KSdigital A100 by Solidtrax
A few years ago we had our first experience with a variety of KSdigital monitors during a demo session and we really liked what we heard. Ever since that day, we’ve kept interested in the brand and a little while ago we contacted KSdigital and they were so kind to provide us with two sets of monitors for us to test and review. We have opted for the A100 and the new A200mk2, as these happened to have the biggest attraction to us. This review will focus on our experiences with the A100. If you would like to read about our experiences with the A200mk2, please click here!
For about 25 years now, KSdigital has been developing and producing studio reference monitors, which they develop and build by hand in germany. Thanks to their patented FIRTEC technology, they had great success building monitors that offer both a flat amplitude and phase response, resulting in an audio signal that is free from time and phase distortions that you typically find in many competing products.
KSdigital has a wide variety of monitors available in their lineup, spread in four different categories. The A100 is a member of the A-line, which also contains for example the aforementioned A200mk2 3-way monitor and the A300 3-way monitor. Another line of monitors that we like to mention is the C-Reference series, with the compact C5 and C8 which are coaxial 2-way monitors with respectively a 6” and 8” woofer. There is also a C88, which is basically the C8 with an added 8” woofer for an even wider frequency range and higher SPL capabilities.
Let’s take a look at the A100
The A100 is a 2-Way monitor that is designed to be used in a nearfield or midfield setup. It measures 240 x 300 x 370 mm (W x D x H), making it a pretty compact monitor, especially if you take into account that it houses an 8 inch woofer. This woofer is made from a combination of paper and fiber glass and is driven by a 175 watt class-d amplifier. Above the woofer you will find a soft dome tweeter that seems to be slightly bigger than 1 inch, which resides in a small waveguide and is driven by a 70 watt class-d amplifier. The monitor is made with a combination of wood and metal and looks really well built in our opinion. The weight of a hefty 13.8 kg makes them feel pretty solid too. The set that we tested was the Cherry version, with this lovely looking natural wood on the front, but you can also opt for a complete black version of the A100.
If we take a look at the back of the monitor, you will find an analog XLR input, a port for the optional remote control, three dials for level, low shelf and high shelf, the power input and an on/off switch. Although it’s a pretty straight forward approach, what immediately caught our attention is that the dials for respectively the level, low shelf and high shelf are protected by a little piece of protective plexiglass. In order to make adjustments, you will need to unscrew this first. To us, this feels as if they would rather not have you make adjustments, unless absolutely necessary. But maybe it’s there to prevent anyone from making accidental adjustments. Who knows!
Test Setup Studio 1
As usual, we have tested the studio monitors in both our studio's. Studio 1 recently received a big overhaul, measuring roughly 5,5 meters long by 3 meters wide, with a fair amount of broadband absorption panels and big bass traps in every corner. Despite the acoustic treatment, it’s still not an acoustically perfect space, but it’s a big improvement over the previous situation nonetheless. We placed the A100 monitors on stands behind the desk and experimented a bit with their exact placement for a while and ended up with them at roughly 1,5 meters away from the seating position, with the same distance between the speakers. The speakers are toed in, pointing just a little bit behind the seating position. The height of the speakers is adjusted to make sure that our ears are roughly at the same height as the space between the woofer and the tweeter. We used XLR cables to connect the monitors to a RME Babyface Pro FS interface.
Our Experience Chapter 1
Before we started doing some actual sound design and mixing work on the A100, we first wanted to get to know these monitors a bit better by listening to some tracks that we are very familiar with. Think of tracks from artists like Donati, Dominic Miller, Neil Stacey, Pensees, Azaleh, deadmau5, Khalid and Oliver Koletzki to name a few. While listening to a variety of songs on the A100, we both noticed that we received a big smile on our faces. So let’s find out why the A100 made us smile.
The A100 strikes us as a studio monitor that is perfectly balanced. It is neutral, but it’s also inspiring and musical. It has a well defined low-end that is authoritative and articulate, but it’s certainly not hyped at any time. In our experience, the A100 allows you to distinguish different layers in the lower registers, like a kick drum and a bass line for example. Mids offer a good amount of detail and resolution, which will enable you to hear little sonic details in the back of the mix that are often missed on lesser quality monitors. But at the same time, the monitor is smooth and musical enough to let you enjoy the music for what it is, instead of putting the focus on the technical aspects of the music the whole time. The highs are crystal clear and smooth at the same time, offering a healthy amount of spatial clues in the music, but it doesn’t become harsh and we have never experienced ear fatigue, not even during long sessions throughout the day.
We really love the stereo image, it surrounds us, as if it makes you a participant, instead of just a spectator who is listening from a distance. Instruments have their own space, but it does so in a way that it all stays completely coherent. We noticed that the sweet spot is pretty wide, so moving away from the ideal seating position a bit doesn’t have such a big impact as we are used to. Instruments and vocals that are centered in the middle really seem to be right in front of us, while stereo elements seem to disregard the position of the speakers and move freely around.
Piano sounds real and doesn’t seem to lack any fundamentals. Vocals, both male and female, are full-bodied and very lifelike, in a way that reminds us how a good 3-way monitor handles vocals. What also impressed us a lot is how these monitors handle drums and other percussive elements in a mix, these really sound very punchy and realistic to our ears. However, what the A100 doesn’t do is make badly recorded or mixed tracks sound amazing. We listened to some songs that really could have been recorded/mixed better and these monitors from KSdigital don’t hold back, we could clearly identify the areas where things could have been improved.
