Kali Audio LP-8 Powered Monitor Loudspeaker Review
- Product Name: LP-8 Studio Monitor
- Manufacturer: Kali Audio
- Performance Rating:
- Value Rating:
- Review Date: July 29, 2020 04:00
- MSRP: $ 499/pair
- Type: Front-Ported Active Studio Monitor
- Amp Class: D
- Power Config: Bi-Amped
- LF Power: 60 W
- HF Power: 40 W
- Total Power: 100 W
- LF Driver: 8” Woofer
- HF Driver: 1” Soft Dome Tweeter
- Frequency Response (-10dB): 37Hz - 25kHz
- Frequency Range (+/-3dB): 45Hz - 21kHz
- Crossover: 1.8kHz
- Recommended Listening Distance: 1 - 2.8 meters
- Max SPL: 114 dB
- Unbalanced Inputs: 1 x RCA
- Balanced Inputs: 1 x TRS, 1 x XLR
- Dimensions (HxWxD): 16.5”x10”x11.25"
- Weight: 19.8 lbs.
- Accurate, neutral sound
- Very good bass extension
- Excellent off-axis behavior
- Wide dynamic range
- Great price for performance level
- Soft noise audible in near-field use
Reviewing the Kali Audio LP-8 studio monitor might seem slightly unusual for regular readers of Audioholics. We are a home-audio focused site and do not normally deal in pro audio gear. However, studio monitors often find their way into home use with the prevalence of ‘bedroom studios’ where people have made a room in their home into a recording or mixing space. The performance demands of studio monitors and home audio speakers have a lot in common; they are both sound reproduction tools that, one would hope, strive for accurate reproduction of the source content. Whether that content is an album or a movie or a work-in-progress shouldn’t really change the behavior of the loudspeaker; it should be blind to content. This being the case, a monitor should be as adept for recreational home audio listening as conventional home audio loudspeakers. One of the things we will be looking at is how these monitors fare for that purpose as well as monitoring purposes.
Kali Audio is a newer manufacturer that was launched in January of 2018. Since then they have made a splash with rave reviews for their products among pro-audio reviewers. Our interest in Kali had been piqued by the engineering pedigree that they brought with them from JBL’s pro-audio division, along with their stated goal of making JBL LSR 300 series ‘killers’. JBL’s LSR30X line is a very successful and highly regarded budget monitor series that leveraged JBL’s research into state-of-the-art waveguide technology for ‘prosumer’ use. Kali uses one of the principal engineers involved in the design of JBL’s sophisticated waveguides with the intention of making a superior monitor to the LSR30X for the same cost. Given how well-performing the LSR30X monitors are, that is quite ambitious, however, Kali has the expertise to do just that given their engineering team’s familiarity with JBL’s monitors.
Aesthetics don’t normally factor into the decision when choosing studio monitors - at least it wouldn’t in a perfect world. But, if we are being honest, we still want our speakers to look nice, even in a working environment. Monitors tend to go after a different aesthetic style than home audio and are more businesslike than ‘furniture-esque’ as many home audio speakers aim for. That isn’t to say they have to look crude but rather a sleek kind of utilitarian style, and that is what the LP-8s go for. The LP-8s may not be as living room decor friendly without wood grain paneling, but they wouldn’t look out of place in a gaming setup or media room. The LP-8s do not look pretty in the normal sense of the word, but I do think they look cool. All of the curved lines on the front baffle make it look a bit more organic than just drivers mounted in a box. A small blue LED on the front lets the user know when it is powered. For home use, it might not look too out-of-place in rooms with modernist decor. It’s a black box, but it’s a black box with some style.
The basic design used by the Kali Audio LP-8 is a very common one among monitor manufacturers in this segment and price range; a two-way active speaker with an 8” woofer and 1” dome tweeter in a waveguide. But, contrary to surface appearance, the LP-8 separates itself in attention to detail.
