Three-way studio monitors: Part 2


KRK Rokit 10 G4 v Dynaudio Core 59

A wise audiophile once said: “ye cannae change the laws of physics, cap’n.” Sit down to design a full range cone speaker and nature repels the idea with force of an opposing neo magnet. As surely as iron filings order themselves at 80Hz on a piece of paper suspended over a speaker cone, your idealised point source finds itself drifting into the shape of a three-way not-any-longer-a-point source. Circles arrange themselves into hexagons; the audible spectrum divides logarithmically into (at least) three.

Ideally, in the world of cone transducers, you need four drivers:

  1. A rigid, inefficient, high excursion cone (or cones) of 12-24 inch for 20-80Hz bass;
  2. An efficient, low-excursion cone of 8-15 inches for the 50-300Hz range;
  3. A low-mass cone (or, preferably, dome) of 3-6 inches covering 300Hz to a crossover in the 3-5KHz range for an uninterrupted midrange
  4. A very low mass HF driver crossed at either 1KHz or 5KHz, flat to supersonic.

A set (two or more) of subwoofers, plus a three-way speaker: the classic cone recipe. Hard to integrate for near-field application, but for listening distances over 1m, there are few two-way speakers that aren’t improved by an extra driver, just as every full range speaker is best topped-and-tailed with reinforcements. It’s science. Science is quite popular in the normal world, but in AudioLand it hasn’t caught on.

Consider the traditionally unlistenable KRK Rokit range as a case in point. KRK’s most popular speakers are the 7 and 8-inch two-way models, run without subwoofers – a triumph of wrong-headedness. An eight inch driver has no business in the midrange, just as surely as a five inch driver is on a fool’s errand chasing bass. The crossover between an eight inch driver and a tweeter is almost impossible to pull off. Not singling out KRK, buyers flock to the equivalent ADAM, Focal, Genelec, Dynaudio, etc two-way eight inch models, seeking the moon on a stick.

If only KRK made a proper three-way . . . mais tiens! They do! And nobody’s interested. No-one buys it. No-one reviews it. And yet, I suggest that an active three-way speaker gets so much right simply by stating that as a design premise, it’s hard to get it wrong.

The Rokit 10 has an almost perfect progression of squares – 1, 4.5 and 10 inch drivers; it goes down to 26Hz and up to 40KHz. Its 300W of Class D amplification drives SPLs of up to 112dB. All its drivers are made of Kevlar. It has onboard DSP, and an app that helps you EQ it. It’s all this and only £400. Why are they not selling them by the skipload? More 2020 weirdness?

As I said, I’ve never been able to abide KRK monitors: more hi-fi (in the lo-fi sense) than hi-fi: bloaty ported faux-bass, coloured, recessed mids and a shrill, shapeless top end. But that’s old news. New kid Rich changed all that with G4. I don’t think it’s generally understood yet that the G4s are Almost Listenable, and that the Rokit 10 has shot up to the level of being Quite Good – for the price, even Scarily Adequate.

The first impression of the Rokit 10 is the rightness of its three way design: it sounds like a big speaker the way only big speakers can. Although it has that pushy KRK bass, it’s much more in balance with its overall response. The midrange is still a bit recessed, but it’s neutral and well delineated. The top end is civilised and unfatiguing. Altogether, it’s easy to sit in front of.

Each speaker needs different EQ because it sits in a different position in the room. At this trial placement/measurement position, I would have liked more control over the Rokit’s output, but engaging two of the take-it-or-leave-it presets nudged the frequency curve in the right direction and delivered slightly more accurate performance. The grisly dip at 200Hz is a room mode, not a crossover issue: any speaker placed there behaves similarly; which is why I don’t usually place a speaker there.

Canting the mid-tweet at 90° to horizontally mount the Rokit 10 was quick and painless and yielded noticeably worse measurements: the wide baffle createdchoppy treble response and aberrations not correctable in its internal DSP. But again, this is not unusual in speakers of this type: really there needs to be a whole different DSP profile to accommodate differences between horizontal and vertical mounting, but at the time of writing no-one offers such a facility, to the best of my knowledge.

Returned to vertical orientation, the Rokit 10 throws a generous soundstage: tall and wide, with a strong phantom centre. These are not hard to listen to. Compared not only to rival monitors, but to any way of spending £800 on amplification and speakers, these are seriously competitive.

What’s wrong with them to be so cheap? Mainly their sins are of omission, not commission. They remind me of a customer’s system I once enjoyed many years ago: big old Tannoys driven by a 300B amp. For half an hour I listened comfortably to unfamiliar tracks in an unfamiliar room on a selection of DACs that initially seemed a bit samey. I asked to play a track I knew. Suddenly I realised how much was simply not there.

