Review: Geneva Lab Geneva Sound System Model S Wireless
Premium speaker maker Geneva Lab understands better than most companies that turning real lemons into lemonade is much easier than the metaphorical equivalent. Apple's late 2012 debut of the Lightning connector -- without enough parts to properly supply accessory makers -- left hundreds of manufacturers without any way to update their old products to support the new standard. Worse yet, Apple prevented companies from offering Dock Connector to Bluetooth adapters, leaving new iPod, iPhone, and iPad users only one option: Apple's own overpriced Lightning Adapters. Having successfully built an entire family of large, beautiful, and now less desirable speakers, Geneva Lab was forced to make a difficult choice in revamping its relatively affordable GenevaSound Model S. The just-released sequel Geneva Sound System Model S Wireless ($300) dumps Apple's dock and iPod/iPhone-specific functionality altogether, replacing them with Bluetooth. Consequently, Model S Wireless now works with virtually every iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, as well as the latest iPod nano, and numerous non-Apple devices as well. All you give up is device charging capability.
Apart from several changes to the top controls and the replacement of the top dock with Bluetooth wireless hardware, Model S Wireless looks and feels exactly the same as Model S. After choosing from black, white, or red colors, you still get a 9.25” wide by 5.5” tall by 7” deep lacquered wooden box with a perforated metal front grille and silver base. Four permanently integrated rubber feet or a detachable included 6.75”-diameter silver stand can be used for mounting, while a long gray cable tethers it to a wall outlet for power. With the stand attached, Model S Wireless stands 9.7” tall, and looks like a compact version of Geneva’s famously massive Model L. The difference, of course, is that Model S Wireless can sit on a desk rather than replacing one.
Using Model S Wireless is almost the same as its predecessor. A small dimple on the top right corner serves as a subtle power button, activating a capacitive control panel hidden under the beautifully glossy top surface. The red lights on the black-colored Wireless model we tested were brightly illuminated and even easier to see than on the prior Model S. This time, dedicated buttons toggle between Bluetooth streaming, an integrated FM radio tuner, and auxiliary audio inputs, while volume adjustments require + / - / mute buttons, and separate arrow buttons handle radio tuning. These buttons replace the Click Wheel-styled circular controller found on Model S, and although they take a little getting used to, work nearly as well. Three additional buttons let you set Model S Wireless’s clock and integrated alarm, which are visible on a small red screen that peeks through the upper right corner of the front grille. An included silver Infrared remote duplicates all of these features, adding separate bass and treble controls, as well as six radio preset buttons.
On a positive note, Model S Wireless is functionally every bit as good as its predecessor—arguably better—while preserving the same price. The system is still powered by only two 3” “full-range” drivers, which are somewhat underequipped by comparison with the very best $300 audio systems we’ve tested, but bolstered by Model S Wireless’s continued use of a sturdy composite wood cabinet, and improved driver tuning. Model S Wireless preserves the solid bass and midrange we heard in the prior model, adding a bit of extra treble for modestly crisper, more balanced sound, and the ability to reach higher volumes.
Consequently, while the speaker is ideal for listening at several-foot distances, where it sounds comparable to systems such as Bose’s SoundDocks, Model S Wireless can be turned up loud enough to fill a small room, albeit with noticeable distortion across the range as it moves from 80 to 100 on its volume scale. Notably, the speakers vent through the front grille, so if you’re sitting close, you’ll feel air rushing towards you whenever you turn Model S Wireless up to unsafe listening levels.
We’ve noted previously that some prior Geneva speakers had a conceptual issue—the placement of the controls immediately next to a docked device with similar controls. This is resolved in Model S Wireless, since your device no longer sits atop the speaker and can be used anywhere within Bluetooth range, leaving the speaker’s integrated buttons to stand alone, and the remote control as a third option.
Better yet, the Bluetooth 2.1 performance here is impressive, reaching far further than the 33-foot distance typically promised by wireless speakers. We were actually able to walk several rooms away, at around a 100-foot distance with wall obstructions, before causing any obvious degradation in the audio signal. The audio quality is for all intents and purposes the same as with a docking speaker.
On the other hand, Model S Wireless suffers from one small thing that wasn’t an issue with its predecessor: a quiet but noticeable hiss. Regardless of the wired or wireless mode it’s in, and also independent of the speaker’s volume level, Model S Wireless has a base level of static that Model S doesn’t have. It’s not enough to wreck music, and isn’t as obvious from several feet away, but it doesn’t sound great when Model S Wireless is sitting nearby idling quietly on a desk. Similarly, the Bluetooth pairing chimes have a bit of static-like distortion that detracts from the unit’s otherwise very good-sounding audio. And once again, the FM radio, clock, and alarm functionality remain less than completely thrilling—the radio truly needs Geneva’s rear telescoping antenna to tune in stations, and continues to use 0.1 step increment tuning that’s unnecessary for U.S. radio stations. While we would characterize these features as bonuses to the core functionality of the speaker, they could still stand to be better executed.
Taken as a whole, Geneva Lab’s Model S Wireless remains a very good speaker system for Apple device users, trading its prior device recharging functionality for considerable Bluetooth freedom. While the introduction of a bit of static detracts somewhat from its audio fidelity, the improvements in its treble and high volume capabilities are generally welcome counterbalances, helping to justify the $300 asking price. Further, the removal of the top dock actually makes it sleeker and easier to use than before—assets that Geneva Lab is particularly well positioned to exploit. If you’re looking for a gorgeous home or office speaker that can fit easily on a tabletop or bookshelf, Model S Wireless is certainly worth considering, and merits our strong general recommendation.