One design detail is the waveguide that Kali calls the ‘3D Imaging Waveguide’ which uses some of the latest advancements in acoustic research and sophisticated computer modeling to achieve some very specific performance targets. It is intended to control directivity for a narrow dispersion on the vertical axis and a wide dispersion on the horizontal axis so that there are few acoustic reflections coming from a floor, desk, or ceiling, but there is a wide-angle of even coverage over a lateral plane of listening positions. It is attempting to control dispersion in an even manner as well so that the response remains uniform at all angles in the front hemisphere of the speaker. This is done to preserve an even tonality across a breadth of listening positions.
Kali uses a beefy 8” woofer. A smaller woofer might tend to incur distortion at higher drive levels. They claim that the coils and magnets are larger than competing monitors, and they have implemented a dual-layer voice coil. The reason for this is their performance target of a low-distortion, continuous 85 dB loudness level at the listening position with 20 dB of headroom above that. The listening position they design for is someone seated at a 2.8-meter distance. If those SPL targets sound familiar that is because they are the same used by THX for reference level listening. While these are not THX-certified monitors, they are looking to achieve the same kind of performance level at the listening position.
There are no fancy materials used in the woofer or tweeter, instead, the components use conventional materials but optimally designed for these specific performance targets. The woofer cone looks to be made of polypropylene and the tweeter looks like a fabric dome tweeter. I asked the designer, Charles Sprinkle, about the design decisions in this respect, and this was part of his answer:
I think the transducers are noteworthy, not for exotic materials or extra features, but for how we optimized the design using FEA to get the best performance that we could for the money spent. There is literally nothing wasted in these designs. The motor force as a function of excursion is coordinated with compliance as a function of excursion to maximize linearity and reduce distortion. Of course, we did have to spend extra money on the magnet. In order to use a two-layer coil and reduce flux modulation, we had to use a bigger voice coil and motor for the same motor strength. This was worth the spend as distortion was reduced by 6dB.
The LP-8 woofer uses a dedicated 60-watt amplifier, and the tweeter uses a 40-watt amplifier with a 1.8kHz crossover between the drivers. The combined 100 watts should allow the LP-8 to get quite loud at typical mixing console listening distances. For home use, that should be enough power for most people’s listening tastes as well, even though they might be at a farther distance. The DSP abilities of the amp should allow the designers to easily EQ out any serious resonances, so hopefully, we get a neutral response right out of the box. The amp can be connected by balanced TRS or XLR inputs and an unbalanced RCA input.
There are ways to alter the response with dip switches on the amp panel to compensate for different acoustic conditions. The default position of the dip switches set the speaker up for a neutral response in a free space that is not close to any large surfaces or boundaries, however, proximity to surfaces and boundaries can cause havoc on the sound thereby wrecking a tonal balance. The dip switch settings can be adjusted to compensate for sub-optimal acoustic conditions, for example, if the speakers are set up next to a wall, or on a mixing console, or on a shallow desk or some mixture of those conditions. What they are adjusting for is boundary gain which can inordinately boost the bass levels; the closer the speaker is to any boundary or surface, the more bass the sound will naturally induce as an acoustic consequence. While it is a nicety for home audio products to have an accurate response, it is critical that studio monitors do so, so this is an important feature. If you are mixing sound with more bass than you realize, the produced content will have a shortfall of bass since you inadvertently compensate for the excess bass.
The front baffle of the LP-8s is a plastic molded piece that feels relatively solid. The side panels are made from ⅝” MDF and are internally lined with a thick layer of stuffing. The port is a shaped slot port that is flared on both ends to reduce turbulence. Kali Audio claims to use airflow simulations to optimize the laminar flow of air in the port.
All of these design details look to add up to a whole lot of speaker for the $500/pair asking price. Let’s now give them a listen to hear what they sound like…
I used the Kali Monitors in two different rooms with different conditions to see how they could cope with different environments. I set them up on my PC desk which is essentially a quarter space, or a space enclosed by two boundaries. This desktop environment puts the listening distance at about 2.5 feet. I also set them up in my home theater room which gave them lots of breathing room and a nearly free-space environment. This is a far more acoustically friendly environment for sound quality. The processor used was a MOTU 828x with Qobuz as the source for music. No subwoofers were used. I used these monitors to listen to completed recordings rather than content creation since this is a home audio publication, and we are more interested in seeing how these fare in a home audio application.
