It’s a brave person who decides to venture into the professional headphone market. Despite the onslaught of ear-buds and other crappy listening paraphernalia in this iPod generation, professionals know their headphones—in many cases it would take an SAS assault to prize most professionals away from their headphone of choice.
There is a good reason for this: our headphones are often on our heads when we track, mix and master, so they have to sound right and when I say right, I mean accurate. Secondly many of us have headphones on our head for a greater part of any day (I’m so dumb I often forget I’m wearing them and leave them on even when no audio is playing through them), so those headphones have to be comfortable.
Thus, it was with some interest when I got asked by KRK to try their headphones. I have my favourites, which for me tick all the boxes above - apart from the fact they have a curly cord which looks cool at first but over time simply becomes a rat’s nest.
As I’ve already said, I use my headphones all the time. I’m also an insomniac, both going to bed late and rising early, so for the sake of a happy marriage and peace with my neighbours, I use them a lot when I work during unsociable hours.
Asking me to try new headphones is like asking me to try a new beer, or a new bed, or to wear some new shoes - I’m already comfortable and I partly think that if it ain’t broke, then don’t mend it. However only a fool closes their ears (no pun intended) to new ideas. So in this case, part curious and part altrusitic for the sake of the entire audio community (satire), I decided to give the KRK a spin.
What’s In The Box?
In the box are:
- A pair of headphones (good start)
- A short, detachable cable with volume control
- A long (straight) cable that attaches to the shorter cable and then to your equipment
- A carrying case
- A user manual - which I didn’t open. as I anticipated it would only say: ‘attach cables, plug in to audio source, put on head — over your ears’.
My Listening Test
Rather than trying to mix a track in these new babies, I decided to simply listen to some reference tracks from my eclectic library. Said albums and tracks were:
- Daft Punk - Get Lucky
- Shawn Colvin - A Few Small Repairs
- Robert Plant - Band of Joy
- Ben Howard - Every Kingdom
- Ray LaMontagne - Till the Sun Turns Black
- Lou Reed - Transformer
- The Lumineers - The Lumineers
- AC/DC - Back In Black
- Einaudi: Beautiful Night
- Symphony No. 9 in E minor “From the New World” - 2nd movement
- Górecki: Symphony #3 - Lento E Largo, Tranquillissimo
What Did I Think?
Starting with the sound. The sound is very open and transparent, in particular at the very top end (often referred to as ‘air’) and was more present. In particular, when listening to the acoustic and classical tracks, I was hearing more of the ambient stuff such as feet moving on sound stages (really) and other artefacts like the movement of the playing on acoustic guitars, or piano pedal noise. I’m not sure I had heard this before, so to be sure I put my regular pair of trusty headphones on and some of this detail was less noticeable.
By the way, I’m purposefully not saying what my usual headphones are, this review is not about what headphones I normally use, but be assured they are not iPod earbuds. As would be expected with a more pronounced top end, this lead to a better defined stereo image than I’m used to.
What I did find was a slight dip in the critical frequency area, namely around 3-7Khz and I use the word ‘slight’ carefully. Some will know I have a huge axe to grind over mixes having mid holes in them, so a pair of headphones that encourages people to put more upper mid in their mixes is a good thing in my opinion—these would do that.
The bottom end is nice and round without trying to flatter the sound—the last thing you need from a pair of studio headphones is someone trying to gild the lily when it comes to the bottom end.
Overall, the sound is pretty transparent and without any real peaks and troughs often prevalent in Hi-Fi headphones (an intended effect) which have been dressed up to be studio-grade headphones.
Some would suggest that mixing in headphones is not a good idea. I agree - but ignoring the information you hear from checking a mix on a pair of good headphones is frankly not a good idea - especially in a culture where a lot of listening is happening on headphones (earbuds). Secondly. not everyone has the money or the environment to be able to listen on studio monitors so a good quality pair of headphones is essential for them.
In terms of comfort, they feel very nice and light and wearing them comes without any long term fatigue that wearing headphones for several hours can often give.
The detachable cables are an excellent idea and full marks for giving me a straight cable. They also have a nifty lock and twist on them to stop the cables from disengaging.
Finally, having a volume slider is also a good idea. This would prove helpful if using them as foldback headphones in the studio. The engineer could set all the sliders to a centre position and then run a pretty good level to them and allow each user to set their own volume. It may seem like a simple thing but you would be surprised how often I’ve found myself responding to ‘my headphones are too loud/quiet’ - problem solved here.
As I said at the start, getting many professionals to change out their headphone of choice is a lot harder then the Pepsi Challenge - much of it is simply having gotten used to the pair they own and as with studio monitors, once you are used to your listening equipment, then you mix to them. If studio monitor sales were based on how accurate a pair of monitors were, then you can be sure that NS10s would have not been the success they were and after all that’s why I use mastering engineers, who compensate for my compensation.
Would I recommend people give the KRK KNS 8400 a spin? Yes - they are are well made, have some great features, are comfortable and most importantly have a good frequency response that on the whole neither flatters nor disappoints.
For a new kid on the headphone block, KRK have done a great job. They have achieved excellence in terms of sound and design - their biggest challenge is getting people to consider breaking away from the usual suspects in the headphone market. I hope they do succeed as they deserve to be given a chance.
If you are yet to purchase a professional set of headphones, then you should put the KRKs on your list to try rather than the usual suspects. If you are like me and have your trusty pair, when you have the chance to give the KRK KNS 8400s a test drive, I would suggest you do it.
KRK KNS 8400 Technical Specifications
- Configuration: Closed back, circumaural
- System type: Monitor Headphones
- Cable: 2.5 m (8.2 ft.), 99.99% OFC detachable
- Ear Cushion type: Acoustic memory foam [KNS-8400]
- Headpad Finish: Premium leatherette [KNS-8400]
- Nominal Headband Pressure: 4 N (based on average head size)
- Ambient Noise Isolation:u p to 30 dBA [KNS-8400]
- Tranducer: 40mm, neodymium
- Power Handling Full Range: 1000mW
- Nominal Impedance: 36 ohms
- Frequency Response: 5Hz to 23 kHz
- Sensitivity (1mW): 97 dB SPL
- Calculated Max SPL: 124 dB SPL
- Connector: Gold-plated stereo 1/8” (3.5 mm)
- Volume Control: in cord, detachable
- Finish: Black impact resistant plastic
- Dimensions: 3.7” (94mm) x 10.5” (267mm) x 9.6” (244mm)
- Weight: 0.5 Lbs. (0.23Kg)