Product: all-in-one-box stereo system with CD player, iPod docking station, FM tuner, amplifier and speakers, GenevaSound, L & XL models
Manufacturer: Geneva Lab - Switzerland
Price: 1399 € (L model) - 2499 € (XL model) - floorstand included
Availability: official distributors and stores or direct online purchase
Samples supplied by: NAE Store / L'Armadillo
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu - TNT Italy
Reviewed: January, 2009
Exactly two years ago I reviewed an active sats + subwoofer system, with Class D internal amplification, namely the Aux Out by Kuller/Outline. During these last years TNT-Audio has reviewed a couple of "all-in-one" audiophile-oriented systems like the Audio Analogue Enigma and the Arcam Solo. These systems include a CD player, a tuner section and an amplifier. Only speakers are missing, in order to get a really complete stereo system.
Introducing you a system that includes everything, even a complete iPod docking station: the Geneva Lab GenevaSound.
Geneva Lab is a Company that designs its products in Switzerland and then build them in China. Three versions are currently available: the small M (less than 700 €), the L and the XL I'm going to review for you. I admit the "all inclusive" package might look weird, considering we audiophiles are used to think at a stereo system when at least TWO separate speakers are available but....keep reading and you'll learn stereo sound can be obtained even from a single cabinet (thanks to some cool digital programming).
GenevaSound products have received several cool reviews on multimedia-technology mags like Wired, iLounge and PC Magazine but even on papers like New York Times and mags like Vanity Fair. Sound & Vision and Home Theater have published two good reviews also. Hence, this is the first strictly HiFi-related review of these stereo systems.
From a purely commercial point of view you can think at Genevasound products as a trait d'union between B&O, Tivoli and Pod/Scandyna.
I've been supplied with the model L and XL only, as I didn't want to test the less inspiring smaller model.
As said, these systems are completely "all inclusive": the only connection with the outside world which is strictly necessary is the mains cable that can be easily hidden by making it run inside the floor stand.
The CD player unit (which reads also CD-R's and MP3's) is a simple slot on top of the unit, like on many car stereos. The FM tuner allows a 6 stations preset (via remote) and needs to be connected to an almost invisible antenna (supplied). If you have an external line source (DVD, game console, TV, PC etc.) you wish to connect to the system you can use a pair of RCA line connectors located at the bottom of the unit.
Close to the CD slot there's a small door that covers the universal iPod docking station, which is compatible with iPod video, iPod nano, iPod foto and iPod mini.
At the bottom of the unit, besides the RCA line in, the mains socket (IEC standard) and the 75 Ohm coaxial antenna input you can find a mysterious multipin socket labelled as "AIR" which should serve for future implementations (wireless, multiroom application and the like, I suppose).
The floor stand, made out of grey finished steel, is extremely solid and pretty non resonant. It places the drivers exactly at the desired listening height, unless you want to place the system elsewhere, for example on a shelf. The selling price does include the floor stand (and the system can't be purchased without it). If you desire to install the Genevasound on a shelf a set of massive 4 rubber feet is also supplied.
Finishes available include lacquered white, red and black. The model L can be purchased also in a pretty elegant walnut finish (see pic below). Rounded corners and total absence of displays, switches or knobs makes the Genevasound systems extremely easy to install at home: for sure they possess the highest WAF I know.
Behind the drivers grille there's a red display that gives basic information on what's happening: selected source, selected track or FM station, volume setting etc. It glows brighter for a couple of seconds when any function gets activated via remote.
Volume, source, bass and highs, on/off etc can be activated via remote. A couple of basic functions are duplicated under the iPod docking station door.
The most interesting features are hidden inside the Genevasound system. First of all, internal amplification is supplied by Class D modules (uh oh!) from Intersil D2Audio. This Company makes three different so-called Digital Intelligent Amplifiers (DAE-1TM, DAE-2TM and DAE-3TM) that can be used in many different applications. Just to name one, the virtual surround Marantz ES-150 amplifier uses such modules for producing a sort of surround sound via two channels only. I won't list here all the technical features of these modules, if you need more you can refer to the official D2Audio Intersil website which is quite rich in technical details.
I just want to point out that these Class D modules can be tailored to suit every customer's needs via DSP programming. For example, the Genevasound systems make use of a DSP with embedded EmbracingSound® sound technology. Roughly speaking (see official website for technical details) this technology allows for the reproduction of a full 180° stereophonic sound by using two speakers installed one close to the other (as close as possible) inside the very same cabinet.
This EmbracingSound® technology, perhaps not familiar among audiophiles, is quite popular among pro's (see website for famous testimonials) and also works with 5.1 signals, creating the illusion of a sound that literally embraces you, despite the fact it gets generated by a single acoustic source.