One thing to note is that the LP-8 monitors are not totally silent when they are powered. There is a soft background white noise that is always there, and the gain knob does not affect its loudness. In a near-field listening position, it is audible although subdued. In a mid-field listening distance such as in my theater room which puts me at about eight feet from the monitors, it is not audible. How much of a nuisance this background noise is will vary from person to person. I didn’t find it very obtrusive in the listening situations that I could hear it, but I could see it being a dealbreaker for those looking for a near-field monitor for a quiet room.
One gorgeous recording that I found in my explorations on Qobuz is an album entitled ‘Darkness Into Light’ which is performed by the female choral quartet Anonymous 4 with instrumental stringed accompaniment by Chilingirian Quartet. Anonymous 4 specialized in medieval music, and most of the pieces on this album are medieval compositions by composers whose names have been long lost in time. Four of the tracks here are contemporary works with a known author, the celebrated composer John Taverner, but his pieces fit in well with these other nearly ancient compositions. This 2005 album is released on the highly regarded Harmonia Mundi label, and the production quality is excellent as one would expect for the caliber of talent involved here. The music is simple and quite lovely medieval choral pieces, and I thought it would be a good test of the LP-8s ability to render a choir performance in concert hall setting (this album was recorded in a large church, the Christian Brothers Center in Napa, CA).
One aspect of the recording I could detect right away on the LP-8 monitors is that the microphone was set up at a distance from the performers since the singers as well as the instrumentalists were pretty well centered in the soundstage, although there was that venue ambiance that spread out over a wide swath of the listening position. In this recording on these speakers, the listener is not given a front-row seat but rather a position quite a few rows back in the central area of the nave, although not so far back that acoustic reflections of the recording venue become dominant. The voices of Anonymous 4 were sublimely rendered by the LP-8s. Their cohesive performance along with the reverberation of the church hall formed a singular beautiful sound that was abetted from time to time by the string quartet. The imaging was superb, and the performers were very much discernable from the acoustic reflections. The tonal balance was very good as well, and no frequency band stood out, which is, of course, what one would hope for in a studio monitor: neutrality. ‘Darkness Into Light’ was a terrific listening experience with the Kali LP-8 monitors, and it showcases the value proposition of using monitors as home audio speakers.
Orchestral music is perhaps the best type of music to gauge a sound system’s tonality since it is so spectrally broad and dense. In orchestral music, the plethora of different instruments and their wide harmonic spread means that very often vast ranges of audible frequencies are being stimulated. What is better is that since so many people have had so much exposure to these instruments, we know what they are supposed to sound like. If some frequency range is too pronounced, that can be caught pretty quickly in a recording of a full orchestra. Toward this end, I picked an album that I was familiar with to get a sense of the LP-8’s tonal balance. Some orchestral works that I am familiar with are Danny Elfman’s scores to Tim Burton’s Batman movies, and I chose the score to ‘Batman Returns.’ One aspect of ‘Batman Returns’ that makes it a great choice for this, other than my own familiarity with the recording, is that there is a wide variety of compositions within this score since the three villains get their own theme along with our hero, and there is also a diversity of moods and emotional tones throughout the movie.
On the LP-8 monitors, it was easy to hear that this album was recorded on a scoring stage instead of a concert hall since there wasn’t as much reverb in the recording that you would hear in a large performance venue. It was also a lot easier to localize instrumental sections and individual instruments, and that is not normally the case for orchestral music recorded in concert halls where you can get some general imaging of instrumental sections but it is usually somewhat ambiguous. Recording technique plays a big role in all of this, but you need a good speaker system to render the results of the recording if you want to discern those qualities. The LP-8 is more than able to deliver that kind of insight. Individual instruments were vividly reproduced, and everything sounded natural and not exaggerated. On occasions where bass is called for, the LP-8s were able to deliver, such as when bass drums gave a pulse to action scenes or when an organ is used to underscore Batman’s theme. Relistening to this music score, there is a lot of detail that one misses from simply watching the movie since the movie has such a dense sound mix. The experience of listening to the score alone is quite different and is rich with nuances that get lost in the movie itself. The LP-8s paint such a vivid picture with music that is so evocative that I have to wonder how someone who has never seen ‘Batman Returns’ would imagine the kind of scenes that this score is attached to. Listening to the music itself in a darkened theater room ended up being quite a cinematic experience itself, and the LP-8 speakers are critical to that experience since they were able to capture the full dynamic range of this score from low bass to upper treble.
