APS Klasik Active Studio Monitor Review
Lows down to an astonishing 35Hz. No sub needed.
by Dan Richards
Pro Studio Reviews "Product of the Year 2016"
I usually don't spend time reading other publication's gear reviews, but in researching APS, I stumbled on Hugh Robjohns Sound On Sound recent review of APS Coax monitors, and found that he began his review with something along the same lines as I'd had in mind. So, Hugh, kick this off.APS stands for Audio Pro Solutions. They were founded in 2006 in Poland, and have been emerging on to the world market with various active monitors and subs in different flavors, price ranges, and applications. APS and lead engineer and designer Grzegorz Matusiak, PhD are no newcomers to audio, and the pedigree runs deep. Greg also headed up R&D at sounddecco, which produced the award-winning sounddeco Sigma 2 and Alpha F3, which include his own drivers designed during his tenure at Tonsil."Poland seems to be a hotbed of audio equipment production at the moment. I've lost count of how much new gear I've reviewed from Poland this year!" - Hugh Robjohns, Sound On Sound
Although I was still early in my admittedly long and drawn out testing and review process, I was initially so impressed with the APS Klasiks here for review, that I began posting in a topic at Gearslutz announcing the introduction of the APS Klasik monitors.
A little history on active near-field monitors
Since the mid-90s, when the revolution of affordable pro-audio gear began, I've worked to keep up with the bleeding edge of developments, especially in the areas of the analog equipment, which includes microphones, mic preamps, and monitors. Along with AD an DA converters, this is the stuff that regardless of the computer, OS, and DAW software anyone is using, everyone still has a need for these types of physical, real-world tools in their studio.
Along the way there have been some benchmarks set for near-field monitor performance. One of them was the Tannoy PBM 6.5 passive monitor. Tannoy was really a big name in studios through the late 90s. But with the introduction and popularity of active monitors, Tannoy never really made the move into actives that Ior any significant number of usersfelt had much to offer over the competition. Another pioneer in the affordable active monitor market was Mackie with their HR series. Initially produced in the US, and then later China, they're still around and on the market, but were overrun by companies that began to offer better products. Genelec was another company that raised the sonic bar, but have largely been relegated to film and post-production studios.
The big rise in personal project studios in the early 2000s brought along with it some newer players and products to the game, notably by companies like KRK, Event, Alesis, Behringer, Samson, Presonus, Yamaha, and others. In the mid 2000s, I'd done a series of extensive reviews and tests on active monitors, and the ones that kept rising to the top of the pack were by Dynaudio. I wrote reviews on Dynaudio monitors, and regularly recommended them in recording and gear forums. Many bought them, and returned to post their own favorable experiences. I still recommend Dynaudio monitors to this day. Dynaudio is a Danish company, and Denmark has been called the "birthplace of the loudspeaker." I recently wrote an article, The Danish Connection, and the history of loudspeaker development in Denmark.
ADAM made big bold moves in the studio market in the 2000s. They also grew too fast, tried to become everything to everyone, and ultimately had to restructure the company to recover from quality-control issues. Focal has also been another mover. Dealers like to push lower-end Focals because the margins are good. JBL is largely known for their live sound reinforcement products, and in that field, I think they make some of the top equipment. I've just never found that JBL translates well in the studio, largely due to what I feel is excessive coloration. Sure, they can sound great. But more in a hi-fi sort of way. Great to listen to and rock out on, but not as a tool for more critical monitoring, where engineering and production decisions need to be made.
A big aspect of studio monitoring that was tackled by companies like Dynaudio and Genelec was listening fatigue. Especially in smaller studios and with less expensive monitors, listening fatigue was and still is a problem for many people. Back in the day it was just par for the course, even in larger studios and more expensive systems. And even today, with a number of companies making much better active monitors, listening fatigue can still present a problem, especially with systems with cheap DA converters. But there's even good news on the AD DA converter front, in that the advancements in the chips used in the converters, of which the advancements are made in the much larger telecommunications industry, have really come a long way. Even as recently as the last few years has put excellent and very affordable converters within reach of anyone.
