Genelec The Ones SAM 8331 & 8341 Review – Raising The Bar
These two new Genelec monitors promise to redefine nearfield monitoring. Andy Jones is the very lucky one who gets to check them out… Price £2,169 and £2,729 each Contact Genelec Web Source Distribution 020 8962 5080 The Ones: SAM 8331 key features SAM 3-way monitors Frequency response: 45Hz-37kHz (-6 dB) ± 1.5dB (58Hz-20kHz) Maximum SPL: […]
These two new Genelec monitors promise to redefine nearfield monitoring. Andy Jones is the very lucky one who gets to check them out…
The Ones: SAM 8331 key features
- SAM 3-way monitors
- Frequency response: 45Hz-37kHz (-6 dB) ± 1.5dB (58Hz-20kHz)
- Maximum SPL: 104dB
- Drivers: 2x oval woofers: 5 1/8 x 2 5/8 inch and coaxial midrange/tweeter: 3½ / 3/4 inch
- Power: woofer 72W + midrange 36W + tweeter 36W
- Connections: 1x XLR analogue/digital AES/EBU input, 1x XLR digital AES/EBU output, 2x RJ45 control network
- Dimensions (mm): 305x189x212
- Weight: 6.7kg
The Ones: SAM 8341 key features
- SAM 3-way monitors
- Frequency response: 38Hz-37kHz (-6dB) ±1.5dB (45Hz-20kHz)
- Maximum SPL: 110dB
- Drivers: 2x oval woofers 6 5/8 x 3½ inch and coaxial midrange/tweeter 3½
/ 3/4 inch
- Power: woofer 250W + midrange 150W + tweeter 150W
- Connections: 1x XLR analogue input, 1x XLR digital AES/EBU input, 1x XLR digital AES/EBU output, 2x RJ45
- Dimensions (mm): 370x237x 243
- Weight: 9.8kg
Before I get into Genelec’s two new speakers, from a range called The Ones, there’s no getting away from a quick discussion about their design and coaxial, point-source monitoring. These are, as you may have guessed from just looking at them, not your standard speakers and employ that coaxial (or single source) designs, so here’s a quick overview.
You’ll probably be aware that most monitors use two- or three-way designs; each of the two or three drivers covering different parts of the frequency range. With two-way designs, you get a woofer and a tweeter covering lows and highs and with three way, you get an extra midrange driver. With traditional speaker designs, these are placed apart, with one driver above the other; traditionally, the tweeter sits on top.
With coaxial designs, as with The Ones on test here, the tweeter sits directly at the centre, on top of the mid range driver and at the centre of the woofer so that the sound emanates from a single point source. The reasoning is that with traditional speakers, any crossover frequencies from the drivers cause phase issues known as off-axis colouration and this essentially forces the listener to sit on a very specific sweet spot to avoid the effect.
If the sounds emanate from the same on-axis source, these phase issues are reduced… so the big advantage is that listening sweet spot is widened, so you’re not limited to having to sit in one exact position to monitor.
Several companies produce coaxial monitors including Equator Audio, Fluid Audio, PreSonus and Pioneer, with the RM series we looked at a couple of year back. Genelec has been leading the way in the design of these monitors, the 8351 being the daddy of this particular range.
However, even Genelec admits there are issues with the coaxial design. “Point source has also presented its own set of limitations when combined with superior coaxial designs,” it says, “including limited frequency range, low SPL and uneven dispersion.” With the Ones, however, Genelec claims to have overcome these issues and produced the world’s smallest three-way coaxial monitors, the 8331 and 8341 on test here.
The tech (and lots of it)
The advantage of these smaller monitors is obviously that they should be great for smaller studio setups. With The Ones, you get another advantage, as the coaxial design allows them to be placed either horizontally or vertically, so with that, widened sweet positioning flexibility really is at a maximum.
Small doesn’t mean light, however – these are solid, heavy, well-built monitors with the bass drivers mostly covered and protected by an aluminium chassis. What small does usually mean is less bass, but Genelec has this covered with some great design technology – old and new. So get ready for technical jargon – there are plenty of trademark terms coming up! However, do try and bear with me, because the design technology of The Ones is crucial to just about everything about them, and ultimately, of course, their sound, which I will (eventually) get to.
So first up, the front of both speakers is a solid baffle called a Directivity Control Waveguide (DCW), with the coaxial midrange driver and tweeter sitting in the middle. This Waveguide covers the woofers – and note I say that as a plural. Initially, the three-way design is slightly confusing, as it incorporates a dual woofer system called Acoustically Concealed Woofer (ACW) which radiate sound through slots located at either end of the monitor.
