If you’re making music of any sorts from a home studio (whether just hip hop beats or complete songs with vocals on it) then I’m sure you already know the importance of having studio monitors for mixing your songs.
For the longest time, I didn’t have a pair of studio monitors. My only pair of speakers was a home theatre system and that was good enough for me to mix my music with.
It wasn’t a perfect process – once I get a good enough mix on the speakers, I would export the file to my phone and run down to my car to give it another test, which would often reveal a lot of flaws in my mix.
I would then go back up to my bedroom studio to make these corrections, and repeat the process on as many speakers as I could until everything’s just right.
I don’t know if you noticed but that’s a lot of running up and down!
Eventually, I decided enough was enough – I needed to invest in a pair of studio monitors. If I could cut down the amount of back and forths in half, then I consider that to be a good enough investment.
The problem? I didn’t have enough cash to pay for a decent pair of monitors. And because of that, I decided I needed a compromise.
First Things First: Should You Mix Using Studio Headphones?Let’s get the main question out of the way: are studio headphones like the KRK KNS 8400 a suitable replacement for actual studio monitors?
Here’s my simplified answer: no, it won’t totally replace actual studio monitors – but it’s good enough to start with.
I’ll be real with you – mixing on headphones just do not compare to the experience of mixing with actual studio monitors. There’s nothing quite like making mixing changes while your song is playing on full blast.
But that’s not to say that studio headphones are not good enough, though.
Here’s why: when aspiring beatmakers and musicians are starting to build out their home studios, your budget is most likely limited, so you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck.
And let’s face it – a pair of studio monitors are just plain ol’ expensive. Expect a low-end, budget pair to set you back at least $200 to $250 – whereas a great set of studio headphones will cost you less than half of that.
And if you actually already own a good set of studio monitors? Then a good pair of cans will only add good things to your arsenal and make mixing even easier.
With that said, if you’re reading this review, then you’re probably half-sold on the idea of mixing with headphones anyway. Just thought I should get that out of the way. So on to the review!
The first thing I noticed about the KNS 8400 is that they’re a bit on the bright side. The mid-range really shine with these headphones – Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” sounds perfect on these. The snares are punchy, hi-hats are crisp, and there’s a nice separation with the vocals while still blending it together with the rest of the instruments. The individual details of songs really come out and sound super sharp.
The mid-range stands out so much that traditional grungey hip hop such as Mobb Deep’s “Survival of the Fittest” and Wu-Tang’s “Protect Ya Neck” end up with a different kind of sheen to it. It’s not bad at all – it just doesn’t sound as grimey as I’m used to hearing those tracks. In my opinion, mixing rock and pop music would be perfect on these headphones.
When it comes to using these headphones for recording vocals, the KNS 8400 also shines. There’s hardly any noise bleed as long as the cups are on properly on your head, so your vocals remain quiet if you have the volume set to reasonable levels.
Here’s something you should note though: the low-end leaves a little more to be desired. While the bass itself is smooth and tight and there’s still a thump, frequencies below 100 Hz are a little soft, and slight changes within the 40-70 Hz frequency range is actually quite difficult to notice. This is not particularly the fault of this particular model, but with most studio headphones in general: they try to make the sound response as flat as possible.
So if the songs you’re working with has a lot of low-end bass, you might find it tough to use these headphones. I’m talking about songs that utilize a lot of sub-bass and 808s such as Bobby Schmurda’s “Hot Nigga”, Drake’s “Back To Back”, and O.T. Genasis “CoCo”, — you know, songs whose basslines are the main centerpiece of the track. If that’s primarily the music you’re working with, the KNS 8400 may not be for you.
Why? Because those songs really shine when the bass is pumping loud. Since the low end on the KNS 8400 is slightly on the low side, you might be tempted to boost those frequencies up really high until you get that low-end rumble – which, of course, will just lead your song into having a very uneven bass response. But then again, this is the case with most studio headphones in general, and not just the KNS 8400.
Build Quality and Comfort
Right out of the bat, the KNS 8400 are pretty heavy duty headphones. There aren’t any metal components, but they definitely do not feel cheap despite the plastic components. In fact, my pair has been through quite a lot but have withstood the test of time without breaking. They’re also quite heavy compared to other headphones, which I believe contributes to making it feel durable.
