Orson Welles was wrong - there's more to Switzerland than cuckoo clocks
What is the Model Cinema Wireless?Some product categories lend themselves more easily than others to the business of distinctive styling. Speakers and headphones allow for all manner of bold decisions to be made without affecting the core functions of the design. So long as the product functions in the manner that people expect it to, you can allow form to have equal footing with function. Other categories though are rather more demanding. Televisions need to be a device to present a clear and visible screen and an earphone that doesn't fit in an ear is an art project.
One particularly function led category is the soundbar/soundplinth market. The options for crazy styling on something designed to sit above or below a TV on axis, let alone with a TV on it, are very limited. You can add a splash of chrome here or there and experiment with an interesting grille colour but that is really about the limit of what you can do. By and large, this is a category of functional boxes.
So what happens when a manufacturer for whom functional boxes just don't feature as part of their DNA makes a sound plinth? Geneva Labs is (as the name suggests) a Swiss based company that has taken a wholly individual view on product design that has resulted in some truly extraordinary looking products. Now, they have turned their attention to this booming category. Can they make a product normal enough to appeal while retaining their design led identity?
Geneva is- on paper at least- a fairly conventional design. A plinth designed to be able to support a TV in the 32-50" category or up to 25kg, it is far from the largest design on the market but it is also a reasonably hefty piece of kit with an overall width of 70cm. Into this space, Geneva has fitted a quartet of 2 inch woofers in a front firing array and a single 5.25 inch 'subwoofer' (their words, not mine) to provide lower frequencies. The latter is downward firing and can be seen if you flip the Geneva over.
Each driver has its own Class D amplifier rather than tapping off a single amp and the overall control of the speakers is given over to a DSP. This ensures that there is plenty of stereo separation but additionally allows
Geneva to implement two nifty little functions called TotalVolume and Voice Enhancement. The latter is pretty self explanatory- it acts as a dialogue boost for voices in a soundtrack but TotalVolume is a little more unusual. Via the optical or coaxial input, the Geneva can study the input and output level of the feed and equalise the volume. This means that when you have been watching True Detective with some heavy duty muttering and the commercial break launches straight into a Barry Scott Cilit Bang shoutathon, the Geneva will do everything it can to keep the overall output equal.
The only input that can make use of these functions is the 'TV' optical and coaxial connections. Not that there are very many other inputs to choose from. As well as that pair of digital connections, you get an RCA stereo input and an 3.5mm stereo connection. Not a connection as such but finishing off the input options is A2DP Bluetooth. Put simply, the
Geneva has no more inputs than many designs at a quarter the price and no video switching at all. This is not necessarily the end of the world- these days I only have a pair of HDMI sources and these could be handled by the TV with digital audio then being sent to the Geneva. Nonetheless, if your equipment collection extends to a selection of consoles, Android TV boxes and other sundries, you might have more of a problem.
Aesthetically, the news is rather better.
Geneva came to prominence with one of their earlier products. The Model XL is an all-in-one system that is a hefty box with inputs on the top, drivers at the front and a short pole stand. Finished in a variety of colours, it has a retro futurism that will either see you loving it despite have no clear use for it or loathing it almost unconditionally. The XL has set the tone for the styling of all subsequent Geneva products; matte finishes in a variety of colours- some rather bold, a raised circular bump in the centre of the grille and a red LED display to show input and volume (although the very latest product we will be looking at later in the year seems to suggest some slight changes are in the works).
This has resulted in some fine looking products over the years- the Model XS Wireless speaker is one of the most achingly lovely travel speakers ever made- and the Model Cinema has managed to embody these attributes surprisingly well for something that has to be a fixed shape. The rounded edges, rather lovely matte finish and that trademark red display all combine to make a product that is cool in an understated sort of way. Black and white finishes are available although I wish
Geneva had the courage of their convictions and offered it in their red finish too. The build is good too and the Model Cinema feels extremely well assembled.
PositivesProvided that your supporting equipment doesn't make video demands of the
Geneva that it simply can't help you with, there is much to like about the packaging and design of the Model Cinema. The features that are included have a useful impact on the device in the real world and the smart design and build are all a cut above more budget options. Other nice touches like the chromed feet, metal remote and an instruction booklet that actually sets out to answer questions that real people might ask of it are very welcome.
The rounded edges, rather lovely matte finish and that trademark red display all combine to make a product that is cool in an understated sort of way
NegativesThere is no hiding from the limited input set and functionality of the Model Cinema. At this price, some rivals have video switching and the ability to do virtual surround. The
Geneva is resolutely stereo only and as before, is dependent on the video switching of your TV, it is aimed squarely at people that are not seeking the bleeding technical edge in their products. The other limitation with a product that embodies distinctive design aspects is that if you don't like them, it won't appeal but I will say that the model cinema is less marmite than some other Geneva products.
