KRK Systems VXT 8 Monitors
Review by: Scott Kahn
|Features Usability Sound Documentation & Product Support Price
Other Comments Contact Info Overall Rating—Product Summary
Studio monitors are among the most important components in any recording studio, and with projects studios and home studios commonly being used to record commercial material, the importance of recording and mixing with good studio monitors cannot be understated. But just what is it that makes one monitor better than the next?
Generally speaking, good studio monitors should deliver a relatively flat frequency response across a wide frequency spectrum, with clarity of sound that enables you to accurately monitor the finest details of the audio being recorded and/or mixed. The KRK Systems VXT 8 monitors certainly meet this definition.
But also critical in a good monitor system is one that minimizes fatigue. No, we’re not talking about the eight hours of sleep you should have gotten before today’s mix session, but hearing fatigue. Many monitors (and headphones, especially) are prone to tiring your ears sooner than others, forcing you to take a break from listening because the sound is so sharply defined and projected at your ears that it grows irritating to listen to audio through them after only a few hours (whether your music is emotionally pleasant is an entirely different issue). Again, this is an area where the VXT 8 monitors shine.
Last, we think that good monitors should have a fairly wide sweet spot: the mix position from which the monitors sound best. With some monitors, sitting just slightly outside of the sweet spot (to the side, back of the room, etc.) can significantly alter what you’re hearing, and sometimes, it’s nice to have multiple people listening to a mix and commenting on it. The VXT 8 delivered on this front, too, giving us plenty of space to move around and let other people listen in while mixing.
The VXT line sits in the middle of KRK’s product line, with the flagship Expose monitors priced beyond the reach of most project studios, and the Rokit series aimed at the home studio and entry-level recording market. For the pro-caliber project studio and smaller commercial facilities, the VXT 8 monitors deliver great sound that is easy on the ears for extended hours of work, and they should definitely be on your short list of monitors to consider. We liked them so much that we’ll be permanently outfitting at least one of our studios with them.
Any recording pro will tell you that you can’t buy monitors from audio specs alone — if you did, the comparison shopping might drive you nuts! First, you’d have to figure out just how much frequency response you need at the high end, and then whether or not you need a subwoofer at the low end. This would lead to questions of woofer size: is a five-inch woofer enough? A six-inch? An eight-inch? You’d begin to question why one expensive monitor didn’t have the same low-end response as a cheaper model, and so on.
For project studios not requiring (or desiring) a subwoofer in their mix setup, the VXT 8 offers a great solution featuring an eight-inch woofer made from woven Kevlar and a one-inch silk dome Ferrite tweeter. [Note: we don’t advise shooting bullets at the woofers as this will certainly void the warranty. Also, no ferrets were harmed in the manufacture of the tweeters.]
Frequency response from these powered monitors is an impressive 37 Hz to 22 kHz (+/- 1.5 dB). Sixty Watts of power feed the tweeter while a 120-Watt amp powers the woofer. The VXT 8 is rated at 111 dB continuous and 114 dB peak, and should be more than loud enough to rock a large control room.
The rear of the monitor includes a variety of switches to optimize speaker use in your studio. Besides volume control and a ground lift switch, a three-position High Frequency Adjust switch lets you set the tweeter +/- 1 dB, and the Low Frequency Adjust has three positions to adjust based on room size, providing a 3 dB cut at 40 Hz, 48 Hz, or 62 Hz. The switches are surrounded on three sides by plastic covers that help prevent accidental (or nefarious) adjustments. Certainly, in a commercial facility where clients might be tempted to casually flick switches when nobody is looking, you may find these covers a nice additional touch (though in our testing, we found them rather annoying).
An Auto-Mute switch (set On) silences the monitors when no source audio is detected at the input, and the Clip Indicator can be set to On, Off, or Limit.
Input is via a combination Neutrik XLR or ¼” TRS jack, and the power switch is also relegated to the rear (power is indicated on the front by illuminated KRK logos). We prefer front-mounted power switches, particularly for monitors used in a project studio where they have a tendency to be turned On and Off regularly.
The cabinet is constructed of ABS Structural Foam, a plastic-based polymer that provides for a tightly sealed, and front ported, cabinet. Rounded edges are designed to minimize reflections. Despite plastic weighing less than solid wood, the large VXT 8 monitors (with built-in power amps) weigh forty-one pounds apiece. Integrated Omni mounts allow for installation on walls, and a rubber grip on the bottom ensures solid, non-vibrating contact with your desk or monitor stand surface. The speakers are not intended for horizontal positioning.
