Paul White studio‑tests KRK's latest active monitoring package, designed to provide compact, reference‑standard monitoring.
Most monitor manufacturers, including KRK, build nearfield monitors, which became popular when engineers realised that the physically imposing main monitors found in typical large recording studios could rarely be trusted to provide a true interpretation of a mix. However, the majority of nearfield designs can't provide the depth of bass or the dynamic range to satisfy all professional monitoring requirements, so now we see a new breed of studio reference monitor emerging to fill the gap. These new monitors tend to be active, often two‑way systems, but they're still very compact compared with a typical fixed monitoring system. Their aim is to produce a useful reference in the true meaning of the word, by combining the wide frequency range and higher SPLs of larger systems with the superior imaging and flatter response of the better nearfield models. The ATC SCM20A reviewed in the October issue of SOS is a good example of this new breed of monitors, and KRK's similarly priced Exposé is targeted at the same market. The aim is simply to provide the most accurate monitoring reference possible in a relatively compact format, and in the case of the Exposé, this has been tackled by a combination of unique cabinet design and specially designed drivers teamed with appropriate active electronics.
KRK are the first to acknowledge that loudspeaker design is a series of compromises, but they've done their best to keep these to a minimum with the Exposé, starting off with a very solid cabinet that has eight sides rather than the usual six. The cabinet's angled walls help minimise the problems caused by internal cabinet reflections, and the outside edges are all heavily radiused to reduce cabinet edge diffraction. The superb polyurethane showroom metallic finish may not do a great deal for the sound either way, but it certainly looks impressive, and KRK are obviously proud of it as they include a polishing cloth (Alpine fleece wool, no less), as part of the accessory kit.
Signal input to the two‑way Exposé is via a conventionally wired balanced XLR and mains comes in via a fused EC socket. The power switch is on the rear of the cabinet along with an input gain trim preset and a DIP switch for setting the HF response (more on this later). For use in different countries, the mains inlet may be switched to 100, 120, 230 or 240V operation via a jumper on a small PCB behind a cover adjacent to the mains inlet.
The sound is as classy as the styling, and that's really saying something.
As with other KRK systems, the Exposé's drivers use woven Kevlar (a very light, but incredibly strong material used to make bulletproof jackets), and in the case of the bass/mid drivers, this is fashioned into a two‑ply layer. The cone profile is designed to produce an action that's very close to perfect piston motion throughout its range. Flattened wire is used for the voice coil, and KRK have followed the long magnetic gap route to maximising linearity at larger cone excursions, although this particular low‑frequency driver is designed to work over relatively short excursions so as to maximise transient response.
The Exposé is available in two versions, both two‑way actives, the E7 and the E8 (both pictured here). The main difference is the size of the bass driver (as the name suggests, the E7 has a 7‑inch driver, the E8 an 8‑inch one), although the E8 also has a slightly larger cabinet and an extended frequency response. In both cases, the tweeter employs a 1‑inch, concave, Kevlar fabric inverse dome. Unusually, both the bass driver and the tweeter are fed from 140W, discrete‑component amplifiers, rather than the tweeter being run at a lower power. Not that a tweeter ordinarily needs this much power, and indeed, there's more than enough to roast it twice over, but this arrangement does ensure there's plenty of headroom, which is important in delivering clean transients. Both amplifiers are safeguarded by thermal shutoff systems, current limiting and DC protection. Power comes from a large torroidal transformer, and KRK stress that the whole system has been overdesigned, including a power supply rated at a continuous 400W. Heatsinks are inset into the front section of the angled cabinet sides to dissipate the heat from the power transistors, but inside the cabinet, the air movement caused by the bass driver is also harnessed to help keep the power supply and driver transistors cool.
The crossover frequency for the E7 is set at 1.5kHz while the E8 is actually higher at 1.7kHz. To allow the user to tailor the sound to the room or to personal preferences, the high end (above the crossover point), can be attenuated by up to 1.5dB in 0.5dB steps using the previously mentioned DIP switches, but there's no control over the low end.
Though I have a collection of test CDs I use to help me evaluate monitors, units of this calibre also have to be assessed under real‑life studio conditions, so as with the ATCs before, the KRK Exposés spent a few days in my studio being used on sessions. The impression I came away with is that these monitors are more honest than some of the KRK nearfields I've tried before — previous models have sounded slightly forward (not unpleasantly so I might add). However, in the Exposés, the designers seem to have gone to a lot more trouble to make the monitors as neutral as possible. Transient detail is revealed without harshness, the mid range is nice and open, and the bass sounds natural and tight rather than having a tendency towards boominess or sloppiness, which is sometimes the case with small monitors attempting jobs above their capabilities. There's also plenty of SPL capability, with the E7 maxing out at 109dB and the E8 pushing it out to 114dB on typical programme material, and in both cases, brief peaks can exceed this level by a further 9dB. The quoted frequency range is 54Hz to 20kHz (‑3dB) for the E7s and 46Hz to 22kHz for the E8s, which, being realistic, is probably as low as most small to medium rooms can take unless they are properly designed for the job. Even so, the cabinets are surprisingly compact (at just 15 x 13.75 x 12 inches for the E7 being reviewed, and just a couple of inches larger for the E8). The weight is a hefty 50 pounds per cabinet, a little less than the ATCs, which my back still remembers weighed 66 pounds each.
After a few days, it was apparent that these are actually rather nice monitors to work with. I don't think they're quite as flat‑sounding as the ATC SCM20As, but their slightly livelier sound doesn't seem in any way unnatural. I particularly liked the effortless quality with which the speakers projected just about any instrument, and as I had an acoustic session running at the time, I was able to check the monitors out on live drums, acoustic guitar, voice, violin and oboe, as well as electric bass and an assortment of MIDI sound sources. Bass guitar and bass drum in particular come over as solid, tight and very well defined. I couldn't detect any significant artifacts at the crossover point, something I usually test for by listening to solo'd vocal tracks, and the off‑axis is good, as is the stereo imaging.
With speakers of this calibre, a review like this can only tell you what to listen for and point you in the right general direction — it would be presumptious of me to try to make up your mind as to which monitor is best for you, as everyone seems to want to hear something slightly different from a speaker. In any event, if you're going to spend this kind of money, I imagine you'll want to do some critical listening tests and comparisons yourself.
I can say that these speakers surprised me in that they are far more accurate and uncoloured than I've come to expect from American designers, they have a rock‑solid bass response with no nasty hot spots or other unwelcome surprises, and they handle fast transients well without getting splashy or harsh. You can work with these monitors for long periods and not feel that your ears are tired, or that the speakers are hiding anything from you. In fact the sound is as classy as the styling, and in the case of the Exposés, that's really saying something.
- Solid, tight bass end balanced by good transient response.
- Wonderful to look at.
- Compact and reasonably portable.
These are very nice monitors that bridge the gap between nearfields and large studio monitors, enabling mixes to be undertaken with a good degree of confidence. Both the mechanical engineering and the sound quality are extremely good.