genelec 8341a review

Genelec 8341a Review: A Small Studio Perspective

Michael Hahn

Owner and Senior Engineer at Autoland. Editor at the LANDR Blog. One third of swirling indie rock trio Slight.

The choice of monitoring speakers radiates into every operation at a studio and provides the backdrop for the entire sonic experience.

Monitor speakers are the most significant equipment choice a studio needs to make.

Microphones, preamps and outboard gear are certainly matters of importance, but there are well-known conventional choices that make it easier to decide amongst the thousands of options.

That’s not the case for studio monitors. The choice of monitoring speakers radiates into every operation at a studio and provides the backdrop for the entire sonic experience.

The stakes are even higher when monitors need to perform despite limitations of cost and physical space.

With all that in mind, here’s a small studio’s review of the Genelec 8341a “The Ones” and a few reasons why this pair of speakers provides huge advantages over others for this application.

Small spaces, big performance

High-end monitoring loudspeakers used to be intended for large facilities with fully optimized listening environments.

That’s changed as more manufacturers develop high-end near-field speakers for use in project studios and other non-traditional spaces.

Genelec’s “The Ones” series represents the latest in engineering advances for exactly this type of environment. Their innovation is a coaxial design that positions each speaker so that sound radiates from a single-point for all three.

I’ll break down three ways this allows the 8341a to break through performance barriers in small room environments.

Ultra-short listening distance

Anyone who mixes in a small room faces a limitation on the actual position where the engineer must be seated for balanced response.

Getting it right is absolutely critical for accurate mix translation. The unfortunate reality is most small rooms have a very narrow sweet spot where low frequencies are intelligible.

Good monitor placement usually works backwards from the optimum listening position, leaving most small mixing rooms with a tight triangle formed by the speakers and the listener.

The concepts underlying this issue are complex and beyond the scope of this post. But a more detailed explanation can be found at Acoustics Insider for background.

In effect, a narrow listening position means that distance between the listener and the monitors is very short.

This creates a problem for conventional monitors because of the physical distance between the sound sources of each frequency range.

The issue is even worse for large, three-way designs with separate drivers for low, mid and high frequency.

In a large control room, it’s not difficult to position the listener far enough away from the sound source for the wavefront of each speaker to naturally combine in the air.

But this effect breaks down at close distances. If you can physically separate the location of each driver in the sound field with your eyes closed while listening you won’t perceive a realistic representation of the sound.

With a fully coaxial design like the 8341a, listening distance can be incredibly shallow and still retain the most significant benefit of a three-way system.

Ribbon tweeter positioned above the mid-range driver on the Adam P11.

In the Genelec system, GLM room correction is applied at the speaker itself.

Superior midrange detail

Beginner and intermediate mixes are usually weakest in the crucial middle area of the frequency spectrum where melodic and harmonic instruments interact.

Between 200 Hz and 5 kHz, most two-way speaker designs lack the detail to make truly confident EQ decisions.

It’s the reason why pro studios generally use three-way systems with dedicated midrange speakers.

The resolution and responsiveness the 8341a offers in this area is spectacular.

It’s the sonic equivalent of handing the surgeon a sharper scalpel for more delicate operations.

EQ moves of 2 dB or less jump out of these speakers, even in typically congested zones.

If you’ve ever struggled with instrument separation issues that feel impossible to solve with gentle EQ, the reality is likely that your listening chain is lying to you.

The 8341a diminish this issue significantly, but they do so while offering a realistic sonic balance that’s enhanced even further when used in conjunction with the GLM room calibration system.

Built-in room calibration

Acoustic treatment is essential for any control room, but it’s important to take a realistic view of its effect.

Bass traps and broadband absorption can significantly reduce the reverberation time of acoustic reflections in the listening environment.

But they can’t alter the basic tonality and subjective qualities of the room that result from its geometry.

This is where room calibration or corrective equalization has a role to play.