More and more, active monitors are being used not only as tools for monitoring and mixing, but also for music production. In-the-box production has now become the rule rather than the exception. And regularly we hear news of yet another successful, in-demand engineer leaving their large-format console behind, and moving into computers, DAW software, and plug-ins.
The advances in technologyas well as the rise in real estate priceshas now moved more and more studios into smaller and smaller spaces. The recording and production power that once took huge rooms of consoles, recording decks, and outboard equipment, has now been squeezed into a laptop running software. These are indeed amazing times to be alive for recording musicians.
Studio monitors have been fast-evolving into production tools. Digital soft-synths, drum machines, and amps have become tucked away within our laptops. Active monitors are now our trusty companions and guides throughout the music making process. And the vibe and sound we get from our monitorsevery step of the wayis going to influence, not only the final sound of the mix, but also composition, arrangement, and production decisions.
The argument that, "It doesn't matter what kind of monitors you have, as long as you learn them and can make mixes that translate to the outside world" doesn't carry the same weight any longer. Monitors have become production workhorses, and the quality and strength of your horse is what's going to carry you through the game.
One big area where the size of the horse matters is frequency response. And the major area of range that's been missing in near-field monitors is low-end. And this is especially true in the production of music in various electronic genres, which would include EDM, a lot of Hip-Hop, and even most current Top 40. And the simple fact is that with digital recording, most modern music is produced with a much wider frequency response than was possible in the days of all-analog. Near-field monitors have traditionally just not been the domain of solid low-mids and low-end. That game has changed with the APS Klasik.
APS Klasik Active Studio Monitors enter the game
Over the many months we used the Klasiks in a music production and mix role, we also tested the monitors with just about every kind of music we could throw at them. For an idea of the musical and dynamic range, see our article, Reference Music We Use For Gear Tests. APS is more of a boutique company, and you're not going to find them on the shelves at Guitar Center. Each pair of APS monitors are pair-matched, and are scoped and measured and saved into a database. Should you ever require a driver replacement, APS can consult their database, and make a replacement to the same measurements.
The rear-ported APS Klasik monitor boasts a full range frequency response of +/- 2 dB 35Hz - 25kHz. And all this in an easily-portable and manageable weight of 8.5 kg / 19 lbs and dimensions of H 32cm/12.6" X W 21cm/8.3" X D 28cm/11." The two-way Klasiks are powered by two class AB amplifiers with a crossover frequency at 3.2Hz. The bass/mid-range amp is rated at 75 W RMS @ 8 W, and the tweeter amp is rated at 75 W RMS @ 8 W. SPL @ 1m of RMS: 103 dB (single) and Peak: 111 dB (pair) provides ample SPL to really crank things up, but not enough to allow you to slowly ruin your hearing over time. Loud is great. But too loud is just stupid and irresponsible.
One important aspect of the Klasik is the imagery. The sense of dimensional space and depth in the soundstage. Music is more than a vertical axis of bass, mid, and treble. There's also something akin to depth-of-field, to borrow a photography term. The spacial aspect of front to back, of forward to rear. Good monitors and speakers with fast transient response suspend the music in a 3-dimensional sphere in the air, and allow the sonic particles and events to move and dance in the space around you, and the space in front of you takes on a sense of perspective and distance. The end result is a much more direct emotional connection, and a feeling of being immersed in the music. As a reference monitor, it also makes dialing in reverb and delay times much easier, and more of an intuitive process. EQ doesn't only determine how a sound will line up in the vertical wall of lows to highs, but it also affects the placement of front to rear in the soundstage. There are EQ and compression techniques, as well as reverb and delay settings, for moving sounds either further back or more forward in the mix. And it's important to have the level of monitoring tools to even detect that. In the end, it's simply about resolution. If you're working on, or listening to, something recorded in a great spacewhether physically real or created artificiallyyou'll want to hear and experience the acoustic aspects of that space. This is one area where a lot of monitors simply fall flat, and literally sound and feel 2-dimensional. The Klasiks deliver spacial 3D cues and imagery beautifully.
