Top 8 Studio Monitors – The Rundown Of Proven Performers

Studio monitors are an essential part of any music recording studio, whether it is a home based one or a professional studio. Just how painter can't express themselves without their paintbrushes, a producer can't do their job without a good set of monitor speakers. Because of how important this subject is and how overwhelming it can be to beginners just looking to get into the game, we have created this list of absolute best studio monitors you can get at the moment.

Our ceiling in terms of price was $1000 since we feel that is about as much money an average reader would be comfortable spending. With that said, let's go over the speakers and later talk about what makes a good monitor in the first place.

8 Best Studio Monitors On The Market

Neuman is one of those select brands who know how to deliver high end compact solutions. Their KH 120 A is all about performance. Despite its simple aesthetics, Neumann has done a rather meticulous job when it comes to both design and production of this speaker. Cabs are precision manufactured to ensure tight tolerances, which is good considering the cabinets are made of aluminum.

In terms of hardware we are looking at a bi amplified setup that pushes up to 50 Watts per channel and comprises of a 5.25" long throw woofer as well as a 1" titanium dome tweeter. Waveguides are mathematically modeled for ultimate performance, which is felt when you really start to work on those higher frequencies. Overall, these monitors are impressive.

Modern studio monitors can be divided into two categories - those based on a standardized design and those who take things to a whole new level. PreSonus Sceptre S6 belongs to the latter group. This is a fine tuned, professionally built and design monitor which utilizes a coaxial speaker layout. In other words, the tweeter sits centered over the low frequency transducer.

Because of that, you are getting impressive imaging, tangible frequency separation and overall high levels of detail. All of this comes in handy when you are working on a complex mix. Aside from the advanced transducer design, PreSonus has designed a perfect set of cabs to complete the build. These speakers are easily one of the best monitors you can find at the moment.

Ever since they released the HS series, Yamaha has become one of the go-to brands for studio monitors. HS8 we have here is one of the largest models in the family as it brings its massive 8" low frequency transducer to the table. What made the whole HS series so popular is its simple design paired with well balanced performance.

Yamaha HS8 brings all of that in high quantities. Each speaker is capable of pushing out 120 Watts divided into two channels. Both speakers have their own dedicated amplifiers, allowing you to enjoy crisp sound across the entire frequency range. On top of that, HS8 comes with fairly advanced room controls. Overall, this is a fine tuned and extremely capable system to have.

Most users know Mackie as the brand that produces one of the most popular series of budget monitors currently available. However, Mackie is capable of much more than that. Their higher end stuff is easily on par with other brands on the market. Case in point Mackie XR8214. These monitors feature all the right components in all the right places.

The cab is engineered to reduce interference and optimize the performance of the built in 1" tweeter as well as the 8" Kevlar low frequency transducers. Each cabinet comes with 160 Watt Class-D amp which allows the speakers to seamlessly perform within the 36Hz - 22kHz frequency range. You also get great acoustic controls which allow you to fine tune the speakers to your environment.

When it comes to bang for the buck performance on a budget, you will hardly find a better option than the JBL LSR305. These speakers feature a precision designed cab paired with a good selection of transducers. What makes JBL LSR305 so popular these days is their no-nonsense nature which is quite refreshing considering how many other brands seem to be focused more on aesthetics.

Thanks to the advanced waveguide design, JBL LSR305 has a very forgiving sweet spot. So much so that you will be able to enjoy quite a bit of freedom as you work. With that said, the sound quality and the amount of transparency these offer really make them a bargain that is too good to ignore. JBL LSR series are popular for a reason.

Out of the entire HS series, HS5 have got to be the most popular ones. This is the speaker that has spiked the interest in Yamaha's studio monitors as a whole. These bring the same level of quality as the more renowned HS8 we've mentioned earlier, in a smaller and more affordable format. Simple in design, Yamaha HS5 is a perfect addition to smaller studios.

You are looking at a bi-amped setup capable of delivering some 70 Watts of power divided into two channels. On top of that we have the same advanced acoustic controls as well as the proven bass reflex design. In terms of frequency response, Yamaha HS5 reaches from 54Hz to 30 kHz, which is fairly decent considering its 5" low frequency transducer.

Finding good transparency in the affordable segment isn't an easy task. However, speakers such as PreSonus Eris E4.5 do a lot towards changing that. PreSonus has found a borderline perfect balance of power, frequency response and overall performance. Eris E4.5 feature a 1" low mass silk dome tweeter paired with a 4.5" Kevlar low frequency transducer. Both delivering some 25 Watts.

Even though these don't reach too low in the frequency range, you can still work out kinks in your mix as low as 70Hz. Overall, PreSonus Eris E4.5 offers new producers a way of developing their skills in a healthy sonic environment. Considering just how budget friendly they are, we can comfortably say that Eris E4.5 almost too good to ignore.

When it comes to entry level monitors, M-Audio has proven to be a trusted partner. Their AV32 series represent a simple, affordable yet efficient solution for small studios. You're looking at a 10 Watts per cab, which is a good number considering that AV32 comes with a 3" low frequency driver and a 1" tweeter. M-Audio did a good job in terms of build quality.

General performance is good for what these speakers are designed to do. You often can't expect too much dimension in the lower end from a 3" LF unit, but AV32 tends to bring a few surprises in that area. These may not be professional grade monitors, but they are on top of their game when it comes to budget studio equipment.

