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Neumann KH 120 A & D
Nearfield Reference Monitor (2013-)
© 2015 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

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Neumann KH 120 A

Neumann KH 120 A (Solid aluminum case, 5¼" vented woofer, 1" dome tweeter, 54-20,000 Hz ± 2 dB, active 50W+50W biamplified with 2 kHz/24 dB crossover, 107 dBC short-term IEC-weighted noise at 1 m, 10-7/8" x 7-1/8" x 8-5/8"/277 x 182 x 220 mm HWD, 14.1 lbs./6.4 kg, about $750 each). enlarge.

I got mine at B&H as a stereo kit with a monitor controller, stands and cables. I'd also get them at Adorama or at Amazon.

This free website's biggest source of support is when you use those or any of these links to approved sources when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It helps me keep adding to this free website when you get anything through these links — but I receive nothing for my efforts if you take the chance of buying elsewhere. Thanks for your support! Ken.

Neumann KH 120 A

Rear, Neumann KH 120 A. enlarge.

 

Neumann KH 120 A

Back Panel, Neumann KH 120 A. enlarge.

 

Neumann KH 120 A

Bottom Panel, Neumann KH 120 A. enlarge.

 

Neumann KH 120 A acoustical controls

EQ, Neumann KH 120 A.

 

Neumann KH 120 A gain controls

Gain, Neumann KH 120 A.

 

DIP switch and input, Neumann KH 120 A.

DIP switch and input, Neumann KH 120 A.

 

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Adorama pays top dollar for your used gear.

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I buy only from these approved sources. I can't vouch for ads below.

The Neumann KH 120 A monitor speakers are the most accurate speakers I've ever measured. These little speakers excel as desktop monitors when you really need to know exactly what's in your audio.

These are active monitors, with two internal amplifiers and a low-level crossover. Plug each into the wall and run your audio cable, and you're done: no power amplifiers needed.

Neumann has been making the microphones used for most hit records since before there were records. Whatever music you love, it was probably recorded through some Neumann microphones, and if you like LPs, Neumann has been making cutting lathes for as long as there have been LPs.

These speakers excel for letting you know exactly what you've got, be it in creating music, or for creating wedding and video audio. You need monitors like this so that you know what you're sending out with no surprises later. With these, you know what you've got instead of just getting an opinion with lesser monitors. If you need to create the highest quality product, you need accurate monitors like this.

These come in white or black. There is also a KH 120 D which is the same thing, with the addition of an internal DAC for monitoring digital inputs directly. The KH 120 D also has an adjustable delay.

The NEUMANN diamond on the front lights up in white. It turns RED if you're overloading. It blips pink when you're getting close, and will turn SOLID RED if you've totally buried the levels.

These are inexpensive monitors for what they do, as completely professional products. These aren't cost-conscious consumer monitors like KRK, M-Audio or Mackie.

 

Good

Most accurate monitors I've ever measured. They really are ±2 dB and really do go down to 49 Hz at -2 dB, even a little better than specified.

All Neumann's performance numbers checked out; the speakers are as good or better than specified!

Easy to install and setup, in fact, it's easy to adjust the levels and EQ by feel reaching your hands over the top of the speakers.

Flexible acoustic controls.

Indestructible:

   A.) Solid aluminum cases genuinely feel bulletproof. They'd break my desk before they broke themselves. I don't know that my rifle could get a round through both sides of the case; they feel that tough.

   B.) Tough metal grilles permanently installed. These monitors are designed and calibrated with the grilles on, so there's no incentive to want to remove them (which you can't). Unlike dinky consumer monitors, you can hit these all you want and all you'll hurt is your hands, not the woofer or tweeter. If you have kids at home, little fingers won't hurt anything. Look closely, the tweeter domes are behind perforated metal!

The grilles mimic the shape of both drivers, so you're not tempted to pull them off — but they are completely finger, pencil, elbow and laptop proof.

   C.) Electrical protection circuits that work. I tried, and the protection circuits turned the lights red and prevented me from destroying the speakers from electrical damage no matter what I tried. You can still hurt your ears long before the speaker's internal limiters kick in.

