Being an audiophile isn’t quite as simple as it used to be. It’s not just about slapping on a record or slipping a disc into a CD player anymore. We boot up, we download, we rip, we stream. A server isn’t a waiter, and a menu isn’t for ordering food. It’s for ordering up music in a digital world that continues to develop new vistas for music formats and delivery. With all these complex devices, vast opportunities exist for solutions-that-simplify. The powered or “active” speaker is one. Once confined to the recording studio, and largely yawned at by serious audiophiles, today’s active monitors are infiltrating the home media environment.
Over the years I’ve kicked around a fair share of recording studios and most of the active monitors I listened to were pretty scary in audiophile terms—when the engineer hit the playback button I always took a step back and cringed a little in the face of their clinical, aggressive, and micro-managed output. Fortunately there are recording engineers/audiophiles like Keith Klawitter (films to his credit include Brainstorm, The Doors) who think outside the box. Evidently Klawitter grew so disenchanted at what he was hearing from most studio monitors, particularly their lack of neutrality and transparency, that he began building his own. Soon, he began receiving commissions for custom main speakers as well. His reputation spread by word of mouth, and in 1986 KRK Systems was born.
Bottling the Rokit
The Rokit Series include KRK’s entry-level offerings, with the $398-per-pair Rokit 6 filling the mid-size slot. It’s a thirteen-inch-tall two-way in a bass-reflex enclosure, with the smoothly slotted port near the bottom edge of the front baffle. It’s also not the traditional boxy little brick that commonly sits on a studio console’s meter bridge. Seeking improved on-axis and off-axis linearity and a wider sweetspot for the now second-generation Rokit 6, KRK added waveguide technology and a recessed tweeter. It also designed a neatly sculpted front baffle with a radiussed soft edge for diffraction reduction. Each driver has its own amplifier module—an 18W unit for the soft dome tweeter and a 50W unit for the Aramid-composite cone woofer. The vinyl-clad cabinet without grille cover speaks to the Rokit’s utilitarian functionality, but the screaming yellow woofer cone is probably a winner among the youthful, new breed of laptop hit-makers. True to KRK’s pro-monitor roots, there’s a four-position high-frequency level control (+1dB, flat, –1dB, and –2dB) and gain control that ranges from +6dB to –30dB, with a factory preset of +6dB. There’s plenty of versatile input connectivity as well thanks to the unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR and ¼ inputs.
Lighting the Fuse
Truth be told, I was kind of girding myself for some challenging sonic fireworks as I lit up the Rokit 6 for the first time. Memories of aggressive little pro-monitors die hard. Old recollections of the Yamaha NS10M—standard issue in a zillion recording studios and infamous for its lower treble rise—were as fresh in my mind as my first paper cut. The KRK G2 Rokit 6, however, was as far away sonically from the Yamaha as a competitor is likely to get. First, the Rokit 6 wasn’t aggressively coming out after me, spitty and edgy. Rather it was engaging me. Second, there was little evidence of a hyper-etched treble or a pushy upper-midrange. Its personality was a mellower one with a warmth and presence that were instantly listenable.
Perhaps most surprising was the large soundstage the Rokit floated into the room. Symphonic works, while not lavish, were not reduced to HO gauge either. Vocal images were scaled to levels more consistent with a medium-sized floorstander than a thirteen-inch compact. Whether I was listening to male or female singers, there was always a strong sense of the weight of the performer. Pro-monitor treble is infamous for micro-managing details, often at a price in fatigue. The soft dome tweeter of the Rokit 6 performed with aplomb, especially jazz combo percussion like the rattles of a snare.
On a track like Shelby Lynne’s “Just A Little Lovin” [Lost Highway], the Rokit 6 had credible midbass output and pitch definition. Mashing the volume pedal to the floor demonstrated some impressive output levels, although it also elicited some reductions in low-end control. This imparted a soft or woolen texture to doublebass or tympani or any tight deep percussive pulses or rhythms. And during a song like Diane Reeves “How High the Moon” [Concord], too much arm-twisting of the gain would cause the Rokit 6 to succumb to port overhang.
Its weaknesses were mostly benign and typical of a twin-driver compact. The Rokit 6’s dynamic envelope had a distinct comfort zone that should limit it to smaller rooms. Exceed that, as I did during “Tea in the Sahara” [A&M] by the Police, and it didn’t fall to pieces but it did compress dynamic energy no matter how much I cranked up the volume. The Rokit’s transient behavior didn’t leap out of the blocks like an electrostat either. And there was a bit of blanketing in the upper mids that could dampen some of the liveliness and brilliance of a great vocal performance. Also there was some general smudging of low-level instrumental interplay, like the subtle interweaving harmonies among brass instruments during Fanfare for the Common Man [Crystal Clear Records]. In instances such as these, a speaker like the well-regarded PSB Alpha B ($279/pr.) is able to resolve the individual parts with greater clarity than the Rokit. The PSB, however, isn’t amplified.
This raises the awkward subject that constantly dogs active loudspeakers: You’ll always be listening to the amplifier that it’s packaged with. The benefits are that the transducers and electronics and crossover have been optimized for one another. The downside is that if you’d like to upgrade the amplification you’re out of luck.
The KRK Rokit 6 is a dual-purpose, portable speaker that proves that even a pro-monitor can cater to the new breed of downloading audiophiles—whether it’s the home-based movie mogul working on a Sundance entry, the musician self-distributing over the Web, or just a poor slob like me editing the iMovie family vacation reel. It’s also an unbeatable value. With the Rokit 6 you just add a basic preamp or jack into a soundcard and you’ll be ready to explore all the new audio possibilities that today’s digital universe can offer.