Most producers are familiar with Sonarworks, but there are other options available from consumer home theatre products to expensive hardware solutions.

Unfortunately, system-wide or plugin-based approaches like Sonarworks lack the flexibility needed for some workflows.

If you do any processing outside the box that occurs after the main mix chain, these systems pose a problem.

It occurs during typical hybrid studio operations like analog summing, or stereo bus processing using chains of outboard gear.

In both these cases, signals have to leave the DAW and come back before interacting with correction curves, requiring extra steps of AD/DA conversion.

Not only that, a second round-trip incurs latency at the DAW’s buffer size which is typically set to higher settings during mixdown.

That rules out DAW plugin options unless you’re willing to accept a significant delay between changing a parameter and hearing the effect.

Systemwide isn’t any better since it’s applied to the main audio output. There simply isn’t enough routing flexibility to apply corrective EQ at the optimal place in the signal path for post-DAW processing.

In the Genelec system, GLM room correction is applied at the speaker itself.

It retains full flexibility until the actual point of sound reproduction where the room calibration is applied.

This leaves you free to manipulate post-DAW signals in any way, like the DSP-based summing we use at Autoland on our Metric Halo LIO-8s.

Genelec's GLM 4 Room calibration kit.

What about the sound?

I’ve left the subjective portion of this review for last since that’s what I believe it is—subjective.

High end monitors are the sportscars of the audio world and the sonic qualities they reveal in well-crafted mixes can be difficult to put into words.

For my part, the quality of transients, the ballistics of compression and the responsiveness of EQ are far superior to any listening system I’ve spent time with.

Mixing on them has been a joy so far and early results are very promising.

There may be more neutral or more flattering speakers out there, but making that kind of judgment is beside the point from my perspective.

In the end, if you’re focused on mix translation and you’re facing any of the limitations I mentioned above, there is no other option that provides similar performance.


What Should A Studio Be in 2022?

Michael Hahn

Owner and Senior Engineer at Autoland. Editor at the LANDR Blog. One third of swirling indie rock trio Slight.

Music lives in cities, but it’s harder than ever to find urban spaces suitable for making it.

The best music spaces play an active role in the creative process for artists.

From bedrooms to bars and DIY lofts, the environments where music is made and heard matter.

For it to work, good creative spaces have to be flexible and resilient to stay effective as the industry evolves.

Meeting the challenge is especially important for studios and music communities struggling against today’s highly stratified, pandemic-ravaged music world.

With that in mind, here’s everything a studio needs to be to work for modern musicians.

1. Affordable and accessible

Musicians have never struggled more to participate in their own industry.

With the professional tier of artists concentrated in the top 1%, the idea of an artistic middle class is essentially over for musicians.

If you make music today, you’re likely doing it independently—without the kind of budget that used to help drive local music economies.

It’s the reason why dozens of large scale studios are closing their doors or downsizing dramatically.

The high day rates needed to keep the lights on at these large facilities simply aren’t sustainable.

Any modern music space needs to make affordability and access its top priority to support artistic development.

Progressive pricing models, low base rates and shared resources are the only way to provide a high-quality experience without excessive cost.

2. Better than your bedroom

DIY music production is getting more capable with every new product cycle.

But there are still clear limits on the possibilities and outcomes of bedroom recording.

Purpose-built music spaces need to address them directly and provide the best possible resources for artists to break through barriers.

The right studio conditions are essential to make it happen.

Music lives in cities, but it’s harder than ever to find urban spaces suitable for making it.

It’s the reason why bedroom production tools focus on in-the-box alternatives to traditionally loud or bulky processes.

Unfortunately, few traditional recording practices can be done 100% in-the-box without compromise.

Software emulations help close the gap, but music that requires live playing and loud sound can’t be done well in an apartment.

In fact, the key factor for getting better results than bedroom studios is the recording environment itself.

