We all know that KRK make a superb range of studio speakers in the form of their Rokit and VXT range; heck, I was seduced by a pair of KRK RP8s when I was at university after hearing my friend producing bass-heavy tracks through his own set! However, their KNS range of headphones present an unexplored territory for me so I thought that I'd jump right on in and test them out to see how they fare.
The first thing that struck me when I listened to both sets of KNS headphones was just how much of a 'KRK'-sound they have. Now, I was fully aware before I heard them that they had been purposefully designed in this way, to replicate the sound of KRK's professional VXT monitors, but nonetheless, I was still surprised at how accurately the KRK sound had been translated into headphone format.
For those of you that haven't heard a set of KRK monitors before and so aren't familiar with what the 'KRK sound' is, I would certainly advise demoing a pair if possible. We have a whole range of studio monitors (including KRK) on show in our purpose-built monitor auditioning room (designed by acoustician Andy Munro) in our Bournemouth pro-music superstore (CLICK HERE for more information) so feel free to pop in! In the meantime though, I'll attempt to describe the sonic character of KRK speakers in my own words...
I'm going to start by stating where KRK Rokit monitors are at their most popular and this is with the home DJ and dance music producer. This in itself should provide a clue to their inherent sound.
Essentially, KRK monitors have a sound that in my opinion, replicates the effect of big club PA systems, whilst providing more detail in key areas for detailed mixing. All KRK monitors have a superb bass response for their size, which makes them a good option for producers of bass heavy music that don't have the budget for an additional sub. I also find that KRK monitors have a prominent mid-range response, although to my ears, the Rokit models are a little less bright than other monitors in the same price range. To me, this fact makes them less suited as a primary monitor for mixing predominantly acoustic music, although I would certainly recommend them as a secondary reference set of speakers in this instance due to the different perspective that they will give on your mix.
Whilst Rokit monitors provide a great solution for the price, the KRK VXT range offers a noticeable improvement in sound quality, offering a brighter response whilst retaining that characteristic big bass, which gives KRK speakers what I would describe as a 'warm' sound. This makes them a more versatile monitoring option, coupled with the fact that they are also more revealing in the mids than the Rokits... you'll notice little clicks and details in recordings with the VXTs that the Rokits would have hidden.
Anyway, this is a headphone review right, not a monitor review? Correct! Well, in my opinion, the KRK KNS 6400 does a superb job at replicating the sound of a set of VXT6 monitors, whereas the KNS 8400 have a slightly deeper bass response in order to accurately replicate the sound of the larger VXT8s.
I think that having such an inherent character makes the KNS headphones what I would describe as a 'Marmite' product; you're either going to love or hate them! Having already tried to describe the sound of VXT monitors, which also accurately describes the KNS headphones, I'm now going to attempt to advise on what I think are the pros and cons of these cans and predict what types of musician would want them and who might be better off looking elsewhere.
So, the easiest place to start is with those that are already familiar with the KRK sound. This may sound obvious given what I've already said, but if you've heard any KRK monitor before, whether it be from the Rokit or VXT range, and you like their sound, then I can confidently state that you're going to be a fan of KRK KNS headphones. Given their popularity, I think that this is going to include a rather wide range of people, but if you lie outside of this growing group and KRK monitors aren't your cup of tea... well... probably best to look elsewhere!
If you already own a set of KRK monitors then a set of either KNS 6400s or KNS 8400s will serve to provide a consistent mixing platform in and out of your studio. Whilst referencing your mix on different systems is an essential part of achieving that perfect mix, most people will find that they work best by firstly coming up with a mix that they are happy with on a tried and tested system with a familiar sound. As all speakers have slightly (and sometimes substantially) different characteristics, knowing what professionally mixed songs should sound like on your system is going to help you a great deal in achieving the same standard of work. Therefore, if for whatever reason you consistently find yourself jumping between creating music on your speakers and your headphones, it makes sense to have a set-up that gives you consistent sound throughout. Maybe you mix in an environment that doesn't have the luxury of being able to blast out sound at all times of the day and night? Or maybe you are prone to taking your studio on the road with a laptop/iOS device? Whatever your situation, if you're chopping and changing between monitors and headphones during the initial mix stages then consistency will certainly pay.
