The selection of home-studio recording monitors is certainly at an all-time high and there are many big-name brands in there, like Yamaha, JBL and Roland.
With many promises of a “truer sound” and a “flatter response” and, in some cases, fairly crazy promises of improved mixes guaranteed when using a certain pair of monitors, it’s often difficult for home producers and musicians to know where to turn.
It’s in this kind of situation that magazine reviews and word-of-mouth really tend to separate the genuinely excellent gear from the simply over-hyped products. Over the past decade, one of the clear winners from this has been the studio monitor designers and manufacturers, KRK.
We’re going to take a look at the company’s history and product line-up, as it helps to explain how a music equipment company that offers a relatively tiny (and specialised) product range has managed to become one of the “brands of choice” in studio monitoring.
Interestingly, their motto is “what does the customer really want from their monitor?” That instinct, jsut by itself, puts KRK in a rather unusual position. Most manufacturers focus more on terms like accuracy, transparency, precision, response, and many more buzzwords. These are clearly important words in terms of what the product should be, but they don’t necessarily speak to what users really want.
So, what DO home studio users want? Essentially, it’s a monitor they can trust to deliver a consistent sound, whatever the mix requirements! Whether your a studio engineer or a bedroom composer, toy still need to know that the audible bit of your system can respresent the bass parts of the mix as well as it can handle some high-frequency transients.
Musicians need monitors that deliver a true acoustic interpretation of the mix. But this isn’t so simple when it comes to the modern monitor designs that are used to get improved accuracy and frequency response from smaller and lighter boxes.
With their motto in mind, it’s well-known that KRK have always taken design and performance very seriously – with the result that, if it’s not right, it won’t get put into production.
KRK Systems was founded in 1986, by Keith Klawitter. He had been an engineer for many years working on such films as “Brainstorm” and “The Doors”. Frustrated by the fact he couldn’t find a monitor that gave him clarity and accuracy, he began building his own monitors.
Other engineers and producers began to take notice of Keith’s stand-out design and excellent studio monitors and, shortly after, a handful of studios started using his monitors and were getting great results with them, a company was born. At the same time, he found himself commissioned to build custom main systems, a job normally reserved for the very elite of studio monitoring manufacturing.
“Great sound doesn’t start with the studio, the microphone or the latest wiz-bang sampling device. It starts in the heart, and it starts with the truth…the very essence of the KRK design philosophy. This is why we come to work every day. To deliver products that are true to the legacy that KRK was founded on”
Over the years, the shapes of studio monitors have varied enormously in response to both technical considerations and previaling fashion. KRK are far from immune to these developments, as you can see from the comparison below, that shows 3 of the ‘ages’ of KRK’s development. Firstly, we have the old school slab-style monitor, then the coloured versions, of which many were linmited editions.
Finally, we have one of the modern-day Rokit range of monitors that combine subdued aesthetics with a visual sense of purpose.
In fact, KRK Have come a long way with their aesthetics in recent years. Their most popular range is the almost reference standard Rokit RP monitors which have kept the competition on their back foot for some time.
Rather than wade through the differences between all the models, let’s look at the key differentiating features of a contemporary small studio and large studio monitor. By comparing within the same range of products, it’s easy to see the way in which all manufacturers deal with the complex issue of scaling up or down.
Small Studio Monitor – KRK RP5 G3
This is relatively sophisticated for a small unit, but has a fairly typical 5” Driver handling the lower frequencies and a soft dome tweeter handling the highs. The presence of 2 drivers makes this a ‘2-way’ system, typical of small to mid monitor and hifi speakers. Like the majority of studio monitor speakers today , these carry their own amplification – with a 50 Watt per speaker output.
The connection options are more comprehensive than some units at this size with Phono, Balanced Jack, and XLR available. That’s a good indication of the desire to build to a specification, rather than a price.
Small monitors like the Rokit RP5 are known as nearfield monitors for, hopefully, obvious reasons. Whilst there are also main-field systems, even quite large monitoring spaces are really mid-field in terms of where the sound projection needs to achieve its sweet-spot. That’s where the big, expensive units come in!
Large Studio Monitor – KRK Rokit 10-3
Most professional and commercial facilities offer clients a broad choice of Studio monitors, from near-to mid, or even main field systems to ensure that their mixing translates well across playback systems. In some studio environments one monitoring system might have to do it all: the ability to generate huge sound pressure levels when the music and clients demand it, yet maintain the clarity and transparency of a professional studio monitor.
The Rokit Powered 10-3 monitor is a state of the art three way design and provides an unsurpassed level of power, performance and accuracy. That inevitably sounds like I’ve just swallowed the marketing literature, but these monitors do have a couple of genuinely innovative features that we’ll cover.
It’s a 3-way system, meaning that the tweeter is maintained, but the duties of the main driver unit are now split between a woofer for low frequencies and a mid-range speaker for the, errr, mid-range. Uniquely, this unit has rotable tweeter and mid-range drivers (bass frequencies aren’t directional), meaning that, with a choice of horizontal or vertical placement, pretty much any monitoring environment can be made to work.
Unlike near-field monitoring, with space and placement of Mid-fields always a concern in recording, mobile and broadcast facilities, the best monitors, like the Rokit Powered 10-3, allow for a wide distance envelope for optimum listening. In this case, it’s from one metre to 4 metres, which is one of better performances in this class.
Monitoring for Real Musicians
If you’re a musician who gigs, rather than records, composes or produces, this stuff always seems a little esoteric, if not downright complicated – who said that “all you need are 3 chords and the truth”! If you do spend time in the studio, it’s often useful to get back to the basics of what makes good gear that you can rely on, before considering all the bells and whistles.
What’s interesting about KRK’s journey is that they’ve never seemed to lose sight of their original brief and can deliver innovation that sits on a solid foundation of what makes great studio monitors.
By Andy Atkins
Andy Atkins, as some of you may know, has been writing for consumer and trade press for over 20 years. In addition to producing equipment reviews and advice for major music equipment brands and retailers, he’s gigged regularly – and irregularly for even longer. The last gig was a small pub some 260 miles from his home – who’s desparate!