Equipment Review No. 1 NOVEMBER 2001
GENELEC HT205 Active Home Theater System
five bi-amplified two-way speakers
The very compact and rugged entry level active speakers from Genelec, Finland, seemed to me a perfect choice for reviewing the many high-res multichannel discs I have been covering here in AUDIOPHILE AUDITION. Their built-in amplification also seemed to promise cutting through many hassles during my just-completed move. I used them in combination with the exceptional R.E. Design six-channel analog preamp (see the other equipment review this issue). While the cast aluminum construction, metal dome tweeter and the many adjustment pots for not only overall level but also treble and bass tilt and bass rolloff might cause many audiophiles to turn up their noses/ears, the fact is that these are remarkable little speakers that can provide an almost instant home theater audio system of highest quality with minimum equipment, time and expense.
The HT205s are vented speakers with all electronics - both the two 40 watt amps and crossovers - mounted inside the aluminum enclosure. Genelec's Directivity Control Waveguide or DCW is part of the design, said to offer more stable imaging and frequency balance in the most difficult acoustic environments. The three adjustments for frequency response allow a wide range of mounting situations for the speakers, including both very damped and very reverberant rooms and even mounted directly on the walls.
Genelec recommends using the XLR connections and balanced lines to the preamp or controller, but RCA coax inputs are also provided. Although the low frequency extension is quite good, a powered subwoofer would be the best match for the HT205s in any home theater system. Genelec has one - which weighs almost as much as these five speakers. Another advantage of the speakers is that they may be oriented either vertically or horizontally. I found the timbre little changed when I placed one horizontally in front of my Pioneer RPTV for the center channel - that is something I haven't heard with any other mini-monitor, including my reference Celestions. The speakers may be mounted on cielings or walls, since they are already tapped for OmniMount plates. They would be ideal for providing the mid-side height channels used by Telarc and Chesky on some of their multichannel SACDs. In fact I am considering just such a use for my own 7.3 system.
The speakers come from the factory in Finland with all the EQ settings off to achieve a flat anechoic response. I tried some of the variations but found in my new 31-foot-length listening room that the flat setting was the most natural-sounding. I used the Telarc multichannel test disc with the child's voice identifying the channels, plus the Radio Shack sound level meter to set all of the speakers at the same dB level from my equally spaced listening position. I didn't need to use the level adjustments on the actual speakers due to the very precise level adjustments on the R. E. Design preamp. However, they came in handy when I was doing some comparisons with my Celestion speakers and running them direct from the output of the Sony CE775 multichannel SACD player. Naturally they needed to be turned way down since the player output was reaching the speakers full tilt without potting down. The level control is in the lower right corner front of the speakers, and on the left in a similar spot is the main on/off switch for the built-in amps. The enclosures have tapped holes for omni-mounting or may be placed on speaker stands.
This brought up my one serious beef with the HT205: no signal-sensitive on-off switch is provided. To use them one has to go around to all five speakers and turn each one on, reversing the sequence at shutdown. Even my Philips active speakers of decades ago had automatic switching which turned on when a signal was present. The next model up the Genelec HT line does have the signal-sensitive on-off feature, so it appears that its absence on this one is part of an effort to keep the price down toward entry level. Depending on just how high up I mount my side/height surround speakers, this could mitigate against my using the HT205s for that purpose after all.
I found the general sonic characteristics to be very clean, with excellent transient response - beating my Celestions in that regard. The speakers are a bit more directional than my Celestion SL-600sis, but don't extend quite as far in the deep bass as the Celestions without subwoofers. I tried the new Keith Jarrett trio Cd on ECM, Inside Out, Band 1. Though the acoustic bass failed to be as extended and 'fleshed out" as with the Celestions, the cymbal work of drummer Jack DeJohnette came through more solidly etched and with a more extended overtones. Jarrett's piano sound was clean and impactful via both speakers, but the Genelec seemed to impart a very slightly wooden timbre not heard on my highly-tweaked Celestions.
Next I sampled Bruckner's Ninth Symphony from a Music & Arts reissue of a 1951 taping conducted by Carl Schuricht with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony. The Genelecs possessed greater transparency in the midrange than the Celestions. This far overrode one's acoustic attention going to the somewhat deficient extreme low end. The Celestions seemed to minimize the somewhat noisy original tape while with the clean high midrange characteristics of the Genelec the noise came through with more annoyance. At the beginning of the Second Movement are some passages with massed pizzicato strings. These are reproduced with much cleaner transient response than was accomplished by the Celestions. Remembering back to my Philips speakers and other active loudspeakers I have heard at show demos, this cleaner transient handling seems that it might be a feature of good active speaker design.
I would characterize the overall timbre of the HT205 as forward-sounding but a clean and powerful forward sound to be sure. I had no complaints about the metal dome tweeter - it never sounded strident or metallic on high strings. They are extremely well-constructed, appearing to be designed for rough treatment in the typical professional recording studio. While a set of five of these for your home theater would set you back $3000, you would then have probably the most sound in the smallest space you could find and with all speakers identical and the same distance from your listening spot, you would benefit to the maximum from the new SACD and DVD-A surround music recordings. I would strongly suggest, as does Genelec, the addition of a powered subwoofer - either from them or from a maker of subs at a similar price point. I found the Genelecs mated well with my old Cambridge Soundworks powered subwoofer, rolled off at 80 Hz, for example.
- John Sunier
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