Neumann KH 120 Powered Nearfield Studio Monitor

Neumann’s entree into the studio monitor market is a success, thanks to Klein & Hummel’s initially excellent design, fine imaging and superior construction.
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The merging of Klein & Hummel’s monitor lineup into Neumann’s catalog has commenced with the KH 120 powered, nearfield monitor, the first of what appears to be a five monitor series from the industry’s most legendary microphone manufacturer, priced from $750 each, street. The KH120 is also available in a “D” version with AES digital I/O via BNC, multiple delay options and networked control, but here I will review the analog (“A”) version.

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Features

My previous experience with K&H monitors let me Features My previous experience with K&H monitors let me know they were sturdily built, capable of high fidelity at high SPL and feature a solid, “meat and potatoes” design. The KH 120 clearly upholds those traditions; it starts with a shielded, aluminum cabinet with a one-piece face and nonparallel walls (for standing wave reduction). An elliptical tweeter waveguide is tailored for a wide sweet spot horizontally with narrow vertical dispersion (reducing early console reflections). The cab is front-ported to better allow mounting on, or near, walls and/or in tight spaces.

Drivers are a composite sandwich five-inch woofer and a one-inch titanium fabric dome tweeter that Neumann claims are so consistent that that every KH 120 pair is a matched pair. These drivers are fed by two 50 W continuous/80 W peak amplifiers, crossed over at 2 kHz, with a separate peak limiter on each plus four-position EQ controls and the acceptance of a wide range of input levels with a trim pot for fine tweaking. The power supply is universal (between 100 VAC and 240 VAC).

In Use

I haven’t monitored on two-way nearfield speakers for quite some time now; I’m currently a very happy user of the Blue Sky SAT8 and SUB212 system (powered three-way midfield pair with a powerful dual-driver sub), so my first reactions to the smaller KH 120 were admittedly skewed. In order to lessen the shock, I tried them with my Blue Sky sub and received very useful results. In the flat EQ positions, the KH 120 pair performed with a slightly forward top-end and high midrange with very defined mids and uncluttered low-mids. They seemed a bit bright, but very smooth and musical in the way that fabric tweeters excel. KH 120 imaging is precise, defined and inspiring.

Next, I tried the KH 120 pair without a sub and then, I could better understand their abilities. With the KH 120s approximately 3.5 feet apart, equilateral with my listening position, I found their bottom end to be punchy and abundant for five-inch drivers, with an overall balance ideal for long editing sessions. With vocals, I was able to hone in on differences in pitch and tone and make accurate blends without the distractions of excessive low end, not to mention avoid fatigue (the latter of which is likely due to that fine tweeter, the speakers’ small amount of THD, and an overall low SPL thanks in part to the speakers’ detailed response and precise imaging). As I edited on the KH 120 pair, then checked mixes on both my Blue Sky rig and the Neumann pair, two of my clients actually noticed the differences, praising the sonic improvements gained.

Now impressed, I dutifully hit the KH 120 pair with excessive input levels, and they put on a show. As I slowly inched up control room volume with a double-kick/killer metal track, the KH 120 pair responded like few other small nearfields can (based on my recollections of multiple similar speakers for our “PAR Session Trial: Small Monitors and Subwoofer Systems” featured review). Air from the ports began blasting my face (at the mere 3.5 feet distance, mind you) and the 120s kept on going with no limiter shutdowns. Going even louder, there was only moderate distortion. I finally created too much distortion, yet these KH 120s still didn’t shut down or became obviously limited. Wow!

Over my time with the Neumann speakers, I continued to learn them, soon finding them to be valuable mix reference points — great for cutting crucial overdubs like guitars and vocals and absolutely ideal for vocal editing and dialog mixing. I appreciate their appropriate lean (flat?) bottom end, preferring it to the hype-y, false bass that some manufacturers choose to build into their nearfield selections. My only complaint with the KH 120s would be a slight frequency emphasis within the 500-800 Hz range, which can bring out some nasal qualities of the source audio.

Summary

I will surely miss the Neumann KH 120s as they leave my studio, despite the fact that small two-ways aren’t even my preferred taste for mixing. Yet they are that good; their qualities simply outweigh my own work preferences.

The KH 120 outperforms many monitors around its price range and size/power category thanks to excellent design, fine imaging, superior SPL abilities (max 112 dB at .5% THD) and generally better construction. Considering its front ports, frequency-response tendencies and the wide range of mounting brackets available, the KH 120 would be perfect for production trucks and smaller control rooms (especially if paired with the optional Neumann KH 810 subwoofer). Sure, such performance exacts a price (and $2,196 list, per pair, isn’t cheap), but these Neumann monitors are predictably built right and should be a worthy investment.

Price: $1,098 list, each

Contact: Sennheiser USA | neumann.com

Rob Tavaglione has owned and operated Catalyst Recording since 1995.