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The first thing you notice about the Geneva Sound System Model L is its size. It's large, much larger than Apple's now discontinued Hi-Fi speaker system and bulkier than Bowers & Wilkins' swoopy Zeppelin ($600). While the Zeppelin earns "oohs" and "aahs" with its curvaceous design, the Model L is a plain box--albeit a beautifully painted box (our sample's red lacquer finish was exquisite). But the biggest draw is its large sound, which (not surprisingly) blows away that of nearly all other puny iPod speakers. In fact, even relegating the Model L to "iPod speaker" territory is pretty disingenuous--with the built-in CD player and FM radio, it's more of a full-on home stereo system. But the Model L's size and sound is matched with an equally weighty MSRP of $700 (it's available directly through the manufacturer's Web site, genevalab.com). That much cash could buy you a component stereo system (stereo receiver, CD/DVD player, and a nice pair of speakers), a high-end tabletop audio system, or even a bona fide home-theater-in-a-box.
The Geneva Sound System Model L is available in three high-gloss paint finishes: white, black, and our favorite, lipstick red. The solid feel of the all-wood (medium-density fiberboard) construction is impressive and the craftsmanship is superb. The Model L can be ordered with an optional floor stand ($119) that's just as beautifully finished as the speaker. The stand's heavyweight aluminum construction confidently supports the weight of the speaker: 38 pounds. Designed in Switzerland (as the company name suggests), the Geneva Sound System's understated aesthetic is a nice alternative to the legions of plastic competitors.
The Model L's power on/off, volume, CD eject controls and universal iPod dock are stealthily located under a top-mounted flip-up door. Just above the door, you'll find the slot-loading CD player. The large red LCD display peeks through the upper-right-hand corner of the Model L's perforated metal grille and relates info about the source in play--iPod, CD, FM radio, or line in. The speaker is 17.6 inches wide, 11.5 high, and 14.2 deep--about the size of a microwave oven.
The large remote controls volume, bass, treble, source selection (iPod, CD, line-in, and FM), and access to six one-touch radio presets. Our only complaint with the remote was that it ramps the volume up and down rather slowly.
The Model L is the middle child in Geneva's product line. Both the smaller Model M ($500) and extra large Model XL are also available in the same white, black, and red color schemes. That larger model is 21.7 inches wide, 24.1 high, and 14.5 deep, and weighs in at a hefty 84 pounds--it looks like a full-size subwoofer. Geneva also offers a lower floor stand designed specifically for the XL. Overall, we found the XL to be just too big and bulky; we much prefer the Model L's more reasonable size and shape. Likewise, the staggering list price--almost twice that of the Model L--isn't justified by the modest sound quality improvement over the smaller model.
The cabinet of the Model L houses a pair of stereo speakers with 1-inch tweeters and 5.25-inch woofers. The digital amplifier delivers 50 watts to each channel. (The XL uses the same tweeter and midrange drivers, but adds two 8-inch subwoofers and ups the power output to a whopping 600 watts. Otherwise, it is nearly identical to the Model L.)
The iPod dock under the flip-up door will work with most iPod models that are equipped with the 30-pin dock connector. If you want to connect non-dockable iPods--or you've got another brand of music player--the Geneva has two line inputs: a 3.5mm jack on the top, and for more permanent connections, a set of stereo RCA inputs on the bottom. There is no line output, nor are there any digital connections--the latter is disappointing for a product at this price that's trying to serve as a stereo replacement.
The disc player spins most types of CDs, including home-burned MP3 CDs. Just be sure to slip the disc in the correct direction (with the label facing forward).
If you've only heard pint-size iPod speakers like the Logitech mm50 or JBL On Stage II, the Model L's big sound will be something of a shock. The Model L can actually play rock and roll to a room full of people. We loved the bass and treble controls that let us adjust the sound to our taste. B&W's $600 Zeppelin iPod speaker has just a five-step bass level control (which is accessible from most, but not all, iPods).
A face-off between the Model L and Zeppelin proved interesting. Quieter acoustic music sounded more refined and clear on the Zeppelin. Its bass power and definition surpassed the Model L--but as soon as we played some rock and roll, the Model L pulled ahead and trumped the Zeppelin. Also, the Model L sounded better at higher volumes when the bass kicked harder. It consistently projected a bigger, more room-filling sound.
The Model L also projects a wider stereo image--we actually felt it sounded best when we were 5 or more feet away from the speaker. Again, that's not true for most iPod speakers, which tend to sound smaller and smaller as you move away from them. Our extra-funky Prince CD's bass was solid and defined--this is one iPod speaker that could get a room full of people up and dancing.
We also fired up the Model L's big brother, the XL. That unit produced much deeper and more powerful bass with those Prince discs and could play a lot louder than the Model L. The advantages of adding double 8-inch subwoofers and six times more power are far from subtle. If you're really into bass and volume, the XL will be worth the extra loot. Otherwise, the Model L should be more than enough.
That said, the Model L is more an investment than an impulse purchase. For the same price as the Model L, you could buy a Yamaha RX-397 stereo receiver ($300), Pioneer PD-F407 25-disc CD changer ($120), and a pair of PSB Alpha B1 speakers ($279/pair). That system would likely sound much better overall, have much wider stereo separation, and you could always upgrade the speakers or add a subwoofer. On the other hand, unlike many puny iPod speaker systems, the Geneva Sound System Model L has the sonic gravitas and the smattering of extra features (radio, CD player) for it to be realistically considered as a stereo replacement. It's also dead simple to use and will (despite its large size) consume less living room space than a stereo receiver and a pair of speakers. If those advantages appeal to you, the Geneva Sound System Model L could be well worth its premium cost.