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.