Exclusive: Genelec 8381A interview with Aki Mäkivirta at RAK studios

As the first Genelec 8381As hit the UK at RAK Studios, we sat down with R&D director Aki Mäkivirta to have a listen and chat about the flagship monitors in detail.

What type of studios do you see using these initially?

The immediate traditional thought is that these would go to stereo orientated studios that are looking at high SPL and high dynamic range access, maybe working in hip hop, this kind of modern style. But there is absolutely no reason why this would be the main application as they are equally compatible with immersive applications as well. They can be combined with any of our 30 SAM monitors and this gives you a great degree of freedom because, depending on the room layout, some of the monitors, particularly if you try to transition from a traditional stereo layout to creating immersive content then you introduce new loudspeakers into the space and the distance from some of these speakers might be radically different. As long as you can sort the angles that you need, the SAM system will take care of aligning the levels, delay and frequency response.

Talk us through the design and how that came together

If we look at the design, we have a coaxial system in the middle, this is handling the very high SPL levels. You can also see that we have a steeper angle of the directivity control and this is necessary to constrain the radiation angle a bit more than what we have traditionally done. This means we can achieve longer listening distances and keep the stereo image clear and crisp. We had to splice the frequency band more than we usually do – we have actually divided the mid-range into two different sections, one is a coaxial driver and the other is the quad dome mid-range system that takes care of the frequencies which extend down to around 200hz.

The transition point as you go from this acoustic coaxial system to any one of these woofers is adaptive and we actually make the decision depending on the measurements that we take with the GLM system. We have an adaptive crossover point from the coaxial system to the 15 inch driver then between the front 15 inch and the double 15 inch system at the bottom. The cabinet enables us to produce very clean frequencies.

How long have they been in development and what challenges did you face?

Many, many years. There’s many kind of overlaid developments here. The first section which we started on was the creation of the high SPL coaxial concept, we looked at reproducing, very cleanly, the mid and high frequencies in the angles that is suitable for this type of product. All of these aspects are new here. We found out very quickly that we couldn’t use any of the existing coaxial driver designs that we have been using in the One series.

We really had to create something entirely new. The tweeter had to change, we are using a compression tweeter and to go through the design cycle of how you would create this kind of driver, we wanted to create something that didn’t sound like a typical compression system. It sounds like a very high-end, professional monitor. The other development that we had to do was the creation of the dome mid-range because all of these drivers are not available from anywhere so we had to create them. The point of this is that it can serve multiple purposes. One of the problems is that we can’t extend this coaxial driver to go down to 200hhz so with these low frequencies, it’s not really feasible any more. We couldn’t go directly to this kind of woofer so we had to invent something in between and because we wanted to be acoustically coaxial, it has to be located around the coaxial driver so we can achieve the source of the audio remaining in the same position all the time.

We had to choose the distance between the drivers because these drivers are not being supported by the DCW in the sense of constraining the radiation angle of the audio. So once we select the critical distance for these kind of frequencies then we can maintain the directivity and this is something you can easily see in our direction graphs. The problem is that if you start sticking some drivers into the DCW then you get diffractions, you start spoiling things so it becomes critical to understand how you can acoustically hide this at higher frequences so the DCW seems to be smooth. It’s a balancing act!

In some of your initital statements, you mentioned ‘audiophile’ – do you see the 8381A sitting in a home stereo system also?

I would expect that to happen but maybe this is not something that everyone would buy. Obviously if you’re looking for the highest quality audio reproduction at home, this is suitable for that purpose. I think it’s a certain breed of people that are looking for this reproduction because then you’re going beyond what people are asking for and this offers the kind of dynamic range that you wouldn’t usually use at home. Once people realise what they can achieve with this sound, it kind of sticks in your mind.

Genelec CEO Siamak Naghian and Aki Mäkivirta at RAK studios ahead of their 45th anniversary celebraions.

Was the genesis of the speakers based on your own research or studio demand?

Aki: I think we could pull it off, that was probably the motivating factor here. Before that, the Ones had happened so the coaxial driver success was clear – people really liked the resolution that you could access with that system. We wanted to achieve high SPL without comprising quality.

Siamak: I think there’s two parts. One is the evolution of technology and what we have been doing on that side. The other part relates to what we have been doing for the last 10 years with low frequencies and how to deal with that. And then we have these interesting combinations of technology but, at the same time, it’s very interesting to see that we have those main monitors for a very long time that they put on the wall but now it’s changing. It has to change.

Aki: Especially with immersive, you just can’t do that kind of mounting any more.

Siamak: I think people now have possibilities – you can say that these speakers are huge but compared to what people have done traditionally, this is actually portable. You are not limited by space. You can deal with the space. I think we are responding to the trend in music production and we believe there’s a need there.

Aki: Many times people ask ‘can I use sub woofers?’ but with these speakers you don’t need to because all the frequencies, including the low ones are coming from the same direction – they are integrated so that’s the best possible way of reproducing audio.

Welcome to issue 7 of Audio Media International