The G4 KRK’s benefit from ignorance being bliss, which is about the most pretty damning praise you can heap on a studio monitor. You’re not usually conscious of what’s missing until it’s revealed by something better. And that’s why they’re cheap. You can illuminate  a recording by cranking the volume – and the Rokit 10’s are tremendously willing to do that: they have bags of headroom, and distortion doesn’t kick in until stupidly high SPL. But they don’t have the finesse to portray truthfully at low volume – not in terms of dynamic range, which is actually excellent, but in terms of detail retrieval. 

It’s all about price-point engineering: the drivers are good but not great and the amplification is powerful but not good. Most studio monitors have self-noise, but the KRK G4s are a little worse than average, which buries treble information in hash at low volumes. Idle hiss is audible at 2.5m. I guess it’s in the KRK DNA to play loud.

The 546 x 329 x 371mm cabinet seems to have a good balance of weight (16kg) to rigidity and doesn’t obviously colour the sound. The new rounded baffle engages magnetically with a reassuring clunk and seems to contribute to its excellent dispersion characteristics that create such an enveloping soundstage.

All told, there’s much more to like here than otherwise and at £400 (did I mention that?) I’m not sure we can legitimately complain about anything. Sonically, they have a character that is well suited to home listening sessions (about from the self-noise) or even small-scale PA work. As midfields, in a 2-3m triangle, at modest to high SPL, they’re built to impress, as long as you’re not scouring the recording for the Nth degree of resolution, which is largely absent. The app and EQ functionality is welcome, if a bit underpowered. They’re quite yellow, still. There’s nothing at the price to compare them with: if you’re looking for a big, powerful monitor at this price, they’re bigger and more powerful than anything on the market. On balance, I like them.

Dynaudio Core 59

But what do they have in common with the flagship Dynaudio Core model which landed in shops in late 2019 at just the wrong time to become famous?

They’re both powerful three-way monitors: similarly sized, Class D tri-amped and capable of 112dB, with rotatable mid/tweets allowing them to sit horizontally or vertically. They both have digital crossovers and user-selectable DSP presets. And they’re both completely off the radar. Both speakers get the occasional nudge on pro forums when posters start a new thread entitled “Has anyone heard the Dynadio Cores?” or “has anyone got those three-way Rokits?”, followed by a post a week later pleading “Anyone?”

What differences then? Or, some may ask, if the Dynaudio Core 59 is essentially the same monitor as the KRK Rokit 10, why is a pair £5000 more expensive? In fact, KRK quotes the LF output of the £400 Rokit 10 at 26Hz, and Dynaudio rates their £2700 Core 59 at 42Hz. What gives?

First, power. The trio of low-noise Pascal Class D modules in the Core 59 are rated at 1150W compared to the Rokit’s 300W of ID-scrubbed chip amps. Second: statistics. Dynaudio – and here I’m resisting the urge to racially stereotype the Danish – are scrupulous about their published specification. Frequency response figures are meaningless without qualification. Dynaudio claim the 3dB cutoff for the Core 59 is 42Hz, but also that between 31-36Hz the bass response is only 6dB down. KRK don’t similarly qualify their figure of 26dB – it could be 20dB down! You can see from the above curve that the Rokit 10 is XdB down at XHz, so perhaps their tolerance is 10dB. The bottom line is that the Core 59 goes lower, as this in-room response graph shows.

More importantly, in practice the Core 59’s power advantage gives it better controlled bass: grippier damping of a better driver. Stretching the comparison further than necessary, the Core 59 has a more powerful DSP engine, and the advantage of a digital AES3 input and throughput. It’s heavier (25kg vs 16kg): a function of more powerful voice coils and a better braced case. What price better drivers, more (and better) amplification, better DSP, added functionality in a better case? Naturally, better sound.

In fact, let’s abandon such a pointless comparison and consider how the Dynaudio fares against its natural competition at the £2-25K price point: the ADAM S Series (S3H and S3V), Focal Trio 6, HEDD Type 30, EVE SC30 and Neumann KH310. Equivalent PSI and Genelec models are effectively in another price bracket.

LISTENING IMPRESSIONS OF CORE 59

ADAM S3H ADAM S3V Dynaudio Core 59 Focal Trio 6 KRK Rokit 10 G4 Genelec 8331 AP
£2000 £1700 £2400 £1900 £450 £1800
           
           
           
           
           
           
           
           
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