The clever bit is that, and I’ll quote Genelec here: “When two woofers are used, separated by a distance, the system of two woofers behaves acoustically like one giant woofer spanning the distance between the two woofers.” What this means is that it’s a dual system that acts like a single woofer so, when combined with the tweeter and midrange driver, makes it effectively a three-way system.
Confused? Don’t be. What it adds up to is you get a larger woofer than you’d expect from such a small speaker in both the 8331 and 8341, so small doesn’t mean lightweight in the bass department.
The Acoustically Concealed Woofer design means the whole of the front of the speaker can be that solid Directivity Control Waveguide mentioned above, one giant smooth front surface that Genelec claims offers excellent directivity and imaging. This technology is used in other Genelec monitors and was first developed in the 80s.
The theory is that the larger this smooth surface area, the more control you have over the directivity, and those smooth and rounded edges – as part of what Genelec calls the Minimum Diffraction Enclosure (MDE) and what you’ll find on pretty much every monitor that Genelec makes now – help reduce secondary reflections and flatten the overall frequency response.
Like I say, some of this technology has been inherent in Genelec speaker designs for some years and is not new to The Ones, but the coaxial approach and the merging of all the technologies in one is what The Ones are all about. Putting the various techno babble aside, what we essentially have here are compact speakers with better bass specs than you’d expect, better imaging and a larger sweet spot.
Calibrating for software – the GLM software
1. Setting up You first of all create a network connecting up your monitors to the GLM box and then set up a graphical representation of where they are.
2. Calibration Each speaker generates a sweep across the frequencies which is picked up by the mic. Test done, and you get a frequency graph of what is adjusted.
3. Other features The GLM software lets you do a whole lot more, from setting up multiple systems, to checking what’s connected, to even setting your sleep time.
The SAM part
There’s more tech to cover as The Ones also have some other great features up their sleeves. You’ll note these are called SAM monitors. We first covered Genelec’s Smart Active Monitor (SAM) system with our review of the 8320A and 8330A monitors last year. Again, then, this isn’t a new technology, but The Ones feature it – hence the ‘SAM’ in their names – and it is very cool. It consists of a Genelec Loudspeaker Manager (GLM) software (free to download) and a GLM User Kit (sold separately for £319).
This kit has a GLM adaptor, a measuring microphone, a USB cable to connect the adaptor to your Mac or PC and a network cable to link the monitors to the adaptor. Together with the software, the kit enables you to tune parametric notch and shelving filter parameters in The Ones according to your studio environment. The monitors can be tuned to make up for any colourations in your room acoustics you might have – self-help speakers, if you like.
You set the monitors up as you would normally expect to – the equilateral-triangle method is a good place to start – and then run the calibration software. The software is very easy to use. You’ll need to get a network set up via the GLM adaptor and then the software picks up the monitors and asks you to virtually place them on a grid to give an indication of their location within your studio.
Then you run the calibration, which takes around a minute to do, during which time each speaker broadcasts an audio sweep through the frequency range – one that scared the s*** out of me when it first did it – which is picked up by the microphone so that automatic EQ calibrations can be made to adjust their responses for your room.
It’s a very simple operation and a very transparent process, although you might hang your head in shame about just how bad (acoustically speaking) your room is – it’s like getting scolded by a USB-software teacher.
Handily, around the back there are dip switches to make manual adjustments, but the software is so easy to use that I’d urge you to try it. It’s currently at version 2 (a great improvement over v1, I hear), with v3 in public beta.
Genelec The Ones overview
1. Solid aluminium baffle The Directivity Controlled Waveguide is a solid, smooth baffle. As well as aiding directivity of the source sound, it also helps with imaging.
2. Slots at top and bottom These are for the dual bass setup, two drivers that sit beneath the DCW. They act like a larger woofer covering the surface of the speaker.
3. Reflex port design Within The Ones there is a long, curved tube that terminates at this rear vent. Again, this is a refined technology designed to minimise port noise and increase bass articulation.
4. Coaxial design The midrange driver and tweeter sit in the centre on top of one another and between the dual woofer design, so that sound effectively emanates from a single-point source.
5. Horizontal or vertical The coaxial design means the speakers have flexible positioning and the removable rubber base can be moved when the speaker is used horizontally. It can also be adjusted to tilt the speaker.
6. Manual and auto calibration Around the back of the speakers you get dip switches to make manual adjustments, but the network connections are also there for auto calibration via the GLM software, and that’s why these are called Smart Active Monitors.
Sound-wise, I’m not going to talk (that much) about huge revelations in mixes or new detail in various frequency ranges. That’s almost a given after all those acronyms. No, what’s immediately striking is that sweet spot… or lack of it. We’re talking about a wide sound stage that is beautiful and accurate, but across a much wider space for the listener.
