I know you want to buy that shit, those Beats with their hype fed to you in bulk colorful packaging, droppin’ names like Bieber n’ Dre, and pushing more low end than your back trunk just so you can feel all gangsta!
….BUT WHY BUY THE HYPE?
If you didn’t already know, Beats by Dr. Dre suck! Even the clueless employee at Best Buy seemed to want us to believe they were good. Really? I mean I know half the population is now listening to their low-bit mp3’s on white apple earbuds and nobody cares about the fidelity anymore except the crazy guys willing to spend $10k on a speaker cable because they think they can hear the difference. (There’s a law of diminishing returns here guys and girls.) Cable is cable is cable is cable, like a rose is a rose. Oh, unless we are talking about Monster cable (who makes Beats ironically)…Oh snap! But I digress…
ENTER THE NEW GUY
Oh wait, KRK is not so new after all. Founded in 1986, KRK has long labored to bring high quality and affordable studio monitoring solutions for the everyday musician to the full fledged professional recording studio. Their focus has always been on design, to bring the most accurate balance to the sound, so that you can truly enjoy your music. For people that are making music, accurate monitoring is important so that the final recording reveals all the sounds you want to hear. KRK has recently unveiled their new line of studio monitors for your ears.
I received the KNS 8400 professional headphones and out of the box appreciated the simple aesthetics of these cans. They are all black with the exception of a little bit of yellow on the KRK logo located on the side of the earcups and clearly labeled left/right ears. We joked that KRK would sell a lot more headphones if they made red, yellow, and white ones and sold them at Best Buy.
Comfort-wise, I personally feel these phones are a little above average and have some thoughtful features. The head and ear cushions are made from advanced memory foam meant to conform to your own head shape. The materials are all lightweight which would improve comfort during longer recording sessions. Although the headphones are advertised to be a “low pressure” set, my head felt a little squeezed after an hour of listening, but not anymore than I am accustomed to with other sets. Listening fatigue set in at about 2 hours, just enough time to get those last edits or mixing done on your flight to LAX. The earcups rotate 90 degrees which make it easy for storing the cans flat and DJ’s can turn them to monitor tha’ house!
For the studio owner, you know the talent will smash your headphones to bits while in the studio. So you will all be delighted to know that the frame of these KRK cans are solidly constructed with lightweight, flexible plastic that even extreme bending did not seem to destroy. Further to that, the head and ear cushions are self-replaceable by the end user should you ever damage them. We also like the inclusion of a detachable mini-cables meaning if the cables are ever damaged, you can simply get a new one. KRK even has the KNS-6400 model (streets at $99) so you have a little less invested into those cans on the Punk Rockers recording their record in the next room.
KRK states these phones can isolate up to 30dBA of ambient noise meaning that performances can have a louder than usual cue mix without causing bleed into the recorded tracks. This might also interest travelers who want to reduce sound being heard from/by their neighbors. To round out the accessories, one of the mini cables includes a high quality volume fader for personal adjustment, a 1/8″ to 1/4″ adapter is included for connection to home stereos, and a soft case is included for travel and storage.
We all know that looks are the most important, BUT HOW DO THEY SOUND?
Under use, I listened to a quite of different kinds of folk, rock, jazz, and trip-hop music. I was immediately impressed with the wide spacial characteristics of these phones. On one recording that I had listened to before many times on many different speakers and headphones, I could literally hear bass guitar mixed slightly off center that I hadn’t really noticed before. I think these headphones could really help people mix their music better by listening to how other artists record’s are mixed. You can hear where they put each instrument in the mix. You can also A/B them with your studio monitors to ensure translation to the world of headphones.
KRK has done a good job with balance which will help mixing engineers on the go. Lows are clear and punchy enough but may lack the low end bump so popular among casual listeners. Drums sound full and I felt like I was really there listening to the songs being recorded. Mid ranges are well represented and not mushy, and vocals feel personal and present like you are still in the booth. Highs are smooth. There’s a depth in the playback.
On hand for comparison we had Monster Beats ($179.99 Street), Bose QuietComfort 15 ($299.95 Street), and the Eskuche 45s ($149.99 Street). The Bose are unique in this group of phones because they are true Noise-Cancelling headphones which require a battery to operate and include a Hi/Low gain setting inside the headset cable adapter and they are twice the cost of the competition. So how do they stack up?
The Eskuche test the worst in our group. We really wanted to like these phones with their 70s design aesthetic and sturdy build. In fact, their materials seemed of better quality than all others in the panel, but the sound from the drivers is poorly tuned (more in an upcoming article) resulting in phones we cannot recommend. The 2nd best sounding are the higher priced Beats (I guess they cost more since Dre is on the payroll. All you Beats owners can now vomit!) Ironically, constructed of cheap feeling plastic, Beats sound bad. I can’t apologize for them.
So, left to compare are the KRKs and the Bose, both of which are a cut above. The Bose are better (they should be at twice the cost), but they aren’t twice as good. In fact the KRKs sounded extremely pleasing on the ear, well balanced across the frequencies, and the build quality is solidly reassuring. In fact, without saying a word, the owner of the Bose phones commented that he would go with the KRK because they sounded so much more like his Bose than the competition. In comparison to the Bose, the KRKs required a minimal few dB increase in gain from our source to drive them, but not enough to warrant any concern. Further, we felt the Bose had a slight edge on ultralow subharmonic tones in certain R&B tracks we auditioned. I kind of felt like the Bose had a subtly warmer sound or fuzziness that at times I preferred over the KRKs as well, but this is highly subjective. The fact is, the KRK KNS-8400 competes well to phones 2-times it’s price, and offers 30dB noise reduction.
For the geeks in the room, check the technical specs at KRKsys.com.
What do we want to see from KRK next?
While auditioning the new KRK monitoring headphones, we imagined a 3rd set of phones for the KRK line that add an additional sub-low or bass boost switch to compete better with our perceptions of what we were hearing in the Bose phones. We realize that this initial line from KRK was meant for monitoring, thus they had no reason to hype lows, but for the average listener, a subtle improvement to bass may be of interest. Further, because the cable system is fully detachable, we’d like KRK to come up with a cable piece with a 90-degree end for your mobile listening devices (with the extra connection) and that has an additional feature set. In addition to volume, they should add some features such as pause/play, ff/reverse, and track skipping. After all, we may want to take our new KRK listening experience on the road or on our next flight.
Review notes from The Mixer Guy’s Mix Studio in Seattle, WA!
Mixer Guy’s Notes:
-KRK headphones – flatter than most previous headphone standards
(sony, akg 240, etc). Could mix on them.
-Very comfy, much more light and comfy than new Shures
-A little softer high-end, to me a bit less revealing of problem
frequencies in the highs and midrange
-Perhaps a bit less bass than the Shures
-15% less volume than the Shures
-like the removeable cabling, and I assume the earcups are replaceable
as well…the Shures do, and I appreciate that.
-flattering eq curve make them ideal client headphones, but they don’t
have too much sizzle like Sonys, etc.
(Thanks to Lunchbox Audio and KRK for allowing us to give them a good
week long test run. My client LOVED having them on while I mixed.)
These new KRK headphones are worth checking out whether you are making records at home, or just listening to them on your iPod.
By Rich Williams of Lunchbox Audio, your source for professional audio recording equipment.
For KRK ordering information, contact:
PO Box 27727
Seattle, WA 98165
Rich @ Lunchbox Audio (dot) com