Studio monitors are an undeniable asset in music production for numerous reasons (mixing, truthful representation of sound etc.). However, what does really matter when you pick a pair of monitors ? In our opinion, the 3 keywords you should look for when you are buying a pair of studio monitors are size, sound and acoustic treatment. Besides that, you should also add value for money on this list. The most expensive studio monitors aren’t always the best studio monitors, especially when you don’t have the necessary budget and skills.
At the beginning of your journey, it is important to maximize your investments in the best possible way. First, the size of the studio monitors should be adapted to the physical properties of your room. Smaller monitors are a good bet for a confined environment. Moreover, you should look for the most neutral (accurately representing all the frequencies) studio monitors. Furthermore, acoustic treatment matters if you are considering to acquire studio monitors. We recommend setting aside some of your budget to isolate your room from any undesired reverberations which might jeopardize your mix.
We have constituted a list that includes the best studio monitors while taking into account limited budgets. Notwithstanding, before that, we would like to go through some fundamental questions which should matter in the process of selecting a pair of studio monitors…
Table of content
Studio Monitor Guide & Recommendations:
1. Should I choose active or passive studio monitors?
Passive monitoring systems are modular in nature, requiring you to match your speakers with an appropriate amplifier and crossover.
Active monitors have all that built-in, which offers several advantages. You don’t have to deal with extra rack gear, and the internal amplifier is specifically matched to that speaker for the best sonic performance. Unless you have a specific reason to choose a passive sound system over an active one, we would definitely advise you to consider active monitors.
2. What amount of power do I need?
When it comes to studio monitoring, the overall use of power has a considerable impact on sound. Be it in terms of volume, but also quality-wise. Indeed, in the given case, power handling can determine the dynamic range and the amount of headroom before a signal starts peaking. The best studio monitors have a higher degree of watts which allows you to have more impetus on any sound modifications you make during the production phase (compressors, limiters, and gates). As this is an essential element to sculpture your sound, it makes sense to consider the implications of watts.
The musical elements that are conveyed by your monitors differ in terms of their watts necessity. A snare or a kick will require much more watts than other elements in your music production program. Therefore, quite often, the same track can differ drastically from one pair of speakers to another.
3. What are the different drive types and do they really matter?
It is important to notice that this aspect should not correspond to an incentive to buy or not buy studio monitors. As in any fields, innovation is constantly implementing new ways of designing products. Manufacturers in the audio equipment industry are also interested in new materials. If theoretically, materials can have an influence on the sound that is produced by studio monitors, or even the resistance, it would be much wiser to focus on application-specific benefits.
4. What other features should I look out for?
Some of the best studio monitors feature a built-in EQ (equalization) which allows you to optimize the sound that is coming from them and tune it to your room. More sophisticated ones may include some form of digital processing which also takes into account the acoustic environment to produce better results. If these can be helpful and corrective, they won’t change the physical properties of the room you are producing in. The acoustic treatment and the isolation you use in your room will also have a great influence on the final result.
REVIEWS: 5 Best Studio Monitors
Pros & Cons
Highs and lows are well defined
Precise imaging. Every element has its own place in the room
Mids are not very present
Inaccurate sound representations (as on other high end monitors (Yamaha HS 5)
If design matters in terms of the attractiveness of a product, the LSR 305 JBL monitors make it matter in terms of practicality. To deliver the most realistic sound representation, JBL made the decision to fabricate a genuine design named “Linear Spatial Reference” which delivers a sound that appears as coherent in any working environment. Additionally, the JBL transducers (a device that converts variations in a physical quantity, such as pressure or brightness, into an electrical signal, or vice versa) are stellar. The drivers deliver a deep bass and crisp high-frequency response.
Moreover, the “patented slipstream” is a low-frequency port design which allows the woofer to deliver a considerable bass response at any playback level. The amplifiers of these speakers make up for sufficient power to allow the necessary headroom for any production style. A selectable input sensitivity switch (- 10 dB/+ 4 dB) is also featured. It enables compatibility with a myriad of signal sources, allowing you to connect the speakers to any output gear without causing any input overload.
Furthermore, low-frequency trim and high-frequency trim switches are included to allow you to regulate the different frequencies in order to adapt the sound to your listening environment. Speaking of which, the frequency spectrum might be less detailed than other monitors on the list, but the sound representation remains accurate (43 Hz-24 kHz).
