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Review

Neumann KH120A Nearfield Monitors

Issue #49

Most reviews of most products are based on limited experience of the products in question. Here's one that isn't because Andi Picker has actually been using Neumann's KH120 monitors for some time.
Andi Picker

Pros:

Natural frequency and dynamic response
Revealing sound
High-quality construction
Good price considering the quality

Cons:

I’d have liked a standby option

Neumann KH120A Nearfield Monitors

Most reviews of most products are based on limited experience of the products in question. Here's one that isn't because Andi Picker has actually been using Neumann's KH120 monitors for some time. What's more, he even paid for them!

 


 

My first set of studio monitors sounded wonderful - I loved them until I realised that I could make several mixes that sounded identical, but that could sound quite different on other systems. Hmm... Eventually I bit the bullet and bought the boxes I’m reviewing here - a pair of Neumann KH120A nearfield monitors.

The KH120s have a composite 5.25” woofer and a 1” titanium fabric tweeter in a compact 277x182x220 mm, front ported aluminium enclosure weighing 6.4 kg. Free-field frequency response is quoted as 52Hz to 21 kHz (+/- 3dB), with each box driven by a pair of (50W/80W continuous/peak) class A/B amplifiers, and a 2 kHz analogue crossover. The front-panel is quite heavily contoured to help with dispersion and speaker alignment, and each driver is permanently protected by a perforated metal grill (they’re voiced with the grills in place so there’s no need to try to pry them off to “improve” the sound). Finally, an illuminated Neumann badge glows white to show power-on, and red to indicate that protection circuitry is active.

At the top of the back panel (where you can reach them) are controls for input gain, output level (94–114 dB SPL), bass, low-mid and treble adjustments to tailor response for placement and preference, and, tucked lower down (where you just-about can’t reach them) are the balanced input, mains power socket (110–240V, 50/60 Hz) and a power switch (on and off only, no auto-standby unfortunately). Oh, and there’s also a DIP switch for the front-panel badge lamp on/off and high/low, plus a ground lift, plus a set of M8 mounting points for attaching a wall or stand bracket.

In use? Well, I’m biased - I spent my own money on these monitors and I’ve listened to hundreds (thousands even) of hours of music on them. I’ve experimented with positioning and settings far more than normal review kit gets, and ended-up with them isolated on the rather odd angled brick platforms that you can see in the background in many of my GI videos – so I’m hearing them pretty-well at my-own version of their best. Aimed at a point slightly behind my head, the phantom centre image is so concrete that I admit that I’ve actually touched my computer screen before now to convince myself that the sound wasn’t coming from it!

Speaker voicing is important - Hi Fi speakers often recess the mids a bit to give the low and high ends more punch (like the old “Loudness Switch” on a stereo), and studio monitors often push the mids so that they sound detailed - the KH120s don’t do either and as a result they are quite plain sounding, in the best of ways. Time domain response is sharp with a little bit of blur around the port resonant frequency, and they have a clear and revealing upper and mid range and behave very well towards their lower extension. That 52Hz figure doesn’t read as being particularly impressive but the KH120s are well controlled as they approach it and they actually seem to give more information than the spec sheet suggests.

Are the KH120s perfect? No, of course not; they are small speakers and they do sound sort of small – these are working monitors, not blow the client’s socks-off speakers – and they’re not particularly thrilling for simply listening to music. If you work in styles that really use the lowest octave then a sub will be your friend for sure (the KH805 extends the low-end to a quoted 19 Hz (+/- 2 dB)), but within the remit of a two-way nearfield monitor for mixing and editing, these are simply superb.

One of the impressive things about the KH120s package is that the manufacturer’s spec sheet appears to have been issue by the engineering department rather than the marketing folks; it’s amazingly detailed, avoids the 'fuzzy' specifications that confuse so many of us (extends to 4 Hz (-76 dB) sort of thing), and actual performance seems to match (or even beat) the figures! Neumann claims that manufacturing tolerances are fine enough that you can match any two speakers as a pair. There’s also a version available with built-in AD converters (the KH120D), a white version, and a system sub-woofer which extends the low end to a quoted 19Hz (+/- 2 dB).

The KH120s are priced at round-about the mark where nearfield monitors start to get properly serious, sort of entry-level proper-pro stuff. Whilst they’re not exactly cheap, in my opinion, they outperform their price point, I’ve never regretted buying them – and I’d buy them again tomorrow if I had to.

Overall? One of the best pieces of audio kit I’ve ever bought, brilliant speakers at the price.

 

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Issue #50

John Petrucci

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