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.
Of course, you should take all this with a grain of salt. As I said, these types of speakers have their limitations, and if you're expecting awesome sound from a speaker this size, think again. In the case of the Model XS, Jambox, and other tiny Bluetooth speakers--I include the Logitech Mini Boombox in this group--the idea is that they play a lot bigger than they look and sound decent enough.
However, you shouldn't expect to get deep, booming bass, and all these little guys have almost no stereo separation. There's some digital processing that's supposed to make them sound like stereo speakers, but they really sound more like mono speakers.
Those caveats aside, the Model XS is one of the best-sounding speakers in its class. While it can play pretty loud and can fill a small room with sound, it's better to listen at lower or moderate volumes and not push it too hard.
Like all speakers in its class, the XS will make harsh music sound harsher, and Geneva suggests you turn off all EQ settings, such as bass boost, on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone or tablet when you're streaming. There are no EQ settings on the XS; sound is optimized for the speaker and that's that.
As for battery life, the XS is rated at around 5 hours, which is not great but not bad. More disappointing is the fact that you must charge the unit with a separate AC adapter instead of a Micro-USB cable. This is a travel product, and it would be nice to travel with only a USB cable that you could plug into your computer, or the power adapter you use for charging your cell phone.
Make no mistake about it, this is a very good little Bluetooth speaker system with an excellent design that makes it a good choice for frequent travelers who want to stream music on the road or to augment the sound of their tablet or laptop speakers when playing movies.
The only issue for a lot of folks will be the cost. At $250, the Model XS is on the expensive side (or maybe I should say excessive side). The Jambox can be had for around $175 online and the Logitech Mini Boombox goes for $90. It also should be mentioned that Bose's excellent portable Bluetooth speaker, the SoundLink Wireless Mobile, starts at $299, though that speaker is significantly larger and heavier.
In other words, if you're someone who's looking for a bargain, this isn't it. But if you don't mind paying a premium for a good-quality product, you should definitely give the Geneva XS a long look. Aside from the price, there's a lot to like here.