The ear cups feel very nice. The material is made out of acoustic memory foam — it’s gentle and plush, and it conforms to your ears after some use. I love this about the KNS 8400. They don’t make my ears sweat while mixing unless it’s a hot day. I cannot speak enough about the quality of the ear cusps — they’re definitely up there when it comes to comfort out of all the headphones I’ve tried.
I should also mention that the wire for these headphones are detachable. While I’m not even personally close to needing to replace the wire, that would be an option for you in case it gets damaged for whatever reason. The wire defaults to a 1/8″ plug, but it also comes with an adapter to convert it to 1/4″ which you would likely need if you’re plugging it into an audio interface such as the Scarlett 2i2. Something to note is that the wire is incredibly long. It’s easily over 2 meters long. This is great if your studio desk is cluttered like mine is, but I can imagine this would be a pain if you’re walking around with these headphones.
Here’s the downside with the KNS 8400 – these are large, over-the-ear headphones. While the headphones does a good job of covering my entire ears and the pressure isn’t too great, I find that it clamps down on my lymph nodes a little too tightly when used for long periods of time. As a result, every now and then I would get a dull headache after 30-45 minutes of wear for some reason.
I should emphasize that this won’t be the case for everybody. Some people have no problems with larger headphones — apparently, I do. So while people with larger heads might be fine with the size of the KNS 8400, people like me who have smaller heads (for reference, my fitted hats are at around size 7 to 7 1/4) could possibly find these headphones to not be very comfortable to use, especially when mixing as that tends to take hours on end.To make it a little more comfortable to wear for an extended period of time, I end up wearing a hat to give it a little more padding and bring the headphones a little higher up so that my earlobes are sticking out a little bit at the bottom.
This way, the cans aren’t clamping down on my overly sensitive lymph nodes. They feel perfectly comfortable when I put them on this way and have absolutely no problem wearing them for longer periods of time.
How Does The KNS 8400 Compare To Other Headphones?
First things first – the KRK KNS 8400 are studio monitor headphones and NOT consumer headphones.
That means if you’re looking for a pair of cans for casual music listening, these are NOT the right headphones for you. These are NOT Beats by Dre and Skullcandy headphones – these headphones are meant to bring out flaws in your mix, not make them artificially sound good.
It’s meant to make things music sound as flat as possible — that way, you’re getting an accurate picture of what your song actually sounds like. Which makes it easier to mix and get a good translation from speaker to speaker. Capeesh?
Now that that’s out of the way… The closest point of comparison to the KNS 8400 would be the Audio Technica M-Series. It’s most often compared to the Audio Technica ATH-M50x, but in my opinion the sound is actually a whole lot closer to the ATH-M40x model in terms of frequency response.
If you’re deciding between the KNS 8400 vs. the M40x, then you really can’t go wrong with either one. The M40x has been tuned flat and is designed for mixing use in home studios, and I couldn’t tell a huge difference between the two pairs. The price points, build quality and general fit are roughly the same as well. Flip a coin to decide which one you want, and call it a day.
The ATH-M50x is a slightly different comparison, though. The M50x has a slight boost in the low-end frequencies – nothing too huge, mind you, but enough for me to notice. It’s also more expensive, retailing at approximately $150 USD. If you don’t mind having a bit of a bass boost while mixing your music and also plan to use your headphones for casual music listening outside of the studio and you have the budget for it, then the M50x is a great choice – otherwise, save your money and go for the KNS 8400 instead.
KNS 8400 vs. KNS 6400 – Big Bro vs. Little Bro
Now if you’re considering getting the KNS 8400, then there’s no doubt you’ve come across its little brother, the KNS 6400. It’s almost the same exact model, except the latter costs slightly less.
How does it stack up? I’ve had a chance to try out both models side-by-side, and here’s what I think: both models are almost identical in terms of looks and comfort. The sound signature for both headphones are almost exactly the same.
The difference lies within the bass – low-end frequencies are already somewhat muted with the KNS 8400, but it’s almost non-existent with the KNS 6400.
If you’re considering getting the KNS 6400 because it’s cheaper, then you don’t have to worry: at the time of publishing, the KNS 8400 is on sale for around $90 USD – which makes it roughly the same price as the KNS 6400.