   D.) This means you can throw them in any sort of case and hit the road; the drivers are behind metal.

Low measured power consumption: 11 W measured at idle and 12 W playing at moderate levels. This means a stereo pair actually draws less than 25 W from the wall, and the lower heat means less need for air conditioning.

Accurate level calibration. If you set the switches for 105.5 dB SPL with 0 dBu input, for instance, that's what you'll get. It's easy to set any level precisely (although the ticks on the trim knob don't seem to correspond to anything).

4 second turn-on mute.

Universal power supply; plug and play anywhere on earth.

These arrived super-clean: no microscopic specks of dust anywhere.

 

Bad

The supplied power cords are too fat and stiff; I measure 0.342"/8.74mm diameter for the 3x16 AWG cords. Neumann should have supplied thin, supple cords for easier routing. I used other cords instead; there's no shortage of power cords in this world.

Slight hiss (noise) audible from the tweeters closer than 1 foot in a silent environment, or from a few inches in a typical home studio, regardless of level setting. I suspect this is why Neumann specifies a minimum recommended listening distance of 0.75 meters (30").

Slight clicks audible when moving any switches, including power on-and-off muting.

 

Specifications         top

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See the back half of Neumann's KH 120 A and KH 120 D manual for more specifications, charts and graphs than you can imagine. Here are just the basics.

 

Case

Solid aluminum case, magnetically shielded.

 

Woofer

5¼" composite sandwich cone vented woofer.

 

Tweeter

1" titanium fabric dome.

 

Audio

54-20,000 Hz ± 2 dB, 52-21,000 Hz ± 3 dB (rated).

50W + 50W amplifiers crossed-over at 2 kHz at 24 dB/octave.

MOL: 107 dBC short-term IEC-weighted noise at 1 m.

 

Size & Weight

10-7/8" x 7-1/8" x 8-5/8" (277 x 182 x 220 mm) HWD.

14.1 lbs. (6.4 kg)


Sound         top

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Overall

A monitor is supposed to let you hear everything good or bad, and these do exactly that.

These give the honest, unsweetened facts about what you're putting down.

These are more accurate than the environments into which they'll be installed, so how good they sound will be more a factor of how well you instal them than their own accuracy. They really are ±2 dB throughout their range, and there's no way anyone could install these into any real environment and maintain that.

These force you into making great audio, because if it's not awesome, it's not going to sound awesome on these.

These don't try to make everything sound good, as Hi-Fi speakers do. These are to let you see what you've got, not to make it all sound good. Therefore these speakers are not good for Hi-Fi use. Much like the Sennheiser HD-650 (which might be made in the same Irish factory), these don't sweeten anything; there are no euphonic distortions added to try to make everything sound good.

For Hi-Fi use on my desk, I find the sound always a bit woody or sounding as if it's coming from a paper-cone in a small box, which effectively it is. The sound is dry; not warm, rich, sparkly or sweet. These are matter-of-fact monitors, not smooth, sparkling, sweet, deep Hi-Fi speakers.

It's very difficult to get smooth sound out of these; you actually need audio that really is smooth. Any lack of smoothness and these speakers will let you hear it. There is no presence boost as in Hi-Fi speakers pretending to be monitors that make everything sound brittle; these Neumann have extremely smooth response, but for audio to sound smooth instead of rough, the audio really needs to be that good. That's what these speakers do for a living: ensure that you keep working until it sounds awesome.

Everything sounds very different from everything else heard over these because this speaker isn't adding or subtracting anything to make things sound good; it's just putting out what came in.

Heard by themselves compared to other small consumer monitors, they are cleaner and clearer and deeper. Lesser monitors color the sound more, which these don't. The only gotcha is that these don't reproduce all the bass, which no small monitor does and which does need to be reproduced.

 

Bass

While this speaker, like most speakers, reproduces all the treble and midrange, it only reproduces half of the bass.

As active monitors should do, the bass is electronically fortified so that these little speakers have about an octave more bass (50 Hz vs 100 Hz actual cutoff) than a passive monitor this size.

I measure maximum internal bass boost around 55 Hz in order to extend the response as low as it does in these little boxes. The internal boost corrects for the natural low-bass falloff in these speakers; the resulting sound is flat to 50 Hz.

