Let’s be clear from the start: if the idea of a $2000+ single-cabinet speaker offends you, you should probably stop reading. If your first thought is to tell me how you can get “the same sound” from a cheaper set of speakers, then I really only have one message for you: this blog, and this product really aren’t for you.
There’s a lot to be said about price in speakers, and even more to be said about value. They are two different, distinct elements. My experience with Geneva speakers is that they’re expensive, but the value for dollar (if you can afford it) is very much justified.
The out-of-box experience.
Getting the Geneva Sound System XL home is a job in and of itself. It’s 75lbs (not including the optional stand) and the box borders on massive. Getting it into my home was an excellent workout. I felt the burn.
Inside you’ll find an Apple-like package design, with a plain white box holding your accessories. A series of iPod docks are secured in a plastic bag, an Ikea-like manual lets you know how to connect your Geneva to other devices, and there’s a demo CD in an elegant case.
Pulling the Geneva out of the box shows the attention to detail that a high retail price nets you. The inside of the box is laminated as well, with a deep black countering the red exterior. The accessories come in a classy cloth bag. Everything is presented in a way that feels quite “design-y.” It might seem silly to comment on, but hey, you’ve just paid two grand for this thing. Revel in it.
I reviewed the unit in Walnut. While the other three colours (red, black, and white) all have a slick, modern feel that will feel at home in any decor, the Walnut is really eye-catching. There’s something about it that says both retro and new at the same time. In short: it’s stunning.
Setting it up.
The Geneva Sound Systems XL comes with four rubberized feet that put it flat on the ground. I was sent a small pedestal, and immediately set to removing the feet and installing the stand.
If you’re spending $2k+ on the speaker, buy the stand. It’s a simple directive, but I mean it. It classes the unit up even more, and gives it an additional sexy retro vibe that had be contemplating redesigning my decor to match the speaker. The only caveat I have here is for those who have children: the on-the-floor approach means next-to-zero chance of tipping, so that might be a good choice. Then again, if you an afford kids AND a Geneva chances are you could afford to replace it. The Geneva, that is, not the child. If the Geneva lands on your child… well, I’m sorry. At least you still have the HD/3D pictures.
Plugging it in is simple, the cord is long enough for convenient placement. There are analog audio jacks on the bottom which I put to good use, and an elbow connector for the antenna.
The Antenna is a bit of a sticking point for me. With five avenues of getting sound out of the Geneva, the antenna seems like a bit of an after thought. I used some sticky tack to pin it to the wall behind the unit, but without that tack it lay in a pile at the bottom, clearly viewable if you’re using the pedestal stand. It felt like an option hadn’t been explored there; I hope Geneva finds a way to keep the antenna tidy (or to integrate it) in the future.
The iPod dock will take most modern iPods and iPhones. Both my iPhone 4 and my 4th gen 60GB iPod Classic connected and played. You’ve got limited control of your iPod playlist, but that’s almost a good thing. Geneva advertises simplicity; instead of spending time fussing over a playlist during a party, set your playlist up in advance and spend your time fussing with your guests instead. Power-users will sneer at this approach, but it’s a functional design approach that I approve of.
If you need additional control I’d suggest that the Apple Airport Express is the perfect partner for iTunes-using Geneva customers. Plug it into the wall next to the unit, connect it to the analog audio ports, and use your iPhone/iPod touch Remote app to Choose playlists and take requests on-demand.
The CD player obviously requires no setup, but it’s one of the coolest “gotcha!” moments. It’s slot-loading, and sucks CDs in hungrily, playing them back immediately. The demo disc showed off some fascinating surround features, but I didn’t have any other discs with this effect. It DOES, however, produce amazing stereo sound, something we’ll get into shortly.
Geneva calls their Sound System “deceptively simple”, claiming that the technology on the inside belies the unobtrusive exterior. I’d agree with that, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that when you turn it on, it sounds magical. The amplification system is robust, and in my experience, distortion-free. I didn’t blow the walls off for fear of angering neighbours, but I pushed it relatively hard and ended up with nothing but pure sound.
I tested the unit with a variety of sound sources. Here are my thoughts on each:
The internal CD player handled my copy of Queen’s News of the World and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds with equal aplomb. The thundering bass of News filled the room easily, and the Geneva as able to articulate the ultra-clear highs of Pet Sounds without a problem.
The iPod dock played AAC back for files in both compressed and Apple Lossless formats. Despite the relatively meagre DAC in the iPod/iPhone (when compared to a piece of equipment like the Geneva) it was easy for both me and a small group of friends (some versed in audio, some not) to tell the difference. If you’re going to use your iDevice with the Geneva: go lossless. It makes a difference.
The antenna tuned to 101.1FM in Vancouver produced clear sound, but I had to fiddle with the antenna for about ten minutes to get it into optimal position. Touching the antenna to the unit itself naturally resulted in a loss of signal. As mentioned above I tacked the antenna to the wall behind the Geneva as a solution.
The analog port was tested with both my Apple Airport Express as mentioned above, and with my older Pioneer Super Audio CD player. The AE sounded good (almost as good as the direct-digital iPod connection) but the impressive experience was my copy of Tommy Deluxe Edition by The Who. Everything about this disc felt fantastic; the Geneva did a remarkable job presenting channel separation, with explosive riffs clearly dueling between channels.
The Geneva Sound Systems XL isn’t cheap, and that’s a good thing. It’s clear that no expense has been spared, and even more impressive, that bells and whistles have been avoided for a more pure audio experience.
It’s big. It’s beautiful. And the sound that comes out of it is quite stunning. I have never hear an audio system like this, in this form factor. The closest I’ve been to a similar experience is a reference system that cost nearly five times as much, making the Geneva quite a deal in comparison.
This is an audio system with an iPod dock, and it’s one that takes sound seriously. I can safely say that the XL (and as such, every speaker in the Geneva lineup) is worth the money you’ll pay for it.
Just remember: lift with your knees, not with your back.