Finnish monitor company Genelec has long practiced an uncompromising, engineering led approach to electro-acoustic design. And while that approach has undoubtedly resulted in many immensely impressive technical achievements, for some folk in the music recording and mix community, Genelec monitors are sometimes said to be lacking a certain something. Those for example who rely on the emphasised midrange and dry, quick bass of, say, the Yamaha NS-10, are, perceived wisdom would have it, unlikely to feel at home with Genelec monitoring. As ever of course, the reality is more nuanced, and less clear cut.
I was fortunate earlier in the year to spend some time listening to Genelec’s most recent monitor, the S360 in the impressive environment of Metropolis Studio’s in London and on that occasion there was absolutely no lack of that “certain something”. I wrote about my experience of the S360 in a Sound On Sound review. Following on from the S360 experience I was loaned a pair of the smallest monitor from Genelec’s very high-tech “One” series, the 8331A, to use for a while at home. The One series is unusual in employing both a compound coincident mid/high frequency driver and a low frequency system based on hidden, slot loaded, twin bass drivers, all integrated by advanced DSP based filtering and equalisation (including the option of Genelec’s in-house GLM room acoustic correction system).
The 8331A is a perfect example of that uncompromising, engineering led approach to electro-acoustic design and there’s absolutely no argument that its technical achievement in terms of dispersion control and continuity, remarkably extended LF bandwidth from an enclosure that borders on tiny, and its low colouration and low diffraction enclosure construction, results in a deeply impressive objective, and subjective, performance. But a week for me with the 8331A did raise questions because however fabulous was its overall performance, I felt less than entirely comfortable about its low bass. Compared to the bass I like to hear when say, listening to a guitar band with a firm foundation of kick drum and Fender Precision, the 8331A to my ears was not entirely convincing.
Now, the immediate conclusion to draw here is that monitors such as the 8331A that display high levels of low frequency group delay* are fatally flawed, and it’s true to say that I have sympathy with that view, but the context of listening to and using monitors professionally is far more complex than can be characterised by one aspect of electro-acoustic performance. For example, my usual nearfield monitors (KEF LS50 with ports blocked) have a slow LF roll-off from around 70Hz so don’t really put much energy into the listening room below that frequency (their group delay peaks at around 5mS). The 8331A bandwidth however extends not far short of an octave lower, so it’s perfectly possible that my subjective concerns were room rather than monitor based.
So, if I were working in a generous control room predominantly on contemporary or indie music, I’d want my NS-10s (other, low group delay nearfield monitors are available), and I’d want some big, wide bandwidth main monitors too. But if my audio business covered everything from voice-overs, pod-casts, broadcast, and composition, via everything else, to guitar bands, and my control room was tight for space, along with unquestionable tonal accuracy I’d need to know if anything’s going on below 70Hz. The 8331A in those circumstances would make an incredibly strong case for itself.
Sometimes, we speaker geeks, in all our talk of monitors, get fixated on the characteristics of products such as the Yamaha NS-10 and imagine that they’re the unquestionable gold standard in all circumstances. But it’s a big audio production world out there populated by numerous niches, many of which will fit the Genelec 8331A perfectly. It’s a seriously capable little monitor.
* Genelec are rare (and should be applauded) in publishing LF group delay specs, and for the 8331A the numbers are 7mS at 100Hz rising to 34mS at 50Hz. See the graph alongside. To put that into some context, the afore mentioned Yamaha NS-10 peaks at around 4mS at 80Hz – although of course it actually has precious little bandwidth below that frequency.