Kali Audio LP-8 by Arthur Stone
Climbing Mt. Whitney: The Kali Audio LP-8 is a 2-way studio monitor: it's affordable, well-designed and manufactured, and produces accurate and pleasing audio.
Kali Audio likened the development of the Lone Pine (LP) range of monitors to climbing Mount Whitney – at 14,500 feet, the tallest mountain of the Sierra Nevada and mainland USA. The metaphor is a good one: releasing a new range of monitors into a busy market; overcoming challenges in design and production; human-machine drama (no doubt). Ultimately, once the challenges are overcome, one is rewarded with the view, and with this, a sense of accomplishment.
The metaphor applies to the experience of using the Kali LP-8's too; in a sonic sense, you get a full view of the source material – the high points and the low valleys (treble and bass) all clearly visible.
Price: $249 US - £259 UK (inc. VAT) – Euros 299
Price per monitor; double for pair.
One year limited warranty.
The price (and quality) mark this out as as a great product for people on a lower budget who want a good reference and good listening. Equally, the price is attractive for situations where a reliable and accurate monitor is needed or as a second pair.
In the Kali LP-6 review I mentioned Kali's gameplan of introducing the Lone Pine (LP) series as a high-quality, cost-effective introduction to their monitors and a segue into high-end monitors in the future.
Spec Talk: Manufacturers often publish two sets of frequency data: one, the 'frequency range' – that is the range of frequency/bandwidth that the can be reproduced; the 'frequency response' is the 'range' vs amplitude as shown in the chart. Usually this test is a sine wave in an anechoic or semi-anechoic chamber. In use, the LP-8 didn't sound weak (in dynamic energy) or lacking (in any frequency). No sub needed.
The Class D amplifiers produce a clean, tight sound with good low-mid definition...some punch, which works well with the 8” woofer (which doesn't sound sluggish). The cone material is a bit of a mystery, no info online. It looks and feels like some kind of rubberised plastic or vinyl. I'm sure it's a bit more involved than that but in practice the cone material produces a perky and lively timbre. I didn't get fatigued with the sound and it was enjoyable in terms of perception and bodily sensation of bass energy.
The listening distance is calculated as a safe level for listening to 85 dB (a good upper level for me) at 2.8 meters with 20dB headroom allowing for peaks such as gunshots and explosions. There is a digital safety limiter but I didn't hear it; it's main function is to protect the components and given the general SPL - loud enough - it is a genuinely useful feature on such a powerful monitor.
The crossover frequency at 1.8 kHz is 300 Hz higher than the LP-6's 1.5 kHz; in practice I didn't hear any notable sonic differences but the higher crossover would take some of the load off the LP-8 tweeter at higher levels allowing for a more consistent, linear sound (which is what I heard).
The input connections are obviously good for a range of applications, from domestic hi-fi to studio; the connections themselves feel and sound good-quality, so despite the modest price, the inputs and connectors don't feel cheap or compromised.
Costs will have been saved by the use of DIP (small) switches as opposed to more finger-friendly dials or larger switches. In practice it is straightforward to set the DIP switches once and forget about them. The important everyday controls (power, level) are more easily accessible albeit on the rear panel.
The monitor cosmetics are good. Not flashy; not meh. The tweeter's 3D-waveguide creates the impression of a wider, clearer soundstage with better resolution of sources.
The bass port is also designed to assist the soundstage by remaining silent; regularly-shaped ports can create unwanted sounds due to uneven air excursion – chuffing or farting noises. The LP-8's irregular port shape creates a consistent escape-velocity of the air across it's surface, lowering the noise floor and this also reinforces the clarity of the bass signal; in this way the soundstage remains independent of the monitor as there are no noticeable sonic artifacts to connect it.
In general the LP-8 has the physical feel of a high-quality monitor built to a cost and without compromising the signal path.
Knock On Wood: The plastic cabinet sounds just like wood; I tested this by knocking. The result sounded musical – like a wooden block percussion instrument. The density feels good, like a solid hardwood. The 'ring' of the knock appears to be consistent throughout the monitor.
The main thing is that – to my ears – the LP-8 sounds 'musical' and has a natural and easy presence.
The LP-8's plastic finish is partly-textured so the light diffuses which helps their reasonable size disappear into the background so they don't appear too dominant.
Talking Sound: I started listening in a domestic hi-fi position and set the room mode EQ's as the manual suggested. I went through some MiniDiscs and vinyl.
I felt Linton Kwesi Johnson Bass Culture feel in my feet...ears on feet. It felt full and solid, like a mini-sound system in the room. Linton's rich vocal was well-represented. I played through my music collection; random genres/styles. Nothing stood out as bad or missing; I enjoyed listening and felt vibe.
