Geneva Sound System Model S review

Red. Red box. Red controls. Red speaker grill. Silver remote with – red buttons. I guess you have to be a confident company to make a speaker as red as the Geneva Sound System Model S speaker. But I have to tell you, the Model S is drop-dead gorgeous. You can’t not notice it on any desk. It stands out that much (In fact, I have received more favorable comments about the Model S on my desk than any other speaker). While it also comes in black or white and even silver, I don’t care! This speaker is made to be red. End of argument.

Geneva Labs makes some audacious speakers, ranging from the minute Model XS up to the monstrous Model XL. They are also priced accordingly. The Model S that I’m reviewing is their smallest box-shaped speaker. Measuring just 9.2″ W x 6.1″ H x 6.9″ D; the Model S is a desktop speaker to be sure, but it can fill an office or just about any room with audio that belies it size.

Photos cannot show the quality of Swiss craftsmanship in the hand-made Model S cabinet. It has eight layers of a high-grade piano lacquer (red, of course) finish which makes it extremely glossy. You can see a perfect reflection of yourself in the finish.

The Model S has an impressive bit of built-in tech. Included are two 3-inch drivers, two bass ports with two class D amplifiers – one for each speaker. I’ll talk about the sound later. On the back, there’s a mini line-in jack for external audio sources such as a computer, Android or other non-Apple device. There is also an FM radio with a removable and extendable antenna. It’s handy if you like radio, and it does a good job of locking in on FM signals, but it’s still only radio. FM audio is okay, but pales compared to the other audio sources available. In the top-right corner of the speaker grill, there is an LED display which shows what mode the speaker is currently using, or the time of day, or a numerical volume indicator (55 is loud). The LED also shows the built-in alarm clock functions. The lights are subtle enough to not be intrusive.

There are two uniquely impressive features of the Model S speaker. A motorized dock that rotates open and closed as needed. The motorized action is solid, relatively quiet and fun to watch (maybe I need to get out more). Also, when the Model S is turned off, the dock will not close if it senses an iPod/iPhone still connected. Even more impressive – and fun – are the capacitive (touch-sensitive) controls located on the top of the unit. Although I do use them occasionally, I don’t use these controls as much as I thought I would.  However, they sure are a conversation starter.  The controls glow red (of course!) once they sense touch and dim when not used. It’s all quite elegant, which is not a word usually associated with speaker/docks. Note: The scrolling action does not match iPods perfectly and it also does not work with some older iPods. Check Geneva’s web site to see if your iPod is compatible.

These capacitive controls let you adjust volume, skip, and change mode, but the best feature is a scroll wheel that acts like the scroll wheel on an iPod. For instance, you can click through the menus to make selections and then scroll as on an iPod. It can be useful if you walk around a room and use the speaker to make adjustments, but sitting at a desk, it’s just as easy to touch the iPod itself. If the room lights are dim, the glowing controls are very easy to see.

The Model S comes with a removable aluminum stand (not red, darn it) which raises the speaker about 3.25 inches off the table/desk. Whether the stand improves the audio or not is debatable. I prefer using the stand when it’s on my desk about 20 inches away. However, if you use the speaker as a tabletop unit, it frankly looks nicer without the stand, and any perceived audio improvement is negated anyway as you walk around a room. I will say that there seems to be a bit more bass when the stand is not attached. Whether that’s measurable or psychological, I can’t say.

There is a credit-card sized remote included that covers all the functions you need. As with most other speaker/docks, the remote feels cheap and not up to the standards of the speaker itself. At least it looks nice. To be fair, I have yet to be impressed with any remote, no matter how expensive or cool the speaker may be.

One glaring omission is the lack of any wireless functionality. I say glaring, because any $300 speaker in 2012 should include – at minimum – Bluetooth, even if the audio is compromised. Plus, Apple has changed the dock on the newest iPhone, iPod Touch and Nano which makes every speaker dock now available obsolete without a $30 Apple convertor (thanks, Apple!). That’s something to consider, though it’s no fault of Geneva. It’s just the price of progress. The iPad and new iPad Mini are too large for this dock, regardless of connector.