Now let me go back to the systems under review. These are the claimed tech specs for the L model:
I've had the possibility to test the L model for a couple of months and the XL system for a couple of weeks, using them both as stand-alone units and even connected to an external source (CD player).
Let me confess these systems stimulated my curiosity a lot. While listening to them I've come to the conclusion they have been designed with a precise kind of customer in mind: music lovers tired of complicated stereo systems, with dozens of ugly cables running everywhere, customers who want something simple, effective, easy to install and manage, without risking a divorce at any system upgrade ;-)
Both models have exhibited a similar sonic character, a clear sign the designer did his homework quite well. With the obvious differences I'm going to list the L and the XL are - undoubtedly - creations of the very same mind. And that mind had a precise goal.
We've seen this many other times... you might think. And you might also add that you'd expect these systems to sound with a strongly coloured sound, with hypertrophic bass and stinging highs, dressed to impress, so to say. And you'd be dead wrong.
Sonically, the tonal balance of these systems is quite the opposite, instead: warm and relaxed sound, easy on the ear even after many, many hours of listening. There's no trace of the infamous listening fatigue that sometimes can be experienced especially with hyper-detailed high-end systems. This proves, once again, that Class D amplification doesn't necessarily produce a metallic, edgy and cold sound!
The bass response of the L model is adequate, considering its size and the diameter of the two mid-woofers (13cm). With the aid of two 20 cm woofers the XL model exhibits a far more convincing bass performance and the claimed 40 Hz @ -3dB datum seems absolutely realistic.
When playing seismic bass the small 13 cm midwoofers do all they can but, of course, they tend to compress and lose their equilibrium, as one might expect. The model XL, instead, even when brutalized by my worst torture tracks (from Massive Attack to Keb Mo, from Nelly Furtado to Prodigy) is capable of an impressive performance, even better than I expected.
In the mid range the two systems are close again though it is absolutely evident that the two midwoofers work better when they aren't forced to reproduce the entire bass range. Hence voices get reproduced way better by the XL model, as they appear cleaner and far more linear. With the L model female voices are a bit warmer and fatter than they should be, for example. Not surprisingly, even the high range benefits from this woofers aid and the amount of details retrieved from the discs increases noticeably. Those traces of compressions that can be heard from time to time from the L model almost disappear when listening to the XL. Generally, though the tonal balance of the two systems is mostly identical, the XL is more transparent, detailed and open.
Hooking up an external CD player generates a noticeable performance improvement, in every area. The bass range becomes tighter, deeper and more articulated, the high range appears cleaner and more refined and, generally, one can notice a substantial increase of the number of musical details which get retrieved. Every single portion of the musical structure seems to find a more precise location. Hence, following a single instrument among others playing simultaneously, becomes easier.
This simple experiment proves that the internal CD unit isn't exactly up to the task (worth reconsidering it, maybe?). It acts as a small bottle neck for the performance of the whole system. Consider I have used a fairly decent vintage CD player, namely an old Cyrus PCM II. This was a quite expensive component...but that was 20 years ago!!! Now it can be bought on Ebay for 150 € or so. Of course, I haven't even tried to use a modern, better high-end source, the experiment would have been too far from my intents (i.e. proving the internal CD unit should be bettered!).
Summarizing: these two "soundsystems" are enjoyable, far more than one might think. Perhaps it is not that kind of sound which is familiar to die-hard audiophiles but trust me when I say it is easy to listen to and enjoy nevertheless. There are compromises to accept, of course, especially in the bass with the L model, but considering its size and cost it is surprising what even the smaller unit can do. The XL model, instead, can make happy more than one bass-freak! Also consider as a plus the fact that the tonal balance remains virtually the same even at the highest volume settings (ranging from 0 to 100). Even approaching the highest levels there's no trace of compression or distortion...perhaps the settings have been carefully choosen not to overload the drivers. Neat.
For both models the sound pressure levels that can be attained are noticeable and generally far higher than average neighbourhoods normally tolerate. With the XL model one can easily exceed 100 dB at the listeing seat (more than 2 meters far from the unit, in my case). The smaller L unit - of course - plays less loud and with the volume set at 80 (on a 100 scale) some dynamic compression can be easily detected. Anyway, I'm talking of quite loud listening levels, especially in a small room. For larger rooms (from 30 sqm on) I'd recommend evauating the XL model instead. Two extra woofers and 100 watts of power for each of the six drivers (6 x 100 watt, that is) can be sufficient even for the wildest headbanger :-)
Overall, the dynamic performance of the L model is adequate while the XL is really surprising. With the bigger unit the bass becomes faster, deeper and cleaner. Do not expect fireworks...but you can rest assured this system can respect even the liveliest musical program. An obvious reduction of scale has to be expected with the L model and you shouldn't expect it can cope with the bastard synthetic bass of Massive Attack's "Angel", just to cite a well known example. Actually, few loudspeakers can handle that with ease!
