Kali’s latest nearfield design offers an unprecedented amount of monitor for the money.
Back in SOS May 2020, I reviewed the dual‑coincident, three‑way Kali Audio IN‑8 monitor and concluded that, although it wasn’t without faults, it was extraordinary value for money. Now, with the introduction of the IN‑5, Kali have dropped the entry price for a dual‑coincident, three‑way monitor even lower. If I had an adjective beyond ‘extraordinary’ to describe apparent value for money, I’d probably be deploying it. But first there’s a bit of description, measurement and listening to do.
Founded by some former JBL staff, Kali arrived on the scene in 2018 with a range of inexpensive US‑designed and Far East‑manufactured monitors. It’s been an impressive effort so far. The subject of this review is the first of what Kali have christened their ‘second wave’, characterised by a host of technical improvements. These are said to comprise 12dB less amplifier noise, re‑profiled and lower‑mass driver diaphragms, improved cabinet construction, more precise DSP, revised EQ presets and, finally, a little less input sensitivity. The first of these improvements is particularly welcome because one of my criticisms of the IN‑8 was that amplifier hiss was audible. I may as well confirm straight away that this problem has been fixed. The IN‑5 is effectively silent when idling.
The IN‑5 is slightly larger than I imagined when I first saw images online, though it still falls comfortably into nearfield monitor dimensions so shouldn’t present too many challenges to fit into even small studio spaces. At just over 8kg the IN‑5 is also unlikely to present any mounting structure problems — although, as with any monitor, it is important to provide a rigid, stable and non‑resonant mounting platform.
Before I move on, a few observations on the cabinet. Firstly, its unremitting black finish. I appreciate that Kali Audio are not alone among monitor manufacturers in risking nothing but black, but I’d have liked something a little less funereal, especially as studio monitors are constantly in line of sight. Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, a knuckle‑wrap test on the IN‑5 cabinet side panels didn’t inspire huge confidence in its likely acoustic performance, in terms of resonance and coloration. Again, Kali are not by any means alone in finding that it is extremely difficult to engineer resonance‑free speaker cabinets when the manufacturing budget is so restricted, but even so, it seems a shame that price and margin pressure forces apparent compromise on such a fundamental aspect of performance.
The IN‑5 front panel carries a nominally 120mm‑diameter paper‑diaphragm bass driver that hands over at 280Hz to a 110mm dual‑coincident, compound mid/tweeter. The bass and mid driver diaphragms are uncoated paper components that, to the unashamed speaker geek in me, look attractively retro. The mid diaphragm also features a very small surround component — made possible by it having no need to accommodate bass driver levels of diaphragm displacement. This is a good thing because the large roll surrounds required on bass/mid drivers tend to compromise midrange performance. The IN‑5 dome tweeter features a traditional 25mm‑diamater coated‑textile diaphragm. Before I leave the drivers, a quick mention of the bass driver’s dust cap is in order. Said dust cap looks slightly unusual because its form is concave rather than the usual convex, but perhaps of more interest is that rather than being glued to the diaphragm, as is conventional, it’s attached to the extended end of the voice‑coil former. This form of construction is not often seen but has always seemed to me to be a sensible little refinement. It avoids potentially upsetting the behaviour of the diaphragm by introducing a variable in terms of the dust cap mass and its bead of adhesive. It maybe doesn’t look as neat as the traditional construction, which perhaps explains why it’s less common, but it scores points from my perspective and suggests that there’s some thoughtful electro‑acoustic engineering inherent to the IN‑5.
Beneath the IN‑5 bass driver is a large, profiled letterbox‑style port exit. The generous surface area of the port means that to achieve a low tuning frequency the port tube is required to be relatively long. To that end, it appears to bend upwards internally to be routed behind the bass driver chassis. A quick check with a flexible ruler suggested the port length is something like 25cm — it’s a long one. It’ll be interesting to check with FuzzMeasure and see what frequency it’s tuned to.
Turning to the rear panel of the IN‑5, as ever it’s home to the amplifier heatsink and connection/control panel. The Class‑D amplification is rated at 80 Watts for the bass driver and 40 Watts each for the midrange driver and tweeter. The difference between power ratings simply reflects that the midrange and tweeter drivers are inherently more efficient than the bass driver so require less power to achieve equivalent volume levels.
The connections provided by the IN‑5 are analogue only, comprising balanced XLR and quarter‑inch TRS jack, and unbalanced RCA phono sockets. The XLR and TRS sockets are connected in parallel, while the phono socket is selectable from the rear‑panel DIP switch array that I’ll describe fully below. First, I’ll just mention that the input sensitivity knob provides adjustment from ‑∞ to +6dB, which is a huge range. However, happily, the knob has a detent at 0dB, so it’s possible to be reasonably confident that both monitors of a pair are running at the same volume.
Along with enabling selection of the phono input socket, the DIP switches enable the selection of eight EQ profiles designed for a range of different installation locations and positions. Combinations of DIP switch settings engage or disengage the profiles. The profiles are described as follows:
1: Free space, >0.5m from any wall
2: On stands, <0.5m from any wall
3: On stands against the wall
4: On a mixing desk meter bridge
5: On a desk, >0.5m from any wall
6: On a desk <0.5m from any wall
7: On a desk against the wall
8: On a mixing desk meter bridge in landscape orientation
Along with preset EQ options, the DIP switches also enable ±2dB high‑ and low‑frequency shelf EQs to be engaged. I’ll investigate the EQ profiles with some FuzzMeasure analysis a little further down the page but, clearly, the IN‑5 is not without EQ flexibility.
