The heart-warming story of a boy and his woofer
By Bill LeBlanc
I cannot believe the bass on these things! Deep, solid, punchy, focused bass can’t be coming from a 4" woofer . . . No way! But there it is. Laws of physics, KRK laughs at you. Big, long bass-like waveforms are indeed coming out of a 4" woofer. Relax. It’ll all make sense in a moment.
What do I bass this on?
Welcome to my flashback: KRK had asked me to do a hands-on (or in this case, an ears-on) test for all three models of their new VXT Series. Based on the KRK’s flagship Expose range, these active two-way studio monitors comprise the 4" VXT 4, 6" VXT 6, and 8" VXT 8. But since they were hot off the presses, all KRK could send me at first were the VXT 4s. I wondered how I could speak intelligently about the bass response of the entire series by referencing a Chihuahua-sized woofer. At 4", you don’t get a woofer; you get an “arfer” . . . maybe. I figured I’d wait until the big dogs arrived in order to avoid pushing the BS meter into the red. Meanwhile, my deadline was drawing closer, so out of the box the VXT 4s came.
Working my way up from the bottom
Since bass response was my first concern in terms of maintaining credibility for this review, I started there. I pulled out my trusty Kramer DMZ 5000 bass, which produces the deep, thick tone of the ’60s and ’70s, and my A Designs Audio REDDI active direct box, which offers the ocean-bottom depths of the vintage, all-tube Ampeg B15 bass amp (only with way more focus). From there, I went line-in to a Digidesign Digi 002. Trust me, I fully expected the big blotto-bass combination of the Kramer and the REDDI to be completely lost on the VXT 4s. I record-enabled the Digi and started to play. Now go back and read the first paragraph again, I’ll wait . . . That was my first reaction, only with more exclamation points and expletives not suitable for print. As far as the other VXTs are concerned, the difference in low-end response as you move up the series is like the difference in being nuked with ever-increasing megatons.
Mixing it up
With the bass issue clearly out of the way, I pulled up an unfinished cross-genre mix spanning alternative and hard rock with a side order of electronica and played it through the VXT 4s. Now go back and read the first paragraph three times and substitute the words “balance,” “dimensionality,” and “imaging” on each pass. I’ll wait . . . What really melted my face off was how exciting the music sounded. I had gone nuts on the original mix with several SSL and Universal Audio compressor/EQ plug-ins to add attack, punch, and power to the distorted guitars. Keep in mind that I had them set on bypass in order to save CPU resources. Listening through the VXT 4s, I didn’t miss the plug-ins. In fact, I found myself double-checking to make sure they were actually bypassed (they were).
Even more face-melting was the huge, three-dimensional space and balance throughout the frequency range. Plus, the position of each instrument in the stereo field was far more distinct than that of my monitors. In terms of the overall sound quality, the word “vibrant” leapt to mind. I actually found myself laughing out loud; you know, that Dr. Frankenstein, “It’s alive!” maniacal cackle. A/B’ing the VXT 4s against my pricey studio-standard monitors revealed why I’d gone overboard on compression and top-end EQ. I thought the mix itself lacked detail, presence, and punch, but I was actually EQing the monitors. For the VXT’s accuracy, KRK lists improved high-end frequency response, faster attack time, and a curved front panel for enhanced imaging as the culprits. I would also have to add the very linear ±2dB @ 56Hz–22kHz frequency response to the usual suspects. As an aside, the ±1.5dB frequency response of the VXT6/8 is as good as it gets, and key for truth in mixing.
Switching to professionally mastered CDs was my last test. Doubtless you’re familiar with Cheap Trick’s At Budokan version of “I Want You to Want Me.” Well, I thought I was too until I heard it through the VXT 4s. On my monitors, the rhythm guitars lacked definition and attack. The VXT 4s just pulled them out of the mix as though they were surgically EQed—not hyped, mind you—just right! The excitement of live performance was restored. On my monitors, the information was all there but without the adrenaline. Next, I played a recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Again, there was no competition in terms of vibrancy, instrument attack, and sense of reality space. I know what you’re thinking: Wouldn’t all that extra high-end and attack information become fatiguing to the ear after a while? No. The more I worked with the VXT 4s, the more I wanted to. Try listening to someone who’s mumbling. That’s fatiguing.
KRK delivers KO-punch
Now that I know what I’m missing sonically, I really don’t want to work on my music until I have a set of VXTs. From a mix-decision standpoint, it’s simply futile. Considering what I spent on my monitors, you have no idea how much that hurts. On the plus side, it’ll cost less than a third of my original investment to upgrade to KRK VXT 4s, or around half as much to take a quantum leap in sound with the VXT 6 or VXT 8. Best of all, if I can save you from paying considerably more on monitors and getting less, then my work here is done.
By the way, if you want affordable, high-quality surround or a killer home theater system, think VXT 4. A handy little ground-lift switch prevents 60-cycle hum caused by plugging in to different AC outlets—and the sound? . . . go back and read the first paragraph. While you’re doing that, I’ll be putting in a call to David H. at KRK to ask if he’ll let me buy these VXT 4 demo units—see if I don’t.
Features & Specs
- Biamplified design with active crossover
- Enhanced structural integrity
- Interior cabinet volume optimized for extended low-frequency response
- Foam-rubber base pad eliminates bass coupling
- Increased damping characteristics
- Curved front panel for enhanced imaging
- Improved high-end frequency response
- Faster attack times
- Increased performance
- Limiter with defeat and front-panel indicator
- Ground-lift switch
- High- and low-frequency adjust (VXT6/8 only)
- Auto mute
- Protective rear-panel switch covers