American company KRK have gained quite a reputation for distinctive monitor design since their inception less than 10 years ago. Paul White checks out their most affordable speakers, the nearfield K‑ROKs.
At the extremes of the monitor market, the choices are rather more obvious than in the £300 to £700 market sector. If money is no object and you're looking for a £1000‑plus monitor, then you're probably going to go for something like ATCs or Genelecs, whereas if you only have a couple of hundred pounds to spend, you're pretty certain to end up with a pair of hi‑fi speakers. In the middle ground, there are the Alesis Monitor 1s, Wilmslow Audio's excellent Home Studio Monitor kit, Soundcraft's Absolutes, the smaller Questeds and a host of other speakers vying for the same market — and that's where KRK have decided to pitch the K‑ROKs.
Retailing at around £469, the K‑ROKs reside at the bottom end of the KRK range and come housed in squat, compact MDF cabinets finished in black satin paint with grey spattering. The cabinets are built as a single‑piece structure, so there's no way of getting inside without removing the front‑mounted bass driver, while the cabinet sides are angled inwards — partly to reduce standing waves inside the box and partly, I suspect, to make the monitors look distinctive.
Like most near‑field designs, the K‑ROKs are based on a ported, two‑way passive system, the middle and bass being handled in this case by a 7‑inch, long‑travel driver incorporating a latex‑coated cone sitting in a roll‑rubber surround. The top end is reproduced via a 1‑inch soft‑domed tweeter, and the crossover point is quoted as 2.5kHz, the crossover itself being an 8 Ohm KRK passive design incorporating hand‑wound inductors. Connections to the speakers are made using conventional binding posts which can take either banana plugs or bare wire, but there is no provision for bi‑wiring, should you be that way inclined.
With a sensitivity of 92dB for 1 Watt at 1 metre, the K‑ROKs have a maximum power handling of 100 Watts each, producing a maximum SPL of 106dB. On paper, the frequency response is 57Hz‑19kHz, +/‑ 3dB, and though this doesn't seem to go particularly low, in subjective terms, the speakers still pack quite a punch.
Driven with 75 Watts per channel, the K‑ROKs are capable of a usefully high monitoring level without showing any signs of stress, though when you really crank them up, they do start to sound a touch boxy. At more realistic (and less damaging) levels, they provide a clear, detailed sound with a tight, punchy bass, and though the sound is a touch on the bright side of accuracy, the overall impression is one of reasonable smoothness. The dispersion is good too, which means you can move quite a long way off‑axis before the tonal character changes significantly. In turn, this leads to generally good stereo imaging, though centre‑stage sounds aren't quite as solid as they are with some of the more up‑market speakers I've used in the past.
Focusing on the bass response, cabinet tuning has been used to keep the bass punchy and well‑controlled down to the frequencies normally associated with bass guitars and kick drums, but below this, the response dries up rapidly, so if you're into mixing 20Hz organ pedal notes, don't expect to hear much evidence of them from these monitors. This kind of limitation is pretty much what you'd expect from a speaker of this size, though both the Alesis Monitor 1 and the Wilmslow Home Studio Monitor Kit have a slightly more extended low end.
Any small monitor is the result of a compromise, the most obvious trade‑off being low‑frequency efficiency, but given their role as near‑field monitors, the KRKs are nice to work on, and even though their voicing is slightly bright (no doubt for the benefit of the American market), the overall impression is of smoothness and detail rather than of aggression or harshness.
Certainly the K‑ROKs producer a bigger, more detailed sound than you might expect from such a compact monitor, and in many home studio situations, they'd work fine as main monitors. The lack of any really low bass means that you're not going to excite any room resonances, but at the same time, there's quite enough kick to tell you what your rhythm section is up to — these are definitely not wimpy speakers. Within their price range, the K‑ROKs are amongst the better near‑field monitors I've tried, so if you're thinking of trading up but have a limited budget, make sure you put these on your short list.
- Sensible price.
- Clear, smooth, detailed sound.
- Slightly bright voicing.
- Can sound boxy when driven hard.
These are genuinely good near‑field monitors, with no serious weaknesses given their price range.