I recommend the KNS8400 if you’re someone who wants to get into production, or if you already are a DJ/producer looking for a flatter-sounding pair of cans than the ones you DJ with. At this price, these headphones are a steal. Great for producing and studio work, but if you’re looking for a new pair of DJ headphones you’ll want to look elsewhere.
First Impressions / Setting up
The KNS8400 headphones came in a surprisingly weighty cardboard box thanks to a suite of accessories rare at phones in this price range: It has a leatherette bag for transport, a microfibre cloth for cleaning, a screw-on 1/4″ adapter, and a volume control remote.
The KNS8400 themselves are very light: Initially, I thought they were quite flimsy because of their plastic build, especially with the 90-degree swivel cups, but after days of very heavy monitoring use, I can assure you that they aren’t (it’s made of impact-resistant plastic, according to KRK).
This lightness is, for me, the biggest asset of the KNS8400 – unlike other monitoring headphones that I use, I can have these on my head for hours because they’re just so comfortable! Literally, I had these on for the duration of my entire production session, and after a while they just seemed to disappear, as if I wasn’t wearing anything at all.
A large part of this is because of the memory foam cushions in the earpieces. They’re one of the softest and most comfortable I’ve felt on a pair of headphones in this price range. I live in a very humid country, and even though I did break a sweat, my ears weren’t as damp had I used another pair of headphones. The headband also comes with two chunks of padded foam, which feel great on top of my head.
I’m also very particular about earpieces because I wear glasses whenever I work long hours in front of a computer, which is essentially what happens in production these days (for better or worse). Most headphones I’ve used squeeze my glasses temples off of my ears, which is very annoying. The KNS8400 did not do that at any one point in all the hours that I’ve used them, which to me is absolutely fantastic – I can practically produce for a longer period of time, better.
It comes with a proprietary locking headphone cable that snaps into place in a socket within the left earpiece, which is a bit of a niggle: If you end up breaking this, you’re going to have to order one to use your cans. Note too that this is just a straight cable, not the coiled / telephone-style variety found in DJ headphones.
These headphones are closed-back and around-the-ear, so that means they should provide some amount of isolation, and they do – just don’t expect to be shut off from the outside world when you have them on. The swivel cups are meant to flatten the headphone in transport, but it doesn’t make it any smaller. You could use this for one ear monitoring in your studio, but I wouldn’t take these out on a rough DJ tour – I feel like the cups would snap off because I’m a bit heavy handed!
I’ve always used a pair of Shure SRH440s for checking my mixes on headphones because I like how they don’t exaggerate the low end compared to my usual DJ headphones, but the keyword here is “checking” – I can’t use them for a very long time because my ears just get tired as they tend to be a bit on the bright side. They’re great for hearing if I’m pushing my highs too much or if I forgot to remove some “ess” from vocals, but I’ll never have them on for the entire session.
This is an important distinction for the KNS8400, and also the reason why I think it’s a great budget pair of home studio cans: Having used them for hours on end means they’ve passed muster, and in a side by side comparison, the Shure SRH440 was indeed overly brighter, even shrill, compared to the more subtle KNS8400. Granted, the upper mids and highs are a bit bumped here, but not hyped like a pair of headphones you’d use at a gig.
The mids are easily what I like most about the sound of these headphones: Focused and clear, they’re great for listening to vocal-heavy music. Some songs that I’ve listened to for ages now reveal vocal harmony nuances, along with some very subtle production touches coming from synths and percussion. It may sound like I’m diving too deep into details and esoteric stuff here, but I really do think that the main purpose of monitoring headphones is to present a very detailed picture without blowing it out of proportion through a hyped sound.
This finally brings us to the low end, which is where I think most of us will have mixed feelings about the KNS8400. I found them to have the lowest bass response out of the headphones that I’ve mentioned so far in this article, and that could be both a good and a bad thing.
It’s a good thing because if you hear the kick drums and bass to be too prominent, that means there’s too much bass in your mix, so it’s a handy reference tool for checking against your speaker monitors (if you have any).
It’s also a bad thing because some of you may prefer to hear more low end when you’re producing or mixing a track, so the tendency is you’re going to compensate for that lack of low-frequency response by turning up the bass. Again, if you hear too much low end here, there’s probably too much already.
The good news is that, like with any pair of speakers or headphones, you’ll get used to how it sounds in time (ie its strengths and weaknesses in the frequency spectrum), and getting your ears accustomed to different types of speakers and headphones is indeed a big part of the DJ/producer’s journey. Some careers, like those of live sound engineers for instance, revolve around gaining enough experience and expertise to accurately present the sound of a DJ / band / artist onstage through different types of sound systems in different types of venues!
The KNS8400s shine best when used in tandem with a monitor speaker system – you produce with both speakers and headphones, checking how your mix sounds on both. If you pair them with bass-heavy monitors that you prefer, for instance, you’ll find that the KNS8400 is a great “second opinion” on whether or not you’re adding too much low end in your mix.
Conversely, if you like mixing with warm sounding monitor speakers, the KNS8400 will let you hear a little bit more of what’s happening in the upper mids / highs and, if they start sounding brittle, you can make a more informed decision to back off on that hi-hat or darken your synth a little bit with some EQ.
As I’ve mentioned, the KNS8400s are a joy to use for those of us cursed with having to wear glasses, and I really do think you’ll find them to be very comfortable for daily studio use. I wouldn’t use them for DJing because the bass just isn’t “there” for me to be used in a performance situation, although this is precisely why it’s more tailored for production.
I recommend the KNS8400 if you’re someone who wants to get into production, or if you already are a DJ/producer looking for a flatter-sounding pair of cans than your DJ headphones. If you don’t have monitors and you’re doing all your producing using the same headphones you use to DJ, I urge you to pick one of these up so you have an alternate set of headphones to monitor with – you’ll find that you’ll hear some things that you didn’t notice, which will help you make better mixing decisions. At this price point, it’s definitely worth having in your producer’s bag, whether seasoned or otherwise.