Genelec speakers: Leading the charge in immersive audio

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Genelec speakers: Leading the charge in immersive audio

genelec immersive studio with genelec the ones monitors
Words by Liam McShane

With their innovative GLM and SAM calibration tools.

Our world by its very nature is immersive. We’re constantly stimulated by the sounds around us whether it’s simply strolling down the street or walking through the bush. It’s habitual for us to hear everything in front, behind, side to side or from above us, it’s epic, it’s enthralling, it’s human.

This “norm” is rapidly making its way into how we experience film, television, gaming and music through immersive audio technology and it’s pretty wild to say the least.

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As most of us know, surround sound isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Anybody who enjoyed a movie at a mate’s place with their “mind blowing surround system” in the 1990s or 2000s can attest to that. So why would we be getting excited about immersive, is it really that different? Well, yes, it is rather different. Fifty shades of different.

Whereas the typical surround format consists of a centre speaker, front left and right, rear left and right and a sub—aka 5.1—an immersive system takes this type of model and adds in ceiling speakers, creating a system that starts at a 7.1.4 (ie seven surround speakers, one sub and four ceiling speakers), but thanks to its unique adaptive capabilities, can basically expand out to as big a system as you can afford. For reference, a world class Dolby Atmos Studio might be 20.1.6. System, featuring twenty surround speakers, one sub and six ceiling speakers!

It’s these ceiling speakers (and the flexible number of surround options), that really facilitate this kind of quantum leap forward experienced in Immersive, allowing for information to not only come from the horizontal plain – like that of a surround system, but also from above and behind, making for very much a three dimensional listening experience.

For us audio engineers, the possibilities of immersive sound as a creative tool are basically endless, with our audio finally emancipated from the limitations of stereo or traditional surround configurations. But before we get caught up talking about 360 degree panning and immersive reverbs for every occasion, let’s spare a moment to think about how much additional calibration, tuning and room correction might be required for a monitoring setup of this magnitude (and with an added third dimension to the already intense formulae surrounding room treatment and speaker design in the stereo domain). To paraphrase Biggie, it really is a case of mo’ monitors, mo’ problems.

Loudspeaker manufacturers are already taking note, with a whole bunch of research and development going into technologies designed to take the headache out of room reconfiguration for all setups great and small—from basic stereo nearfields, to state of the art immersive rooms to post-facilities and everything in between.

Genelec’s latest series of studio monitors in particular are designed to shift seamlessly between different applications, studios and speaker set-ups, all the while maintaining their ultra-accurate sound, regardless of how sophisticated the setup in which they are placed.

One of the fundamental technologies making this possible is Genelec’s Minimum Diffraction Coaxial (MDC) transducer technology. Coaxial designs by their very nature reduce frequency cancellation and crossover issues in loudspeakers due to all the sound emanating from a single point on the speaker, but this introduces another issue of an uneven frequency response due to inherent diffraction problems. Rather than adopt the Neapolitan ice creamesque design of three-way speakers and their multiple crossovers, or settle for a trifle of transducers by clumsily stacking each part of the speaker on top of the last, Genelec have seamlessly incorporated the separate parts of the speaker into a continuous, diffraction free design, to allow for breathtakingly accurate dispersion and off-axis reproduction.

Electro-acoustics aside, things start to get really interesting when you combine this analog components with the mind blowing DSP of Genelec’s flagship GLM software which automatically adjusts in-room frequency response, distance delay and listening level while working seamlessly across stereo, multi-channel and 3D immersive audio formats. This works in tandem with the brand’s SAM compatible monitors to create what Genelec call a ‘Smart Active Monitoring’ system—an integrated and intelligent network of monitors that not only adjust to the room, but adjust to each other in the context of where they are placed in relation of one another.

If you are having a tough time visualising what this looks like in practice, like the Ents out of Lord Of The Rings, Genelec SAM technology allows each monitor to communicate and organise with other SAM enabled monitors in the system (possibly more than 80 separate speakers), in turn allowing for automatic calibration to the environment, intelligent delay compensation and optimised level control. The brand’s state-of-the-art AutoCal software does an incredible job making light work of the complex mathematics generally required to calibrate levels and speaker positions to fit within your specific space.

Increasingly more immersive audio studios are opting to use Genelec products because of this SAM technology. The ability to add new monitors to the mix with ease through the network enabled system means expandability is simple and robust in the world of Genelec. The demand has never been higher either, with Apple announcing spatial audio to their products which folds down immersive audio files into the stereo field, allowing for a 3D depth within their proprietary Airpod earbuds.

Perhaps the most crucial ability of the GLM software’s effect on a SAM system is its ability to intelligently manage how dedicated subwoofers behave in each array. Every experienced engineer knows the absolute can of worms associated with trying to achieve accurate low end monitoring, something that can cause you to lose faith in your abilities as an engineer entirely. When adding a subwoofer such as the W371A to an existing SAM setup, Genelec GLM software is able to tailor the woofers output to fit your room, and entirely avoid the rabbit hole of self-doubt regarding the low frequencies in your mixes.

With the veritable can-of-worms that comes with the addition of ceiling speakers and the potential for endless scalability, immersive sound and it’s various technical considerations are understandably, very much at the forefront of contemporary speaker design. By approaching audio as a free-floating, fully mobile auditory event (with the capacity to be taken and flown around the speakers in a pre-determined ‘flight path’ in the three dimensional field) we introduce all kinds of additional (and potentially problematic) placement and room anomalies that need to be corrected, pronto.

Thankfully, forward thinking manufacturers like Genelec are already putting in the work, future proofing their product lines to allow for maximum suitability whether we are working in mono, stereo, surround, immersive or whatever configuration lies beyond.

Check out Genelec products via Studio Connections.