Cutting off at 50 Hz means there's still an octave and a half of music (or rumble) that these miss, so while they may sound as if all the bass is there, the deepest bass is not.

I run these with a stereo pair of B&W ASW800 subwoofers in my desktop system to hear everything.

Even if all you're doing is editing spoken word or a wedding video, you need subwoofers to hear any rumble or mic stands getting hit so you can deal with it. These crossover well to subwoofers. I run them full-range, and cut-in my subwoofers at 40 or 50 Hz and all is well.

Use these without subwoofers, and they very conveniently filter out all the rumble. When your client plays it back on a larger system, he may hear that.

If you're not a bass player, the bass sounds swell all by themselves, but you're missing the best parts and missing any rumble or low-frequency and infrasonic noise.

No news here, this is the case with all small monitors.

 

Stereo Imaging

I prefer to run my monitors separated by 110º for a wide image, not at 60º as most people do. I'm used to sitting in the ensemble, so I prefer a wide image, but I'm also tough on needing precisely matched monitors to ensure a LASER-sharp center image.

With music, there's nothing amiss about the stereo image, but with a torture test like mono pink noise, the central image is a little less tight than with my B&W Matrix 805 passive monitors; with these Neumann it spreads a bit.

 

Stereo Pairs

Neumann claims that any random two make a matched stereo pair.

This would have been tough talk back in the days of passive monitors where speaker makers measured, selected and binned drivers which were then picked from the same bin when making a pair, but each of these monitors is electronically calibrated at the factory.

With electronic calibration, each one honestly can be better-matched to its brothers than passive monitors are.

 

Maximum Output

Trying to blow these up with high-level sine waves, they will start to distort at the lowest frequencies like 30-50 Hz, and the funny part is that the vents blow so much air directly forward that they can work like loud fans! The wind from the vents is very directional and blows straight forward.

 

Measurements         top

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These measurements are made with an advanced, factory-calibrated Rohde & Schwarz UPL laboratory analyzer.

 

Frequency Response

I'm simply astounded at how flat are these monitors. After working in audio for over 45 years and doing it for 100% of my income 40 years ago, this is the first time I've ever measured a speaker and gotten the same response curve as claimed by the manufacturer.

In fact, I didn't even know that my acoustic equipment was this flat. For all I know, the peaks and valleys you see may just as well be errors in my equipment or setup. Measuring anything acoustically to ±2 dB as these measure is very, very difficult.

These are real stepped sine wave anechoic measurements. These are not averaged, not smoothed, and there is no foolishness as seen in consumer publications like using summed nearfeild curves or swept noise as an excuse for real continuous swept sine wave curves like these. This is the most precise 545-point sine wave measurement that can be made; each pixel is its own single measurement. Nothing acoustic ever measures this flat measured this way; if I used any kind of smoothing this would look as smooth as an amplifier!

Neumann KH 120 A frequency Response

Neumann KH 120 A frequency Response.

This is with the controls zeroed. I saw a slight boost in the low midrange, so I lowered the LOW MID EQ to -2.5 dB:

Neumann KH 120 A frequency Response

Neumann KH 120 A frequency Response, LOW MID at -2.5 dB, expanded scale.

Aha! This is the ticket. I place the speaker on a small support plane in my lab, and lo and behold, just as the manual says, the -2.5 dB LOW MID setting gets the most accurate results. Bingo! I used these settings for the rest of these measurements.

This is already a magnified vertical scale that exaggerates unflatness.

This graph below is made at even more vertical magnification, so much magnification that some amplifiers would look worse than this speaker:

Neumann KH 120 A frequency Response

Neumann KH 120 A frequency Response, LOW MID at -2.5 dB, greatly expanded scale.

Whoa! it really is flat ±2 dB, which I have never measured before. Remember, this is with no smoothing or averaging; this is the nastiest raw data that is usually never, ever this flat.

Looking at these curves again, it looks like setting LOW MID, which is most active around a few hundred hertz, did suck out a bit there, while I was mostly trying to get rid of the bump at 100 Hz. No big deal; if you've ever tried to make these measurements only then can you appreciate how flat these all are.