As a working example, my primary monitors are Focal CMS65s and I use Audio Technica ATH-M50s as my main studio headphones. I tend to find that whilst I find both my monitors and headphones lovely and detailed, my headphones have a noticeably more prominent bass response. Whilst I now find this extremely useful for sorting out minor problems in the bass range, when I first got the headphones I attempted a late-night first mix of a track that I had been working on that week (using the ATH-M50s of course so as not to disturb anyone else in the house). As I was more familiar with the sound of my Focals, the bassier headphones sounded unnatural to me and so I found that I ended up making poor mix decisions, mainly by lowering the levels of the bass elements. When I listened back to my mix through my CMS65s the next day, what I was greeted with was a weak sounding track with very little bass presence. Lesson learned(!) and whilst I am now much more familiar with how tracks 'should' sound through my headphones, which allows me to make much more accurate mix decisions, the fact remains that working with a consistent and familiar sound certainly helps when it comes to producing the best mix possible.
I would say that if you currently own a pair of KRK Rokit monitors then the KNS headphones will also have the added benefit of being more revealing in the mid and upper frequencies, which will help you to make more reliable mixing decisions without confusing you with a sound that differs from what you're used to. As I said, in my opinion KNS headphones are very similar to having a little portable set of VXT monitors that fit over your ears!
Now, who probably won't like KNS headphones? I have to admit that there are headphones out there that have what I would describe as a more natural sound so I can't help thinking that producers of acoustic and orchestral music would be better served with something else (despite their bass presence I find that the Audio Technica ATH-M50s are great for this type of thing). As I've said before, the KRKs certainly have their own characteristics, which makes them ideal for producing club music as they seem to highlight the elements of your track that are most prominent in most modern dance music, which allows you to create really big and in-your-face mixes that translate well to radio and club playback. Their tendency to push you to make 'big' mixes also makes them great for aggressive rock producers.
However, if this isn't your bag and you're more concerned with producing delicate tracks with minimal bass content and lots of intricate little details then whilst it's still worth demoing a pair of KNS headphones should you get the opportunity, I would personally prefer to work with something with less character (such as the ATH-M50s), which isn't always nudging you towards a beefy, high impact mix.
In terms of the build, both the KNS 6400 and KNS 8400 headphones have a very lightweight design. Coupled with the memory-foam that sits on the underside of the headband and ears, this makes them a very comfortable headphone to wear. Despite their lightweight, comfortable design, they cling to your ears very nicely, meaning that they are good at both blocking out any environmental sounds and preventing sound leakage.
Both the KNS 6400s and KNS 8400s have ear cups that can rotate, allowing the headphones to fit to the curvature of your head, which is especially handy for DJs or performers that prefer to keep one ear free when recording. It's also worth noting that both have detachable and replaceable cables, which I think is a great feature. If the cable goes, you don't have to get a new pair of headphones - just buy another cable!
So, to sum up, KRK KNS headphones provide a detailed studio mixing solution for those that are a fan of that characteristic sound. If you're used to hearing tracks through a KRK system then KNS headphones will serve as a great all-round headphone no matter what genre you're working with. Also, if you want a set of headphones that will push you towards creating BIG-sounding mixes, then you should definitely check out a pair of these! However, if producing delicate tracks is the name of your game then you'll probably find that there's stuff out there that will suit you better.
As I said, as with all KRK stuff, you're probably either going to love them or hate them. Luckily for KRK, given the popularity of their monitor range, there are plenty of people out there that can't get enough of that KRK sound!
A WORD ON VRM
If you've already got a pair of headphones whose sound you like, but sometimes want that characteristic KRK sound to tickle you into producing ultra hard-hitting mixes, then I feel it's worth mentioning Focusrite's VRM Box. This handy little gadget provides you with a selection of virtual mixing environments, allowing you to mix through your headphones as if you were sitting in front of a pair of speakers. This means that despite wearing headphones, you hear the effects of room acoustics and prevent the severe, unnatural left/right panning effect that you would normally get when mixing through a pair of cans. CLICK HERE to sample it for yourself - it's a great concept!
With VRM (also available as a built-in feature of the Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP Firewire interface), you can choose to mix in a bedroom, home studio or professional studio environment and what's more is that you can mix and match between a selection of virtual speakers, including KRK VXTs! Now I'm not saying that the VRM Box is a direct replacement for good monitor speakers. Indeed, to get the best results from it, you need to own a good pair of headphones with a neutral response. However, it's a superb way to reference your mix through multiple systems to put the finishing touches to a track and whilst there isn't a substitute for the real things, it does give you a way of achieving a non-permanent KRK sound.
The VRM Box is also available in a money-saving bundle with KRK KNS headphones for those that favour the KRK sound but want additional ways to reference their mix in order to achieve the best track possible.