As cool and well made the Model S is, it matters not if the audio doesn’t match the speaker’s specs. Happily, it does. Audio is clear across all frequencies with bass that’s not overdone. If anything, the sound leans towards bright. Some brighter sounding speakers can border on harsh, but not the Model S. However, don’t let that scare you if you like bass. The bass is tight and just right. It only became muddy and indistinct if the song was recorded that way. Vocals are similar, meaning that if the song has upfront mid-frequency voicing, then that’s what you will experience.

Despite its size, the Model S cannot just fill a room with good sound, but can fill a few rooms. I had the speaker set up in my living room in the center of my house with the volume set fairly high. I could walk around the house (about 2,000 sq. ft.) doing chores without wanting to bring the speaker with me. This is the petit Model S I’m talking about! I can only imagine how a larger Model M or Model L might sound. Sure, I wasn’t fooled into thinking I was listening to a stereo system, but that isn’t the purpose of the Model S. The fact that it could fill the house without distorting is saying something.

Now, about that sound.

The Manhattan Transfer are a prime example of what the human voice can achieve. Yes, their songs favor mid-frequencies and the Model S doesn’t disappoint here, but the higher – and lower – range of the instruments is not pushed in the background. That’s one of the nice things about this speaker: the way elements compliment, rather than compete with each other. “Sweet Talking Guy,” “Tuxedo Junction” and “Operator,” from their eponymous debut album are a delight.

I tried Moby’s “Love of Strings” from “Extreme Ways,” to test the bass response. Only in the upper volume ranges did I detect some aural struggling. The bass didn’t distort; it just didn’t rise in proportion to the increases in volume, like the mids and higher frequencies did. In other words, the louder the Model S got, the less impactful the bass became. This could be a built-in safeguard, similar to what Bowers and Wilkins does with their Zeppelin Air. As a result, there was no desire to turn down the volume just to avoid distortion. I liked that “no choice” option.

With the Model S sitting on my office desk, I got to test it in a social environment where the volume had to remain relatively low so as not to disturb coworkers. Many speaker/docks are used in offices, so this test is useful for real-world, lower volume situations.

While the bass may decrease as volume increases, that’s obviously not an issue here. Whatever I listened to sounded… complete. Strange description, I know – but at a socially acceptable volume, the Model S simply excels. Bass sounds like bass. Even at low volumes, the music was clear and rich. Understand that this is not an easy thing for a speaker to do. At lower volumes, sound can be absorbed by the busy surroundings. The Model S cuts through that.

I am blessed to be able to listen to music in my office all day which also allows me to test speakers and headphones while working. “A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night” by Harry Nilsson is a gorgeously textured album with Nilsson’s superbly controlled vocals backed by Gordon Jenkins’ lush orchestration. It’s an hour-long ode to master songwriters at the peak of their careers which the Model S exploits completely.

The more I use the Model S, the more I like it. Unfortunately, I think technology has passed this version by because of Apple’s move to the Lightning connector. However, once Geneva updates their speaker line, the successor to the Model S could very well be a perfect speaker/dock solution for many people – as long as it remains red.

 

Product Information

Price:$299.95 US
Manufacturer:Geneva Sound System
Requirements:
  • Audio source
Pros:
  • Red!
  • Meticulously made
  • Sounds quite good for its size
  • Low volume listening seductive
  • Cool capacitive touch controls
Cons:
  • Expensive
  • Technology outdated by Apple overnight
Posted in: Audio, Video, TV Gear, iPhone, iPad, iPod, Reviews

{ 18 comments… add one }

  • Jackie Cheng December 2, 2012, 9:11 pm

    I saw the exact same thing in the rooms at Yotel in NYC. For some reason the dock isn’t compatible with my iPhone 4S.

  • Bill Henderson December 3, 2012, 9:29 am

    Jackie,
    The Model S is supposed to work with the iPhone 4S. The Model S comes with a couple of dock inserts and the one that was used may not have been compatible with your iPhone. The remove easily and I don’t even use them at all.

    Bill H.