On the rear of the Klasiks are a level switch at -1.5dB, 0dB, +1.5 for the 3/4" / 1.9 cm aluminium-dome custom-spec'ed SEAS tweeter, and a bass-controller switchwith settings for "roll-off," "passive," and "extended"for the custom APS 7" woofer. This is where things not only get funthey allow you to switch and sculpt the sound of the monitors depending on what you're working on, your desired frequency response, as well as tuning the monitors to your room and personal preference. In tests, we found the neutral tweeter setting of 0 dB to be spot on, and generally left it in that position. The bass control switch was the one we were reaching for most. Working on production for more low-end heavy music, the "extended" position was engaged. We also used it for just listening to music with a fuller low-end response, including EDM, R&B, Rock, and legit orchestral music. This is a big sound coming out of smaller speakers. And in all our tests and people who we talked to who have used the Klasiks, everyone agrees that it sounds and feels like there's a sub playing.
A really interesting discovery occured when we engaged the bass switch in the roll-off position. The sound signature approximated the venerable Yamaha NS10 studio monitors. It's not a stretch to call the APS Klasiks a modern and updated version of Yamaha NS10s with extended frequency response. Another problem with the NS10 is the frequently-blown tweeters. I worked in New York City studios for years, where we regularly replaced NS10 tweeters. One solution to the problem was wiring a fuse before the tweeter. APS Klasiks contain power-protection: Thermal, short circuit, and over-current limiters.
Refer to the Klasik manual PDF for more info. Pages 5 & 6 covers the filters.
During the Klasik tests and review period, we paired the monitors with a number of DACs and USB interfaces at varying price points, including the Audient iD22, SPL Crimson, UA Apollo Twin, Benchmark DAC2 DX, Mytek DSD-192, Lavry DA11, Resonessence Invicta, and Exogal Comet Plus. The Klasiks allowed us to hear the sound and signature of the various DACs. And the Klasiks stood up toand in some cases absolutely benefited fromthe higher-priced DACs.
Perhaps some of the ratio math that's been presented on forums and articles concerning how much budget should be allotted for a DAC based on the price of the monitors really needs to go out the window. $1400 monitors can absolutely be paired with a $1400+ DAC, if the monitors are up to it. DACs are another area, and we have a slew of reviews and findings that we'll be releasing as we move into Spring 2016.
What the Klasiks have absolutely held up to, have been all the various tweaks, tests, and upgrades that have been thrown into our monitoring system over the last six months. And that includes acoustic treatment by LA Sound Panels, all the various DACs mentioned above, and even using various AC, USB, and interconnect cables by Wireworld, Audience, Straight Wire, KingRex, and ifi Audio. The Klasiks sound excellent with stock cables and medium price interfaces, such as the iD22, Crimson, and Apollo Twin. The Klasiks will also gladly yield to a major jump in sonic performance levels. At times during tests and sessions we've had $20K worth of cabling hooked up, as well as the Audience adeptResponse power conditioner, and the Exogal Comet Plus and Resonessence Invicta DACs. The Klasiks perform and glide effortlessly in a monitoring system backed up with over $30K worth of cables and components before we even hit the monitors. The point being, whether you have a more modest or a more high-end set up, or over time want to explore what else can be tweaked to higher performance, the Klasiks won't hold you or your system back.
Let's Get a Second Opinion
A few months ago, I happened to be in a conversation with producer Ted Perlman. Ted and I go back a ways, and have spoken a number of times over the years, often involving gear and what's on the market. As we were talking, he mentioned he was looking for another pair of monitors, and one that specifically was fuller in the low-mids. Over the years, I've been reviewing and testing so much gear, and I always like to have something to recommend at the ready. In this case, I knew the APS Klasiks would more than meet his needsand probably surprise him by exceeding them. Ted is a Grammy award winner and has worked with a veritable who's who list of artists in the music industry, including Whitney Houston, Bob Dylan, Chicago, Burt Bacharach, Joe Cocker and many others. Ted has also been heavily involved with beta testing products over the years. At one point or another, he's had access to just about everything on the market.
Ted's a hard guy to keep track of, but luckily I'm on his he'll-pick-up-the-call list. Last I spoke with him he was running around various studios in Los Angeles, CA with his APS Klasiks in tow, and had been recording artist Gloria Loring with her son Robin Thicke on background vocals. You can dig more into Ted at his website at tedperlman.com.