In few words, the L unit sounds dynamically relaxed while the XL is much faster and punchier.
Low level resolution (and hence microdynamics) is one of the weakest points of the L model, perhaps the two small midwoofers are too busy trying to act as woofers :-)
Indeed, when they are required to do only what they should (reproduce mids and mid-bass only) microdynamics improves noticeably. Actually, in this department, the difference with the XL model is _not_ subtle.
And now we're in for the big question: can a single box create a real stereo sound? The answer is YES, when one employs efficient programming and techniques like this EmbracingSound®. The trick works unbelievably well: not only you get the usual left-right effect but also up_and_down and front_and_back. Moreover, the system claims to offer a 180° wide listening area, without significative variation of the tonal balance. Even this claim proves to be true: you can move far from the usual center position without experiencing dramatic changes in tonal balance and image. That said, don't get me wrong: the system works and works pretty well though it can't reproduce the wide and big soundstage a good high-end system can create. Nonetheless I'm pretty sure the 3D image created by the Genevasound systems can be wider than the one you can get from standard stereo sets unproperly installed, for example. In other words, if you don't have enough space to properly install a pair of good loudspeakers chances are the image you'd get will be worse than the one a Genevasound can create in the same situation. For example, placing a pair of compact speakers on a bookshelf, close to the rear wall and at a wrong height would produce a far worse result. As I always say...if you don't have the space for installing a basically decent stereo set, you should reconsider spending large amounts of money in fancy components and cables. Perhaps, a system like the Genevasound would be a wiser choice.
Summarizing, what you get with these systems is a quite well defined stereo image so much it is hard to believe all "that" sound comes from "that" single box. The first time you experience the left-right effect is a shock, indeed.
Anyway, don't think at artificial ping-pong effects, like on those horrible first stereo recordings! The virtual image is natural and realistic, nothing spectacular or digitally manipulated.
That said, it should be remarked that I've listened to these systems placed on their stands in a good sounding listening environment, placed at almost 1 meter from the rear wall and with a thick carpet on the floor. I don't know (and can't predict) if these systems will perform equally well in constrained locations or in poor sounding listening rooms. I guess the stereo image will be damaged if the unit is placed on a low bookshelf, close to the rear wall, without stands, for example.
The two units were already broken in so I haven't noticed any improvement of performance during tests. Anyway, as for any other stereo system I recommend at least 50 hours of listening before judging them. Moreover, I haven't noticed substantial differences, apart from the usual first minutes, between "cold" and "warm" system so it seems a warm up isn't really necessary.
This also means the unit can be switched off in order to save energy. That said, it should be noted the unit power consumption in stand-by mode is a mere 0.8 watts.
As for upgrades, I won't suggest trying other cables...as there are NO cables to use, except the mains supply one :-) And I won't suggest to experiment with different anti-vibration feet either. The supplied ones do work quite well. One thing you have to check, before purchasing, is the version of the internal firmware. For, push the EJECT button for a while (10 seconds or so) until the display indicates the firmware version. If it is older than 1.30, ask for a firmware upgrade. It can be obtained directly from the seller, on a self-installing CD-Rom. The model L came with an older version of the firmware and I experienced some trouble reading certain CDs, for example. No such problem with the XL, already equipped with the latest firmware release.
At the bottom of the unit you may have noticed small aeration grilles: as these are the sole air inlets for the unit, be sure to keep them free to breathe.
Be careful with the cabinet: being lacquered it is is easy to leave fingerprints or scratch it. Use the supplied soft cloth to clean the surface. Only when needed, use some anti-static furniture spray to clean it. The level of bass and highs can be adjusted via remote: with some particularly "dark" recording you might need to boost the highs a little bit. During my sessions I've always listened to the units with both tone controls in flat position.
The systems come equipped with a brilliant user's manual, a mains cable, four rubber feet, a cleaning cloth, a remote and a dipole antenna cable. Quite surprisingly you'll also find a demo CD where a voice explains the principles behind the Genevasound systems. Also included are several tracks with nice sound "effects" and good audiophile selections (even from the famous Opus3 audiophile records!). This means the designers had in mind good sound, not only cool looks and stellar WAF :-)
Manufacturing, finish, price.
Being a high-tech design product the level of manufacturing and finish is very good: the extreme care for every detail is self-evident. For example, I've much appreciated the solution of placing all the connections at the bottom of the unit, in a safe and easy to access location, thanks to the "I" shaped stand top plate. The whole design is completely idiot-proof and even children-proof. Indeed, it is very difficult to damage the unit! Even better, the complete absence of edged corners, metallic parts and connectors makes these systems 100% safe for children and pets: no cables to play with, no moving parts, no CD drawers to bend. The one and only moving part is the small iPod docking station door. Moreover, when the system is secured to its floor stand it is almost impossible to make it fall, considering the footprint of the stand and its heavy weight. Even the drivers are located in a safe place: it is impossible to damage them as they are 100% protected by a steel grid which also keeps them completely out of sight (so not to attract children's curiosity).
