Gear Reviews

Genelec 8341A monitor review: “When I went back to my old monitors, I just couldn't listen to them!”

Shaun Lowe, owner and engineer at Stoke-on-Trent-based Prism Studios, explains why Genelec’s 8341A studio monitors made him abandon his old setup from the first listen…

Prism Studios has been open 33 years this year. The interesting thing about the building is that the studio is housed underneath what used to be a British Telecom repeater station, which is a bit like a telephone exchange. I’ve always had a state of the art setup here, but something had been niggling at me about my monitors for a while...

Now, I've used pretty much every monitor from the early days, including the NS10s, which I used for years, and they were great, but they were only great because the old studio wasn't a tuned room. There was a resonant frequency of about 82 Hz – so quite a vicious one! But it made the NS10s sound like they had a sub behind them, which of course they hadn't.

Fast forward to a few years ago: I was browsing a Hi-Fi shop and I came across some other studio monitors, completely by accident. I put a track on (I have a test track that I use when I'm working in other studios), which is Seven Days by Sting, engineered by Hugh Padgham. It sounded great and I bought them and used them in my studio for three or four years.

Recently, however, I had the opportunity to try out Genelec’s 8341A point source monitors. It’s always good to try different things, although I convinced myself they weren't going to be anywhere near as good as my other monitors because I just fell in love with them.

Long story short, I managed to put them side by side and do an AB of Seven Days. I heard them through my existing monitors and thought, “Yeah, that's the sound!” As soon as I hit the monitor A button which put the Genelecs on, it was like someone turned the speakers around – that's the only way I can describe it.

I convinced myself they weren't going to be anywhere near as good as my other monitors.

It sounded like my old monitors were facing the wrong way around, which was horrifying! I knew that the Genelecs were more expensive, so I was hoping it would be only a subtle difference, thinking, "If it's only subtle, I'll live with it.”  

What I found with my old monitors was that there was too much at 500 Hz – just loads of low-mid – which was really odd, but I'd never really noticed that before. When I kept flicking back and forwards from the Genelecs, they sounded big and open – and really clear. When I went back to my old monitors, I just couldn't listen to them! 

One thing I noticed with some of my mixes over the last three or four years was that I had issues with the very high end. I'd been patching in Pultecs on the master bus just to get a little bit more sheen around eight-to-10 kHz, but when I switched to the Genelecs, I didn't need to do that – it was all there. 

It was just that my old monitors weren't giving it to me; I realise now that the bandwidth in comparison to the Genelecs is very much reduced in all areas – the top and the bottom in particular, whereas the Genelecs are really open and the crossovers are smooth.

I'm pretty sure that most people will – like me – be horrified by their current setup compared to the Genelecs.

The Car Test

Everyone always has their favourite test system, and I’m no different. I have an amazing sound system in my Land Rover, and what I was finding was mixes that I've done on the previous monitors sounded really harsh in the car, where they really shouldn't do.

I couldn't get my head around why. I was using Pultecs and had to compensate to get it to sound good in the car, and then I’d bring it home and then it would sound the opposite. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Of course, it's always the speakers! 

The most important part of the equipment chain are the speakers, because it's those that tell your hands and ears what to do.

I noticed that when I would mix through the previous speakers and then pop my favourite pair of Sony MDR-7506 headphones on, it sounded pretty good. 

But when I took them off, it didn't quite match what was coming out the speakers, which then left me guessing a little bit. Which do you trust? Do you trust the headphones? Or do you trust the speakers? 

Hence why I was keen to try the Genelecs when the opportunity came. Now what I'm finding is when I'm listening through the Genelecs and then I put on the headphones, they're pretty much exactly the same, which is amazing. Now there's no guesswork; I just know that that is what I’m gonna get.

In fact, the first time I mixed using the Genelecs I found it a bit odd because I wasn't adding EQ hardly at all, which to me felt a little odd from my normal practices – I'd normally have to brighten the snare up a little bit, for example. 

I just thought, “No, I'll just trust the speakers; This is what we're here for. Let's just trust the Genelecs.” I did a mix and put it on in the car. It was bang on. The Genelecs have changed the way I work – I'm not having to fight over mixes. I'm hardly having to EQ at all.

it was like someone turned the speakers around – that's the only way I can describe it.

Mixing it up

I'm a great stickler for making sure that the source of the sound (drums or guitars or whatever I'm miking up) is as good as it can be. I don't just throw a mic on it and think, “I'll just brighten it up on the mix.” 

I will work and EQ the amp and get the source right – that's how it should be done really – the less equipment you're using, the more pristine the signal path will stay, and the better the outcome. That's what I'm finding now, as I've gone back to the way I used to work years ago.

In fact, the Genelecs have changed everything for me. I’m no longer having to patch things into Pultecs and outboard gear to EQ things up. I'm not not having to adjust anything. It just stays flat and records – it's beautiful.

I have always mixed fairly quietly, and here, again, I find the Genelecs excel at low volume. This is the beauty of them – they keep the bottom end really tight – even at lower levels. Because the low drivers are so small, they don't have to be driven to get the work in – they will work happily at low levels.

One of the first things I did when I tested them was to listen to something quiet, and then turn them up to way above what I would normally work at. My thought is that if something sounds great and solid, quietly, it will only sound better loud. 

But if you mix things too loudly, you will end up sizing things down in terms of your EQ, so I tend to mix really quietly. I've done that for years, and it really does work for me, especially with these speakers.

