Nigel Palmer puts these compact new additions to the manufacturer’s SAM (Smart Active Monitoring) series to the test.
I’m something of a convert to DSP loudspeaker and room correction, having had a high-end Trinnov processor driving the monitors at Lowland Masters for about 18 months now. Although I was initially sceptical – I’ve heard older electronic room tuning attempts where the best sound was definitely achieved using the ‘bypass’ button – for me the benefits were immediate and obvious, taking an already good room/monitor pairing to the next level.
Although workable solutions have only become available relatively recently, it’s clear they’re here to stay – a number of manufacturers now offer chip-controlled internal speaker components such as crossovers and converters, and in some cases add a microphone/software combination enabling the user to sample the monitoring environment and offset adverse room characteristics. In the latter camp is respected Finnish loudspeaker company Genelec, which introduced the SAM (Smart Active Monitoring) concept in 2006. Earlier this year they announced the smallest in the range, the analogue input-only 8320A (pictured, left) and next up in size the analogue and digital 8330A (pictured, centre and reviewed here), both suitable for combining with the new 7350A subwoofer (pictured, right).
The 8330A is a two-way ported design in a smart dark grey finish, and measures a diminutive 299 x 189 x 178mm HWD (approximately 12 x 7.5 x 7in). Height includes an Iso-Pod, a neat rubber foot assembly which helps decouple the speaker from its support and allows a ±15° tilt – a useful solution in locations such as console bridges. The 8330A’s die-cast aluminium enclosure, curved to reduce edge diffraction, has a (5in) woofer and 0.75in metal dome tweeter powered by 50W Class D amplifiers, and weighs in at 5.5kg ; a power/status indicator at lower right next to the maker’s badge completes the front view of the unit.
At the rear, below the reflex port and mounting points, is a pair of RJ45 sockets to connect to a GLM (Genelec Loudspeaker Manager) network; below these and a Power/Reset switch is a panel containing, from left to right: mains input, AES digital in and out on XLRs (16-24 bits, 32-192kHz) and lastly an analogue input, also on XLR.
The compact 7350A subwoofer (410 x 350 x 319mm) has a 203mm driver and 150W Class D amplifier housed in Genelec’s Laminar Spiral Enclosure (LSE), and weighs 18kg. Space doesn’t permit full coverage of its comprehensive I/O, but along with GLM ports it has both AES and analogue access – the latter delivering up to 5.1 surround capability with additional speakers.
Setup of the network and audio connections for the 2.1 8330A/7350 review system was refreshingly straightforward, thanks to clear instructions in the accompanying guide – the GLM Adapter hub provided was connected to my computer via a USB port, then the adapter was daisy-chained with network cables (also provided) firstly to the two satellites and then the sub. Audio-wise I opted to go digital, routing from the computer via the AES I/O.
Lastly, the system’s omnidirectional microphone was connected via the adaptor and placed pointing upwards at my usual listening position – you can also create profiles for other parts of the room such as a client sofa. I installed the GLM v2.05 software – available in both Mac and Windows versions – on my iMac and started the calibration process: the speakers on the network were identified, the room position of each (the sub having been set off-centre as recommended) confirmed by dragging icons on a graphical grid while the physical unit being placed emitted an identifying tone. Next, having named the group and selected AES, the microphone’s icon was clicked to start calibrating via a short swept tone from each box that was then analysed, and a suitable EQ correction curve generated. Once the calibration settings were saved, the final step was for the software to set the sub’s relative phase with a low frequency tone.
I then started listening to reference material, controlling overall level via a supplied external potentiometer that plugs into the hub and provides a tactile alternative to a mouseable fader on screen. Thanks to the satellites’ small size and the ability of their Iso-Pods to angle down, I was able to place the 8330As on top of my usual speakers to compare the two systems. Despite this being an unfair test because of the significant cost difference, the result surprised me – while there was no doubt that the house speaker/Trinnov combination had greater resolution, the Genelecs were much closer in performance than I expected and sounded larger, with a greater bandwidth than their size would suggest.
A clue to this could be seen in the GLM frequency plots showing the natural in-room response, the corrected version and the processing required between the two – the ‘before’ and ‘after’ peaks and dips were a close match to those I’ve become familiar with through my own listening and analysis with the other system – a commendable achievement at the price. The subwoofer integrated very well, and in spite of a range of crossover frequencies being available I felt no need to change from the default of 85Hz. Switching the sub out via the software left the satellites with a graceful low-end rolloff to their -6dB points at 45Hz, and while one could work without a sub the presence of one significantly enhanced and smoothed the system.
For the engineer on the move, a pair of 8330As with or without a 7350A subwoofer has to be a must-audition on portability grounds alone – I could imagine keeping a number of GLM profiles on a laptop for various places of work and adding new ones as they arose. And for a one-studio rig in stereo or surround, the price-to-performance ratio and flexibility of this little system is exemplary, the ease of setup for what is a sophisticated control process being hard to understate. Genelec has shown the smart loudspeaker concept to be effective at the smaller end of the scale, and looks set to build on that success.
8330A – Die-cast aluminium Minimum Diffraction Enclosure (MDE)
8330A – Floating-point DSP engine
8330A – Directivity Control Waveguide (DCW) for flat on and off-axis response
7350A – Laminar Spiral Enclosure (LSE) for clean, articulated bass reproduction
SAM technology adapts accurately and automatically to the acoustic environment
RRP: From £589 (8330A); £779 (7350A)
Nigel Palmer has been a freelance sound engineer and producer for over 20 years. He runs his CD mastering business Lowland Masters from rural Essex.