Over years of testing monitors, I do seem to find myself ducking, crouching and swinging left and right to find ‘that’ sweet spot. On listening to these (I started with the 8341s), I’m immediately transfixed by the sound, even though it’s transparently obvious I’m not sitting in the (traditionally) right position. They sound that good, or should I perhaps say ‘as good’, in a wider space. Okay, we’re not talking beyond more than a 15-to-20 degree frontal angle, but you certainly don’t feel confined to ‘that’ listening position.
How useful this widening of the listening position is, is open to debate. In a solitary listening environment, you’ll be statically placed (or at least used to a certain sitting position) in that listening zone for most of your mixing, so maybe this extra breadth won’t be such a plus, but for multiple listeners and those that like to move in their mixing rooms, these are astonishingly flexible. Not so much vertically, it has to be said – it’s on the horizontal axis where these work best.
The other thing that is obvious after extensive – and I mean really extensive – listening tests is that these speakers sound ‘broad’. I’m not just talking about the stereo specs, but the other dimensions, too – think up down, forwards and backwards.
I was playing my own mixes and favourite music with huge dynamic ranges through these speakers at volume, and they coped with everything, translating and transferring my own (perfect) music back to me at big volumes with astonishing ease. Some of my huge, and I mean HUGE, string arranging, tear-jerking soundtracks were just thrown back at me, almost with a shrug and a ‘what else have you got’ nonchalance.
What was also extremely interesting was returning briefly to the GLM software. There’s a Bypass switch which removes the effect of the auto calibration and, during my tests, I would occasionally hit it to compare just how the speakers would sound in my room without calibration.
It’s fair to say I was expecting not to be able to hear that much difference, but on every occasion, it was obvious. Hitting the Bypass would lift some of the mids, restoring the calibration would smooth the response back out. It was just as you’d expect, proving firstly, that it does work; secondly, that my ears work; and thirdly, that my room acoustics need work.
Next up – and almost the final call – is the difference between these two differently sized monitors. In this review, I’m testing two sets here of course, the smallest and the medium-sized models in The Ones range. The larger 8341s were first up, so how do the smaller 8331s compare? To put them to the test, I compared them with my reference monitors and also directly next to each other.
The specs and the physical size tell me that the smaller 8331s should deliver less bass and volume – that is what you’d expect, after all. But if you’ve read this far you’ll understand that The Ones have been designed, and I mean designed in italics, so they’re not necessarily going to do what you expect.
On their own, the 8331s are equally as impressive as the 8341s. It’s that word ‘broad’ again. Broad in scope, in listening spot, in everything. Something as small as these really should not be as broad. They really are little beauties and, next to my reference monitors, sounded far superior in terms of having a smoother range, but partly of course as they’d been calibrated and my references speakers haven’t.
Lastly, I put them directly against their bigger brothers by simply having one as a left and one a right speaker – not a realistic setup and the GLM software wouldn’t let me set this unlikely scenario up within its digital environment, the 8331 not being picked up as a partner. That’s understandable, I mean, why would anyone do this?
But I wanted to compare them directly by fading one up and then the other, just to see what differences there were, so did this in a non-calibrated, purely old-school analogue environment. I have to report that I picked up very few differences, apart from the pure output power of the larger speaker – so those 8341s will suit a larger studio.
The 8331s stood up and performed just as admirably. I thought I could pick up less bass, but it’s a situation where I think I’m telling myself that because that’s what I should be hearing. If it did lack it, it was negligible.
Could these be the ones?
I’ve focused a lot on the technology behind The Ones, simply because there is a lot to cover and you have to appreciate the years, decades even, of R&D that have gone into these speakers. However, I don’t want all of those acronyms – and Genelec does use far too many, sometimes seemingly to me using two for one technology! – getting in the way of the message. And that is all of that research, all of those years of refining that seem to have led up to the release of The Ones, were most definitely worth it.
It’s likely that there are no better monitors of this size, it’s as simple as that. They’re compact, flexible, you can put them anywhere (within reason!) and they’ll sound amazing, and if they don’t at first, then they’ll adjust themselves so that they do! It’s pretty hard to stop using exclamation marks in a review when you are listening to and using such groundbreaking technology, so I do apologise for those and for digging deep into the technology.
But The Ones have effectively taken all the best bits from Genelec’s history – and there are a lot of amazing bits of that to choose from – and moulded it all into a speaker range that is second to none. The only question now is: where does Genelec go from here, as these are, without doubt, The Ones…
RM Series from £429 each
There’s little out there to compare with The Ones, and these are an alternative only if you want a cheaper way to get that point-source co-axial design. They’re only two-way speakers, too, but share the rigid (and heavy!) design.
twotwo6 £4,499 a pair
These deliver an incredible sound stage and accurate response. I owned a set for a couple of years, but had to sell them to buy a bathroom. They’re incredible speakers and right up there (in price too) with The Ones.