  • Jackie Cheng December 4, 2012, 12:25 am

    Not sure. I stayed at Yotel twice in 2 different rooms. The iPhone fits in the dock and it charges but it pops up that error message about incompatible accessory. Maybe Yotel got a bad batch or something.

  • Jane P. December 8, 2012, 5:24 pm

    Another great review, Bill.

    If you recall. I’ve been looking for something to use in our travel trailer with my iPod Touch.

    I want something portable, with FM, that has great audio. (The Altec Lansing Boombox came closest to meeting my needs, but has too large a footprint for the trailer).

    One deal breaker has been the lack of FM Radio (we dry camp a lot). But I also want to enjoy internet radio when wifi is available.

    I’d love to access the system wirelessly. (especially if I’m laying out $300!) Based on your reviews, I’d prefer Airplay over Bluetooth. However, if I can plug my Touch into the device, and I get great sound and FM Radio, I can do without wireless (especially if you have remote control).

    Like many gadgeteers, I’ve began to wait for newer technology to meet my needs. And I understand that if Geneva would only add Airplay …

    Now my question with respect this specific product:

    1. Can I get get internet radio via my Touch?
    2. How does the sound compare to the Atec Lansing Boombox?
    3. Can I connect to an outside FM antenna via that back portal?
    4. How often do they update their product line?

  • Bill Henderson December 8, 2012, 8:55 pm

    Jane,
    I will try to answer your questions as they are asked:

    1. Can I get get internet radio via my Touch?
    As long as you have WiFi, the Touch will pick up internet radio with the right apps. Some of them are free.

    2. How does the sound compare to the Atec Lansing Boombox?
    The Altec Lansing Mixx Boombox is crazy powerful. The Geneva is more refined.

    3. Can I connect to an outside FM antenna via that back portal?
    Probably, but I’m not positive. The connection seems to not be proprietary.

    4. How often do they update their product line?
    I think with the change in Apple’s connector dock, Geneva will add wireless to their entire line, but they are not saying if or when. But, I do think 2013 will be interesting in wireless products.

    I also prefer AirPlay over Bluetooth. However there is a new bluetooth coming on the market that is called APT-x bluetooth. It approaches AirPlay in audio quality, but both the sender and receiver must be compatible.

    Bill H.

  • Jane P. December 12, 2012, 8:49 pm

    @Bill. Thanks for your response. APT-x Bluetooth … I’ll be on the lookout for it.

    Won’t be camping for several months, so let’s hope someone will put together the ideal package for my needs.

    Once again, thanks for your help. Always enjoy your reviews.

  • Julie April 23, 2013, 8:29 pm

    test

  • Jane P. April 27, 2013, 5:07 pm

    Hey Bill. Still looking for a sound system for my travel trailer.

    Your only criticism of the Model S was, give the $300 price tag, the lack of Bluetooth or AirPlay. I was on the Geneva site today and saw a new optional item: a wireless adapter. It’s $99, which brings the price of the system up to $400.

    Please take a look and tell me what you think. (you may want to get one to test on your system).

    Thanks in advance for your input!

    Jane P.

  • Bill Henderson April 27, 2013, 7:04 pm

    Jane,
    You are a patient person. If you are willing to spend $400, I think you should seriously look at the NEW Bowers & Wilkins Z2 speaker. It has airplay and a dock for the new iPhone. It’s $400 and I think it would fill your trailer as good or better than the Geneva speaker. Plus, it looks like it would fit a smaller cabinet, depending on your measurements.
    Bill

  • Bill Henderson April 27, 2013, 7:12 pm

    Jane,
    You may also want to look at the newer Geneva World radio with built in bluetooth. It may not have the room filling sound of the Model S, but it should be plenty loud and it’s portable.

    http://www.genevalab.com/sound/us_en/geneva-worldradio/

    Bill

  • Jane P. April 27, 2013, 11:16 pm

    Thanks for the complement (?). If you only knew …

    I believe you reviewed the World Radio, and it did not interest me. I am going for quality sound at a respectable volume level. I am concerned about the Model S as I did read reviews suggesting that its mid-range sound does become harsh at higher volumes.

