streaming from an iPhone 4 didn't drop off until around 51 feet; a 15-inch 2010 MacBook Pro held signal up to 64 feet. Range was a bit more limited for an 11-inch 2010 MacBook Air, topping out at 35 feet, but still outperforming the manual's claim.

Our audio comparisons were done in regular environments, under suboptimal music conditions and influenced by the myriad distractions of life. For comparison, we acquired a Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile, observing audio quality from that unit under the same conditions. Both speakers have limitations from their size: bass suffers, and audible stereo separation is near impossible due to the physics of closely-mounted speakers.

Intent on discovering the origin of the bass distortion issue, we turned to Boston's More Than a Feeling and Arrested Development's Tennessee. The tracks were ripped from an original CD, at 128kbit MP3 using iTunes 10.6.3, average 256kbit AAC VBR with Max 0.9.1, 256kbit AAC with iTunes 10.6.3, and Apple lossless with iTunes 10.6.3. Bass problems and distortion were aggravated with the 128kbit version, but on the 256kbit and ALAC files the bass distortion was identical, pointing to a acoustic issue rather than one induced by encode quality.

All testing environment caveats aside, a 5-person testing panel preferred the Geneva Model XS to the (still excellent) Bose Bluetooth streamer four-to-one. At higher volumes, the XS distorted less, and the bass seemed truer to the source than the Bose. Fiddling with software equalizers in iTunes just made the situation worse with both speakers, and in fact, both manufacturers recommend to disable all settings anyway. Listening tests are subjective, however, and Electronista recommends a side-by-side listening test if you're in the market for a small speaker set, especially at the prices for either the Bose or the Geneva Model XS.

Overall, we liked the Geneva Model XS. It's a solidly designed product, with very good sound fidelity, especially for the size. If you're a big bass fan, a small speaker set like this may not be for you. If you want to test the overall response on the unit, try bass-heavy Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy or Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. Both tracks have more than just a heavy bass line, so overall unit performance is metered pretty well.

At $249, the Model XS is somewhat expensive, and the dollar amount can pose a significant barrier to entry, but we feel the price is justified given the quality of the build and the design features. Certain computer companies, auto manufacturers, and other boutique non-computer oriented sound equipment manufacturers have no problem with a price premium for quality and design, and Geneva Systems shouldn't be criticized for the same premium in delivering a high-quality audio device.