FIG. 1: The VXT6''s cabinet design helps give this monitor its accurate imaging.
KRK's new VXT studio monitor series includes three internally amplified models. The VXT6, the subject of this review, is a hefty 27-pound biamped close-field monitor with a 1-inch silk-dome tweeter, a 6-inch woven Kevlar woofer, and a sleek molded enclosure with no corners or right angles (see Fig. 1).
The VXT6 has numerous rear-panel adjustments for tuning its response and performance (see Fig. 2). A row of toggle switches at the top of the panel offers options for ground lifting, peak limiting/clipping indication, and automuting in the absence of an audio signal. (LEDs on the front of the speaker show the status of the amplifier peak limiting/clipping indication functions, when engaged.)
An HF EQ switch provides three equalization options: flat, -1 dB, and +1 dB (above 1 kHz). The LF adjust control — a 3-position switch marked whole (normal), quarter, and half — varies the monitor's low-end response below 200 Hz. The system level-adjust pot controls a range of input gain from -30 to +6 dB. Plastic covers protect all the toggle switches from getting bumped when you reach behind the speaker.
Also located on the rear panel are a Neutrik combo jack with XLR and ¼-inch TRS inputs, an IEC AC power connector, an on/off switch, and a switch for 110/220 VAC. The manual is thorough and well written, supplying explanations for all adjustments as well as a variety of setup and troubleshooting options.
With the Program
Installing the VXT6 monitors was quick and easy, with all rear-panel controls clearly marked and fairly self-explanatory. One drawback is the level-adjust trim pot, which has a very small black shaft and is hard to see, even in good light. However, this will be a set-it-and-forget-it adjustment for most users.
I appreciated the cabinet's rounded look, which provides sonic benefits such as randomizing reflections off the cabinet's surface to improve imaging. The nonslip foam-padded base is a thoughtful touch that is effective for reducing resonance when the monitor is placed on a shelf or speaker stand. Omnimount screw sockets are also provided in the base.
Once the KRK active monitors were connected and positioned for close-field use, I auditioned a variety of recordings I had engineered myself. Throughout the audition process, I compared the VXT6s with my standard control-room speakers — passive Event 20/20s and Tannoy PBM 8s — which run off an Adcom amplifier and are supplemented by a custom subwoofer. The KRKs were used with flat EQ, no limiting, and were also paired with the subwoofer during testing. The system level pot was set to +2 dB to match the level of the passive monitors.
The first thing I noticed on the KRK monitors was their amazingly sharp stereo imaging: the precise panning placement was so clear that it was a little hard to adjust to. I had never experienced this kind of imaging precision in my control room before, with obvious spatial gradations occurring in between my normal one o'clock/two o'clock panning increments.
FIG. 2: The switches for EQ, clip indication, and automute are protected by covers so that they can''t be accidentally changed.
I also noticed right off the bat that the test monitors had an enhanced midrange detail that I initially liked, even though this characteristic seemed excessive and unbalanced compared with the midrange-rich Event monitors. On a CD of alt-country ballads and up-tempo rockers I was auditioning — Val Esway's Reason to Believe — the VXT6 pushed the acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, and electric guitar to the foreground, but diminished airiness on the vocals, snare, and reverb tails compared with the Events. The KRK speakers were also a touch more sibilant compared with both sets of passive speakers.
On the other hand, the VXT6s were more revealing and detailed across the board than the Events, highlighting nuances in room sound, vocals, and occasional noise or distortion artifacts that I hadn't noticed before. On a pop-oriented number, the electric guitar and vocals were harsher around 3 kHz than I remembered them being on a number of other real-world speaker systems. Loud cymbal crashes were also more brittle on the KRKs compared with what I was used to hearing in these mixes. Overall, I found the KRK monitors to be much more complementary and listenable during the softer material on Esway's CD. But the rock numbers were too edgy for my taste, and slightly fatiguing to the ears after about 30 minutes of listening.
