Test-driving the Geneva Sound System Model S (updated)
Update: In this review, one of my major complaints is that the Model S does not have Bluetooth capabilities. Just after the review was published, Geneva contacted me to note that a Bluetooth version of the Model S will be available in the Spring of 2013.
In a world seemingly dominated by cheap, tinny-sounding iPhone/iPod speaker docks, I'm always on the hunt for manufacturers who focus on quality sound and classy design. I received the Geneva Sound System Model S (US$299.95) for review quite a while ago, but didn't have the time to write it up until now. What I found when I finally unboxed this product was a speaker dock clock radio that seems perfect for older iPhones and iPods; however, the Model S lacks some features found on newer (and much less expensive) competitors.
Geneva Labs makes a full line of speaker docks for iPhone and iPod, ranging from the tiny Model XS I reviewed last summer to the huge $3,500 Model XXL that will be available next month. The Model S has been around since 2010, which means that it's missing one very important feature -- a Lightning connector. That's not too much of an issue, since you can always use one of Apple's $29.99 Lightning to 30-pin Dock Connector adapters to bridge the generation gap.
The review Model S came in glossy black on an aluminum table stand. You can remove that table stand if you wish, although I think it adds some panache to the device and also seems to make the speaker sound a bit louder. The front of this black box (it also comes in red, silver, and white, although the red and white versions are shown as "out of stock") features a perforated metal grille for durability and cat-proofing. Through that grille you can see the red LEDs of a display, which displays the time when the speaker is not in use.
The top of the Model S is the big surprise: it's touch-sensitive. There's a small fingertip-sized indentation on the top back right corner of the speaker dock, which powers up the device with a light tap. When the power's up, the magic begins. A motorized iPhone/iPod dock rotates into view, ready for you to plug your device in and blast music. As it uses a mechanical connection, you also get the benefit of having your device charged while it's on the dock.
You also see a very classic iPod-like set of controls glowing atop the Model S. There's a scroll wheel with embedded OK button, the standard play/pause, skip forward, reverse buttons, a menu button, and a mode button. The mode button toggles between the iPod mode, FM radio mode, and Line In input.
On the back of the unit you'll find a very generic power plug (fortunately, the power supply is built into the Model S, so there's no ugly power brick), the aforementioned Line In socket, and a place to attach a telescoping FM antenna.
As mentioned, the Model S has a 30-pin Dock Connector. When I plugged the adapter into the device and plopped my iPhone 5 on top of that, it looked ... a little weird. And you definitely don't want to power down the Model S with the adapter plugged in, as it will keep the motorized dock from disappearing into the top of the unit and could possibly damage it.
Once you've plugged an iPhone or iPod into the Model S, it recognizes it and the word iPod appears on the LED for about a minute. After that time, it switches back to the time display. All of the controls on top of the Model S work nicely, and there's an infrared remote control for those times you want to sit across the room on the love seat with your honey and go through your Al Green collection.
That remote allows six presets for the FM radio, and controls all manner of settings. There are buttons for controlling the level of bass and treble through the twin speakers embedded in the case, volume controls, a way to set the clock and/or alarm clock, switch modes, and control playback on your iPod or iPhone.
I found the sound quality of the Model S to be much better than average for a speaker dock of this size. As mentioned earlier, I found the sound from the Model S to be a bit more "full" when the speaker dock was sitting on top of its three-inch pedestal.
Now, my complaints. As mentioned, this speaker dock has been out for almost three years now, which is a lifetime in the tech world. Many of the newer docks boast AirPlay compatibility via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth streaming, while the Model S is stuck in the past with only the 30-pin Dock Connector and line-in. For that very reason, I'd recommend the Model S only for people who have devices that use that connector and have no way to stream music wirelessly.
One other issue is the price. While $300 isn't out of the question for a mid-level FM radio alarm clock speaker dock, there are a number of docks that do embrace the new technologies and are priced more reasonably. The iHome iW4 ($249.95) has streaming capabilities, an FM radio and alarm setup, and works with iPads -- which the Model S won't do. If you don't need streaming but need the other functions, the Philips DC291 Docking Clock Radio is a bargain at $119.95.
Finally, like most touch interfaces, that fancy touch input on top of the unit grabs fingerprints like a CSI. Unlike the surface of your iPad or iPhone, it's not oleophobic. As you can see from one of the images in the gallery, the smears with clean fingers can look pretty bad.
While the Geneva Sound System Model S provides good sound quality and has some unique features, it seems a bit dated and is in need of an update to add AirPlay streaming, a Lightning connector, and the ability to work with iPads as well as iPhones and iPods.
- One of the best sounding speaker dock / alarm clock systems I've tested
- Touch controls on the top of the Model S and an IR remote control make it easy to operate
- Stylish design
- Unique table stand (removable)
- Easy setup and operation
- Relatively expensive for a speaker dock clock radio
- No AirPlay / Bluetooth streaming capabilities
- Has a 30-pin Dock Connector instead of a Lightning connector
- Rotating connector seems like a electromechanical failure waiting to happen
- Can't be used with iPads
Who is it for?
- Owners of legacy iPods or iPhones who want good sound from an FM speaker dock clock radio and have no issues with paying a bit more.
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