Geneva's boutique iPod dock is examined (August 31st, 2012)
Product Manufacturer: Geneva Sound Systems
- Stunning build quality
- Faithful audio reproduction
- Hiss-free FM Tuner
- Not cheap
- Doesn't fit the iPad
- Dock obsolete in next iteration of iPhone?
- Not wireless 'out of the box'
Almost every audio system on the market these days has room for an iOS device dock, a testament to the iPod and iPhone's massive mainstream popularity. That said, not everyone is going to be willing to spend hundreds of dollars as a supporting audio system for their iPod Touch. For those that value most the built-in music player that marks their mobile device, however, a quality system is a must. Is the Geneva Model M, priced at $650, in the sweet spot of sound and beauty?
Technology reviews are predictably formulaic. The first paragraph teases you into reading the rest of the review, beckoning you with questions, enticing you to read the next thousand words or so. Yes, we reviewed the Geneva Model M. If you have $649 to spend on a high quality, stylish audio system with iOS device dock, go buy it now, and read the review later.
The Geneva Model M provided to us was the cherry red color. Its a great, vibrant color which works in our eclectic testing environment, but clearly not for every decor. Besides just the cherry red, the unit is also available in white, black, and walnut, meshing with most any home design. While not enormous like Geneva's pedestal mounted Model L and XL, the large box with the convex speaker grille makes a bit of a statement, so the finish and presentation on the speaker is important.
An iPod or iPhone, but not an iPad, docks inside a flip-up compartment on the top of the unit. A single dock insert is provided to differentiate between an iPhone and iPod, but if a legacy device must be supported, the standard Apple dock inserts seem to fit fine. Speaker functions, as well as track selection can be performed on the capacitive touch wheel on the top of the panel, but the included remote (with finish-matching buttons) is an easier method of control. The same touch wheel or remote is also used to control a FM tuner with six presets, capable of tuning in 0.1 increments, unusual for a digital tuner. A LED display on the upper right functions as a clock, as well as an indicator of input or volume, as appropriate.
We tested the Model M with a variety of musical styles and compositions including classical, modern rock, classic rock, adult contemporary, rap, heavy metal, and dubstep. All tracks were ripped from an original CD, at four different bitrates: 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. Following this reviewer's personal assessment of the device, we used our five-person testing panel, as we did with the Model XS, and comparatively listened to nearly four hours of music.
Geneva's specs on the unit range from 47Hz to 20kHz with four 25W digital amplifiers, two four-inch woofers, and two one-inch tweeters. Specs aside, the unit is loud. So loud, in fact, that at maximum volume for testing, we managed to get the plants outside the window shaking a bit. Other than simply "loud", music perceptions are terribly subjective -- what one hears may vary greatly with another listener, and it may have little to do with the hardware in question, but rather, the 'wetware' of the people involved. The listener's age, ears, and other aspects of the human nervous system make all the difference. Our testing panel was genuinely wowed by the device, and felt that the unit reproduced the classical and rock-oriented tracks the best. One listener actually attended a concert recorded for one of our test tracks, and called the reproduction "almost pristine," even with the lower bit rate recordings.
Even with the intense bass the Model M is capable of, something just felt slightly off with the bass-heavy rap, heavy metal, and dubstep tracks -- not intensely so, but the sound almost didn't sound "dirty" enough for the music. This effect lessened somewhat with the lossless tracks, but never completely disappeared. Our concert attendee said that he felt that the precision of the unit may actually work against it for the genres and bitrates that we felt didn't work the best for the unit, and this precision was amplifying any issues that there may be in faithful reproduction of the original audio due to the nature of audio compression.
Let's be perfectly clear about what we found during our testing. There is no hiss discernible with this dock. There is no bass distortion, common to even higher-end speaker docks like Apple's own defunct Hi-Fi unit. Even with intentionally dirty power, the unit's sound didn't waver or break while playing at extremely high volumes. The speaker dock plays back with ultimate fidelity your source material, and that fidelity may be a problem with the Geneva Model M in some cases. Apple iTunes purchased tracks are 256kBit AAC. We listened to all tracks at very high and very low bitrates, and there was a discernible difference between the two, with the iTunes-standard track laying somewhere in the middle. The old data maxim "garbage in, garbage out" certainly applies to digital music and its reproduction on speaker sets for the human ear.
The Model M, and every other device with an Apple docking plug, stands at a crossroads with technology. Apple is pushing Airplay heavily, which the Model M lacks. A rumored iPhone 5 feature is a new dock connector, with no promises of an adapter for backwards compatibility. Future-proofed somewhat, the Model M does have an auxiliary input, and Apple devices with 'old' dock connectors won't spontaneously burst into flames upon a new phone release, no matter how much Cupertino wishes it to be so. On the precipice of a new phone release, no built-in dedicated streaming feature on the Model M is less of an issue, as older off-contract phones will be in ample supply, reducing the price to any prospective user who may want a dedicated streaming device.
We have tried a lot of iOS device docks. Many streamers have come through and failed or succeed on their own merits. The Geneva Model M does a handful of things in a world where multitaskers prevail. Apologies to Alton Brown, but a unitasker sometimes is the best fit for the job. The Model M is far and above the best iOS device docking station speaker set we've tried. Yes, the device commands a price premium, but it commands it for the quality of the build, the style of the speaker, and the audio quality. The cost is not for the feint of heart, but you get what you pay for.