Geneva Model S DAB+
Audio Dynamics, genevalab.com.au
Looks beautiful; sound quality is superb at lower volumes
Some distortion and vibration at high volumes; remote feels a bit cheap
$799 (DAB); $599 standard
Just so we’re clear, no matter how the Geneva Model S DAB+ sounded, I was probably going to like it. I’ve coveted the Geneva units in design shops since I first saw them, and was excited to finally try one out.
As you might expect if you’re familiar with the Genevas, or have read Dave Bullard’s Lab Test of the regular Model S from earlier this year, the Model S DAB+ is a brilliant bedside sound system – with iPod/iPhone dock, and digital and FM radio – that lives up to my expectations, albeit with a few small niggles.
Put simply, the Model S DAB+ is beautiful. The unit I’m reviewing is a high-gloss white box around 24cm x 16cm x 18cm. There’s a white metal grille on the front, featuring the distinctive convex circular protrusion that defines the Geneva models. Behind the grille, there’s a red alphanumeric LED display that’s about as simple as it could be, but it provides all the information you really need – displaying either the time, radio station or the current mode (iPod, FM radio or DAB+ radio). The Model S is also available in black or red. They all look great.
On top, it’s completely touch-operated, with buttons defined by their glowing white outlines and function labels (these are red on both the black and red models).Thankfully, the power button is indented so that it’s not too easy to touch accidentally mid-song. Volume is controlled by a familiar (if endangered when it comes to iPods) circular scroll-wheel. Unfortunately, here’s one of my niggles: the scroll-wheel just doesn’t feel as nice as Apple’s always have, and to turn the volume up significantly, you’ve got to go round and round at least half a dozen times. Another small problem for all the right-handers out there (approximately 90 percent of us), if you opt for using the iPod’s controls to select songs, you may find yourself inadvertently knocking the Model S’s touch controls as they’re quite close to the dock.
The Model S was designed to be a bedside unit, so that’s where I tested it. (Of course, it would work equally well on a desk or the kitchen bench – if your kitchen is fancy enough to have it.) In a small bedroom, the sound quality is admirable. The tonal range is excellent, with the intricacies and subtleties of high-bitrate recordings coming through nicely. The sound is rich and the different layers of recordings are well defined for a unit this size. Chances are you’ll be happy to listen to the Model S, maybe even enough to not hate it when its alarm wakes you up in the mornings.
Unfortunately, there are two problems with the audio. They’re not going to stop you buying one, but they’re worth mentioning.
When the Model S is in iPod mode, but no music is playing, there is a soft, but easily discernable ticking sound. I’ve tried two units and both had the noise. It won’t be a problem for most, but I had built the Geneva up so much in my head that it just had to fail somewhere.
The other issue is that when you do crank the volume on the Model S beyond 70 or so (it goes to 100, but even 50-60 is pretty loud for small rooms), there is noticeable buzz and distortion when listening to bass-heavy music. It’s not a major issue because you really won’t be listening to much at that level, but it would nicer if the volume was limited to a range within the clean levels.
I mention this mainly to let you know that if you’re after a big sound, the Model S isn’t the iPod dock for you (Geneva also makes M, L and XL models which pump up the volume as the sizes increase). But at levels for comfortable listening in a small room, the sound is stunning. In fact, the detail is even there at the lowest volumes, making this a great option for listening to some music without waking the rest of your household.
Both the Model S and the Model S DAB+ feature the same simple telescopic metal aerial that’s about 60cm when fully extended. It provides good reception and is easily manoeuvrable into the right position, but it feels like an afterthought compared to the aesthetics of the rest of the unit.
The connection is a standard male coax point that the aerial plugs onto, and it means it all feels a bit wobbly. I would have liked to see the aerial as a feature considering the Geneva units are so beautifully designed, but can understand that better reception may have been favoured over a slightly nicer looking antenna.
Which brings me to the DAB+ side of things. And that’s something that Geneva really got right. The interface is as simple and straightforward as you could hope: you just press and hold the forward scan button, and the Model S DAB+ finds all the stations in your area and programs them in. Then it’s as simple as scrolling through the stations (their names are displayed on the screen) to choose the one you’re after. The whole setup was painless and incredibly quick, and reception was good considering I live in a notoriously poor area.
The FM radio is more of a pain, with scanning through the frequencies seeming to take an inordinate amount of time. But when you do find the stations you want, you can store them in the presets P, R, E, S, E, or T using the remote. Clever.
Speaking of the remote, like the aerial, it really doesn’t live up to the build quality of the rest of the unit. It’s a small, light plastic remote that looks great, but just feels a bit on the cheap side.
Perhaps one of the coolest features of the Model S is the motorised iPod dock. Switch the mode to iPod, and the dock spins around for you to connect an iPod or iPhone. With an iPod connected, the Geneva’s scroll wheel and play/pause and menu buttons will navigate your music the way you would expect. To my surprise, they even worked for navigating the iPhone’s iPod app.
But it’s often easier to use the iPhone or iPod itself, which works just as well. So long as you don’t accidentally knock the Geneva’s controls at the same time.
Australian Macworld’s buying advice
If you think I’ve been overly critical in reviewing the Geneva, you’re absolutely right. I was expecting a perfect beside solution here. And after all that, it does come extremely close. It looks brilliant, sounds amazing (for the most part) and is incredibly simple to use. For the $799 RRP, it could be hard to justify but if you like the look of it, and don’t need it to be able to power your next party, you won’t be disappointed.