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Should your loudspeakers have digital inputs?

An RP visitor enquires whether the Genelec 8240A with digital inputs and DSP is suitable for the home recording studio. Hmm...

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A question from an Audio Masterclass visitor...

"I was interested in buying a pair of Genelec 8040A's for my home project studio, but now they have released a DSP version of the monitor called the 8240A. I currently have an Mbox (soon to be upgraded to the Digi 003 rack) and am worried that putting the signal through 2 AD/DA conversions (once through the Mbox, then the speakers) will affect the quality and latency of the sound. Does anyone have a pair? Can anyone offer advice on this subject?"

Genelec are often considered to be love 'em/hate 'em type speakers. So one question that overrides everything else is, "Do you like the Genelec sound?"

Personally, I think the Genelec sound fully deserves its place in the pro audio catalog, even though it wouldn't be my own first preference. But I'm not going to advise on preferences.

I also like Genelec because it is a go-ahead company. Loudspeaker design has stumbled forward over the last eighty odd years since the moving coil drive unit was invented. We need a few breakthroughs, and Genelec is helping the pace.

One thing I have been convinced about for a long time is that the power amplifiers ought to be inside the speaker cabinet, one per drive unit.

The line-level signal going to so-called active speakers can be split into different frequency bands and optimized for the characteristics of the drivers and cabinet. This is much harder to do at speaker level.

The only loudspeakers that should not have internal amplifiers are those that are flown in live sound systems (although some do... often Class D amplifiers for light weight)

It is a simple extension of this to say that loudspeakers should have a digital input too.

The benefit of this is that a signal can be manipulated much more effectively in the digital domain than the analog domain. So where an active loudspeaker scores over a passive speaker because of its better crossover, the digital loudspeaker scores even more highly.

So yes, I fully applaud this development.

However, to cover two other points in the question...

One is the prospect of taking an analog output from the audio interface and connecting that to the analog input of these digital speakers.

That doesn't make sense. It involves two unnecessary conversions that will do nothing but degrade the signal. In any case, the Mbox 2 has a digital output and the Digi 003 does too. Usually it's perfectly OK to connect an S/PDIF output to an AES/EBU input. The designers know what they are doing and expect that to happen.

The other point is latency. Feeding the 8240A's with a digital signal will not increase the latency. Feeding it with an analog signal will, but only by a couple of milliseconds, which I very much doubt if you would notice.

Comments on passive vs. active, analog vs. digital (loudspeakers) are welcome.

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By David Mellor Thursday May 6, 2010
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