Genesis Advanced Technologies 5.2 loudspeaker
The last Genesis design reviewed in Stereophile was the 500 (in May 1999), which then sold for $11,500/pair. Kalman Rubinson was very impressed by this speaker, concluding that it was "graceful and physically unobtrusive but performs superbly with all music, from the simple to the large and complex. . . . Its bass reproduction was the most consistently musical and integrated of any speaker I have used to date." The only aspect of the 500's sound that bothered Kal was "an infrequent quirk in treble imaging," though he was overall very enthusiastic about the speakers' soundstaging. However, when I measured the 500, I was bothered by a lack of integration in the midrange. At the time, I wondered if this was connected with Kal's finding the speaker to sound a little laid-back.
So things stood—until I saw, at the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show, that the 500 had been replaced by a new version, the 5.2. Time for the old man to take a listen, I thought.
5.2 vs 500
At first glance, the 5.2 looks identical to the 500: a 44"-high tower with a rectangular enclosure for the lower-frequency drivers and a truncated pyramidal section housing the front- and rear-firing 1" circular ribbon tweeters and the dipolar, titanium-cone, 5.5" midrange unit. (Unusually, this uses a pressed chassis rather than a diecast one.) However, whereas the earlier speaker had a single 6.5" aluminum-cone lower-midrange unit, a "midbass coupler" that covered the range between about 90Hz and 300Hz, the 5.2 adds a second midbass coupler on the rear of the cabinet, connected in opposite polarity to the one on the speaker's front baffle.
Two aluminum-cone 8" woofers are mounted on the front baffle, one on the speaker's rear, this wired in the same acoustic polarity as the front drivers. Below 90Hz, therefore, the speaker's radiation pattern is omnidirectional; above that frequency, owing to the open-backed midrange subenclosure and the fact the rear tweeter and midbass coupler are wired in anti-phase to the front units, the 5.2 behaves as a dipole radiator.
The woofers are driven by a 500W switching amplifier, with servo control reducing distortion. However, the servo operates only when the woofer amp is driven from the speaker binding posts. If the line-level woofer inputs are used instead (selected with a rear-panel switch), the woofers are driven conventionally. Rotary controls are provided to shelve the tweeter and midrange up or down by 2dB or so, to adjust the low-pass filter feeding the woofers, to alter the woofer level to match the output of the upper-frequency drivers, and to adjust the level of the separate LFE input.
Despite the Genesis 5.2's complex radiation pattern, setup in my listening room was relatively straightforward, and it wasn't long before I had a low-frequency region that extended evenly from 200Hz down to 20Hz, judged by the smoothness of the low-frequency warble tones on my Editor's Choice CD (Stereophile STPH016-2). I set the level of the woofers by ear, this very dependent on the type of music I played. What sounded correct with classical orchestral recordings sounded overripe with rock music. As you can see from the "Measurements" sidebar, my final choice was actually 2–3dB too "hot" in absolute terms.
I drove the 5.2s' woofers using the high-level speaker inputs. I had no problems with hum with the Mark Levinson No.33H monoblocks I was using, but the Musical Fidelity kW750—quite the smoothest-sounding amplifier I have heard from the English manufacturer—required me to use the line-level woofer input if the speaker was not to hum. I began with the factory-recommended 90Hz setting for the woofers' low-pass filter. After some experimentation, this is where I ended up for my long-term listening.
With the rotary tone controls at or below their central positions, I found the balance a little too mellow. I did almost all my auditioning with both controls set to their maximum settings. Even then, the high frequencies were never excessive. Stereo imaging was stable and accurate. Ida Levin's solo violin on Duet (CD, Stereophile STPH012-2) was solidly presented, for example, without any tendency for central sounds to "splash" to the sides of the stage at some frequencies.
I find that the limitations of domestic playback equipment, particularly loudspeakers, in general interfere more with the necessary suspension of disbelief with orchestral music than they do with chamber music or other smaller-scale ensembles. The warm, rich balance of the Genesis encouraged me to play considerably more orchestral music than I usually do. Such favorites as Michael Tilson Thomas's reading of Mahler's Symphony 3 (SACD, San Francisco Symphony 821936-0003-2) offered such a generous sweep of sound through the Genesis 5.2s that the big climax in the final movement, as chiming brass and bass-drum rolls announce the work's resolution on the tonic, sent shivers down my spine. Even with the very different music on Rachel Podger's superb recording, with Arte dei Suonatori, of the 12 Vivaldi violin concertos known as La Stravaganza (SACD, Channel Classics CCS SA 19503), the 5.2's combination of tonal accuracy, sweet-sounding high frequencies, and big-proportioned bass lent the music a satisfying believability.
I dug out a CD that I hadn't played for a couple of years: Hyperion Knight's performance of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (Stereophile STPH010-2), which I had recorded in Albuquerque in 1997. Joe Cea's arrangement makes imaginative use of a marimba, supporting a small string ensemble, and both sounded deliciously present via the Genesises. But it was the depth of the stage that impressed me most, the clarinet, bass clarinet, trumpet, trombone, and bass drum sounding unambiguously behind the piano, which was where they had been at the sessions. (Hyperion had directed the orchestra from the piano keyboard, with his back to the microphones; the Steinway's lid had been removed so all the musicians could get a clear view of him.) The piano itself could be heard within the dome of ambience of the church, but with both a pleasing directness to its sound and a powerful yet controlled bass register, as presented by the 5.2s.
As I said earlier, it was easy for the Genesis 5.2's low frequencies to become too much of a good thing with typical rock recordings. The drum beats that announce, then punctuate "Clarity" on John Mayer's Heavier Things (DualDisc, Aware/Columbia CN 93903) sounded just too heavy unless I backed off the woofer control a little. But then I had to readjust it when I wanted to play classical music again. Still, the speaker's natural midrange was a bonus with well-recorded rock.
Toward the end of my auditioning, I played the half-step–spaced toneburst track on Editor's Choice. The Genesis 5.2 sounded smoothly balanced, with very few anomalies evident. However, three steps below the highest frequency of the sequence, a lower-frequency wolf tone could be heard excited by the toneburst, while the higher-frequency tonebursts sounded a little more metallic than they should. The frequency range affected by this misbehavior was quite narrow, 3.5kHz ±500Hz, and the onset of the tone was quite sudden, at 86dB SPL at 1m, though it took about a second of playing the tone before it started. This was for the left channel; the right-channel threshold for the onset of the tone was higher at 90dB or so, and the region affected was also slightly narrower in frequency. And once the wolf tone was excited, the signal level had to be reduced a couple of dB below threshold for it to stop.
I examine this odd behavior in the "Measurements" sidebar, but I must note that I was unaware that there was anything strange happening while listening to music. First, the region affected was relatively narrow; second, the exciting tone needed to last at least a second before the anomalous behavior started; and third, for real music to have enough energy in this region, it will already be very loud at lower frequencies. Perhaps, just perhaps, the cymbals and vibraphone on Jerome Harris' Rendezvous (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2), and the tambourine on Rhapsody in Blue, all sounded a little more metallic than usual—but had I not known about the presence-region problem, I would have not thought anything wrong.
I very much enjoyed my time with the Genesis 5.2s. Their excellent soundstaging, coupled with their generous, well-defined low frequencies, uncolored midrange, and overall rather mellow highs, were boons when it came to playing back orchestral and opera recordings. Regarding the linearity problem I noted in the mid-treble, even after I identified what was happening, I couldn't pin down any subjective problems in this region unless I was playing the speakers very loudly.
Recommended, therefore. The Genesis 5.2 seems to have preserved all that was right with the earlier 500 and has corrected the one drawback of the earlier design.