Kali Audio IN-8 by CoolGuitarGear
Touted as the best speakers for the price, and certainly one of the most sought-after ‘high entry’ monitor speakers, the most important thing is how they sound. Now, I do have limited experience with studio monitor speakers, and I would not compare these to $2,000 speakers (presuming the latter would sound better since they cost a lot more), but I will compare these to KRK Rokit 8s (RPG 2 series). The reasons for my purchasing the KRKs were two-fold: 1) They were within my budget and 2) an interestingly large number of ‘studio’ YouTube videos had them on display (maybe because of the black and yellow combination made them pop visually and the YouTubers never actually used them). But thanks to Robert Jackson, of Robert’s Guitar Dungeon (check out his YouTube channel), who owns a pair of LP-6s, I contacted Kali Audio to inquire about an upgrade, and the company certainly delivered the goods.
And so, the first sound test had one Kali Audio IN-8 to the left with a KRK Rokit 8 to the right (I don’t have the hookup to switch between the speaker sets). As I played music, I could shift my head (and listening) from side to side, while playing ambient, rock, classical and metal, and besides playing live music with a guitar soloing and riffing with Band-in-a-Box backing tracks. In every instance there was a very common element: The KRK speaker sounded as though I had a burlap sack over the Kali Audio speaker… and then when listening to the Kali Audio speaker, it was as though the burlap sack was removed from the KRK – presuming that makes sense. In effect, the clarity with the IN-8 was exceptional, in that detail came through that was not present with the KRK. More specifically, the Kali Audio IN-8s shone brightly because of its rich bottom end (full, but not booming or and certainly not muddy), with a resonant full spectrum mid-range and a fantastically clear high end. However, they are very flat, making them ideal for mixing, obviously, and perhaps less impactful when simply listing to music and you want more ‘oomph’ (the Kali Audio subwoofer would solve that issue). However, because of their flatness, there is a very rich and expansive midrange that is complimented by a tight bottom end and a detailed higher-end, the latter two of which support and compliment the midrange beautifully. Consequently, these super low (-6dB) distortion speakers produce great sonic detail, which works from ambient to metal; they are impressive and inspiring, in that they encourage you to want to compose and mix. Exquisite sounding and, further to that point, there is far less ear strain, thus making general listening and studio work far more enjoyable and somewhat addictive.
Technically speaking, the IN-8 speakers have some cool features, all of which synchronize to provide the ultra-clear sound and detail for which they are known. There is the super tight 8-inch woofer, but also a mid-range driver and tweeter that are coincident (coaxial or concentric), in that they share the same acoustic center. Because of the placement of the mid/tweeter, and the crossover of the woofer to the mid-range (330 Hz), the IN-8 is an acoustic point source, “an ideal directivity characteristic for a studio monitor,” as the company puts it. This eliminates off-axis lobing (measured as having a comb filtering response, i.e., areas of peaks and dips, as listening position varies vertically). The tube port design allows air to leave at the same velocity, as compared to many speakers that has air leaving at different speeds, thereby adding to noise (chuffing). Conversely, the IN-8 speaker has reduced noise that supports a better low-end response so that bass remains clean and tight. Next, and I find this very impressive, the speaker includes boundary compensation EQs, which you set via the dip switches on the back. This allows you to have the speakers on stands, on your desktop, close to walls, away from walls, but also the ability to engage and/or trim both low and high frequencies. There’s even a dip switch to turn RCA input (iPhone, CD or MP3 player, etc.) on and off, to prevent interference when not in use.
Now, I will admit some of the tech jargon is, or was, over my head, as my primary focus, as a consumer, is how well the speakers function and sound. This is no different than a guitar having dual truss rods, with a particular finish or coating, the use of tone woods vs. other materials, etc. Things can sound good on paper, but guitarists primarily want a guitar that plays well and sounds good (and certainly has looks to fit the taste of the player), and the Kali Audio IN-8 speakers certainly deliver in sound and functionality, and notwithstanding its design features and capabilities (although those elements are what make the speakers sound so pristine and captivating). In its price-range, the IN-8 not only has a full-spectrum sound, but you can distinguish every instrument with utmost clarity.
The only con I have is that these are powerful speakers and may be overkill for small studios – I like them because I practice and compose with them, but most small studios would get by with the IN-6 model. Otherwise, the only complaint I have read or heard about the IN-8s is the slight hiss (more like ‘ssshhhhh’) noise when everything is quiet. Maybe it’s my aging ears, at 55, but I had to sit still and listen for that noise. It was so inconsequential, and completely oblivious while music played, that I suspect some reviewers had to find something negative for their reviews. Fair enough.
Finally, below is an interview that Kali Audio co-founder Nate Baglyos did with Sweetwater. Although the video was for the NP-8 speakers, the technical information (shared with the IN-8s) largely is the same (except the IN-8s do not have an ‘auto-shutdown when not in use’ feature) and clarifies why Kali Audio speakers are some of the best for the price, for both features and sound.