I have a few complaints to make about user's interface. Most of the commands can be controlled via remote only: if this fails or gets lost... using the system without remote can be pretty annoying. The remote control operating area is very limited: you need to point it directly towards the unit if you want it to work. Perhaps the remote sensor is too recessed inside the cabinet or the remote itself isn't very powerful. I've tested two remotes and both worked this way. This is a key feature which should be improved.
The minimalist display offers few informations to the user. Perhaps it is better this way but some user might find it too basic. You can preset just 6 FM stations and there's no direct access to CD tracks: you need to "skip" several times in order to reach the desired one. Considering many modern recordings have 15 or even more tracks...the procedure might be annoying.
While the L system is quite easy to move around, even from one room to another, the XL one is a heavyweight monster. Moreover, since it does not offer safe places where one can put his hands on (and lacquer is slippery!) moving the XL, especially when it's bolted to the stand, is almost impossible (more than 50 kgs!). A pair of recessed handles might help.
Aesthetically is a pure matter of personal taste. The L system, in my opinion, is very nice, especially in black finish. Even the walnut one looks cool. The XL - especially in white finish - looks like a small refrigerator :-|
The red one is too much of an eye-catcher. Impossible to hide.
The user's manual, as said, is nicely written, fairly complete and 100% idiot-proof. It can also be downloaded from the Geneva Lab website, just in case. The products are covered by the usual 2 years warranty (this might change depending on Country). Each Genevasound system is packed quite well with two massive polystyrene halves. Also included a soft cloth bag that avoids scratches to the lacquer finish while handling the unit (packing and unpacking).
Finally, two words about pricing and competitors. As far as I know there are no similar devices in the market, at least not so complete like these Genevasound units. Ferrari, the automotive Company, is currently making something similar, the Art.Engine I wrote about in a recent article here on TNT-Audio. There are many other iPod docking stations in the market but all are, for one reason or another, quite different from the Genevasound. Hence, in order to correctly evaluate the price/quality ratio, you should think at the cost of a complete separates system which includes CD player, tuner, iPod docking station, amplifier, speakers, cables and stands. The L model costs 1400 €, everything included. For the very same money you can buy a quite good traditional HiFi system, if you search for second-hand gear. Otherwise, purchasing new components might be tricky: 300 € for a basic CD player and a basic tuner (each), 300 € for a basic integrated amp of decent power and 500 € for a pair of speakers and cables. And, still, you don't have the docking station...
Aestethically the final result might be much worse, considering all the cables and all the space you need to place components and speakers. Soundwise, the final result might be better, especially if one takes extreme care of proper speaker installation. And even better results can be attained using low powered hi-quality class D amps paired with high-sensitivity speakers. Yet, the question remains the same: how many customers can properly install such a system in their living room? And we all know that even the most expensive set up can sound horrible if erroneously installed.
Let's consider the XL model now: with 2500 € you can purchase rather good components and, normally, he who spends this amount of money in a stereo system is ready to sacrify a part of his living room to properly install it and make it sound like it should. Hence, in this price range, the competition of separates is tougher.
Summarizing, these Genevasound systems aren't the perfect choice for the real audiophile and this is not their mission, indeed! Anyway, their stellar WAF might be a key factor, even for audiophiles.
Oh, before you ask, I haven't listened to the smallest model, the M. Perhaps I should have but its features didn't intrigue me enough. It still costs 700 €, uses two diminutive 10 cm midwoofers loaded into a smallish cabinet and doesn't even offer a complete universal iPod docking station.
Sound. Once you understand their attitude (and target) it is very easy to live with them. You shouldn't expect an extremely detailed sound nor a hyper-transparent portrait of complex musical genres (especially with the L model). Voices appear a bit too warm while in the mid-high range one can detect, depending on model and musical program, traces of compression and confusion. The high range is very easy on the ear, always sweet and smooth. Perhaps some extra "presence" and spark would have moved these systems closer to the real thing.
What a nice surprise! Though I haven't used the hyperboles I've read on non-HiFi mags, these systems impressed me quite a lot. Though NOT so miraculous or groundbreaking as claimed, these Genevasound by Geneva Labs might be a very good solution for:
Acknowledgements. A heartfelt thanks to the whole NAE Store/L'Armadillo staff and Mariano in particular for supplying the test samples and for their unvaluable technical assistance.
© Copyright 2009 Lucio Cadeddu - www.tnt-audio.com