While auditioning a jazz-oriented studio sampler CD, I appreciated the depth and detail of the VXT6 pair's solid bass and how it conveyed the room sound. On a handful of these jazz tracks, the cymbals were again too bright in the upper mids for my taste, as were some saxes and brass instruments. But all in all, the jazz material was smooth and easy on the ears over the KRK monitors.
In the Mix
Those of you who have done a lot of mixing know that there is an inverse relationship between monitor coloration and the resulting mixes. For example, audiophile-type speakers with a lot of glossy high end sound great for listening but can yield mixes that are dull or lackluster. After the initial auditions with the VXT6, my concern was that they exaggerated elements — upper midrange, reverb, bass — that could, in turn, end up being underrepresented in a mix. The lack of high-end air could also lead engineers to boost the upper frequency range, although some of that compensation is often desirable, especially for pop music. So I set out to put these issues to the test with some mixing comparisons.
“What Do I Do,” a Beatles-influenced track by the band Casino Royale, was a good test for mixing on the KRK monitors. This is a dense up-tempo track with a conventional rhythm section, as well as a busy midrange crowded with a bright Farfisa organ, a baritone sax, trumpets, and female vocals. I mixed a version of the song on the VXT6s, took a short break to clear my ears, and returned to mix it again on my Event 20/20s. There were no changes in panning or channel EQ between the two versions. On the Event monitors, I lowered the level of the horns, organ, and lead vocal, as well as the bass, which seemed much easier to hear on this monitor pair. I also nudged the faders up on the kick drum, rhythm guitar, and drum room mic.
When comparing the second mix on both sets of control room speakers with the subwoofer on, I found that the VXT6s were much more sizzly in the highs and delivered much more kick drum. This contributed to a feeling of the mix being hotter without any actual level changes. The Event speakers were smoother and less fatiguing, with a midrange perspective that felt more trustworthy to my ears.
Listening back over the Dynaudio BM15 monitors in my mastering room, I felt that the Event mix was better balanced overall, with a more satisfactory kick/bass blend. In the midrange there was plenty of organ, even after pulling the level down, and a more equitable organ/guitar relationship. However, the KRK pair worked better for getting the vocal placement right. On the other hand, when mixing on the VXT6 monitors, the bass overshadowed the kick drum, and the organ and horns were too loud despite my worries about undermixing these midrange instruments.
After spending time with the VXT6s, engineer Bart Thurber, who shares my studio, found that the monitors were a good choice for tracking for his types of projects — mostly rock and punk — because the monitors allowed him to hear plenty of detail while recording. But he also felt that the monitors were not comfortable for mixing, due primarily to their forward midrange and prominent highs.
Thurber also noted an unevenness in the response around 120 Hz, which he described as a hole in the bass range, making it difficult to balance electric bass and kick drum. After my mixing experience, I concurred with him. Thurber also took the initiative to attenuate the highs, setting the HF switch to -1. This adjustment effectively dulled the brittleness but did not eliminate it.
Sound and Vision
Although the KRK VXT6 has a distinctive sound that takes some getting used to, it does have a lot going for it, including crystal-clear imaging, excellent detail and resolution, and an eye-catching modern look that delivers real sonic benefits. The quality of KRK's electronics and design is apparent, and it results in clean, undistorted audio that is in keeping with the monitor's price point (the street price is less than $1,000 a pair). Although my taste in monitors definitely leans toward a smoother, flatter sound, I could get accustomed to the VXT6 voicing for mellower styles such as jazz and classical music, or for the work of singer-songwriters.
Myles Boisen is the head engineer at Guerrilla Recording in Oakland, California. He can be reached through his Web site atwww.mylesboisen.com.
$599 each (MSRP)
AUDIO QUALITY 3 VALUE 3
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Excellent imaging and detail. Range of useful EQ and other adjustments. High-quality electronics and design. Padded base.
CONS: Prominent midrange. System level-adjust pot is difficult to see.