I've been using a pair of KRK 7000B speakers, driven by a Bryston 3B-ST power amp, as my nearfield monitors for a dozen years. I trust them and know them inside-out, but after working with higher-end monitors at other studios, I've been itching to move up a level or two. When Tape Op was offered the chance to review KRK's Expose E8B studio monitors, the company's newly minted flagship model, I pounced. I anticipated hearing what I'd liked about other KRK models, but better. The increased level of detail from the E8Bs was immediately apparent upon setup, and I anticipated more good surprises as I grew more familiar. What could possibly be not to love?
Heavy metal poisoning, perhaps. Upon opening each carton, I found an ominous warning on blood red paper, stating that the aluminum beryllium material in each tweeter should never come into contact with any part of the human body (think of the possibilities). While gazing through the removable plastic covers at the deadly tweeters, I carefully placed the E8Bs on my monitor pedestals and left them playing to break in for a few days, in order to hear whether their initial brightness might mellow. To my ears, they did so, but just a touch.
The monitors might also be easier to love if I were more of a bodybuilder. At 67 lbs each, it wasn't trivial to swap these monitors with the 7000Bs for A/B comparison. If you put them up, you'll want to love them and leave them where they belong. The E8B's base features a dense rubber pad to avoid slipping and aid acoustic decoupling. Similar to my old passive monitors, this powered system features a 1" inverted-dome tweeter centered above an 8" kevlar driver and a port. The application produces very different sounding results, however. The top end of the E8B's aluminum beryllium tweeter is expanded well above that of the 7000B's kevlar tweeter or even the E8T's titanium tweeter. The top-end clarity is also improved compared to monitors like the Genelec 1031As I used when assisting at Doug McBride's Gravity Studios in Chicago. (Doug has since pledged devotion to his Barefoot MM27s.) The E8B uses two discrete, 120 Watt Class A/AB power amps-one each for HF and LF. Signal is received through balanced XLR input.
The E8B cabinet is distinctive and stylized, and instantly recognizable as part of the KRK family of studio monitors. Some have compared its look to the pod from the 1986 version of The Fly, starring Jeff Goldblum, so your mileage may vary in terms of aesthetic pleasure. The shell design isn't just for looks, though. The radiused edges and grilling around the speaker face help to produce a larger sweet spot, which provided some noticeable and welcome freedom of movement during critical listening.
For a familiar point of reference, I pulled up a recent mastering session for Aurora, IL-based chamber pop duo Willowfair. Their songs run the gamut from minimalist treatment featuring only vocal and piano, to songs with string quartet and Tom Waits-styled kitchen-sink percussion, and wall-of-sound band arrangements. The monitors provided new insight into Ryan Bibza's vocals. Improved clarity made it easier to hear the characteristics of the large live room at Back Third Audio, where the project was recorded. They also revealed a smidgen of click track bleeding from headphones into the room mics as one track faded. The low strings remained warm, while it was easier to distinguish separation between the bottom end provided by cellos, electric bass, and large, tuned floor toms. The grand piano sounded lifelike -full-bodied and rich during Mandy Bibza's classically-inspired left-hand ostinatos, and airy up top. Switching back to the 7000Bs sounded boxy by comparison.
A series of controls on the E8B's rear panel offer commendable flexibility (HF Shelf, HF Level Adjust, LF Adjust). Flat settings are tuned to performance similar to the E8X, though the E8B's lows are targeted a bit lower. KRK intends to eventually include a feature on its website in which different tunings are shown for matching the E8B to legacy speakers within the KRK family. It would be interesting to learn whether I could treat these such that they match the old 7000Bs. I couldn't match the 7000B with my attempts, but I did find that in my room, the E8B benefited from rolling the HF Shelf back -0.5 dB and HF Level Adjust by -1.0 dB.
The E8B's extra-stiff 8" dual-layer Kevlar woofer boasts being the lowest distortion 8" woofer on the planet, about 0.05% THD at 100 dB SPL. With range stretching down to 40 Hz, it's not a necessity to rely on a subwoofer to provide detail at the bottom end, which has been necessary with the 7000Bs. Though I've been careful not to hype the bottom end in my room with my subwoofer, I did initially feel that the bottom had dropped away when first listening to the E8Bs. Once I'd spent a week without a subwoofer in either system, I found the E8B's bass response to be smooth, tight and honest.
To try the E8Bs with a favorite commercial release, I listened to "Ascension Day" from Talk Talk's Laughing Stock and felt like I was hearing the truth. (I still love those Phill Brown memoirs published in Tape Op a few years ago and was glad he continued them long enough to cover his work on this album.) This song alone ranges from near silence to massive chaos and clamor. Lee Harris's cymbal work is sparkly in the foreground, and slashing guitars are assertive and visceral. The acoustic double bass and kick drum sound unaffected, though less prominent than what I've trained myself to hear. I'd probably like to augment these speakers ever so slightly with a subwoofer for this kind of listening, though I don't think that should be necessary for powered monitors of this caliber.
The monitors proved invaluable when I opened a live mixing session for my roots-rock band Ping. Though the raw tracks suffered with an overall murkiness as initially heard on the 7000Bs, the E8B's greater distinction helped find a better balance between the two electric guitars, acoustic guitar, and organ, and also defined space for the male/female vocals and violin. A couple of guitar tracks had been run through an enhancer to compensate for perceived dullness or lifelessness, but the E8Bs revealed the effect to be shrill and brittle.
After remixing one of the tracks through the E8Bs, I made changes that I felt translated better to other systems, both of the audiophile and cheapskate variety. I found the monitors to be accurate above all, and not flattering. I'm convinced that the Exposes could help me to be a better friend to my own mastering engineer. Ultimately, I find the KRK Expose E8Bs to be revealing and possessing impressive clarity. If there's anything to criticize, it's that I expected more from their bottom end, and that I might expect to find them more fatiguing than I'm accustomed to if I used them for some seriously long days of mixing.
($5995 pair MSRP; www.krksys.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.