    I also want an FM tuner, and the ability to use an external antenna. So the Z2 Speaker does not fit the bill.

    I would rather have a portable unit. But I am keeping my ears open for an auto head unit. They keep improving these units’ abilities to integrate with iOS. Because my trailer is not wired for sound, installation would be expensive (hence, my interest in a boombox or portable sound system). And should I sell the trailer, I really can’t take it with me.

    I sent an e-mail to “George at geneva.com” asking if they will be upgrading to Model S for Bluetooth and/or Airplay anytime soon.

    As I said, my camping plans have been put on hold till summer. But I do want an entertainment system in place when I eventually take to the road.

  • Bill Henderson April 28, 2013, 8:45 am

    Jane, there HAS to be something that has wireless, FM and sounds big. Unfortunately, most of the time you have to buy on faith from an ad or review (like mine), and never hear it until you’ve spent your hard earned money.
    I have not reviewed the World Radio, although I would love to and compare to the Model S. i have read good things about the sound quality and its very portable.
    Bill

  • Bill Henderson April 29, 2013, 11:07 am

    Jane,
    Good news!
    Geneva is just days away from releasing a totally wireless (bluetooth) version of the Model S:

    It’s the same size as the previous docking version, and has the same radio, clock and alarm features, but internally most parts have been upgraded, including more robust amplifiers + speakers and a fully customizable DSP circuit that allowed our engineers complete control over equalization. The result sounds more open and “live”, with improved handling of bass frequencies.
    Externally the most obvious change is the loss of the motorized dock, as Geneva has chosen to move to 100% wireless products. There is still an Aux input though. They’ve also simplified the touch controls on top of the unit to make them more intuitive.

    Regarding WorldRadio: it sounds terrific. But has less internal cabinet volume and thus won’t play as loud or reproduce as deep bass as the Model S. My other concern about Jane’s application is the somewhat lightweight and narrow WorldRadio flying about the camper when she’s traveling. The S is very stable, especially when used with the rubber feet rather than the pedestal. S is probably a better choice for her.

    I will do a news item soon.
    Hope this helps!
    Bill

  • Jane P. May 1, 2013, 3:50 pm

    @Bill.

    This is great news for me!

    I sent an email to geneva the other day asking if they will be updating this system. Still haven’t heard from them. So thanks for being on top of this!

    LOL regarding your concern that the WorldRadio could be flying around the camper. Whatever portable system I decide upon needs to be put away in a safe cabinet. Trailers tend to bounce around and you don’t want anything that if freestanding left on a counter.

    I have been “making do” with an old, portable boombox/casette tape deck combo that I found at my parent’s home. The casette deck is broken, but I do get radio when camping.

    However, I do want access to my content and long to hear decent audio.

    Life is all about compromise, and I view the Model M as the best combination of features meeting my needs.

    Let’s just hope they don’t raise the price of the upgrade. I’m not crazy about spending $300.

    Can’t wait to see the product.

  • Bill Henderson May 1, 2013, 4:09 pm

    Actually Jane, I think you mean the Model S. The M model is bigger and more expensive. Keep checking the Geneva site. I was told that it should be updated very soon. I am anxious to see the new speaker, also!
    Keep checking out The Gadgeteer also, because I will post a news item as soon as I have info and photos.
    Bill

  • Jane P. May 1, 2013, 11:12 pm

    @bill. I meant the model S.

    Please post when the new Model S is released.

    Thanks again.

  • Jane P. May 10, 2013, 7:04 pm

    @ everyone!

    The Model S Wireless has been released. It is selling for $299.95 (no price increase over the original Model S)

    The Model S is on sale for $245.95.

    So Bill, will you be testing the Wireless Model S against the one you have at home. I’d be curious regarding improvements in sound. Also, how Bluetooth compares to docking with your iPod.

  • Bill Henderson May 10, 2013, 7:34 pm

    Jane,
    There is talk of reviewing it, but nothing is definite yet. I will say that Geneve has upgraded many of the interior components, so the change is much more involved than just bluetooth.
    I will keep you posted.
    Bill

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