While it’s not terribly difficult to price a Bluetooth speaker “correctly,” the sheer number of alternatives currently in the marketplace has left developers hunting for ways to differentiate new offerings from one another. Today, we’re looking at three recently-released speakers that take somewhat different approaches to that challenge: G-Project’s G-Boom ($100) chose the value route, packing a familiar shape with far better speakers and features than most users would expect for the price. By comparison, a fancy tube-shaped speaker called Sound Cylinder ($199) from Definitive Technologies opts for clean design and the ability to double as an iPad stand, and Geneva Lab’s Geneva WorldRadio ($300) leverages modern design and nostalgia to offset a limited feature set. From our standpoint, G-Boom is clearly a better raw value than the others, but if you’re looking for something unique, Sound Cylinder and WorldRadio each have some appeal.
For Geneva Lab—a company that has made its name selling large docking iPod speakers made from lacquered wood—WorldRadio is as close to a complete departure as a new audio accessory could come. Unlike last year’s Model XS, which made a modest shift in materials and size while preserving the same look and concept of the earlier Models S, M, L, and XL, WorldRadio completely abandons the classic Geneva look and feel for something different. Glossy wood? Gone. iPod dock? Gone. Powerful speakers? Gone. Even the “Model” moniker is gone—WorldRadio is really meant to stand apart from the rest of the family.
But at the same time, it’s not. Sure, WorldRadio has pivoted completely on the outside, trading wood for a cabinet that feels mostly like nicely finished plastic or magnesium, and swapping the previously retro-styled LED radio tuner-slash-clock for a more modern 2.3” LCD screen. Yet it actually has a lot in common with Model XS. It has an FM radio tuner inside, relies on a five-hour rechargeable battery for power, and connects to your iOS device wirelessly using Bluetooth. A wall adapter is included, as is a telescoping antenna. Cosmetics aside, the biggest difference between them is in size: Model XS folds down into a small carrying box that could fit in a briefcase; at 12.7” wide (11.8” body plus side knobs) by 6.6” tall by 2.5” deep, WorldRadio is closer in total volume to Geneva’s Model S, but portable, and meant to be toted around by its top handle.
The single biggest selling point of WorldRadio is the elegance of its chassis. That handle lifts up effortlessly from the body, and goes down with a reassuringly metallic clang. The front speaker grille is a perforated dot pattern far finer than the one on the aforementioned Sound Cylinder, a precision that puts even the impressively small dots on Apple’s own products to shame. Swirled metal knobs on the left (volume) and right (radio tuning) look gorgeous, and the chromed, telescoping top antenna is far bigger than might be expected from the size of the chassis. Even the simple color screen, which isn’t particularly revolutionary in any way, is a major step forward given the low-tech displays on prior Geneva speakers, while remaining equipped with Geneva’s beloved capacitive buttons; here, they appear off to the screen’s sides when you turn the power on. So despite the fact that it isn’t made from glossy wood, WorldRadio is pure class from edge to edge. It’s also available in three different colors.
Regrettably, WorldRadio runs into trouble in the features department: unless you’ve been holding your breath since 2005 for a Geneva clock radio, there’s nothing else here that the company hasn’t done before—and arguably better. The company pitches WorldRadio as a nostalgic ode to deluxe radios that were capable of receiving even international broadcast stations, an era that was interrupted by the proliferation of Internet radio channels that couldn’t be picked up over the airwaves. Implicit in the name is the suggestion that the $300 WorldRadio will, like its classic predecessors, use its antenna or some other hardware to pick up international radio stations no matter where you are; for the price, that would make sense. Sony currently sells a world band receiver for around $140 that still does this, supporting shortwave, medium wave, and longwave tuning. Yet WorldRadio doesn’t. The model sold here is just an FM radio with RDS and auto-searching features. If you want to tune international stations, you’re supposed to use your iOS device to search for them using Internet radio, then play that content through the Bluetooth connection to the speaker. This sort of feature omission makes no sense in a product called “WorldRadio” unless you assume that it was supposed to be inside, then didn’t work out at the last minute.
What you’re really left with, then, is a handsome metallic box with a rechargeable battery, speaker, and simple alarm clock as selling points. Unlike Model XS, which included three drivers, WorldRadio is monaural, relying on a large but not particularly wide-frequency 3” driver to deliver its sound. Because the driver is big, it can put out enough sound on its own to barely fill a small room, but since there aren’t multiple speakers at various sizes inside, it’s largely stuck focusing on the mids and mid-bass with limited treble and bass performance. Streamed audio and tuned radio comes out sounding fairly flat, which is fine for FM radio stations, but not great for a $300 speaker system. Apart from missing the clock radio features, Logitech UE Boombox has a lot in common with WorldRadio, but completely blows it away sonically.
Geneva’s radio isn’t a breakthrough in any way, but it works fine. The screen displays a scrolling bar as a digital tuner, glamming up what would otherwise be just a simple number, and pressing the right tuning knob inwards seeks the next station upwards on the band. There’s nothing amazing about the tuning—static and clarity are on par with portable radios in the $100 price range—but with antenna assistance, you can tune local stations without an issue. Pressing the left knob inwards turns audio off, leaving a simple 24-hour clock screen. Both the time and a single, simple wake from radio or high-pitched beeping alarm can be set when you learn to combine the capacitive buttons and the right tuning knob, together decently responsive, and you can modestly tweak the speaker’s bass and treble settings. That’s it for the screen functionality, and for WorldRadio frills.
Overall, WorldRadio feels like something of a missed opportunity for Geneva Lab—an opportunity to introduce new industrial design language at the same time as a breakthrough of some sort on features or pricing, either of which would have made a lot of sense here. Instead, this unit turns out to be a fairly expensive and not particularly exciting portable speaker, with a name that implies greater radio tuning functionality than it actually offers. If it wasn’t for WorldRadio’s great looks and feel, which we most certainly hope to see carried into future products from the company, there wouldn’t be much else to justify the purchase. Consider WorldRadio primarily if you’re looking for an atypically attractive FM radio and simple portable speaker system, and willing to pay a fairly steep premium for the high style.
Company and Price
Company: Geneva Lab
Compatible: All Bluetooth-capable iPads, iPhones + iPods