According to Discover Helsinki, the guide book available in all top hotel rooms, the Finnish capital is well known for its “glazed shopping experiences”, which just about sums up my Saturday mornings at home. Nevertheless, here in Helsinki the retail environment is just one part of an urban patchwork of carefully designed encounters that will unglaze anyone’s expression, thanks to a rapidly expanding AV hinterland of screens and speakers: no attraction is complete without its multimedia interface and, fortunately for the audio, pro sound loudspeaker market leader Genelec is local. Kind of.
Hang on, isn’t that Genelec: the home of studio monitoring? Yes it is, and where better to find the kind of expertise in audio quality that once had recording engineers and producers flocking to Metropolis Studios in West London to marvel at the new kids on the monitoring block as Gary Langan and his associates opened shop with Genelec on the walls. For some time now, the brand equity has been siphoned into commercial applications in the real world of Moomin and chocolate reindeer, in a migration pattern shared by so many other leading pro audio marques.
Not that Genelec’s expansion into installed sound is confined to Finland. Despite its remote headquarters, a place to which Thor Heyerdahl once launched an expedition, gave up and headed back to Norway, Genelec has taken the world by storm many times over – but especially during the period when erstwhile European sales manager Laila Jantunen sold its legendary 1035A main monitors into Metropolis as well as state broadcasters RAI, YLE, RTL and VRT and many more prestigious international facilities.
Then the familiar figure of Lars-Olof Janflød led a truly global sales mission to consolidate the brand in every type of studio, before ushering in the digital era and a move towards network-controllable solutions that began to suggest opportunities away from recording, post-production and broadcast.
It’s not the first time Genelec has done sound reinforcement, by the way. It did not hatch from the egg as a 100 per cent studio business: in fact, right up to 1989 up to half of sales were into high-end auditoriums including the Moscow Circus, Tampere Hall, The Royal Opera in Madrid, The Finnish National Theatre and the City Theatres of Rovaniemi, Kuopio, and elsewhere. The decision to focus exclusively on studio monitoring was not made without absorbing valuable experience from the world of contracting and installation.
Since reviving this latent expertise, the company has fallen naturally into a futuristic market that enjoys nothing more than combining excellent audio with creative experimentation. Typical of Genelec’s latter-day steps to boldly go where few speakers have gone before is Stockholm’s Audiorama, opened back in 2012 as a newbuild designed for sound art and electro-acoustic musical experimentation and featuring a multichannel system of 21 speakers. The venue’s technical producer Marcus Wrangö effectively designed a 17.4 surround system, using eight Genelec 8260As in a circle around the listener; five 8240As above the listener; and four 8130As at floor level – combined with four 7260A subs. Similar deployments have happened for Ambisonic club nights in urban spaces.
Today, the journey continues into more prosaic – but always prestigious – commercial orbits, with examples from the last year alone coming from new-concept enterprises as well as heritage sites. Take JNcQUOI: a ‘lifestyle’ boutique in Lisbon that combines a restaurant, a men’s fashion store, a delicatessen-bar with a DJ booth and a repository of cool, white Genelec monitors and subs. Or Tate Britain in London, one of the city’s major art galleries, which has a restaurant, but no ordinary restaurant: its walls are painted by celebrated British modernist Rex Whistler with murals dating from 1927 when he was a student of The Royal Academy. 12 Genelec 4020C monitors and two RØDE Performer Link microphone systems with bespoke control have been installed to reinforce the many events and presentations that take place against Whistler’s brush-worked backdrop.
The latest technological concept is called Smart IP, and it augers a new era of up-market contracting and installation. Genelec’s managing director Siamäk Naghian reveals that the company has been investigating Audio over IP for nearly 15 years and is now in a position to apply Smart IP to a whole new range, beginning with the two-way active 4430, optimised specifically for installation. “If you look at the AV installation environment, system integration is the key thing,” as he succinctly puts it.
