Genesis IM-5200 Loudspeakers Reviewed

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'Mensch' is a Yiddish word which means a whole lot more than 'man', its German source. A mensch is a 'quality dude' (to use current patois), the kind of person who possesses any of a number of virtues, but the main one is integrity, Considering what a rare beast a mensch is in the world of hi-fi, the loss of a mensch is a serious blow. And when Arnie Nudell left Infinity a couple of years ago, I felt that the community had been somewhat diminished. And, no, I'm not after an 'Order of the Brown-Nose' award, nor am I bucking for a pair of free speakers.

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Nudell, whatever I thought of Infinity speakers (loved some, loathed others), impressed me because of his tenacity/stubbornness, his frightening passion for music (eg, he listens to open reel tapes as a primary source; he refuses to give up on making me love classical music) and his love for the world of high end audio. So maybe I shouldn't have worried. Somehow, I knew he'd be back. And he's returned in style, with an entire range of speakers and subwoofers, produced in collaboration with another audio ace, Paul McGowan of PS Audio origins.* Paul's expertise with electronics, naturally, led to him designing the Genesis crossovers.

So strong were Nudell's beliefs, as embodied in Infinity products, that I was dying to learn how he'd come up with something new without contradicting over 20 years' worth of track record. And however dissimilar the Genesis models may seem to Infinity speakers, they are consistent with the Nudell philosophy.

The line-up includes three full-range models, called rather preciously 'imaging modules', plus two subwoofers. The latter are prime Nudellisms, as both are self-powered with servo amplification -- just like the IRS and (sound of dust being blown off a speaker) the original Servo-Static. And I wonder how many audiophiles smiled knowingly when Nudell announced a new subwoofer called the Servostak? Anyway, the imaging modules (two 2-way and one 3-way) employ Kevlar coned woofers and ribbon tweeters. Not ribbons of the Kelly/SD/Apogee/Magnepan variety, but spiral types which look, from a distance, like 1in dome tweeters. So, again consistent with the past, the Genesis speakers are hybrids.

The biggest departure from Infinity practice is the enclosure architecture. All three imaging modules are housed in cylindrical enclosures reminiscent of the sorely missed JR loudspeakers of the late 1970s. The baffle is flat but narrow, with the sides curving back; the Genesis speakers can boast of minimal interference from cabinet 'edges'. The baffle area is covered with a material which absorbs initial reflections, while the enclosure itself is fashioned from a triple laminate made of a wood fibre core, an inner layer of damping material and an outer layer fashioned from a 'high-pressure laminate'. The latter contributes to the gorgeous looks: high gloss black.

The materials and the shape combine to form a rigid, inert enclosure immune to the smearing and distortion created by internal standing waves and unwanted resonances. The model under review, the entry-level IM-5200, weighs but 18kg, so mass cannot take credit for producing the 'deadness'. But the speaker is as 'unboxy' as a Celestion SL700 or a Sonus Faber, so the enclosure shape and the choice of material work very well indeed.

Arrival times have been handled through the age-old practice of tilting the speaker. A 10-degree slope is recommended, so Genesis makes an attractive, dedicated stand which does the trick. But I do wish that the company had chosen another name for the stand beside 'Foundation'. Once Cliff Stone hears about it... (Someone really should talk to Arnie about names. 'Foundation', 'Servostak', 'imaging modules'' -- even the company name is off the peg, a reminder of a so-so speaker from a decade ago, its sole claim to fame being drivers with lime green trim. Or was that Bolivar? Dunno. I forget. Or I'm trying to forget.)

The IM-5200 is a 'pricey mini', one which will, in the UK, compete with all manner of quality boxes. With a tag reading '�759', it will face off against Celestion SL600s, the Sonus Faber Minuetto, myriad speakers from Spendor and KEF and Rogers and Monitor Audio and anyone else with a stand-mounted speaker fighting for a home with customers spending between �500 and �1000. Its looks will help to make it stand out from the crowd, but the novelty value of a cylindrical enclosure and a proprietary tweeter won't complete the sale. From �500 on up, the market is filled with clever designs eschewing the mere 'cone and dome in a walnut box' recipe common to most speakers below that price point. So the Genesis has to cook.

Read more about the IM-5200s on Page 2.

