For all that three is the magic number when it comes to speaker design, three-way monitors don’t sell at this price point. These models are unloved, languishing at the bottom of the sales charts within their range. And yet, they are palpably better in every way than their smaller siblings – and still very affordable.
Home studios on a budget typically constrain buying choices to two small boxes on a desk. The merits of having free, integrated, dual ‘subwoofers’ are undeniable, but neither model coheres at short range (under 1m), and they’re both noisy – making them only suitable for mid-field – which is also the 2-4m listening triangle typical of living rooms. Are either recommendable to bargain-hunting audiophiles? Or need only pros apply?
|Kali IN8: £325||KRK Rokit 10-3 G4: £425|
8-inch poly-coated paper woofer
|10-inch Kevlar woofer
4-inch Kevlar mid-range
1-inch Kevlar tweeter
|Crossovers: 330 / 3300Hz|
|Class D Amplification: 40W + 40W + 60W||Class D amplification: 75W + 75W + 150W|
|Slot-ported MDF cabinet (10.4kg)
|Slot-ported MDF cabinet (15.9kg)
|Frequency Range: 37-21K Hz (±10dB)
45-21K Hz (±3dB)
|Frequency Range: 26-40K Hz (±10dB)|
|Max SPL: 114dB @1m||Max SPL: 112dB|
|Inputs: XLR, TRS, RCA||Inputs: TRS, XLR|
|EQ: up to 3dB shelving and correction for desk and wall placement via DIP switches.||EQ: Shelving and correction via DSP control panel. iOS and Android app.|
|Hiss Ranker: 733 at 0dB (16dB peaks)||Hiss Ranker: 674 at 0dB (19dB peak)|
The KRK immediately seems to justify its extra cost with more of everything: it’s 50% heavier, almost twice as powerful and more than double the physical volume of the Kali. It has greater bass reach. It has extravagantly radiused bumpers, and the mid-section rotates to facilitate horizontal positioning. It has a large screen on the rear with access to volume and DSP functions. And there’s an app with a raft of handy setup features. There’s a lot to like here: the big Rokit is a solid package: the ABS front panel detaches and reattaches with a hefty magnetic clack and there’s a lot of KRK yellow on view. You can’t deny the G4 is a step up in all directions from the G3s.
By contrast, the Kali feels positively Dutch minimal. Nesting the soft dome tweeter in the mid-dome has resulted in a much smaller form factor. The rear has only a nail-splitting section of DIP switches, and the power-up rocker switch is so close to the IEC inlet that, with a chunky power cable, you can turn it on, but not easily off. There are clues this is a first generation product. Edges are barely rounded, but the flat black wrap gels visually with the satin-black drivers to give a sleek, purposeful vibe.
But, once you get into it, impressions reverse somewhat: the Kali has an extra input (rocking an RCA). Its DIP switches allow up to 3dB correction, whereas the KRK only permits ±2dB, and actually there are more – and more powerful – permutations possible in that unassuming blue panel that via the KRK’s fancy digital display. The Kali doesn’t have a rotatable fascia, but then again it IS a rotatable fascia: the midrange cone, which functions as a waveguide for the tweeter, works equally well across 360°- you just stick it on its side. Look closer, and you’ll see that, somewhat improbably, Kali says the IN-8 goes 2dB louder without distortion than the KRK. And that app – it turns out not to connect to the monitors in any meaningful way: it’s fully functional with any monitor – so,(while thanks KRK) it could be said the app comes with the Kali, too. Hmm.
Powering up, it’s unmistakable that these are NOISY monitors, currently occupying positions of shame on our 2021 Hiss Ranker, producing scores in excess of 700 on a scale that shows a quiet monitor to score below 200. The KRK even leaks quite considerably through its midrange driver, which our measurement system struggled to cope with. In practice, both these monitors audibly hiss at a 2.5m listening distance in a quiet environment, the KRK marginally more audibly.
