capsule review

Geneva Sound System Model XS offers big sound despite small size

At a Glance
  • Geneva Lab Sound System Model XS

    TechHive Rating

Geneva Lab’s Sound System Model XS is a small, portable speaker system that sticks to Geneva’s visual aesthetic. The Bluetooth-enabled speaker—which doubles as a travel alarm clock—includes a built-in rechargeable battery.

The XS lives inside a clamshell case, and is attached by pins. When closed up, the case measures 6.2 inches wide, 4.5 inches tall, and about 2 inches deep; it latches shut snugly and securely, with integrated magnets to help seal the deal. When you want to use the XS, you open the case. But rather than remove the speaker from its cozy confines, you fold it into a triangle by latching the top of the case into grooves on the top of the XS itself. It’s an effortless connection, and the overall design is much like that of a 70s travel alarm clock.

Geneva describes the case’s exterior as “leather-like.” I don’t quite share that assessment, but the case is made of some nice material. The case’s color matches the XS inside—the model I reviewed is white, but the XS is also available in black and red.

Once you’ve set things up properly, the XS lights up its LED panel, which glows from behind the speaker grill in the upper-right corner. A small indentation on the right edge of the speaker indicates a touch-sensitive power button. Press it, and the XS launches a brief startup process—as LEDs dance across the front of the speaker—before illuminating a series of other touch-sensitive controls: alarm (a bell), radio tuning controls (left and right arrows), mode (M), clock (a clock icon), and volume down (-) and up (+).

I generally dislike touch-sensitive controls on speakers, and I don’t love them on the Geneva XS. It’s too easy to graze the wrong button accidentally, and I prefer the tactile response of a real button on this sort of hardware. I also found that if I moved the unit while it was powered on—touching both the front face of the speaker and the rear of the clamshell case—the XS would mistakenly believe I was trying to trigger various buttons. These minor annoyances aren’t deal-breakers, but they’re less than ideal.

Setting the clock on the XS isn't too difficult, and in an advantage over the Sound System Model S ( ), you can set and schedule the clock’s single alarm directly on the unit itself—there's no need to use a remote (which is good, because the XS doesn't include one). For your alarm sound, you can choose either FM radio or a buzzer.

On the back of the speaker sit the power-adapter connection and a 1/8-inch (3.5mm) auxiliary audio input for connecting a non-Bluetooth source. On the bottom-left side of the XS, you’ll find a telescoping FM antenna, which can be angled upwards at 90 degrees instead of jutting oddly out to the left.

Bluetooth pairing is straightforward; I successfully paired my iPhone and Mac with the XS without difficulty. Bluetooth audio sounds quite good—rather on par with that of the Jawbone Jambox ( )—with wired performance a tad better. I give a slight edge to the Jambox’s bass performance, but that’s offset by a similar edge I’d give the XS for warmer midrange frequencies. At the end of the day, though, I think the two speakers are roughly comparable on the audio front, with each offering solid performance. The XS can get noticeably louder than the Jambox, but that loudness is accompanied by distortion at the highest volumes.

The FM radio is a nice touch, but I have a couple complaints: You can’t save station presets, so navigating between stations is a hassle. I also found that the XS’s radio performance, though certainly passable, was more staticky than that of other, cheaper radios in my home.

Speaking of static, in my testing, the XS exhibited a crackly hum when powered on and in Bluetooth mode but without music playing from a Bluetooth source. This wasn’t an issue when listening to music through the speaker, and it was never severe, but the hum was audible whenever my iPhone or Mac stopped playback.

Macworld’s buying advice

If you’re looking for a good-sounding, compact Bluetooth speaker, Jawbone’s Jambox may not play quite as loud as the Sound System Model XS, but it’s $50 less expensive and feels a bit more portable and less fiddly—it doesn’t require proper case alignment or rely on quirky, touch-sensitive buttons. But if you prefer the XS’s design or you need a travel alarm clock, the XS is a viable option.

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At a Glance
  • Geneva Lab Sound System Model XS

    TechHive Rating
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