Category Breakdown

Under $100 (click for more)

Those looking for an affordable ticket into studio monitoring will find more than several great solutions in this price range. Studio monitors that cost $100 or less are going to smaller, geared towards offering a decent all around performance. You won't see perfect transparency, but an affordable studio monitor is still something you can work with.

Under $200 (click for more)

Spending $200 on monitor speakers gets you larger transducers with more potential for full frequency range coverage. These models are still fairly affordable, however this is where you get to see first acoustic control features. A $200 monitor speaker will generally be considerably more flexible than cheaper options.

Under $300 (click for more)

Once you get to the $300 price range, the speakers become more refined and packed with features. Aside from larger drivers, you will see more complex acoustic controls, more intricate waveguide architectures and more. This price range is a sweet spot for price and performance ratio.

Under $500 (click for more)

This is where some of the really capable studio monitors can be seen. We are talking large transducers, use of advanced materials such as Kevlar, and a refined response across the range. Most $500 studio monitors will be flat without bias, but with a lot of power.

Under $1000 (click for more)

Spending $1000 on a set of studio monitors gets you a semi-professional or professional performance. This is where some of the best speakers in the industry are found. The price might be higher, but the output these monitors offer is as flat as it gets without moving into large, professional units.

What Makes A Good Studio Monitor Speaker

The absolute first thing every new and aspiring producer needs to realize is that there are two ways to listen to music. One includes playing the track through consumer speakers, while the other implies playing the same track through a set of monitor speakers. The difference between the sound these two speaker types produce is tremendous. It is so different that you will have a hard time adjusting to monitors after a whole life of hearing nothing else but standard consumer speakers. What is the cause of this phenomenon and what purpose does it have?

Almost all consumer speakers are voiced in a way that makes the music come out sounding rich. The easiest way to spot this optimization is in the bass portion of the frequency range. Consumer speakers will have a heavy hitting bass that pretty much saturates the entire track. After all, bass probably the most sought-for attribute in modern music, no matter the genre. If you were to measure the response curve of an average speaker, you would see that it is pretty focused on bass, and possibly trebles depending on the speaker itself. If you're not familiar with this terminology, we recommend that you check out our guide section for simple and quick answers.

On the other hand, looking at the response curve of a monitor speaker should reveal a flat line. This means that every single portion of the frequency range will come out sounding the neutral compared to the rest of the spectrum. From the entertainment point of view, a monitor speaker will make any song sound like a bland noise. That is exactly what producers are after. When you are mixing the track and mastering the final product, you want to have as flat of a response in your monitors as possible. This allows you to spot any imperfections in your mix, level out sections or instruments which are sticking out and adjust various parameters. That is something a commercial set of speaker simply isn't capable of.

To quickly recap, the most important thing that makes a good monitor speaker is its flat response, or as it is often called high transparency. Achieving this is much harder than it sounds. Manufacturers have to voice their speakers in a very particular way in order to achieve this, not to mention the amplifiers and all the rest of the components. That is why a professional set of monitor speakers usually tends to cost a pretty penny.

How To Choose A Monitor Speaker?

Choosing a monitor speaker comes down to one factor and one factor alone - your budget. The general rule of thumb when it comes to this equipment is to get the absolute best your money can buy. There will be those who will suggest getting an entry level set since your ears probably won't be able to spot the difference in the beginning. However, this is a waste of money. The resale value on used monitors, especially cheaper ones, is borderline non-existent.

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Another thing that you should pay attention to is the I/O cluster on the speakers. The most usual configuration of the inputs will include a balanced XLR, balanced TRS and maybe an unbalanced RCA. Before you go and drop your money on a set of monitors, do yourself a favor and find out what kind of inputs it supports. Otherwise, you will end up having to go get some adapters.

Last but not least, it is always a good practice to stick to proven brands. This is one piece of advice that is somewhat specific to monitor speakers. The risk involved is minimal if you take this route. Every new speaker that comes out will end up in someone's shop hooked up to a whole array of measuring tools and probes. It doesn't take long for an honest review to show up that will tell you how good or bad the speaker is. This is why most big brands don't generally release bad speakers.

Using Studio Monitor Speakers

One of the most common features you will see on a decent set of monitors is acoustic room controls. These buttons, knobs or switches are there for a very important reason. Just placing speakers in a room won't do you much good, especially when you are looking for that ultimate transparency. You also need to position them properly. All of the models on our list above are what you call near field monitors. This means that the manufacturer has intended for them to be close to you at all times.

Once you place them, the acoustic room controls will allow you to attenuate the output so it fits your room. Otherwise, you will end up with more bass than necessary, which can lead you to think that bass in your mix is off. Properly positioning and adjusting monitors takes time and patience. This is even more apparent when you consider that every brand uses their own transducers which have different requirements.

On top of that, if the speakers you have are ported in the rear, you will need to watch how close those ports are to a wall. Bring them too close and you effectively kill off a good portion of your bass response. Getting this down and understanding the acoustics of monitor speakers takes time, so do your best not to rush through this.

Conclusion

We hope you have found this short guide to be helpful. Models listed above are by far the best monitor speakers that were available when this guide was put together. Going with any one of these will give you a pretty decent performance, especially if you stick to the top half of the list.

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