When choosing studio monitors, don’t just go for the “big ones” hoping for more bass in the sound. You need to consider room size. Mixing in a spare bedroom, your low end would presumably be overpowered by eight-inch woofers in your monitors (for which there’s a VXT 6 and even-smaller VXT 4), but in a larger project studio space, you might ask yourself the same question we wrestle with in our studio: use monitors with five-to-six inch woofers paired with a subwoofer, or skip the sub and go with eight-inch speakers?
Installation of the VXT 8 monitors was straightforward — just plug them in (power) and connect a pair of audio cables from your mixer or DAW. After setting the various switches on the rear to suit our tastes and then calibrating our sound, we were ready to put them to use.
Having been using the same monitors for a few years at House on the Hill, the private testing studio where we conducted this particular review, it took a while for our ears to adjust to the radically different sound that the VXTs delivered compared to our other monitors, which only had six-inch woofers. Thankfully, the folks at KRK Systems let us hold on to the monitors for a couple of months — longer than a typical review period, but essential for getting to experience real-world use of these monitors. And after a week or two, we were very comfortable with the sound of the VXTs (but more on that in the next section, of course).
After a few months of regular use in recording and mixing rock music, the only thing we can really gripe about is the location of the power switch. In all other regards, these monitors were a pleasure to work with for hours on end. The VXT 8 is among the least fatiguing monitors we’ve worked with, so if you spend hours at a time working in your studio, the VXT 8s will be very friendly to your ears.
Not just your ears will benefit, though — your friends (or clients) will benefit, too! Another great aspect of the VXT 8 monitors is their especially wide sweet spot. It was very easy for multiple listeners to hear accurate playback of mixes and recordings in progress without having to sit directly at the mixing desk.
The KRK logo illuminates on the front baffle of the monitor when power is On, but in a well-lit studio like ours, we found it almost impossible to discern whether the monitors were On or Off from this indicator. In fact, we didn’t realize that the logo was even illuminated until reading about it in the manual! If you prefer “mood lighting” in your studio, though, you shouldn’t have trouble seeing the power indicator.
We used IK Multimedia’s ARC Advanced Room Correction System to calibrate the monitors to our room, and it wasn’t until after at least a week or two of using the monitors that we began to appreciate the beauty of their sound — our ears were still unlearning the sound of our old monitors, through which numerous projects were still in the midst of completion.
The eight-inch woofers delivered low frequency detail that was definitely absent from our smaller six-inch monitors, and the high-end response was crisp and clear without ever sounding harsh or brittle.
There was great clarity in our mixes throughout the monitors’ frequency range, and the intangible gut feelings a few of us had about the sound of the VXT 8s was to call their sound smooth, and perhaps, warm. In the way that vintage analog gear sometimes sounds warm compared to more sterile digital gear, the same could be said about the VXT 8s. The sound was warm and clear, and extremely easy to work with for hours on end. On the flip side, the larger woofers didn’t deliver quite the same level of punch in the low end that we’ve become accustomed to through smaller monitors, but that wouldn’t really qualify as a flat response, would it?
The final test that really earned these monitors our accolades: Mixes that we created in our project studio while tracking a new album for the progressive rock band, Days Before Tomorrow, translated beautifully when moved into a commercial facility for additional recording – no adjustments to levels or EQ were needed to experience a comparable sound from the commercial studio’s more costly monitoring system.
Documentation and Product Support
The documentation fully explained the VXT 8 features as well as providing guidance for speaker placement in your studio, connections, and use with or without a subwoofer.
The KRK Systems VXT 8 (MSRP $799 each) sell for approximately $600 each, a good (and typical) price for monitors targeting the upper end of the project studio or commercial facilities that don’t feel the need to spend for the next level up, which typically starts near $1,000 per speaker and goes well into the stratosphere if desired.
Although we haven’t put them through similar extensive testing, we have spent some time with the KRK Systems VXT 6 speakers in the home studio of one of our other editors, and though they lack the extended low-frequency response of the VXT 8, they are also great sounding speakers worthy of consideration for smaller spaces.
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