capsule review

Geneva Lab Geneva Sound System Model S

At a Glance
  • Geneva Lab Geneva Sound System Model S

    Macworld Rating

The Geneva Sound System Model S is a sleek, attractive iPod speaker dock. And in this case, appearances aren’t deceiving: the Model S sounds as good as it looks.

We previously reviewed—and liked—Geneva’s Model L, but noted that at 17.5 inches wide, 11.5 inches tall, and 15 inches deep, and designed to be placed on a large, metal stand, it might be too large for many rooms or decors. The Model S elicits no such concerns: at just 9.2 inches wide, 5.8 inches tall, and 6.9 inches deep, it tucks neatly away on an office desk, the kitchen counter, or a shelf in the family room. You can shrink the footprint even further by using the Model S’s included circular-base stand, which is seven inches across and also adds three inches of height. Despite its small size, though, the Model S isn’t meant to be portable—the 7.5-pound device lacks a handle or carrying case. The Model S that I received for testing was bright red, but the system is also available in white or black.

On the top of the Model S, at the back-right edge, is a small, discrete indentation, which is actually a touch-sensitive power button. Powering on the unit lights up the on-board controls, which are similarly touch-sensitive buttons arranged much like the classic iPod Click Wheel controls: In addition to Mode and Menu buttons, you get track controls (Back, Play/Pause, and Forward) and a pseudo-scrollwheel (complete with a Select button in the center). The scroll wheel doubles as the system’s volume control whenever you’re not on an iPod/iPhone menu screen—that is, when you’re instead on the iPod or iPhone’s Now Playing screen, or when you’re outside the iPod app on an iPhone or the Music app on an iPod touch. This is the only way to adjust the volume without using the included wireless remote.

One of the Model S’s distinguishing characteristics is its unique approach to the iPod/iPhone dock. Rather than leave the dock-connector plug exposed, as it is on most iPod-dock speaker systems I’ve tested, the Model S’s dock connector sits in a motorized tray. If you remove your iPod or iPhone and turn off the Model S (or switch it to radio mode), the tray automatically rotates around, sealing off the top of the unit.

This is a very slick design, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include one important caveat. Included in the Model S’s packaging is a single plastic cradle, which the manual states is for securing iPhones. When I tried to snap the cradle into my unit (per the instructions), my pinky grazed the touch-sensitive mode button, which caused the motorized tray to rotate with the insert sitting loose inside it. That was bad. When I then tried to press the mode button again—intentionally, this time—to get the tray to rotate back open, the plastic insert had jammed, preventing the dock from opening.

When I spoke to a Geneva representative, he indicated that they’d never heard of this issue before, and that I’d hit upon a fluke sequence of events—and I think that’s a fair assessment. Still, when I used my pocket knife to bend the offending plastic insert into position so that the tray could rotate properly, it was with the security of knowing that the company could send a new review unit if necessary. You won’t have that luxury, so I suggest not using the plastic insert at all. As long as you don’t poke and prod your iPhone or iPod as it sits in the Model S, it should be fine. (Even with my iPhone in the dock, I was content to use the Model S’s remote and on-board controls to navigate my music.)

And while the touch-sensitive controls are clever, as a right-hander, I frequently brushed against those controls when attempting to interact with my docked iPhone, triggering unintended commands. I found myself consciously avoiding the buttons, and carefully touching my phone, while the Model S was turned on.

The Model S’s appearance is largely uncluttered by buttons, knobs, and connectors. The unit’s metal-grill face covers two 3-inch, full-range speakers, each ported for better bass performance and driven by its own class-D digital amplifier. Near the upper-right corner of the face, behind the grill, is a bright and very readable red-LED clock. The clock includes an alarm feature, and it can keep time for up to an hour with no power. On the back of the Model S, near the bottom, is a removable telescoping antenna. Fully extended, the antenna detracts a bit from the Model S’s otherwise chic look, but collapsed and tucked away, it’s invisible from the front. Also on the back are a connection for the included AC adapter and a 1/8-inch (3.5mm) line-in jack for connecting another audio source.

The included infrared remote, about as long as an iPhone’s height but an inch narrower, works well and provides quite a bit of the system’s control functionality—in fact, I’d love it if the Model S included a stand or holder so you don’t lose the remote. The remote hosts buttons for volume level, toggling power on and off, adjusting the device’s bass and treble levels, setting the clock and the alarm, toggling between audio sources, controlling playback (Back, Play/Pause, and Forward), and six radio station presets. Those presets are oddly marked as “P,” “R,” “E,” “S,” “E,” and “T,” which is cute but not exactly intuitive—is the oldies station you love the first “E,” or the second?

The FM radio is a solid addition, although you must use the remote to tune to your preferred station. To set presets, you hold down one of the letter buttons while tuned to the station you’d like to save. I needed the antenna fully extended to maintain good reception in my home, but as long as I did, everything sounded clear.

To snooze the Model S’s alarm clock, you tap any of the unit’s touch-sensitive buttons. To turn off the alarm, however, you must instead tap any button on the remote.

Whether you use the on-board scroll wheel or the remote to adjust the volume, the current volume level is shown—as a number between 0 and 100—on the Model S’s LED display. I never tested the Model S beyond a volume level of 60, which was seriously loud.

The Model S’s sound quality is excellent given the system’s compact size. Even with the bass at its default setting, I liked the fullness of the Model S’s output; with the bass dialed up to the maximum, I found bass output to be substantial without distorting or sounding forced. The Model S easily filled any room in my home, although given the unit’s small size, stereo separation is lacking compared to a stereo with separate left and right speakers. Even so, the Model S’s sound quality impressed me.

Geneva claims compatibility with any iPhone, iPod touch, or iPod classic model, as well as the third- and fourth-generation iPod nano and the fourth- and fifth-generation iPod. The system worked perfectly in my testing with an iPod classic and an iPhone 3GS.

Macworld's buying advice

Simply put, the Model S is great. The unit itself is eye-catching, the touch-sensitive buttons—particularly the scroll wheel—are clever, and the sound quality is excellent. The motorized tray strikes me as a bit unnecessary, but as long as you keep the plastic insert far, far away from it, you should be fine.

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At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Sounds as good as it looks
    • Impressively loud for its size

    Cons

    • Some features accessible only using the remote
    • Touch-sensitive controls too easy to trigger accidentally
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