When it comes down to choosing a design-conscious portable Bluetooth speaker, it really comes down to two players: Geneva Lab and Jawbone. The Model XS is Geneva Lab's smallest, most portable speaker, the toddler of their handsome cabinet design line of audio products, and a direct competitor with the popular Jambox. Would this unique clamshell design prove to be as ear-pleasing as it is to the eyes?
What I've always admired most about Geneva Lab products has been their philosophy of paring down features and form factor down to the most necessary basics. And when I say "basics", I don't mean bare bones, but more of an understanding users tend to want/need less on a day-to-day basis, and executing those features is much more important than cramming everything as a comprehensive solution. What it means is less fiddling and more sitting back and enjoying the technology opposed to battling with it.
The Model XS abides very much in accordance to simplicity as the driving aesthetic; its form is its function, and vice versa. Moving parts are limited to the clamshell case design, a nod to vintage travel clocks of yesterday. Open up the quasi-leather case (not an unpleasant texture, akin to the "leatherette" you may find as an automobile interior option) and lock the front piece upright to a rear latch into a triangular slant, and the Model XS welcomes you with a subtle red LED display, glowing through the speaker grill. Like I said: subtle.
If desk space is an issue, the Model XS works well as a space saving solution, since it stores away easily and operates as an alarm clock.
Similarly, all of the touch sensitive controls are nearly invisible when the unit is off or in standby mode. A lack of mechanical buttons may make using the Model XS more difficult to use than a model with tactile buttons, but there is an indentation to activate the unit's audio mode, which in turn illuminates the controls more clearly.
Still, I found myself accidentally activating the other buttons a little too easily while trying to access other features, especially during the early morning when my senses were less than ideal, making it a slightly annoying bedside companion in activated alarm mode. In time, I've gotten used to directing my fingers to the right side of the unit, so perhaps practice does indeed make perfect.
Connecting with a Bluetooth enabled sound source takes less than 30 seconds, and is as easy as any other Bluetooth device I've tried. Once paired with a Bluetooth device (in my case, an iPad), the Model XS becomes a consummate audio performer, especially for smaller spaces.
Similar to other larger Geneva Lab's speakers I've demoed, the Model XS puts out a distinctly rich/warm sound, with special discernible detailing in the mid-to-high range...it's a bit of a wonder such a small speaker can put out such a filled-out sound, with only the lowest end missing while testing with various songs and artists (it's only when pushed with bass-centric hip-hop the Model XS showed any real issues). If you're someone who isn't aching to dial it up to "11", enjoying your music at low to mid volumes, you'll likely be pleasantly surprised. Any louder and you should probably consider a larger dedicated/multi-speaker solution, since the XS is best situated right next to the listener.
The Geneva Sound System Model XS vs the Jawbone BIG JAMBOX
Of course, everyone undoubtedly asked, "So, how does this perform versus the Jawbone Jambox?" I didn't have the original smaller Jawbone Jambox to compare side-by-side, but I did have its bigger sibling the Big Jambox. While the Model XS put out the satisfying sound field noted above, the larger Jawbone model's bass performance filled out certain songs more confidently due in part to having more speakers/size to draw upon. I'm talking about a 10-15% improvement, depending upon the song. So although noticeable, I wouldn't call it a game changer for the majority of listeners indoors (outdoors, the Big Jambox flexes speaker muscles more evidently and is the better option).
What one loses in sound, one gains back in the portability factor, as the Model XS is about half the size of the Big Jambox, better protected for easy travel with about five hours of playback, so one needs to determine whether overall sound or portability is more important (I'd personally pick the Model XS over the regular Jambox for the clock function alone, but you do give-up the easier speakerphone integration).
Here's the Model XS side-by-side with the Jawbone Big Jambox for size comparison.
FM performance is standard and on par with a radio of similar size; I was able to pull in our local classical radio station even without the hidden telescopic antenna at full mast. The FM radio can also be set for use as an alarm, but the unit lacks preset stations, so you'll either have to leave the Model XS to the station you favor all of the time, or scan it using the onboard controls (a minor trade-off of the "less is more" design).
Closing Thoughts: Though the Model XS may be compact, like an Olympic gymnast, it performs remarkably well in spite of its physical size. The Model XS is best for design-conscious laptop travelers looking to complement built-in audio or to pair with a smartphone or tablet, the exterior clamshell design both classically appealing and assuringly protective. But those looking for the full spectrum of sound should note the inherent compromise between portability and audio performance. In other words, the Model XS is a great portable sidekick to a more robust system, earning itself a spot next to the bed or even your next picnic.
Pros: Protective clamshell design allows for "throw it in the bag" ease, subtle retro design is the more timeless competitor to the Jawbone's "now" execution, surprisingly full sound in a small form factor, clock, alarm and FM radio make it a perfect bedside companion at home or while traveling, excellent construction.
Cons: Subtle top controls can be near impossible to navigate by touch, low end is modest at best, no FM radio station presets, expensive.
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. This specific product was provided by manufacturer for testing and review purposes.