That means an effective studio has to be completely free of the constraints on home recording that come with an urban environment. I’m talking about noise complaints, neighbours, roommates and shared spaces.

Effective studios need to provide space that alleviates those concerns and helps creators make the most of the opportunity.

Not only that, purpose-built music spaces need to address the basic functional issues that stack the deck against home recording.

Acoustic treatment, separate tracking and monitoring environments and patching flexibility are a must.

Sessions that start in the studio need to migrate easily to home mixing rooms. Bedroom demos should be simple to build on in the studio.

3. Flexible for any workflow

It’s been decades since music production followed a predictable workflow pattern.

The techniques used in different genres vary so greatly that most producers’ approaches don’t overlap.

But if there’s any common thread, it’s that artists and producers need to bring their work with them across multiple working environments.

Modern studio spaces need to tackle a huge variety of production styles and allow creators to work on their projects from anywhere.

Sessions that start in the studio need to migrate easily to home mixing rooms. Bedroom demos should be simple to build on in the studio. Projects recorded in multiple locations shouldn’t require extensive tinkering to pull up on the monitors.

The only way to make it happen is to commit to a hybrid workflow that offers pro studio flexibility without abandoning home studio compatibility.

It means augmenting the basic audio interface production paradigm with analog patchability, hardware DSP, multi-DAW compatibility and pro sound quality.

Forget about pulling up an Ableton Live session in studios based around large-format analog consoles or expansive Pro Tools HD rigs.

In a hybrid environment, you can use anything you want on the software side and get all the benefits of a pro studio.

I’m talking about perks like superior conversion and monitoring, character preamps
higher input channel count and DSP routing.

This is studio functionality that helps you in the moment but doesn’t make it harder down the line.

4. Well-equipped and organized

A modern music space can only be successful if its resources are effective, well-maintained and immediately accessible for use.

Most large-scale facilities still in operation today don’t have the budget to maintain their entire gear inventory to a usable standard.

Even flagship equipment like consoles and vintage mics (that supposedly justify the high studio fees) may not be maintained to modern standards of headroom or noise performance.

Add to that the difficulty of actually configuring sessions to use this equipment and you get an experience that rarely feels worth it when the clock is ticking on paid time.

A modern recording environment simply should not waste resources on this type of equipment—and certainly should never pass the high cost on to clients.

Smaller, hybrid studios can stay laser-focused on fast and flexible access to quality tools that make a discernible difference to the end result.

After all, do your clients really choose where to work based on gear lists alone? Hardly ever.

It’s much more important to provide equipment that balances useability with sound quality and doesn’t take a specialist to operate.

Recording at a traditional large-scale studio is a rare privilege for most musicians. Booking one for pre-production or rehearsal sessions is almost unheard of.

5. Connected to a community

Artists don’t create their work in a vacuum.

Creative environments need to be meeting places where people and ideas can interact.

A studio can take on these qualities, but not if musicians can’t afford to participate.

Meaningful connections require regular access over time for a larger, more diverse group of collaborators.

Without industry support, it’s not practical to create that experience in a traditional studio environment.

Instead, multi-use spaces that support music creation at every stage naturally foster a broader range of roles.
Artists, musicians, producers, engineers and other collaborators are more likely to cross-pollinate in spaces that don’t rely solely on daily bookings of a single activity.

To give an example, recording at a traditional large-scale studio is a rare privilege for most musicians. Booking one for pre-production or rehearsal sessions is almost unheard of.

But these activities become possible when cost barriers are removed.

In the end, a well-organized, smaller facility can provide many of the same essential functions as a larger one, while also contributing to many others that help nurture the creative process.

The next generation of music spaces

These five issues are the most frustrating obstacles I experienced over a decade of producing music for myself and others on shoestring budgets.

They’re also the most pressing problems I knew I needed to tackle when I opened my own studio in the Montreal area.

After our first few years in operation, I’m confident that we’ve made progress on almost all of them.