HTR Product Rating for Genesis IM-5200 Loudspeakers

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The spiral ribbon tweeter is common to all the models, while the '5200 is the only one so far using the 5in woofer. (Note that the model numbers refer to woofer size and the number of drivers, eg the 8300 is a 3-way with an 8in woofer.) This uses a cone made from injection-molded Kevlar in a base of polypropylene. It crosses over at 3700Hz and the speaker is not bi-wirable. User tweaking, aside from adding the subwoofer, includes a tweeter adjustment control, which I left 'flat', and a 'Bass Extension Fuse'. If left in place, there's more extension but an impedance drop to 2.8ohms at certain frequencies. Remove it, and you lose some extension but the impedance is a constant 4ohms. I left it in place. Note that this fuse is removed when the subwoofer is added.

Another feature of the bass section is an 'anti-resonance circuit', made of inductors and capacitors. This is said to cancel speaker enclosure resonances, which are minimal anyway, while extending the bass by nearly a half-octave.

With apologies to Paul McGowan, who spent the past 18 years designing solid-state products, I have to say that the IM-5200 sounds best with medium-powered valve amps. (And I'm willing to wager that Nudell designed the speaker using tube gear.) Considering its requirements of 60-200W (4ohm impedance, 85dB/1W/1m), I ran the speakers with the 200W Beard P100 monoblocks, but also found that lower powered designs like the Dynaco Stereo 70 Series II proved more than adequate in a room of normal domestic dimensions. One solid-state amp which worked wonderfully with the IM-5200 is the Aragon 4004, but the Classe DR-10 seemed too lean and dry.

As luck would have it, I had two of the Genesis' prime contenders to hand during the listening period, the Minuetto and the SL700. Talk about three distinct personalities... The SL700 was all smoothness and coherence, the Minuetto embodied detail, excitement and scale, while the Genesis offerred a mix of the two to create a third alternative. It matched the room-filling capabilities of the Sonus Faber, including the excellent and impressive image height, while adding a touch more precision. The price extracted for this, vis a vis the Minuetto, was a hotter top end which tended toward the bright (so dig out your vintage tube gear).

The Genesis also did a grand job of emulating the SL700's 'disappearing cabinet' trick. More and more small quality speakers are managing this distancing from the traditional sound of boxes; what the Genesis does is offer a sound not unlike a panel speaker -- and that's a Very Good Thing. But it wasn't as airy or open-sounding as the SL700, forgivable when you consider that there's a substantial price differential.

But the Genesis doesn't rest in the middle. It's a punchy, sparkling, involving speaker which offers a greater sense of weight and bass extension than the others I've cited. All small speakers lack deep bass; the trick is making the absence of deep bass seem less important than it might be. Some attempt this by boosting key frequencies while others simply chop off everything below a certain point, preferring to optimize what is available. I don't know quite how the Genesis manages it, but the sound of its bottom octaves is flat and neutral and superbly controlled, giving an impression of greater extension than its rivals. Only when I switched back to Divas or Extremas did I notice what was missing.

Is the sound Infinity-like, or has Nudell chosen another path? Considering that I've heard no Infinity speaker measuring 346mm tall, with a footprint to match the IM-5200's 279mm diameter, delivering the goods this effectively, I'd have to say that Nudell has lowered the price points for access to his interpretation of quality sound reproduction. Smaller and less expensive than four-figure, EMIT-equipped Infinity speakers, the IM-5200 is just as satisfying.

But it's just such a bitch to match. Actual installation is easy, especially with the dedicated stands (sexy-looking but a pricey 359), and positioning is hassle-free, too, as toe-in is not necessary. You just aim them forward and play around with the proximity to the walls. But that tweeter can turn aggressive, and you may find your CD player sounding a bit off, or that your amps weren't quite as sweet as you'd believed.

All of which is consistent with Nudell's previous designs. Again, no surprises. The genesis is a lively thoroughbred, skittish and challenging but ultimately rewarding. But, like its designer, the IM-5200 grabs your attention, occasionally browbeating you with information. Observing its impact in this country, in a market sector all but owned by the home teams, will prove interesting. And if it fails, I'm sure I'll hear about how the British don't understand bass and how we've been listening to too many BBC-sanctioned designs. In other words, this speaker was truly 'Born In The USA'. All you have to decide is if you prefer Bilko to Hancock.

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