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Genius!2: Ari Varla and active monitoring #12

Founder of the Genelec brand, Lapland salmon fisherman and tube guitar amp expert

Lapland salmon fisherman, tube guitar amp expert, stargazer and home telescope builder Ari Varla joined Ilpo Martikainen’s nascent Genelec in 1980, during his studies in electronic engineering at Tampere University, Finland. This was just two years after the company had been founded with the launch of the very first active monitoring loudspeaker: the S30. As well as the usual anechoic chamber measurements, this was a product fully acoustically tailored to the studio control room and one that ushered in a new era of almost forensic audio analysis when mixing.

Immediately grasping Martikainen’s vision, Varla became one of the foundations of the Genelec brand. New measurement tools, protection circuitry and amplifier topologies were developed and by 1985 there were 12 models that also sported a completely new HF ribbon driver. So original were the designs that the business challenge was considerable: Laila Giles was brought in as European sales manager and from her strategic position in Brussels pursuaded several national broadcasters to audition the new breed of monitors. ‘We’ve already got the amplifiers’ was the typical response, but eventually RAI (Italy), YLE (Finland), RTL (France) and RTB (Brunei) embraced the technology.

For recording studio owners it was the installation into Metropolis Studios in West London that put Genelec’s powered option on the map, and the iconic 1035A became visible in control rooms from California to Japan – its ratio of high output to low distortion raising eyebrows and cochlea hair cells in equal measure.

Varla’s numerous and crucial contributions to this success included his groundbreaking waveguide-loaded and direct-radiating drivers, christened by Genelec as the Directivity Control Waveguide, as well as his detailed development of Martikainen’s patented Laminar Spiral Enclosure bass reflex subwoofer.

“I started computer modelling of loudspeakers before there were any PCs,” he recounted, speaking to PSNE editor Phil Ward in 1996. “The first ones were done on a DEC PDP11 at my University. We had to share the computer and leave the programs to run overnight, so it was hard to predict what would come out the next morning! You had to separately draw every bloody line on the pen-plotter…”

Innovation continued in the ‘90s as the company became a global force with a network of distributors expertly stewarded by the familiar figure of international sales manager Lars-Olof Janflod. Arguably, the 1031A released in 1991 set the standard for smaller, 2-way active monitors as the nearfield began to displace the soffit-mounted main monitor as the priority in a deliquescing studio industry.

“The basic waveguide design with the curved front baffle has remained constant since the 1022 in ‘85,” continued Varla, who passed away in 2008. “It was optimised for directivity control in free space installations, rather than half space which gives you a much more diffraction-free environment. It still measures one of the best acoustical performances of any loudspeaker, because there are no secondary sources in the front baffle.”

As a logical extension of the monitors being active, Genelec has utilised sophisticated DSP and networking since 2006 and the launch of the 8200 bi-amplified monitors with 7200 subwoofers. This year the 8430 IP Smart Active Monitor has introduced AES67 compatibility to the Genelec portfolio, dramatically increasing protocol versatility and keeping the spirit of Ari Varla’s acoustic astronomy very much alive.

Pictures: Top: Ari Varla. Last: Varla with Genelec 1031 monitor, which arguably set the standard for 2-way active monitors

Published earlier this year and sponsored by QSC Audio, Genius!2 is the second edition of Genius!, celebrating those clever people whose inventions have transformed the world of professional audio. The 30-page supplement is also available to read in a handy digital-edition form