Pros & Cons
Larger rooms might be an issue when mixing with these monitors
The bass response lacks clarity (the small woofer might be one explanation)
If the design is not groundbreaking with these monitors, the pair provides a sleek manufacturing. Overall, the quality of fabrication is good for a product of this price. The pair comes in two different versions, either a 3 or a 4-inch woofer. For a beginner, these studio monitors are probably the right choice, since they are entry-level, compact desktop monitors which can really form the basis of a bedroom home studio. The 3-Inch woofers provide a continuous 10 watts per channel amplifier. If these studio monitors are essentially made for music production, they are quiet all-around, with RCA inputs which allow you to use them with Dj gear, mixers, and other external devices.
Compatibility and flexibility, are keywords one can easily associate with these home studio monitors as you can connect them to all your gear, including your tablet or laptop. The sound properties are also quite astonishing for a product of this category. All elements are well defined and detailed with a broad frequency response (80 Hz to 20 kHz). Accessibility to the tweakable settings is well laid out. A front panel gives you the opportunity to control the volume. A stereo auxiliary input and a 1/8-inch headphone output are also provided. On the back, another panel allows you to use the RCA inputs in order to connect DJ gear. Last but not least, with these studio monitors, you also get two free acoustic traction pads.
Pros & Cons
Easy to use
Great sound (investment which is totally worth it)
With the 3″ subversion the bass might be less present.
Bass Needs A Control Knob
Having tried the 3-inch version (comes also in 4 and 5 inches), we can assure that you can’t go wrong with these studio monitors. Made of sturdy wood, the finish is very nice which makes up for a design that is sleek looking. For the features and sound these pair of monitor offer, they are probably one of the best studio speakers of this list. Providing an ultra-wide frequency range which is perfect for full-range multimedia (80 Hz – 20 kHz), the sound comprises very good lows, mids, and highs: clear, crisp and without any supplementary coloration. It is also important to mention that these speakers are “reference” speakers, therefore they sound really neutral, which is a good thing when you are mixing a track.
Furthermore, additional cables and isolation pads are furnished. As with the M-Audio AV 32, a front panel aux input is available to allow you to connect your smartphone or tablet. A headphone output is also available with a volume knob that doubles as an on/off switch. Sadly, not all studio monitors have 1/8 inputs on the front. There’s even a left/right speaker placement switch that lets you decide which side of your setup has volume control. Finally, it is also worth mentioning that the active speaker is noticeably heavier than the passive one. The reason is that it houses the majority of the electrical components.
Pros & Cons
Frequencies are well balanced
Inspired from the original NS10 (has even more bass)
EQ adjustments are made possible with tweakable switches
The bass frequency response is far from stellar on these studio monitors (Distortion may appear at high levels)
The Yamaha HS 5″ also comes in 6.5″ and 8″ versions which will certainly add more bass to the delivered sound. Nonetheless, these versions will probably not be suited for smaller working environments. Their power amplification equals to 70W. Moreover, an interesting feature is present with the room and high trim response controls which allow you to regulate the sound according to your listening environment. The construction and design of the HS5 might be deemed as simplistic by some, we would rather describe it as elegant and classy.
These pair of studio monitors and their predecessors (Yamaha NS10) have been the most used surround systems for decades in professional studios. In comparison to the KRK Rokits, for example, these monitors sound much more neutral and clean. Sound-wise, they are tight and flat with clear highs and mids and just enough low end (54Hz-30kHz frequency response) enabling you to deliver a balanced mix. Nonetheless, as with all studio monitors, a time of adaptation and adjustment is required for you to get used to the sound as a music producer, but also for the monitors to burn in. Over time (give it a month), these will astonish you by their precision of sound representation. The Yamaha HS 5’s do definitely compete for the prize of the best studio monitors in the middle price range.
Pros & Cons
Nice and clear sound
Inexpensive and good value
Flatter frequency response (weak in the bass and a bit too hot in the high midrange)
When plugging in 2 devices to AC power, the speakers buzz.
These pair of studio monitors probably aren’t the ones that will appeal the most to audiophiles considering that they are a lower range product. Nonetheless, we were surprised by several features which made us include them in this list. The design is simple but technically well thought. The 2-way active studio monitors are rear vented with precision-tuned port enclosures. Moreover, they offer a sleek all-black satin vinyl finish and metal grills which protect both the woofer and tweeter components.
