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
What we are looking at here is an extremely accurate monitor that brings the type of performance that can be used by professionals of any level. Neumann went the full 9 yards with the KH 120 A, both in terms of build quality and components used. A good investment that won't let you down.
PreSonus took a rather unusual path with Sceptre S6. This is a coaxial monitor, meaning that the tweeter is actually inside the woofer, with both transducers controlled by a processor chip. As such, Sceptre S6 produces a very focused output that is abundant in the definition, there will be some naysayers but I tell you, it's good.
Yamaha's HS series have proven to be the workhorse of the affordable class. These monitors offer a perfect balance of performance, features, and price. The type of response you can count on getting from the HS8 is good enough for both professional and enthusiast applications. Another pleasant surprise with the label Yamaha on it.
Mackie's higher class of monitor speakers brings a very well balanced performance to the table. They have pretty much created the best possible monitor you can get in its price range, without sacrificing sound quality in the least. This is one of the better value for the money deals available at the moment.
For a brand that has been making awesome speakers for a long time, JBL's affordable monitors are nothing short of a masterpiece. They have managed to build a monitor speaker that is affordable but punches way above its weight class. As such, it's a great choice for budget users.
Much like the HS8, Yamaha's HS5 offers an impressive balance of performance and power only in a smaller package. This particular model is priced much more competitively and brings that HS sound to budget users who still want something extra. Simple but powerful, this is a great home studio monitor.
PreSonus Eris E4.5 are the member of the Eris series which no one really paid attention to. In the end, they have proven to be the most well-rounded speaker in the entire series. If you are on a budget and $200 is all you can spend on monitors, we warmly recommend these as your top pick.
When it comes to the bare bones entry level monitors, M-Audio AV32 is very hard to beat. Those on a very strict budget will find a great deal of useable transparency in this affordable and compact monitor. This is as cheap as you should consider going with studio monitors in general.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.