I contacted APS about a pair of Klasiks for Ted's review. After about a month, and after many excited emails and phone conversations, he was kind enough to send me a review of some of his experiences using the Klasiks:
Let me start out by saying that I have been working in recording studios for a really long time. I was there when the industry standard Yamaha NS10 speakers first arrived in New York studios, and the great "tissue paper wars" broke out. Engineers and producers argued over which brand of toilet paper gave the best attenuation to the dreaded NS10 tweeter. But eventually me and everybody else just got used to that "sound." Most of the hit records of the past 35 years have been mixed and recorded using on those Yamahas. I thought I would be buried with mine, they were such an integral part of my work process. Until a month ago, when my friend Dan Richards introduced me to Polish speaker designers APS and their Klasik self-powered speakers. My NS10's have finally been relegated to the closet.
The Klasiks deliver a ridiculously full low midrange that I thought was impossible on a bookshelf-sized speaker. But wait, what's that "extended lows" switch on the back? Are you kidding me? Engaging that switch somehow gives these speakers extended response into subwoofer heaven without a sub! My mouth was open. How about the top end? Smooth as a baby's bottom. The word "perfect" is usually only reserved for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but I doubt even they would disagree with me that these speakers give off a "heavenly sound." I have recorded, mixed, and mastered music in multiple styles since getting them, and I have yet to find any weaknesses. The only weaknesses I discovered were my own personal shortcomings in my productions, which became crystal clear whereas previously they had been undetectable on the NS10's. Five stars is usually a great rating in a review, but I give these beauties ten stars. Bravo!!
Producer, Arranger, Guitarist, Engineer
APS monitors are being picked up and used by big names. Germano Studios in New York City, who works with most of the top music artists in the world, is using Klasiks, and is even sporting a pair of red APS Aeons on the console in Studio 2. Their studio monitor list includes APS Aeon, APS Klasik, and APS Sub 10. I spoke with studio owner Troy Germano, and he had high praise for APS. And this is coming from a world-class studio designer with studio facilities that spare no expense to supply their clients with the best and hottest gear on the market.
APS Aeon user James Brown has engineered and mixed records for Foo Fighters, Nine Inch Nails, Arctic Monkeys, U2, Bjork, The Bravery, The Killers, and Brazilian Girls.
A wide range of colors and wood-veneer finishes can be custom ordered at an additional $140. The base price of APS Klasik monitors in black is in the area of $1400USD per pair. On custom colors, APS co-owner, Rajmund Stodolny "Ray," stated, "The standard black version can be painted with any car lacquer in matte or high gloss finish. We did a lot of Ferrari Rosso Corsa, Mercedes-Benz solid white, Aston Martin Montana orange, and many others." We've even seen a pair of hot magenta/pink Aeons on a European magazine cover. Color choices can even be made from car/make/model/year/color, and APS can exactly match the color. And on custom wood veneers, the choices can be selected from California Trading.
Forums and Facebook pages have been lighting up with people's posts, pictures, and user reviews as APS is making a name for itself. APS monitors have been getting excellent reviews in industry-trade magazines and websites.
Anyone who's read my reviews over the years, knows I don't play it safe. If a product and company are putting out something new, and fresh, and innovative, I want to let the recording community know about it. Conversely, if something's not right, I write about that, too. I pull no punches. Many products in for evaluation haven't even warranted a formal review. This approach has resulted in good success rates in my recommendations to the recording communitywhether through written reviews, online and forum conversations, or private one-on-one consulting. That includes not only end users, but also high-end pro-audio manufacturers who have incorporated my direct input into their products.
While specs don't tell us everything, here are specs on the Klasiks that matter: Frequency response of +/- 2 dB 35Hz - 25kHz, and the bass/mid-range amp is rated at 75 W RMS @ 8 W, and the tweeter amp is rated at 75 W RMS @ 8 W. Use those for comparison to other near-field active monitors, and you'll see and hear why Klasiks are bigger and bolder in sound than anything in its class. The Klasiks represent an evolution and a major step forward in the current market of active near-field monitors under $2000/pr.
Pro Studio Reviews is awarding the APS Klasik Active Monitors Product of the Year 2016.
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