It is also because of its features that we can categorize these studio speakers as one of the best wireless surround sound systems. Indeed, a well-covered front panel displays a LED indicator, a level control, a headphone, output and stereo input, a black panel Bluetooth pairing button, and RCA inputs. Cables are included with a pair of these studio monitors. However, the most interesting element that is offered is an innovative Bluetooth connectivity which allows you to use Bluetooth connectivity in order to connect wireless music sources (iPad compatible).
Sound-wise, we can talk about a nice and clear sound with a decent bass and overall well-represented frequencies, without being excellent. Constructed with 3-inch copolymer woofers, 1-inch silk dome tweeters and providing 30 watts per channel at a Peak level, these speakers are perfectly usable at an entry level. Finally, these monitors also come in 3,4 or 5-inch woofer versions.
1. What is an input signal & what are its different forms?
The input signal is an important aspect of a studio monitor. Its capacity to power the drivers of the studio monitor determines whether we are talking about a single-amp, bi-amp, or tri-amp configuration. Many studio monitors have 2 speakers in them: a tweeter that delivers the high frequencies to the listener and a woofer which provides for the low and midrange frequencies. Sometimes, a third speaker may be added (subwoofer), so that low frequencies are specifically sent to the woofer or when mid-frequencies are sent to a dedicated midrange speaker.
A crossover network divides the output of 1 amplifier, which sends the appropriate frequencies to each speaker: low frequencies to the woofer and high frequencies to the tweeter.
The crossover network precedes 2 separate amplifiers which are each used to power the high- and low-frequency drivers.
Divides the signal in 3 ways to feed 3 amplifiers that drive each high-, mid-, and low-frequency speaker individually is a tri-amp configuration.
Bi-amp and tri-amp configurations have a flatter (more accurate) frequency response. By powering each speaker individually, instead of all from a single amp, each driver is able to reproduce its dedicated frequency range more precisely. When comparing single-amped with bi- or tri-amped monitors that are similar in speaker size, the bi- and tri-amped monitors will usually sound clearer and more defined.
2. Should the cabinet of my monitor speakers be ported or closed?
Studio monitors often comprise a ported cabinet which makes lower frequency response more present for a more detailed bass sound. Nonetheless, because of this added feature closed cabinets might actually be more precise than ported cabinets. Furthermore, if the given ports are found at the back of the speakers, and the monitors are close to a wall, this flaw can be accentuated. Therefore, if you only have a small room, and your monitors will be close to the walls or corners, the front-ported design should be more suited to your mixing endeavours.
3. Do I need a subwoofer in my home studio setup?
Considering you are a music producer, recording in your basement, you don’t really need a subwoofer for a mix. If you are sure that your mix will be listened to it through a home theater or a dance club, there is a necessity to buy a subwoofer. If it’s just a mix that people will listen to through ordinary hi-fi sound systems or headphones, there is no real incentive for investing in a subwoofer. On the other hand, for professionals that are working for TV or motion pictures, a complete sound system is necessary. Finally, you should also take into account the measurements of your room. For instance, smaller rooms don’t really permit the full development of bass sounds.
4. Placement & isolation of my studio monitor:
A rule of thumb is to always place your studio monitors in a way that they form an equilateral triangle with your head during your mixing sessions. They have to be at the same distance from you as there is space between them. It is important to do this because it will deliver a clearer stereo image without blurring the perceived frequencies. You can always buy speakers stands to remove any undesired vibrations from your desk. However, very often, ordinary foam pads that you place under your studio monitors are more than sufficient.
To conclude, we have carefully handpicked these 5 monitors whilst trying to keep in mind that everyone does not have the same budget. Nonetheless, this does not mean that you cannot start with a low range monitor and achieve good results. It isn’t about the gear you use, it’s more about how you use it. That being said, a Samson MediaOne BT3 will certainly achieve worse results than the Yamaha HS 5.
Our end goal was certainly not to find the most expensive speakers and make a list of them. This article was written to make you understand what is important when looking for a studio monitor and which speakers you should look for when you are starting out. Notwithstanding, it also applies to any producer of the contemporary era who is looking for the most neutral sounding home studio monitors at a reasonable price.