How was it tested?Due to the limitations of the HDMI cabling in my system, video switching was undertaken by the resident Yamaha RX-A3040 in standby pass through with Sky HD and a Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD Blu-ray player rather than re-routing everything to the TV. The supplied optical cable was then connected from
Geneva to a Panasonic GT60 Plasma. Test material used included Sky, Blu-ray, on demand services such as Sky and Netflix while Bluetooth was tested with a Motorola Moto X using Spotify.
Blu-ray Sound QualityReaching for Kingsman- The Secret Service, the
Geneva shows some attributes from the outset that stay with all input types. The good news is that these are largely positive. The most single defining aspect of the performance is that dialogue- even with the Voice Enhancement turned off- is exceptionally good. The clarity, tone and weight of voices is absolutely top notch judged by the standard of almost any transducer rather than simply as a soundbar. The 2-inch forward firing drivers seem to be the perfect size for extremely effective vocal handling. Even when all hell is breaking loose on screen, the Geneva is able to keep everything lucid.
The integration of these four drivers with the downward firing 5.25-inch unit is also extremely good. The
Geneva sounds like a single speaker with good (if not exceptional) dispersion rather than five speakers fighting it out. The Geneva is not an especially bassy component- it is only specced to 40Hz and this seems entirely believable in reality but it has enough heft and force to do justice to action movies. There is no shortage of headroom in my fairly normally sized lounge and the performance is also impressive when you need lower volume levels. Above all of course, it will demolish any set of speakers fitted to a TV.
TV and on demand Sound QualitySwitching to terrestrial TV does not significantly alter the performance of the
Geneva and further emphasises how good it is with dialogue. I am very fond of my resident Elipson Planet M speakers and regard them as being very capable with dialogue- not least backed up by the deeply capable Yamaha- but the Geneva is more than able to keep them honest.
The slight irony to this is that as I found dialogue handling to be so good, the Voice Enhancement doesn't actually do that much for me. Taking something already very clear and making it a bit clearer is not perhaps the most emphatic use of technology going. Happily, the TotalVolume system is brilliant. With a little bit of experimentation, the
Geneva can almost completely nullify the volume difference between programs and commercials and trailers. As a piece of real world technology, it takes a bit of beating and I'll miss it a little now it has gone.
Geneva offers good dispersion for a single point source but the fact it only operates in stereo and does not make any effort to place effects behind you means that it is not as immersive as some rivals can be. How important this is to you is going to be a matter of personal preference but it needs to be stated that the Model Cinema is purely about making the sound in front of you better rather than trying to replace a home cinema system. This is a design trade-off and in many ways I prefer what Geneva is doing to some of the more gimmicky virtual surround effects on the market.
Music Sound QualitySwitching to the Bluetooth input on the
Geneva and pairing it with the Motorola- a process that is simple enough to do- reveals a soundplinth that is a competent if not stellar listening experience. The Model Cinema is just about capable of producing something that will pass as a stereo image and once again, the decent integration between the forward firing and the downward firing drivers is enough to make it sound like a convincing narrow pair of speakers.
My criticisms of this connection are that A2DP is fairly old hat in Bluetooth terms and means that the Model Cinema will only accept a lossless signal over a wired connection and this does put it at a bit of a disadvantage compared to Apt-X rivals. The other issue is that the bass response of the
Geneva with music is less impressive than it is with film and TV with a slight sense of boxiness and the cabinet being audible. I don't regard the Geneva as being inferior to the competition in this regard but it does highlight the limitations of the sound plinth in being a true all rounder. For background music and the like though, the Geneva is likely to be fine.
With a little bit of experimentation, the
Geneva can almost completely nullify the volume difference between programs and commercials and trailers
- Truly exceptional dialogue handling
- Superb build
- Attractive appearance
- Limited connectivity
- Not as good with music
- Fairly pricey
Geneva Model Cinema Soundbase ReviewWith an asking price of £549 and a fairly minimalist spec, the Geneva Model Cinema is potentially going to struggle if you choose products on the length of the spec versus the size of the price- on paper, the all conquering Yamaha YSP-2500 has it ground to dust. These bold numbers don't really tell the whole story though.
Geneva has ignored some of the more whizzbang features on the market to deliver a product the offers genuinely good performance with film and TV and perfectly acceptable performance with music. The feature set isn't enormous but the TotalVolume setting in particular is a great little piece of software that really works.
Above all, the
Geneva looks and feels smart. If you have a TV that has paid attention to design and your lounge is somewhere that sets out to be clean and modern, this is one of the best pieces of industrial design in the category. If you can stretch to the asking price, the Geneva is a very well thought out and implemented sound plinth.
Ease of use8
Value for Money7
Our Review Ethos
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