If you’re facing setbacks related to any of the points I raised above, I invite you to come join us, or at least learn more about Autoland to find out how you can get involved.


The Oddly Beautiful World of Keyboard Demotunes

Michael Hahn

Owner and Senior Engineer at Autoland. Editor at the LANDR Blog. One third of swirling indie rock trio Slight.

The ability to sample one’s own sounds was less important to the consumer than having quality banks of recognizable instruments already in memory.

Synthesizers have traditionally been the principle battleground for the future of music technology.

The original conception of synthesis had strong associations of creating realistic sounds with machines.

That mission had a powerful futurist appeal that entrenched itself firmly in the industry’s core values.

Reality bytes

A common narrative is that the true potential of synthesizers wasn’t accessed until experimental artists “discovered” that they needn’t be used to imitate real instruments.

But the commercial and technological forces driving the industry’s development remained squarely focused on crossing the uncanny valley throughout the early modern era.

Despite these goals, the early electronic instruments could never really pass for real strings, horns or drums.

Even the futuristic FM technique with its knack for struck percussion and complex attacks had a sound that was distinctly synthesized.

It wasn’t until sampling technology became cheap enough for the consumer market that keyboard instruments began to sound real.

Samplers were revolutionary, but early sales of instruments based on the technology revealed another direction the market was taking.

The ability to sample one’s own sounds was less important to the consumer than having quality banks of recognizable instruments already in memory.

The next logical development was a sample playback instrument with a fixed library, featuring only the most essential instrument sounds.

ROMpler room

A sampler with fixed memory is called a ROMpler—a portmanteau of sampler and the acronym for read-only memory, ROM.

ROMplers allowed efficient resource usage and larger storage, but memory was still in incredibly short supply.

Even when working with the less expensive read-only form, synth designers had to squeeze the chips for every last byte to produce realistic sounds.

The earliest ROMplers had internal memory capacities of kilobytes.

For context, Sonic Couture’s excellent Balinese Gamelan—a realistic modern sample set—weighs in at nearly 40 GB.

The earliest ROMplers had internal memory capacities of kilobytes.

Designers came up with clever tricks to get the most out of modest memory, but at the end of the day these basic sounds simply did not sound convincing on their own.

Their distinctive tone is the musical equivalent of early polygon game graphics.

ROMplers relied heavily on the new capabilities for inputting musical expression that were made possible by the MIDI protocol.

All the musical gestures needed to make static samples behave like real acoustic instruments had to be painstakingly inputted in MIDI by the user.

Presets had the dual purpose of selling the synth in the showroom and providing built-in sonic versatility for users who did not understand synthesis yet.

Patch genius

In the hands of an expert programmer you could almost believe a ROMpler patch playing an expressive MIDI passage was a real string section or electric guitar solo—if you squinted.

It was an incredibly difficult feat to pull off.

Not only did you have to understand the unique performance nuances of a wide variety of musical instruments, you also needed to effectively translate them into MIDI and navigate the hardware’s labyrinthine menus and functions to make it work.

Standardization of electronic instruments was in its infancy at the time. New devices were often built from the ground up with completely different operating systems and editing paradigms.

Those in possession of this disparate skillset found themselves in a unique position in the industry.

Demos sell synths

Recallable presets were standard on most electronic instruments by the time samplers and ROMplers entered the enthusiast market.

To succeed in the marketplace these devices had to ship with banks of great-sounding presets.

Presets had the dual purpose of selling the synth in the showroom and providing built-in sonic versatility for users who did not understand synthesis yet.

But selling the expanded capabilities of ROMplers using presets posed some challenges.

The limited samples weren’t convincing unless rendered with expressive MIDI parts. And these devices could do a lot more than play a single sound mapped to the keyboard.

For instance, improved processing power now allowed for many devices to ship with onboard sequencers.

Selling the extensive capabilities of these machines required a full musical implementation: the demotune.