The Genelecs have changed the way I work – I'm not having to fight over mixes.

GLM software: making bad rooms sound good

Genelec’s GLM software works with their Smart Active Monitors to minimise any unwanted acoustic influences in a room and help mixes sound great. I must say, the software is very user-friendly: you get a kit, which includes a microphone with an interface box that plugs into your computer and links using an ethernet to both speakers. 

The whole system measures your room and will tune the speakers if it needs to. Luckily, my room is great and has been built superbly. We analysed the room for the first time and it was great to see that on the spectrum it was really flat and the speakers didn't have to correct that much.

But what it also takes into account are any resonant frequencies from reflections from things like the desk surface or anything you've got behind you. For instance, I've got a bank of synthesisers immediately behind my chair with metal panels on there, so you will get a tiny amount of reflections from that.

Once it’s all set up, you can bypass that system so you can hear the speakers in their natural form, and then you switch to the GLM and you can hear what the speakers are correcting. 

Again it was frightening – even though it's only subtle in my room! But you can hear what it would do in a bad room and that it would really shape the sound to bring you what you need to hear.

you wouldn't want to work with the GLM switched off. It's like having a different pair of speakers in every room.

Take it from me: you wouldn't want to work with the GLM switched off. So not only are they great speakers, but they will look at your room and make it work even better. I'm very keen to try out some Genelecs using GLM in my other studio, which used to be a mastering room – and that room isn't so good. So it would be fun to get a pair in there and see what it does with a really bad room. I'm quite keen on doing that in the future.

Also, lots of people are now wanting to record at home or on small and mobile setups that are moving from place to place. For that, the GLM is superb, because every time you move the speakers, you just hit calibrate, retune the room and bang! 

It goes to the speakers and they will be set up for whatever area you're currently working in. It's like having a different pair of speakers in every room in a sense, because GLM will shape and correct any major faults in whatever environment you're working in.

Another thing I feel I should point out is that they just look after themselves! One feature that was annoying about my previous speakers was that they had a power-saving mode that you couldn't bypass, so after 50 minutes they would switch themselves off, so you'd have to keep going over switching them back on. 

The Genelecs link the GLM to your computer so that when you power your computer up, they will automatically power up your Genelecs, and they will power them down when you turn your computer off. Very handy!

there's absolutely no guesswork there anymore.

Removing the guesswork

It always used to bug me that when you went into a Hi-Fi shop and they wanted to demonstrate speakers, they would put on a dance track, because obviously the synthetic bottom end makes your Hi-Fi sound better. 

If you then said, “Can you put that U2 track on?” the chances are it would sound really boxy and horrible because it was a rock track. I want rock records to have that bandwidth and that fullness of sound.

The Genelecs are perfect for that, because they will give you everything that you put through them. To be honest, the bottom end is quite a scary area for a lot of people because if you're in a bad room, you're guessing and you don't know if you're over boosting sub frequencies – so when you put them on in a car or on a small system, it will just destroy them.

Now, I can be sure that when I'm using that production technique on rock bands that there's no guessing anymore. It's just: I hear what I get and it's my job to twiddle the buttons to get that sound for the client. It's just so easy now. 

I've actually used the Genelecs on a great variety of projects already, and there is no more tweaking the top end anymore – which I found I was doing a lot on everything when I think back now!

Prism Studios also offers online mixing and mastering, where people email me a rough mix, and if all seems good, people can bring their song files into the studio. The Genelecs have been a game changer here too, because it’s always good to hear things before you commit – I've had instances in the past where people are recording through phones or have recorded multitrack using GarageBand.

You have to check if something's been really badly engineered. In that instance I'd rather pass on it because it’s so much work to get it there, and then people don't have the budget to do it properly, so I always like to check.

The Genelecs are really key because they tell me exactly what I'm looking at and what needs to be done. So straightaway, as soon as someone sends me either a flat mix or a bunch of stems, I'll load them up and listen to it all flat, and it immediately tells me whether it's going to be an easy job or a hard job. So I can say there's absolutely no guesswork there anymore.

after 33 years, I have found a pair of speakers that just are what they're supposed to be.


Having been in the industry for 33 years and literally having tried every speaker known to man, not only in my studio, but studios all over the world, (some good, some not so good), none ever really stood out to me and made me say “Wow” or had me thinking that they were true and very accurate. Along came the Genelecs and “Pow!” Right there, after 33 years, I found a pair of speakers that just are what they're supposed to be, and I would recommend them to anyone.

True, they’re not cheap, but when you consider how long you're going to be in your career, (I've divided the price by 33 years for myself) you're talking pence. Yes they're expensive, but they're expensive for a reason – the sheer clarity and everything about them is staggering. There's nothing about them that bugged me whatsoever.

I don't believe in buying stuff blindly, which I have done in the past, so my advice is to give them a go and compare them to what you use currently. I'm pretty sure that most people will – like me – be horrified by their current setup compared to what you get with the Genelecs. Like I say, it's not just a great pair of speakers, it's a whole system because of the GLM taking into account everything about the room.

Not to mention, they look good. Literally every time someone walks in the control room, they're like, “Oh my god, what are those?” Because the control room is quite psychedelic – everything's purple, yellow or red; there's no white in the room at all apart from these two huge speakers that sit behind the desk. 

They look absolutely stunning, which is important – you want them to look cool! It's a talking point now where people walk in the studio.