 

Distortion

In these graphs, the SPL refers to the general SPL; the response falls off at the lowest frequencies and is of course less than the nominal SPL for each curve.

 

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion

Neumann KH 120 A THD at 80 dB SPL at 1 meter.

 

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion

Neumann KH 120 A THD at 90 dB SPL at 1 meter.

THD of course goes way up in the bass, all speakers do this.

Most of the distortion is second order:

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion Components at 2 kHz at 90 dB SPL.

 

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion Components at 1 kHz at 90 dB SPL.

 

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion Components at A = 440 Hz at 90 dB SPL.

 

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion Components at A = 440 Hz at 80 dB SPL.

 

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion Components at A = 220 Hz at 90 dB SPL.

 

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion Components at 100 Hz at 90 dB SPL.

 

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion Components at 50 Hz at 90 dB SPL.

 

Tone Bursts

Tone burst (transient) response is superb. It's nearly impossible to get acoustic waveform fidelity like this for tone bursts of 5 (at 100 Hz) or 10 cycles (other frequencies):

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion

Neumann KH 120 A Tone Burst at 4,000 Hz.

Beautiful!

 

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion

Neumann KH 120 A Tone Burst at 1,000 Hz.

Ignore the low-frequency wiggling; that's rumble in my test area.

 

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion

Neumann KH 120 A Tone Burst at A = 440 Hz.

I'd also ignore the slight return at 40 mS; that's got to be a reflection from something 20 feet away in my test environment.

 

Neumann KH 120 A Distortion

Neumann KH 120 A Tone Burst at 100 Hz.

I'd also not worry about the return around 120 mS, which again is probably more likely an echo from something 60 feet away than anything in the speaker.

 

Power Consumption

These get a little warm at the top of the back, and that's it.

Measured power consumption:

11.1 watts idle.

12 watts normal playing.

13 watts playing loudly.

I can't draw more than 80 watts from the wall at clipping with sine waves at 500 Hz.

 

Usage         top

Intro   Specs   Sound   Measurements   Compared

Usage   Recommendations   More

 

Setup

I drive these from my Benchmark DAC1 HDR's variable balanced outputs via a pair of XLR cables.

You can use adapters to plug consumer RCA cables into the XLR inputs, but you run the risk of hum. These are pro monitors, stick with pro balanced gear for the best results.

Read Neumann's excellent KH 120 A and KH 120 D manual, which cover everything you could want to know, with specific suggestions for the EQ controls in about 8 different environments as well as exactly how and where to position these.

 

Level setting

On my big desk at arms length, the 100 dB/0dB level setting as they were delivered is perfect.

 

EQ Setting

The suggested 0/-5/0 dB settings sound best on my glass top desk in my hardwood-panelled office.

Bottom Rear DIP Switch

The DIP switch on the bottom/back lets you set the brightness of the front pilot light, or turn it off, as well as lift the ground.

 

Recommendations         top

Intro   Specs   Sound   Measurements   Compared

Usage   Recommendations   More

These are much tougher than most other similar monitors, and I've never measured anything this accurate. For professional desktop use, these are great.

If something sounds good, it is, and if something sounds wrong, go back again, and lo and behold, that's also the way it really is.

Accurate, calibrated speakers are just as critical to your audio as your picture monitor is to your video or still images, and these speakers should last far longer than a picture monitor. At about the same price as a pretty good picture monitor, you've invested in a superb pair of professional monitor speakers that should last you for decades. Just like a picture monitor, if you don't have an accurate picture of your audio, you can't optimize it for the best sound.

If you find my work here helpful, my biggest source of support for this ad-free website is when you use any of these links to get them at B&H (check out this stereo kit with a monitor controller, stands and cables as I got mine), as well as at Adorama or at Amazon. When you use those or any of these links to approved sources when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live, it helps me keep adding to this free website — but I receive nothing for these efforts if you take the chance of buying elsewhere.

Thanks!

Ken.

 

More Information         top

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Neumann's KH 120 A and KH 120 D manual

Neumann's splashy PR page

 

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Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

 

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