And so to a little FuzzMeasure analysis. The first question I asked that FuzzMeasure can help with is what frequency is the port tuned to? The answer appears in Diagram 1: a frequency response curve capture by a microphone positioned close up against the bass driver’s diaphragm.
The fast roll‑off above 120Hz or so is partly a measurement artefact and partly the bass driver’s low‑pass crossover filter doing its job. What isn’t an artefact, however, is the sharp dip in the response at around 43Hz: that’s the port resonance locally reducing the driver output. So we know now that the port is tuned to 43Hz which, while being a relatively low frequency for such a compact system is also, coincidentally, close to bass guitar bottom E (41.2Hz in concert pitch). In some respects having the port tuned in such a musically significant region is a good thing, in that it reduces the workload of the bass driver. At the same time, however, the port tuning frequency is likely to be the point at which low‑frequency latency is most significant, and similarly, where port distortion and compression effects will be most apparent. Part of the skill in electro‑acoustics, especially on a tight budget, is knowing how best to manage this kind of compromise.
Diagram 2 illustrates the IN‑5’s axial frequency response and harmonic distortion from 100Hz upwards, with the monitor volume around 85dB and measured at 1m. The response is reasonably well controlled, if a little lumpy and the distortion performance is good apart from the usual rise at lower frequencies starting a little early. Above 300Hz, second and third harmonic distortion products remain less than 0.3 percent (‑50dB).
Diagram 3 also shows the IN‑5 axial frequency response but it’s overlaid with a response taken 20‑degrees off‑axis horizontally. The similarity of the two responses demonstrates clearly one of the significant advantages of the dual‑coincident format: the lack of any major off‑axis dispersion discontinuity.
Finally, Diagram 4 illustrates a few of the IN‑5 EQ options. It’s clear from these that Kali have put some effort into fine‑tuning the options to suit specific installations. As to whether they’ll prove to work in the installation styles they’re intended for, I think that will depend on the exact details of the room size, acoustic character and monitor positions. In my studio room, the monitors actually worked pretty well using the ‘flat’ option even though they were located relatively close to a rear boundary. The benefit of the IN‑5 EQ options, however, is that they provide a lot of opportunity for experimentation.
When it came to listening, as usual I fed the IN‑5 with a diet of Pro Tools sessions and favourite CDs. I’ve experienced some high‑end monitors recently, and while the IN‑5 perhaps doesn’t, unsurprisingly, provide the extraordinary detail and natural clarity of some of those models, it nonetheless made a positive impression. While I found the IN‑5’s inherent tonal balance slightly dull, its midrange emphasis provided a good dose of useful mix detail. There’s not so much mid emphasis that it risks mixes not translating well though, and the slight dullness can also be effectively ameliorated using the +2dB HF EQ option.
The benefits of the midrange/tweeter dual‑coincident format are very clear, with the IN‑5 showing strong image focus and really good consistency at different listening positions.
In terms of bass, the IN‑5 acquitted itself well in that Kali have not been too greedy in terms of trading LF bandwidth extension against timing and pitch accuracy. The IN‑5 doesn’t have the bass quality of a high‑end closed‑box monitor, but at its remarkable price that would be expecting too much. The bass it plays is useful and trustworthy in a nearfield mix context, and I think an improvement on what I remember of the IN‑8, which I felt was a little overcooked. The compromises inherent in bass performance from a small ported monitor appear to have been handled pretty well.
The IN‑5’s high‑frequency performance is similarly well judged and does a competent job without drawing attention to itself. The benefits of the midrange/tweeter dual‑coincident format are very clear, with the IN‑5 showing strong image focus and really good consistency at different listening positions.
My one criticism of the IN‑5 is that it shows a degree of coloration towards the lower end of the midrange, and that I suspect is associated with its unbraced and not massively rigid MDF cabinet. The slightly mid‑emphasised tonal balance actually helps to mask the coloration to some extent, although exposed male voices and some orchestral instruments (cello in particular) pick it out and can sound slightly thick and boxy, especially as volume levels increase. However, that’s a quirk that I think could be learned and steered around. And, again, at the IN‑5’s price, a mild dose of midrange coloration is very far from a deal breaker.
So, referring back to my opening paragraph, it turns out I do need to find an adjective beyond ‘extraordinary’ to describe the value for money offered by the IN‑5. ‘Outstanding’ ought to do it, I think. The IN‑5 is a genuinely capable and remarkably affordable little monitor.
The IN‑5 finds itself among a pretty large crowd of monitoring options and quite a few of them are similarly capable. Monitors such as the Dynaudio Lyd 5, the IK Multimedia iLoud MTM, the Focal Alpha 65 Evo and the Adam A5X would, I think, all be worth considering.
- Dual‑coincident mid and tweeter.
- Well‑judged overall performance.
- Consistent dispersion and good image focus.
- Remarkably inexpensive.
- A little midrange coloration.
- Nothing else at the price.
Kali Audio’s newest monitor turns in a genuinely impressive performance and brings the benefits of dual‑coincident drivers right down to the entry‑level price range.