For music of a more down-to-earth variety, I found a new album from folk music prodigy Sarah Jarosz on Qobuz entitled ‘World on the Ground.’ Singer-songwriter Jarosz has been building a formidable body of recorded work since the age of 18, and now 29, she has just released ‘World on the Ground,’ her fifth album. But quantity does not mean diminished quality, and the musical artistry on demonstration here is undeniably world-class. The music on ‘World on the Ground’ hovers somewhere between bluegrass, folk, country, and rock, depending on the track. ‘World on the Ground’ is a collection of songs about life in Jarosz’ childhood hometown of Wimberly, Texas. The production quality is very good, and even though this is a studio recording, it sounds like an exceptionally well-recorded live performance. I could easily see this album becoming a staple of hi-fi demos.
The first thing that struck me when I started listening to ‘World on the Ground’ on the LP-8s is how sharply focused the imaging was. Jarosz’ voice imaged dead center of the soundstage with instruments flanking her in their own well-defined placement. All of the elements of the recording had their own spacing and distinct recreation by the LP-8s. The instruments and Jarosz’ voice sounded lifelike and realistic. Everything was tonally well-balanced, and it all sounded so smooth that I have to think this is a very good approximation of the intended sound. That wouldn’t be all that surprising since I was listening to a recording on studio monitors that was likely made with studio monitors. The LP-8s also did a great job of tracking the wide dynamics in this 24-bit recording; soft passages of the music were clear and lucid, and louder moments had a stirring impact. ‘World on the Ground’ sounded terrific on the LP-8s, and I am not sure what else a speaker system could do to improve this performance. Album highlights for me were the tracks ‘Orange and Blue’ and ‘I’ll Be Gone,’ so do your ears a favor and give those songs a listen!
After going through albums to assess the LP-8s’ tonality and imaging abilities, I felt it was now time to see how hard they could jam. It’s hard to find harder jammin’ music than Drum’N’Bass and one of the hardest jammin’ Drum’N’Bass artists out there is Broken Note. This type of music can push a system full-tilt with monster bass lines and extremely rapid percussion. It rarely leaves much headroom in the recording, and it is unrelenting in its aural assault. The album I chose was entitled ‘Exit the Void’ by Broken Note which was recently released this spring from the label MethLab Recordings. So now the question is how hard could the LP-8’s hit with the latest release from some of the roughest sonic hooligans in electronic music?
To begin with, I was impressed with the level of bass coming out of these bookshelf sized speakers. While the bass isn’t as prodigious or as boundless as one would get with a good subwoofer, the LP-8s had some real grunt ability. They gave a solid low-frequency foundation to the instruments and could really belt out some solid bass. Those looking for massive deep bass will want to add a sub, but the bass levels on the LP-8’s felt natural which is what is needed for mixing purposes. If you want to add a sub for mixing purposes, care is going to be needed to integrate it properly with the LP-8s, as you will not want to mix with hotter bass reflected in the playback system than is in the source content. As was mentioned before, the LP-8s aim for specific dynamic range targets at a 2.8-meter listening distance which is approximately 9 feet. That is about this distance of my own listening position to speakers in my theater room, and the LP-8s had more than enough dynamic range for my own tastes. I don’t think many people would have tolerated the loudness level that I listened to for the full duration of ‘Exit the Void.’ They punched hard all the way through and stayed clean at loud levels. These things can rock, and if you just want a pair of powered speakers that jam hard, I can report that the LP-8s are up to the task. They killed it with this album. If you like your electronic music loud and clear but are on a tight budget, the LP-8s should be a big blip on your radar.
