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Review: Kali Audio LP-UNF

Think a 4.5-inch driver is too small for a serious studio monitor? The LP-UNF demands you think again.

By

14 June 2024

I don’t often have moments of genuine surprise when reviewing audio gear. My first listen to the Kali Audio LP-UNF was a rare exception. Let’s just say I didn’t expect a 4.5-inch studio monitor to sound so big.

Kali Audio is on a mission to carve out a new category in studio monitoring – they call it ‘ultra nearfield’. Every studio monitor has a listening sweetspot, and as a general rule, the larger the monitor, the further away it needs to be for the listener to hear an accurate frequency and stereo spread. Studios often have a pair of nearfield monitors sitting on the console’s meterbridge and much beefier midfields/mains mounted into the wall further back. The idea with ultra nearfield monitors is to provide accurate and full-range monitoring in small spaces at a minimal listening distance – only 0.8m with the LP-UNF.

What that means, of course, is when a speaker is designed to be listened to from such a short distance, it ends up rather small. And in my experience, small speakers sound small. It’s physics.

And let’s be honest: small-sounding small speakers aren’t exactly the first pick when you’re seeking a flat and honest representation of your mixes from sub-lows to peak highs. So even before opening the box holding a pair of Kali Audio LP-UNFs, I already expect some sonic corners to be cut in regard to its capability as a studio monitor.

LONE PINE

The Kali LP-UNF is part of the brand’s LP (Lone Pine) Series of budget of studio monitors. Unlike the IN Series which feature a three-way design and coaxial mid and high drivers, these are traditional two-way monitors with a 4.5-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter. A front-facing bass port allows placement up against a wall with no negative side effects. Kali says the little 4.5-inch high-excursion driver can emit frequencies down to 39Hz – a spec I was more open to believing after hearing the LP-UNF in action. A 160W Class D amplifier supplies 40W per channel and is built into the left speaker which connects to the right with a supplied four-prong Phoenix cable. The crossover point is at 1.95kHz. Output volume is controlled by the touch-sensitive +/- buttons on either side of the blue LED strip on the left speaker. Unfortunately there’s no way of adjusting the level of each speaker individually.

Analogue inputs comprise unbalanced RCA and balanced TRS pairs. Digital inputs come by way of USB-C (great if you want to use the LP-UNF without an interface), and Bluetooth – a curious addition for a pro audio product, but if the LP-UNFs are your everyday desktop companions in your office or WFH space then being able to connect wirelessly can be quite useful.

NEED TO KNOW

Kali Audio LP-UNF
Ultra Nearfield Studio Monitors
  • PRICE

    A$649

  • CONTACT

    NAS: (03) 8756 2600 or sales@nas.solutions

  • PROS

    • Fullrange and honest sound reproduction
    • Small size makes them portable for mobile sessions
    • Stereo imaging is solid and accurate

  • CONS

    • No individual speaker volume control

  • SUMMARY

    The Kali Audio LP-UNF is a serious studio monitor despite its small size. With an extended low end, smooth mids, articulate stereo imaging, and close listening distance, the LP-UNF deserves consideration by mix engineers who work in small spaces.

TONALITY

The Kali Audio LP-UNF possesses an unflinching honesty similar to every other Kali monitor I have heard. They neither flatter nor denigrate source material but simply open up mixes and lay them bare. Across the frequency spectrum the midrange seems to translate with the most accuracy. Harmonically rich instruments sound full-bodied without noticeably ugly peaks or dips anywhere along the low-mids or presence region. Transients like snare drums and percussion leap out of the speakers but not in a way that slices your ears off thanks to the LP-UNFs flat treble range which never sounds sizzly or hyped.

Low frequencies are, as noted, surprisingly well represented for a monitor this size. Kick drums and bass guitars are translated with that visceral thump in your chest that you’d expect from an eight-inch monitor. Where the LP-UNFs struggle is in creating clear articulation in the low frequencies – they don’t have the cleanliness a bigger monitor can provide. However, to expect this of a 4.5-inch driver is utterly unreasonable and I am still blown away by how present and extended the bass response is from the LP-UNFs. I’d more than happily trust these monitors in a mixing session. They’re extremely easy to listen to for long periods and the pinpoint accuracy of the stereo image is addictive.

Because of the size and relatively narrow sweetspot, it’s important the LP-UNFs are placed in the right spot, ideally angled inwards and raised to ear height. This can make a huge difference in attaining both a fullrange sound and a firm stereo image. Any isolation you can manage to de-couple the monitors from the surface they sit on will also serve you well. I had them on a pair of IsoAcoustics stands which contributed a great deal to achieving a cleaner low end.

These are true studio monitors, with or without the ‘ultra nearfield’ label

LP-UNF LIFE

I listened to a wide range of material on the LP-UNFs and came to appreciate them more and more. They are perfectly suited for my small home office/studio room where I have some acoustic treatment installed but not enough to handle lots of SPL. The petite 4.5-inch driver and focused throw of the LP-UNF ensure the room isn’t unduly excited by stray reflections. The physical size saves valuable desktop space. I also noticed its performance isn’t hampered by softer monitoring volumes where it still projects with confidence and authority. But the real wonder of the LP-UNF is that, despite its small size, I never felt like I was compromising on sonic quality. These are true studio monitors, with or without the ‘ultra nearfield’ label, and certainly the best 4.5-inch speaker I have encountered.

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