Genelec at 30! An interview with Ilpo Martikainen

Genelec factoryPerched almost precariously on the northern fringes of Europe, Finland is a small country whose technological mark on the world is much greater than one might initially suppose. In Iisalmi, which lies about 400 km from what some would consider 'civilisation', stands Genelec Oy's headquarters. Nestling amidst forests and lakes, it's where the company's acclaimed active monitoring systems are developed and manufactured. Ilpo Martikainen, founder of Genelec was born here and he began making loudspeakers to supplement his income at University.

Though separated by higher education, Genelec's other co-founder, Topi Partanen, (another alumni of Iisalmi) were reunited at a seminar on acoustics in Helsinki while post-graduates. While there, a representative of YLE, the Finnish broadcasting company, asked if anyone present could build them an active monitor system. Two weeks later Martikainen and Partanen had presented YLE with a prototype , although initially they had been unaware of what an active monitor actually was. From this prototype, the model S30 speaker and, not incidentally, the company was born. This year Genelec will be 30 years old and celebrations will be held in Iisalmi, a time for breaking out the bottles of Koskinkorva, perhaps?

“The actual anniversary is in January,” says Martikainen. “But the weather isn't as good then as it is in the summer, so we'll be celebrating in June. First we will have a meeting with our distributors and then there'll be a day of speeches and awards in the cultural centre followed by a band in the evening.” Needless to say, Genelec won't have any problems providing the PA for the event. “We had a really nice rig at the 25th anniversary party and the band wase really happy,” smiles Martikainen. In the early days, the company was almost unique in manufacturing exclusively active speaker systems. “From the beginning we could see it was better to build a speaker this way,” explains Martikainen. “It offered so many benefits over passive designs and that's why we've been so stubborn about it. It was hard for the first ten years, but in the mid-nineties, the market moved from passive to active so we felt vindicated by our perseverance.” Genelec have manufactured their speakers in Finland since the company's inception and Martikainen sees no reason for that to change in the future. “Iisalmi is where I'm from and where the technical manager is from and that's why the company is based there,” he explains.Genelec factory

“When we were young we were just engineers who wanted to make speakers,” he continues. “I recall saying then that having maybe 20 people working for the company would be nice!” Today, Genelec ships its monitoring systems internationally with around 90% of production being exported from its Finnish base. Martikainen has strong views on how Genelec fits into the current climate of environmental concern. Although the company's products are made to last, when they do finally come to the end of their life, much of their components can be recycled. It's obvious that Genelec apply the same rigorous principles to their environmental responsibilities as to the acoustic properties and build quality of their products.

Genelec's latest releases, which previewed at the 2008 Frankfurt Musik Messe, are the 6010A active monitors and 5040A active subwoofer. “The way people are making music is changing,” says Martikainen. “Many musicians are using just a laptop, so we wanted to make a portable monitor for them.” The new speaker system may also find a market outside the audio production industries as so many people now listen to music using their computers and MP3 players. “Price-wise they are within reach of many people, so if they get used both in the home and the studio environment, we'll be happy, says Martikainen. 

So happy birthday Genelec! What, I wonder, will the company's diamond anniversary bring? “I may not be around to see that,” laughs Martikainen. “But I do think there will be a major change in the way business is done. Environmental concerns will force a move from our currently high-consumption levels and the throw-away nature of today's products and towards something which is more lasting, more durable.”

If this last prediction does indeed come true then Genelec, at least, should take the next thirty years in its stride.