In-room measurements showed relatively trivial differences in frequency response, but the additional 1dB of corrective horsepower enabled us to get a slightly flatter response from the Kali than the KRK. It was also quite evident that the KRK went lower, but at the expense of a characteristic port spike at 35Hz, and subsequent harmonics. The Kali’s port is better designed and it’s bass performance is conspicuously more linear – quality over quantity.
Historically, I’ve founded KRK’s unlistenable, but change is afoot under the hand of Rich – and these G4’s are much, much better behaved than previous KRK models: they’re relatively well balanced and neutral, which I wasn’t expecting. In fact, firing up the 10-3, having got past the noise floor, it’s hard not to be bowled over by the G4 upgrade. It sounds H-U-G-E: the unmistakable impression of many square-inches of cone moving much air. More than that, it throws a VAST image – vast like an out-of-phase recording vast. It’s a two-box surround system, pushing far-panned sound outside the room. More than once I had to check whether someone next door was playing my test tracks.
As I said, bass from the 150W-amplified ten-inch kevlar driver is a big, tangible thing, and it integrates well top-to-bottom – as you’d expect there are no crossover issues to the 4.5″ mid – but it’s sluggish. Bass notes roll in and roll out, without any specific definition.
Turned on its side, the tremendously entertaining imaging falls apart, and the frequency response becomes ragged, so this is one to keep upright – unlike the Kali, which is less Jekyll-and-Hyde in horizontal mode thanks to its coaxial driver.
All told, though, it’s a very appealing sound – a great, big, fuzzy wall of it. It’s a bit like driving Tannoy Westminsters with an old valve amp, or listening to a recording OF a recording: all the fine-grained information is missing, unless you crank the SPL. It’s also a bit like when you need your ears waxing, and everything sounds like it’s happening a bit further away than usual. Cymbal strikes are smeared into a soupy approximation of a real event; brass has a dull, plastic-sounding character . . . but before getting carried away with it’s faults, at this price, it’s fairer to look at what it does right: barring the self-noise, it would make a fine home theatre or small-scale PA speaker; it would form a serviceable all-in-one hifi for under £1000. It’s just not a monitor. I can’t imagine using this for work – and yet millions do – so what do I know?
Finally, turning them off (which I did without regret), they made a loud pop.
Moving on to the little Kali IN-8. Now this is a monitor. Not a great monitor, but a good one. And, for the price, an achievement. The low mids in particular are much better articulated than the popular two-way Kali’s. The coaxial HF enables you to sit closer than the KRK 3-way, and you could, just about, use this at 1-1.5m.
In fact, beyond that, the stereo imaging is relatively weak compared to the widescreen KRK’s – but it’s more precise focus gives it a strong phantom centre. Dynamically, it’s a bit flat, but there’s a much clearer sense of layering: elements of a mix are correctly positioned – not with reference-grade clarity, but acceptably at this price. There’s a bit of HF squawk, but only when pushed: generally it’s a well-behaved, well fettled monitor with occasional traces of cabinet honk and vocal colouration.
It sounds like a monitor designed to be used with subs – with a graceful low-end roll off. Rhythmically, it’s light, but responsive – somewhat like Dynaudio LYDs – with agile bass. Treble sometimes sounds effortful, but it’s reasonably airy: it never shimmers, or lights up a room like the Focal Be’s, but it’s mainly all there, without fuss.
Knowing that the Kali has JBL DNA, you’re expecting a more up-front sound at this price, but it strikes a good balance, and it’s easy to understand the popularity of these models.
For studio use, then: the Kali is clearly preferable to the KRK, and cheaper. Considering broader deployment, the IN-8 is a bit big for on-desk office use (0.5-0.8m distances) and a bit boring and underpowered for audiophiles or home cinemas. Having said that, what can you compare them to from Richer sounds for £650 – for speakers, amplification and cabling? The KRK Rokit 10-3 G4 is a barrel of fun and should find a home in all sorts of places – apart from the studio. But sadly, in both cases, the sheer onslaught of hiss will be too much for many to take.