Led by products like the Jawbone Jambox and Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker, compact Bluetooth speakers are hot little items these days, and Geneva Lab has placed itself in the middle of the fray with its Sound System Model XS, which retails for $250 and comes in black, red, or white.
In case you've never heard of Geneva Lab, as its name implies, it's based in Switzerland, and has been making high-end iPod and iPhone audio systems since 2006. Most of its speakers--such as the Model L we reviewed back in 2007--are actually quite beefy, so it surprised me to see the company go extra-small with an XS model. However, I'm glad it did because, aside from the somewhat inflated price tag, it's a very solid product.
Design and features
One of the nicest things about the Geneva Sound System Model XS is that, like an old-school travel clock radio, it folds up into its own integrated case, which acts as a stand when opened.
And that makes sense, because the Model XS really is a traveling digital clock radio--complete with integrated FM radio and telescoping antenna. The only difference is that this new-school model has Bluetooth for wireless audio streaming along with a line input for connecting audio devices that don't have Bluetooth. (Note: There's no AM radio and you can't add presets; you just tune in to stations using the arrow keys and automatic scan function.)
It's worth mentioning that to prop up the speaker the case has a couple plastic teeth or "hooks" that fit into slots at the top of the speaker. When the teeth are in the slots, the speaker is activated and can be turned on by pressing the power button, which is touch-sensitive along with the rest of the buttons on the unit.
Since I only used the XS for a week, I can't tell you how those teeth will hold up over time, but you should probably refrain from slamming them down on something hard to avoid cracking them or snapping them off.
I should also point out that setting the time and the alarm--and just navigating the speaker's functions in general--can be a little tricky at first and will probably require you to consult the user manual. It's a little quirky but I got used to it over a few days of use.
Overall, I really liked the Model XS' design, and the fold-up case is ideal for frequent travelers who want to stow the speaker in their luggage or a laptop bag. By contrast, the Jambox, which is slightly smaller (it weighs 12 ounces to the Model XS' 17.6 ounces), comes with a slip-on cover that's difficult to slip on. However, the Jambox does have speakerphone capabilities using its integrated microphone, whereas the XS does not. At this price, it should.
For those who've never used a Bluetooth speaker, they all have a range of about 30 feet and work with any Bluetooth-enabled device. That includes nearly every current smartphone, iPod Touch, iPad, and many other tablets.
I set up the Model XS next to a Jambox and A/B'd the two speakers, comparing their sound quality. While they both have limitations because of their size, the XS came out on top. It could handle heavy bass at higher volumes better than the Jambox and just sounded a little smoother, more refined, and a little warmer, with more detail. Not a huge difference, but it definitely had the edge.