Neumann KH 120A Studio Monitors ReviewTWO-WAY, SELF-POWERED NEAR-FIELD SPEAKERS 12/01/2011 4:00 AM Eastern
Neumann has been setting standards in front-end transducer technology for 83 years, as well as producing phonograph record-cutting lathes, mixing desks and even rechargeable batteries. Now, the company has entered into the world of speaker manufacturing via an arrangement with Klein+Hummel, a company with a long-standing reputation of producing exceptional speaker systems for recording, mixing and broadcast. Carrying the Neumann logo on their speakers, this tradition will no doubt be continued with utmost German precision, as witnessed in this first product offering.
SMALL YET MIGHTY
The KH 120A is definitely at the lower end of the size limitations when it comes to accuracy in audio monitoring. The 5.25-inch, composite-sandwich woofer benefits from a front-port design, bringing a much greater degree of punch and percussion to this tiny box, with a published low-end response down to 52 Hz, ±3 dB measured in a free-field. The cabinet has a beautifully machined one-piece aluminum front baffle, with the interior design sporting non-parallel construction engineered to reduce internal standing waves. This translates into smoother and more accurate reproduction characteristics in the lower-frequency range. The integral metal-mesh grille on the woofer gives you the assurance of component safety in hostile, remote recording environments.
To ensure phase alignment and dispersion criteria, Neumann uses an Elliptical Mathematically Modeled Dispersion™ Waveguide for the tweeter, providing a wide sweet spot, phase alignment with the subwoofer output and an attenuated vertical dispersion for a reduction in phase-canceling early reflections off a console, desk or other worksurface. I can attest to the wide-imaging characteristics after many hours of listening to many different genres of music.
To power the transduction motors, Neumann has chosen individual Class-A/B amplification, with separate 50-watt RMS/80W (peak) amplifiers going to the highs and lows. The fourth-order crossover frequency (24dB/octave slope) set at 2 kHz provides a smooth transition between drivers.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
I was very impressed with the emphasis Neumann has put on training the user on placement of the speakers. There is a detailed quick-start guide that emphasizes speaker placement, including angles, distances, time alignment in less-than-symmetrical environments, symmetry of studio design and ITU-R BS.775-1 recommendations for surround sound production. In the operations manual, there are details on preparing your room, and even more explanation on the importance of positioning the speakers, with recommendations on the electro-acoustic control of the speakers in free space, half-space and quarter-space. There are also no less than 13 accessories for transport and mounting available as options. This level of detail regarding the acoustic space of your production environment is to be commended. There can never be enough discussion on calibrating your reference listening position, as any speaker is interactive within your particular given space. A full-page “installation angle diagram” is provided, allowing you to copy it, put it in the sweet spot and position the speakers accordingly. Neumann has also provided electro-acoustic controls onboard the speaker—level, tilt, cut, high-pass and limiter control—to dial in your space.
The bass tilt (cut) has fixed adjustments of flat, -2.5 dB, -5 dB and -7.5 dB, with the linear slope starting at 300 Hz, with the selected decrease at the stated LF bandwidth. This LF tilt will compensate for the acoustical loading in the LF range that is characteristic of speaker placement against a boundary, such as a wall. The treble adjustments are +1 dB, 0 dB, -1 dB and -2 dB, starting at 6 kHz, according to the supplied response charts, again with the selected increase/decrease at the stated upper-frequency bandwidth. This HF control will compensate for excessive or insufficient HF damping in your room. The low-midrange cut can be set for 0 dB, -1.5 dB,- 3 dB and -4.5 dB, with centering at 300 Hz. This mid-cut works very well on desk or bridge-mounted speakers, helping to eliminate any amplitude increase that is characteristic of this type of monitoring scenario.
SMALL BOX, BIG SOUND
The first thing I noticed, out of the box, was a certain amount of “darkness.” They just seemed “masked,” if you will, and a bit muddy. Read the manual and go by Neumann’s recommendations for electro-acoustical adjustments because they are highly accurate, as I found during the setup of these speakers. After setting the filters for my room and an extensive break-in period, they became both punchy and percussive in the low end, as well as fast and “airy” in the upper end of the frequency response. An extraordinary level of detail in the vocal range began to reveal itself, with both female and male vocal production exhibiting superb harmonic structure. Vocal editing is exemplified by the detail found in the reproduction of this critical midrange. The separation of midrange frequencies also excels as you can pick out the differences in instrumentation of similar timbre, without any associated smear or muddiness. While listening to the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra performing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, the bowing of the string sections had a realism that I found superbly realistic, with the tympani arriving only slightly forward in the mix. The chorus and piccolos exuded the reverberant quality of the room with detail and realism.
During a recent recording session, I noted that the “air” and “grind” of a Hammond organ through a Leslie speaker was reproduced with a great deal of accuracy. Bass guitar, albeit not huge as in a dual 15-inch soffit-mounted system, had plenty of detail, warmth and harmonic structure in both plucked and picked performances. The word that comes to mind when listening to this speaker is “balanced.” Being a guitarist, I am most critical of the reproduction of the varying harmonic content of every genre, and these speakers sound great reproducing all types of guitar music. Even at low levels, this little speaker sounds linear; you won’t get any surprises when you take your mix to other speaker systems.
Acoustic guitars are detailed, with no muddying of the instrument’s harmonic structure. Bass guitar, particularly those instances where the musician is using a pick, is heard with a percussive attack that can get lost in other speaker systems. Very impressive for a 5.25-inch transducer.
For OB recording and monitoring, this speaker is an exceptional choice. For any mobile recording situation, you will find that the sound of your mic will be accurately reproduced, making your choice of mics and placement a much easier task.
AND THE VERDICT?
The Neumann KH120A is an extraordinary little speaker system. The detail represented in the midrange is absolutely stunning, making your job as a mixer/editor a little easier during post. In a world where vocal production in pop music is king, you will love this speaker. The small footprint will allow the KH120As to be placed in “space-challenged” environments, such as an OB van or a small editing/mixing room. The stereo imaging and sweet spot is quite wide, taking into consideration your placement, as I did find that placement is critical to obtaining the very best imaging and linear frequency response. If you take the time to calibrate your system, along with fine-tuning the placement in your room, you will be rewarded with a superb listening experience. I have listened and worked on these speakers for hours on end, with no listening fatigue whatsoever. And with the Neumann name, your clients won’t be asking, “What kind of speakers are these again?” Recommended.
Bobby Frasier is an audio engineer, educator and guitarist for Beatles tribute band Marmalade Skies.