First Listen: KRK Systems KNS 8400 Professional Headphones

KRK KNS 8400
First Listen: KRK Systems KNS 8400 Professional Headphones

If you’ve logged much time, as I must confess that I have, haunting the aisles of local music stores (Guitar Centers, and the like), then odds are that you’ve had exposure to KRK Systems—a firm perhaps best known for its Rokit-series self-powered desktop monitoring speakers. And truth to tell, those little Rokit monitors have not only found favor among home recording studio enthusiasts; they’ve also garnered favorable commentary from the high-end audio press (in fact, one of the Rokit models received a favorable review in The Absolute Sound from my colleague Neil Gader a few years back). Given the popularity of, and acclaim won by, KRK’s monitor speakers, it was perhaps inevitable for the firm to take the plunge into the world of professional, monitoring-type headphones.

At present, KRK offers two models of self-proclaimed “Professional Headphones”: the KNS 6400 (which is more or less the standard model), and the KNS 8400 (which is the deluxe model). Playback has obtained some review samples of the KNS 8400, and I’ve begun to familiarize myself with them, which led to jot down my initial impressions in this blog. But first, some background is in order.

KNS 8400 Professional Headphone highlights:

•The KNS 8400 is KRK Systems’ flagship headphone, and it is a closed-back, circum-aural design that uses traditional, piston-type dynamic drivers.
•List pricing for the KNS 8400 is $249.99, though “street pricing” is roughly 60% of that sum (talk about deep discounts!).
•KRK reminds would-be buyers early and often that “KRK has always been focused solely on accurate monitoring” and that therefore “KRK headphones provide incredible natural frequency response.”
•40mm driver with Neodymium magnets and copper-plated aluminum voice-coil wires.
•Special composition ear-cup pads (using “acoustic memory foam”) said to provide excellent long-term comfort and a high degree (up to 30 dBA) of noise isolation.
•Wide frequency response: 5Hz – 20kHz
•High sensitivity: 97 dB @ 1mW
•High long-term power handling: 500mW per side
•Fold-flat ear cups that swivel 90 degrees to the side.
•8.2’ detachable signal cable that features gold-plated 1/8” and ¼” connectors, plus 99.99% pure OFC conductors. Interestingly, the cable features a snap-fit, twist-to-lock connector that makes it all but impossible to pull the cable out of the ear cup once it is installed.
•An included volume control module that can be inserted in-line between the main signal cable and the headphone.


The Sound

At the moment, I’m still in the “getting to know you” phase of things with the KNS 8400, but thus far my reactions have been a decidedly mixed bag.


Pro’s (thus far):

•Lively and highly articulate sound, with plenty of definition.
•This would be an easy headphone through which to discern possible problems in recordings (though it might make those problems a little too obvious for its own good).
•Easy to drive.
•Plays loudly on demand (though the sound becomes noticeable more ragged at higher listening level—levels I frankly wouldn’t recommend except for very brief test periods, just to probe the headphone’s dynamic limits).
•Light and comfortable to wear.
•As advertised, there is a good (though not staggeringly good) amount of noise isolation on offer.
•Twist-lock detachable signal cable is a clever design that works beautifully.


Con’s (thus far):

•The headphone offers a bright, midrange/treble-forward sound with surprisingly limited  or "lean-sounding" mid-bass and low-bass support.
•Frankly, I don't think that the KNS 8400 entirely lives up to KRK's claim that these are "Studio Monitors For Your Ears." The main reason why this is so is that these 'phones sound significantly more bass-shy than many I’ve heard—including (most notably) the Capitol Recording Studios-certified Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitors. To be fair, this could be a case where the headphone measures "flat" (or nearly so), while sounding--from a psycho-acoustic standpoint--as if its mid- and low-bass are shelved downward a good bit. Thus, if you listen to the KNS 8400 alongside other good professional monitoring 'phones in its price class (for example, the Shure SRH840), the KRK turns out to offer much more lightly weighted bass and a leaner and more "austere" presentation overall.   
•While these headphones can, as promised, play quite loudly, they do not sound entirely graceful while doing so. At elevated volume levels, a certain raggedness or shrillness enters the picture—letting you know the headphone isn’t really happy about being pushed so hard.


For now, I plan to take a “wait and see” approach to learn whether the KNS 8400, like some high performance loudspeakers I’ve heard, will begin to sound smoother and better balanced as it accumulates playing time. Time will tell.

I’ll keep you posted as I learn more. Watch for a full Playback review several issues from now. Until then, happy listening.

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