But what makes it ‘Smart’? Basically, it combines all three dimensions of power, audio and control within one single CAT cable, making it the ultimate solution for the Ethernet galaxy. This means Dante and AES67 audio, and two formats of Power-over-Ethernet: PoE and PoE+ for power and data. PoE+ is the latest IEEE standard for this protocol and increases the number of devices that can be supported in such a way on the network, as well as the amount of power available to them. Being active, the 4430 has two 50W Class D amplifiers, one for each side of the crossover, capable of SPLs up to 104dB. Its solitary CAT connector therefore takes the audio and its juice, as well as data from Genelec’s new software package Smart IP Manager. It does of course also speak Dante Controller and Dante Domain Manager.
This is where all the loudspeaker management resides, including discovery, zoning, monitoring, configuration and EQ, but the 4430 also has application programme interfaces for third-party control if integrators require it. They will find the specs attractive: up to eight channels from 32kHz-96kHz and 16-24 bit; and a frequency response of 45Hz-23kHz. It has a ¾-inch tweeter, a five-inch woofer and two of Genelec’s patented output solutions: the Minimum Diffraction Enclosure and the famous Directivity Control Waveguide. Made from recycled aluminium, the enclosures can come in black, white or one of 120 choices from the RAL colour chart and they will fit any wall, ceiling or truss.
“What we have been experiencing in the Northern countries is that more and more AV installers have been using our products,” reveals Naghian, “so strategically we have noticed that there is a demand for higher quality and it’s very interesting to see that happening. If you look around Helsinki you will see that there are many places using Genelec already – specifically the 4000 Series – including schools, museums, libraries, high-end restaurants, all these kinds of places.
“At the same time as aiming for high-quality audio, they’re aiming to achieve some kind of co-branding: utilising a mark of quality that will somehow showcase their own brand as well. This is something very noticeable in the Nordic countries. Up until now, if you wanted to use Genelec in a practical way, you had to have at least two cables: one for the power; and one for the audio and control. In some professional applications you really need three cables. So that becomes a matter of sustainability; it’s a huge amount of work and a big draw on materials and resources. The one-cable solution fixes that.
“Another thing we’ve been pushing for a long time is the ‘open wall’ concept, although it hasn’t been so popular in the installation business. Now, you can put just about anything over IP, and this is happening for the first time. Look at the communication network and how it’s developed over IP: it’s going to be very interesting how that merges with media. It will have a big impact on business models. Everybody has to open the walls!
“It’s really good for the end-user and installer, as businesses can’t keep their environments as closed as they have to communication and media integration. For small to mid-sized installations, once you adopt a Smart IP solution you don’t need anything else.”
With Smart IP the Genelec brand becomes part of the Internet of Things: the emerging concept of interrelated devices, buildings and people that can be uniquely identified on a network and therefore served by, and in control of, content and data without traditional human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.
“Exactly,” asserts Naghian. “It’s not only about the core technology and the core business we’ve been doing so far. We have a long tradition of acoustical and mechanical design, but now we’re talking about networking technology – which is beyond the core of our activities. At the same time as we provide high-quality audio, we’re providing high-quality audio over IP. It’s not as straightforward as it sounds, but we are here to deliver the kind of no-compromise audio that people clearly want through the infrastructure they all have.”
It’s not for everyone, though. The first criterion for Genelec in relation to market positioning anywhere is audio quality. “If you look at the AV installation mass market,” observes Naghian, “it’s hard to see Genelec fitting in there. It doesn’t seem possible, because we don’t belong in that pricing structure. In terms of price, this is a high-end product. The typical places that have been using Genelec commercially are also high-end enterprises or establishments, so it remains ‘niche’ regardless of the relative cost savings and convenience of Smart IP.”
That’s a shame. I was hoping that 4430s might turn up on a bit of the Helsinki Regional Transport system known as the Spårakoff – which is not only a tram but also a pub. Mind you, it is very special and could be considered ‘high end’ when viewed as a jewel in the city’s crown. Sort it out, guys.