Genelec HT 208 Active Speaker System

      Date posted: October 24, 2004

$2475.00 CAN/ea. $2850.00 for wood finish

(Reprinted from the Fall 2004 Audio Ideas Guide)

Part of my series on Desktop Audio

      Admittedly, when it comes to desktop audio this speaker is a little extreme, and probably larger than most work environments will accommodate. Part of the purpose of this column, however, was to explore what was possible at both ends of the spectrum, and the Genelecs certainly fit the bill at the high-end. As pro audio types will already know Genelec is a Finish company which has made its name making high-end powered studio monitors. They’ve been doing it since 1978 and have built an enviable reputation for high quality monitors for a multitude of studio applications.

Genelec HT 208 Active Speaker System

     More recently the company has decided to branch out into the home theater market, adapting many of their pro audio designs for this purpose. The HT 208 is just such a speaker, basically a re-branded version of Genelec’s 1031A active studio monitor. As I discovered when I unpacked it, the HT 208 is bigger in person than it appears in photos. Each speaker is a hefty 28 pound box measuring 15.5″ high, almost ten inches wide and 11.5″ deep. If this is likely to overwhelm your office Genelec has various smaller models including the HT205 and HT206 as well as the larger HT 210. They also have two home theater subwoofer models.

     The HT 208 is a two-way design featuring an 8″ mid/woofer (which, although the material is not specified, seems to be made of polypropylene) and a 1″ metal dome tweeter. The tweeter is mounted in what Genelec calls a “Directivity Control Waveguide” It’s basically metal plate which sets the tweeter a little deeper into the cabinet, creating a slight horn-loading effect. This not only squeezes more efficiency from the tweeter, the Genelec website notes that “the improved directivity control reduces the reflected sound at the listening position. This improves the stereo imaging and ensures very small sensitivity to varying control room acoustics, actually much smaller sensitivity than with any conventional direct radiator design.” Like many studio monitors the HT208 is ported at front, which allows placement closer to walls and corners without boominess. This type of reflex design also makes it possible for Genelec to mount the speaker’s amps and active crossover in a floating, rubber suspended section on the speaker’s rear.

     Yes, that’s amps, not amp. The HT 208 has one for each driver, rated at 120 watts apiece, for a very healthy total of 240 watts a side. The amps not only feature thermal overload protection, which will shut them down if they get too hot, they also have driver protection features, which should keep even the most dedicated audio lead foot from damaging the speakers. The speakers also have an autostart function, which will turn on the amps when they detect a signal. They can also be turned on and off via 12 volt remote control trigger or with the rocker switch on the rear panel. They’re magnetically shielded too, allowing placement next to displays or other sensitive equipment.

     This being ostensibly a professional speaker, the fact that the rear panel features a large variety of controls, including treble and bass tilt/roll-off controls, an input sensitivity control, balanced and unbalanced line level inputs, and an IEC power cable socket, should come as no great surprise. Whether in the studio, in a home theater, or on your desk, the HT 208 has enough features and flexibility to work in almost any environment. I felt that the performance of the speaker was so accurate, neutral and consistently musical that I never had any desire to mess with the roll off or tilt controls.

The Gold Standard

     If you’ve read the reviews of the other powered speakers you probably already know that I was impressed with the HT 208s. Actually, impressed is putting it mildly. After spending the better part of a year listening to Genelec’s little 1029A (or the HT 205 as it’s called in home theater guise) on my video editing workstation I had high expectations for the bigger, more expensive HT 208. The 1029A is a fabulous little speaker: squeaky clean, unfailingly neutral, and extremely revealing; like a great studio monitor should be. Because of its small size, however, it has limited bass response.

     With response to below 50Hz the HT 208 has no such limitations, providing excellent bottom end, even at low volume, with visceral tactile punch when listening in the nearfield. Like its smaller sibling, the 208’s carefully built and braced cabinet, and the metal waveguide, allow the drivers to do their job unfettered by resonance or spurious vibration. As such the sound of these speakers is as clean as I’ve heard from a cone-in-box loudspeaker. Top end is crisp and detailed, without being fatiguing, and subtle ambient cues and natural decay characteristics are conveyed with uncommon ease. They sound effortless, with no hint of boxy colourations. These speakers can convey a sense of space, or “air” if your prefer, with amazing ease. They can also disappear effortlessly with the right music, as they did on the Kundun soundtrack. It follows then that imaging and soundstaging are also top notch with particularly impressive depth and width. Toed in towards me at a distance of 3-4 feet the sound was captivating and enveloping. Speakers simply don’t sound this clean and disappear this easily without superior baffle and box design. Bi-amplification and the phase accuracy of an active crossover certainly don’t hurt the cause either.

     The HT 208 also shone in the midrange. Neutrality is the order of the day, vocals in particular coming through with their believability, harmonic richness, and goosebump inducing transparency intact. Unlike some lesser studio monitors the Genelecs are also easy to listen to over the long term. They’re detailed and enormously revealing but even listening all day, every day at work I never grew fatigued (in fact, I relished opportunities to crank em’ up!). Nor did the speakers loose their composure or show any signs of strain at high volumes, the sound just becoming more involving at high SPLs.

     So what not to like? In larger spaces some may wish for greater bass reach and impact (for which Genelec will be only too happy to provide you with an active sub of similar caliber) and I found that the speakers didn’t sound nearly as good when I moved significantly off axis (the waveguide physically blocking the output of the tweeter at radical angles to keep reflections off room boundaries) but these are minor quibbles. They’re certainly not cheap, but the HT 208s are first rate speakers which will disappoint few, if any listeners. Factor in the superb design and engineering, and the fact that the need for power amps and speaker cables is eliminated, and the price tag doesn’t seem quite as scary. Implementation in a home theater could be very elegant indeed, doing away with the need for five channels of amplification and all the cable that would go with it. If the utilitarian “painted black” finish scares you off don’t forget that Genelec’s home theater line also comes in other finishes, including light birch, natural cherry, dark cherry and piano black.

     The active speaker concept has always been a tough sell to audiophiles, but if there’s any speaker that makes a compelling argument in its favour, whether at home or the office, it’s this one.

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