At HOFA-College, we often get asked which studio speakers we’d recommend. Each one of our tutors has their own opinion here, of course. We sat down in our control room and tested different models and compared them to each other. We wanted to cover a certain price range in this test.
Hopefully you’re just as excited as we were.
A modern bestseller (KRK) faces off with a good allrounder. Can the budget KRK speaker prevail against the much more expensive Neumann speakers?
The large Genelec speakers face off against the small Neumann speakers. Which features are more impressive?
We made sure that there are no level differences during testing. In the second test run we tried to optimise the sound of the speakers with the built in equalisers.
A comparison at eye level? The Neumann KH 120 and the Adam A7X are in a similar price range, therefore we expect a close battle. However, there are significant differences.
The Yamaha HS series are reminiscent of the legendary NS-10. Can this cheaper variation follow in the footsteps of their famous role models?
The KS Digital are the most expensive speakers in our test. How is this higher price justified?
We decided to test the following speakers:
At first we want to say, that we did not want to make the test too technical. If you expect exact numbers about performance, radiation pattern or size, you should check the manufacturer’s websites and get the information there. We were interested in the subjective impressions of experienced audio engineers. Let’s talk about the test setup.
We’ve used the monitor outputs A and B of an SSL console. We’ve compared their frequency response with an analyser in order to make sure they are comparable. For the first test run, all speaker settings were flat. In the second test run, we’ve tried to optimise each speaker with the built in EQs. We were interested in the frequency response, impulse behaviour, as well as the spatiality and depth of the different models. We’ve also taken emotions into account, i.e. a sense of well-being while listening to the speakers.
Since we like the Neumann speakers a lot upon first hearing them, we decided to use them as a reference. Later in the test we also compared different speaker combinations - depending on the engineer’s interests. In order to test the speakers, we’ve used songs that are very familiar to us (reference tracks) in different genres. We’ve chosen six songs at 44.1 kHz and 16 bit.
The reference songs were:
The Yamaha HS series is optically reminiscent of the legendary NS-10, that was used to mix countless hit records. But can the cheaper HS 7 stand up?
First off, the NS-10 were very popular, but they weren’t great in many aspects: the frequency response is not very linear, the impulse behaviour and depth isn’t great. However, if you could realise a great mix on NS-10s, the result often sounded great on other systems as well.
Let’s talk about the HS 7. We’ve noticed that this speaker lacks bass and has very emphasised, almost sharp, high frequencies. This colouration leads to an inhomogeneous sound as well as an unbalanced overall impression. These speakers don’t have a great spatiality and depth. Due to the relatively small price, we did not have high expectations. However, we can’t recommend these speakers without reservations. Without an additional subwoofer, it’s almost impossible to evaluate low frequencies.
The KRK RP6 RoKit G3 are a bestseller in the lower price range. That’s reason enough to take a closer look at this speaker. When we first listened to it, we noticed a pretty balanced frequency response, however, the higher frequencies could be more emphasised. You quickly want to use the EQ to boost the highs, because the tweeter sounds a little underwhelming. The bass response is much more pronounced compared to the HS 7, however, it sounds a bit muddy and undefined. Therefore, the impulse behaviour isn’t very linear. Similar to the HS 7, we don’t really hear a lot of spatiality and a lack of depth. This means that the music is not adequately represented on the stereo base. The RoKit 6 sound a lot more present than the HS 7, but we should not expect a perfect all-rounder in this price segment. However, this speaker is a good tool for beginners and a great acoustic foundation to start mixing.
The Adam A7X feature a balanced frequency response, however, it’s a little unpronounced and flat in the highs. The bass response is very punchy but also overemphasised. The speakers sound very very massive. This results in a sound that is quite pleasing due to the bass response, but it’s very undefined and there’s quite a bit of frequency masking. Lower mid and upper bass signals don’t have a very precise impulse fidelity. Therefore the bass range is rather muddy. The depth in the upper mids however, was quite impressive. The tonal control of the speakers make it sound like a hi-fi speaker (smiley face EQ). The equaliser is not suitable to compensate for the lack of high frequencies. The speakers were more suitable for rock music compared to electronic or classical music.
The Neumann KH 120A were very surprising in many aspects. Although they are quite small, the frequency response is pretty linear. The very detailed depth in the upper mids is impressive. Especially vocals sound very pleasing. The bass response is pretty moderate, but a little muddy in the low end. This is not very surprising, since the speakers can only reproduce bass as low as 52 Hz. We really liked the depth and the distribution of the music in the stereo field. The instrumentation is not as separated when it comes to classical music, as is the case with the KS Digital speakers, but the orchestra still sounds very realistic. The impulse behaviour sounds very balanced in the upper mids, e.g. with percussion and guitars. This is a great all-rounder in this price range, that does not need to hide from more expensive speakers.
The Genelec 1031 A were built until 2005 and are a real studio classic. We really like the linear frequency response and the impressive depth in the mid range. Due to the high output power you can listen to very loud levels. Although the speakers look like they’d have a large bass response, it’s rather quite moderate in reality. The impulse behaviour is very good - but not as clear as is the case with the Neumann KH 120A. This speaker shows us that a lot has happened in speaker development over the last few years. However, if you can find a used speaker at a great price, it’s definitely recommended. The 120 Watts output power are very well suited for larger control rooms that can handle or even require a louder volume.
The KS Digital ADM22 have a very linear frequency response, however the highs are sometimes not brilliant enough. The mid range had a very good and balanced spatiality. The depth was especially impressive with percussive signals. The impulse behaviour of this speaker is great. The 180 Watts and maximum sound pressure level of 122 dB can reproduce very loud volumes and therefore are suitable for large control rooms. The high frequency boost in the second test run was not sufficient and made these speakers sound more like top-of-the-range hi-fi speakers. If you’re interested in monitors in this price range, you should definitely test them thoroughly.
It’s conclusion time. We don’t want to give you a final evaluation of the tested speakers. We want to tell you, that you should not rely on test results or descriptions from friends or colleagues. You should rather go to a shop and listen to the speakers and compare them. Of course, you should have some reference songs with you, that you know very very well. We found some surprises in our tests and actually thought we’d get different results. However, some results were absolutely expected.
A very crucial point is that the music you want to produce or mix should simply sound “great” on these monitor speakers. If you always have to mix “against” the speakers, in order to get a great result, it might just not be the right speaker setup. It’s very convenient to have an analyser at hand, if your monitor setup can’t reproduce the bass range well enough.
We hope this test encouraged you to thoroughly test speakers in a store, so you don’t rely on the ears of other people when you make your decision.