I moved the LP-8's to a desktop position (around arms reach); again I adjusted the room EQ dip-switches. Despite the close proximity I heard little self-noise (small amount of hiss) and no 'electromagnetic smog' or fatiguing resonances. The relatively heavy weight of the LP-8 was sat on a cork sheet straight onto the 1” desktop but surprisingly I heard no coupling with the desk. The LP-8 cabinet projected the sound well with no strain and there was a good de-coupling of the soundstage and image from the physical monitor.
There was a nice soundstage in this position – cinematic and not hyped. Good spread and depth. Heard lots of background detail. Listening to familiar music I had created I was impressed that it sounded as intended during the mix. To me, this suggests that music made on the LP-8 will translate well to other systems.
Conversely, the LP-8's will accurately reproduce referenced music – general media music, film/video, etc. and this makes them ideal recreational monitors/loudspeakers, if you have the space for them. For the money these are a real good buy for home entertainment as long as you're able to place them beyond a nearfield position (ideally around 6 to 7 ft).
In a more regular mix set-up – 6' triangle, 1' from rear wall – the LP-8's felt much more at home than the desktop. The distance from listening position reduced the self-noise hiss and the monitors had room to breathe and express their significant power into the acoustics of the mid-sized, home-studio room.
This increased energy also made it easier to track/overdub than with the LP-6 and also the LP-8's offer a wider audience window, for example 2 or 3 people can listen in to the soundstage comfortably whereas the LP-6's were more suited to a solo listener, two at a push.
Although the Kali LP-8 shares attributes with more expensive monitors (e.g. nice wide and deep soundstage, un-hyped dynamics, plausibility) it's limitations show in the treble (a slightly 'forward' image) and a slightly more fatiguing experience listening albeit that is in comparison to expensive monitors. For the sound you get, the LP-8 is great value.
LP-8 vs LP-6: The LP-8's do share some characteristics with the smaller LP-6. Both monitors are good for the same applications; alternatively, one or the other might be better-suited. An example is physical size: the depth of the LP-8 means that an LP-6 is a better footprint – but you're not necessarily losing anything (sonically) by choosing the smaller LP-6 especially from a sweet-spot listening position. If you require a wider listening area (for a few people) or you're tracking and using the LP-8's as tracking monitors, then the extra power on tap is necessary.
Sonically, it's not as if one is better than the other; just that LP6 or 8 might 'fit' better in terms of studio/room ergonomics. There are musical exceptions though: foe example, I preferred listening to dub on the LP-8's, and trance and techno on the LP-6. In general, if you're dealing with music that has a lot of energy across the frequency range, the LP-8's extra bass capability is preferable.
Solo, the LP-6 was great for tracking, but with two people it was harder to stay in the sweet-spot of the soundstage – I needed a little more power for a rock tracking session; the LP-8 provided this and the sense of power kept 3 of us connected to the soundstage.
The LP-8 does have that extra bass energy, and depending on your music style, it makes sense to opt for that, if your room can handle it. On both LP-6 and 8, the Room EQ controls were very effective particularly with some basic room treatment. It is possible to get both the LP-6 and 8 to sound very similar but at different sound pressure levels.
Room with a view: I've never personally climbed Mount Whitney but I do know what the top of a hill looks like: you get a great view of the surrounding landscape (weather permitting) and all the detail of the valleys and peaks can be seen. This is a good metaphor for the 'LP-8 experience.'
On the top of the hill you get a nice buzz inside; relaxed and looking clearly at the world. This is how I felt listening to the LP-8's in my room with a beautiful wide soundstage, deep bass and un-harsh highs. I can hear the pulse and dynamics of the music without anything obscuring the view.
The 'weather-permitting' aspect of the metaphor is room acoustics; to get the best from the LP-8's some acoustic common-sense should be applied. The LP-8's power must be accommodated and this is primarily achieved through placement (and acoustic treatment) with the Room EQ controls adding some fine-tuning.
Even with a perfect set-up the LP-8's do not sound as beautiful or offer as detailed a landscape resolution as much more expensive monitors but the listener experience is no less visceral or enjoyable.
Sound quality: Excellent for the money and good at any price. Pleasurable listening and reasonably accurate. Good off-axis response.
Ease of use: Care needed with placement to get the best. Good connectivity for studio/domestic use.
Features: Good feature set with the room EQ and invisible limiter.
Bang-for-buck: Very good.
Credits and Links:
Kali Audio LP-8 manual