One film I had been looking forward to was Spike Lee’s most recent endeavor titled ‘Da 5 Bloods’ released on Netflix. It concerns the exploits of four black American Vietnam veterans who return to Vietnam to look for the remains of their commanding officer and also some gold that they had hidden there before they left. ‘Da 5 Bloods’ looked to be part war movie, part heist movie, and part emotional reckoning with the past. Spike Lee has always saturated his soundtrack with music so I expected ‘Da 5 Blood’ to have a rich sound mix that could show off a sound system’s abilities. I streamed it on the day of its release in two-channel mode using the LP-8s as the sound reproducers. Upon viewing this film, one thing that surprised me about the sound mix was the very traditional orchestral score by Terence Blanchard. It was a very sweeping and dramatic score that was heavy on the strings and french horn, and it sounded superb on the LP-8 monitors. There were quite a few Marvin Gaye tunes tucked in the soundtrack as well that shined with the LP-8s. Dialogue intelligibility was good, and I had no problem following conversations even when it became very heavy with slang. Battle scenes were given plenty of fury and punch. The low-end of the LP-8s was good enough so that I did not miss the use of a subwoofer in either the action scenes or orchestral music, even though bass was very much present in both. In the end, I enjoyed watching ‘Da 5 Bloods’ with the Kali LP-8 speakers. It had a typically lush sound mix that is characteristic of Spike Lee movies. I think the movie would have benefited with a bit tighter editing, but it sounded good all the way through, and the experience is certainly enhanced by the use of a good speaker system.
For something a bit more fanciful that would have an abundance of effects noises, I queued up the 2011 science fiction opus ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ which I had not yet seen. I hadn’t previously had any intention of watching it, but I was interested in seeing how the LP-8s would sound with such an effects-driven movie, and I didn’t want to rewatch something I had already seen. It was available on streaming from Amazon, so I thought, “how bad could it be” and gave it a spin. For those who don’t know, ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ is about some cowboys who have to deal with some aliens; this movie does what it says on the tin. The LP-8 speakers did a good job of sound presentation for this movie. These two speakers delivered a big-screen sound, and again I was impressed with their low-frequency strength. The inclusion of a subwoofer would have doubtlessly given the low-end a bit more heft, but the LP-8s were able to produce a full sound on their own. This became evident early on when a team of horsemen came riding into town, and their collective galloping was telegraphed by a strong rumble. Music and dialogue were rendered with clarity, and effects noises such as explosions and alien ray guns had a good amount of oomph. Imaging was good, and, in the ‘sweet spot,’ I didn’t miss the center channel at all. Watching ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ left no doubt that you could use the LP-8s as home theater speakers very successfully.
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Recent Forum Posts:
bounce, post: 1422224, member: 92963
I am ignorant please enlighten me. These LP-8 are sold individually. typically powered speakers are sold in pairs,master & slave. How is this hooked up? how is a subwoofer hooked up?I use cds & a cd player. People still use cds. how would I hook this up?Kali also makes an IN-8.
What is the rest of your playback electronics aside from a cd player? The speakers simply hook up one channel at a time, either via rca, xlr or trs connectors. No particular provision for incorporating a sub.
bounce, post: 1422032, member: 92963That just isn't the case. There are monitors that are made for near-field, mid-field, and far-field mixing. There are several factors involved in differentiating the design of each, and one of them is dynamic range. Many monitors made for near-field mixing are only limited in terms of dynamic range. If they had greater dynamic range, you could use them for far-field mixing, like a dubbing stage, very easily. Audioholics is going to be publishing a review on some near-field monitors soon. These Kali monitors are good for both near-field and mid-field (insofar as those terms have definition).
Professional studio monitors. I once spoke with a man who had been a recording engineer. He said do NOT buy studio monitors because they are designed to be listened to nearfield (3 to 4 feet)> I have heeded his advice. Ilisten to speakers at 10-12 feet. Please comment.