There is something else that we believe really needs to be mentioned as well. These monitors have very little self noise. Sure, at a distance of just 50cm, a faint noise can be identified, but at our seating position we have a hard time noticing any self noise, and that is saying something because this room is really quiet.
Every time that we test studio monitors, we like to do some measurements, so that’s exactly what we did with the A100 as well. In this particular room, disregarding some unfortunate room modes that we are familiar with, these monitors seem to be flat down to 35 Hz, from where they start to roll-off pretty quickly. When doing a sine sweep test by ear, we can confirm that they basically sound flat down to 35 Hz, after which the roll-off becomes very apparent and it finally becomes inaudible to our ears once the sine sweep reaches 29 Hz. What does this mean in practice? For our taste, in this particular room, we never felt the need to add a subwoofer. Sure, a good sub with the right specifications will certainly add some extra Hz in the lowest registers and it can certainly help adding some SPL to the whole setup too. The truth is that we never felt we missed something in the lows and we don’t really need that extra SPL, the A100 already goes loud enough to damage our ears if we are not careful.
Test Setup Studio 2
This room has almost the same dimensions as studio 1, but has received much more professional acoustical treatment. Think of wide band absorbers, bass (tube) traps and diffusers all around. We have placed the A100 monitors on stands behind the desk and ended up with a pretty similar setup as in studio 1, with the monitors roughly 1,6 meters away from the seating position and there is also 1,6 meters between the two monitors. The area between the tweeter and the woofer is again positioned at ear height and the monitors are pointed ever so slightly behind our seating position. We used XLR cables to connect the monitors to a RME Fireface UFX+ interface.
Our Experience Chapter 2
Again we started this test by listening to a variety of tracks that we are very familiar with and the first thing that we both noticed is that we had to drive the A100 a little bit louder to achieve the same SPL. This is probably because of a combination of more acoustical dampening and the slightly higher distance of the monitors from the seating position. It still sounded fantastic to our ears, for the most part identical to what we experienced in studio 1, but there are some subtle differences. The stereo image seemed to have improved ever so slightly and especially the phantom middle was razor sharp in here. We believed we could distinguish even more layers within the stereo field so to say, and the front to depth imaging seemed to have improved as well, as if the virtual stage became a bit bigger.
We also measured the A100 in this room and this looked pretty much the same as in studio 1, but with much less room mode issues. And again, when performing the sine sweep test by ear, this was also nearly identical to room 1, with the difference that the sine sweep became inaudible at 28 Hz this time.
Doing some actual work on the A100 is a very pleasant experience. From writing and producing to sound design and mixing, these monitors seem to be perfectly up to the task. Subtle EQ changes, setting up the right compression settings and working with fx like delay and reverb, everything is presented very clearly, making us feel really confident that what we hear is the truth. No more second guessing your decisions also really speeds up your work, which is a nice bonus! But unlike some other studio monitors that we have experience with, it’s also really enjoyable to sit back and relax while listening to music. As mentioned earlier in this review, these monitors are not just fantastic tools for all the different tasks during music production, but they are also pleasant to listen to.
While we like to work on moderate levels for the majority of the time, sometimes we like to crank it up a little bit, to hear how everything holds up at louder - but still sane - levels. The A100 loves to go loud and it doesn’t seem to alter the tonality a lot in the process, if at all, they just get louder and fairly effortlessly too. Knowing that the tonality barely changes, this gives us the confidence that we can mix on them on moderate levels and still hear the whole frequency range as intended. With some competing monitors, we have experienced that they often lose some of the low-end when played on moderate levels, so we are happy to say that this is not a problem with the A100.
While writing this review we realized we talked a lot about the good, but we haven’t really talked about the ugly. So, are these the best monitors ever? Is there really nothing negative to say about the A100? We really tried hard to come up with something, but if we take into account the asking price of around €1100 each (including VAT), we honestly can’t think of anything negative to say. While we hate to use marketing speak, we truly believe these monitors punch above their weight. We have experience with a variety of other 2-way and also 3-way monitors that are somewhat in the same price category, and it’s our honest opinion that the A100 is the set that we prefer. But again, that’s based on our experience, there are a lot of studio monitors out there that we have no experience with.
But if we don’t take into account the asking price, we could argue that the A100 are not the most revealing monitors available on the market. We can think of some more expensive monitors that, in our experience, seem to offer a bit more clarity and resolution, especially in the higher mids and highs. But now we are comparing the A100 to monitors costing a considerable amount more, making it an unfair comparison in our opinion.
The A100 monitors offer a lot of value for the money. If you are searching for a professional set of 2-way monitors and you have the budget, we can only recommend putting the KSdigital A100 on your shortlist. They really deserve your attention and consideration.
+ Perfectly balanced between musical and analytical
+ Relaxed presentation causes no ear fatigue
+ Authoritative and well defined low frequency reproduction
+ Great stereo image
+ Solid build
We want to thank KSdigital for giving us the opportunity to test and review the A100 monitors.