Anytime you need accurate audio reproduction, you can’t help but think about a studio monitor. In case you are new to this field, you might be wondering what a studio monitor is and why you need one. In fact, you might not even know what to looking for as you proceed to get the best studio monitor. If this is the situation you are in, read on, this review is for you.
What is a studio monitor?
Studio monitors are special kinds of loudspeakers made basically for professional audio production. The main point of departure between this speaker and the normal speaker is its high focus on precision. Studio monitors are used in recording studios, television studios, filmmaking, radio studios and home or project studios. So, if you run, or intend to run, any of these types of studios, or maybe you are keen on audio reproduction at home, this is the right equipment for you. Why do we say this?
Why you need a studio monitor?
Whether you are professional recording engineer or you want to record as a hobby, a studio monitor is a device you cannot do without. Any time you listen to any mix, you need to be very certain of what is there or your mix will not work well as anticipated. Remember a terrible mix might play good on one system but the minute you try it on another system, you realize the results are horrendous. Thus it is vital that you hear it right as you mix. Otherwise, why spend time and effort and end up with poor quality recording? A quality studio monitor will enable you to hear your mix with utmost clarity. However, as you go for these gadgets, there are a few terminologies that you need to be conversant with. These include:
Passive vs. active
To understand this, it is important to be clear with what Nearfield studio monitors are. These are studio monitors made to be placed a few feet from the listener. This is vital as it gets rid of the sound and natural reverb of your room and that way gives a true mix. There are two types of these monitors depending on amplification: passive and active. A passive monitor has no amplifier, so you will need a separate amplifier. An active studio monitor has an inbuilt amplifier in its system.
Speaker size refers to how the input signal of the speaker is divided in order to power the drivers in your studio monitor, it can be a single amp, bi-amp or can be tri-amp the magnitude of power that the speaker. You will realize that many of these gadgets have two speakers inside them: a woofer for midrange and low frequencies and a tweeter for high frequencies.
Physical size and weight
Studio monitors come in different sizes and weights. It is important to choose monitors of the right size for your room. Most likely you will want to a pair of near-fields which you will place in close proximity to your listening position. Note that most of these monitors are measured by the biggest speaker cone size. Typically you will come across 5 to 8-inch speakers. Essentially, it is the size of your room that should determine the speaker size that is ideal for you.
This refers to the operating power of the speaker. The bigger the wattage, the more powerful will the speaker is. So in case you want raw power from the studio monitor, you have to go for devices with higher wattage. Bear in mind that the higher wattage might come at a higher price, so do your calculations right and select studio monitors that fit your purpose.
This is the measure of the magnitude of the output as a critical function of frequency; it is the dependence on the signal frequency of the input-output ratio of the amplifier or such devices. Frequency response determines how capable your speaker is as it reproduces frequencies that can be heard.
Of course, every studio monitor comes with a price. The good thing is that you can always get good studio monitors at every price range. You don’t have to spend more than you can afford. In this review, we highlight different studio monitors that fit a wide range of budgets.
Armed with the knowledge of these vital terminologies, let us now turn the actual studio monitors. The monitors highlighted here are the outcome of intensive research that directed us to what we feel constitutes some of the leading studio monitors in the market currently.
The Best Studio Monitors under $100
This can rightly be referred to as a low-end small home studio monitor, but if your budget does not allow you to go for something more expensive, M-Audio AV32 will give you reasonable service that you won’t complain about at this price. With this monitor, you can now enjoy professional audio quality from your desktop since this is a compact desktop monitor. With its flexible and uncovered speaker cones, three-inch woofer and 10 watts per channel amplification, expect to get enhanced sound quality.
The tweeter is a one-inch textile dome. The monitor does more than produce reasonable sound quality; if you love gaming you can count on the RCA inputs to connect this device to your gaming systems as well as to mixers, DJ gear and more. At times you might want to play your music from other devices other than your desktop, M-Audio AV32 is compatible with your mobile devices and tablet. The front panel headphone output enables you monitor using your headphones. This can come in handy anytime you want privately without being a nuisance to other people in your house.
A good thing about this monitor is that it uses acoustically inert MDF cabinets which eliminate resonances. The music from these speakers sounds good and you can actually hear finer details that are not audible if you use ear buds or built-in computer speakers. Never mind the irritating blue light; you can easily fix this using a simple strip of tape. Granted, you might not get the ultimate professional experience from this monitor, but for its price, you will not have much to complain about.
Mackie CR Series CR3
The advent of the computer has brought a transition in audio technology and the way many people choose to enjoy their music. An increasing number of people have turned to ear buds and headphones. However, you must have noticed there are things you cannot do with headphones and low-end computer speakers are far from being a perfect alternative for certain activities like multimedia production or casual and entertainment listening. This is the gap that Mackie CR Series CR3 – 3″ attempts to fill. Let’s delve into some details.
CR3 uses a 3-inch woofer and a .75 silk dome tweeter mounted on a waveguide. It stereo dispersion and imaging is fairly good for monitors of this price. You will find the sound from the speakers fuller and bigger relative to their relatively small size thanks to the custom-tuned rear bass ports that help to extend the bass response quite smoothly.
The monitor features 50 Watt peak power amps but they aren’t bi-amplified instead there is a single amp per speaker what powers both the low-frequency and high-frequency drivers. While one speaker is active, the other one is completely passive lacking onboard amps of its own and is linked to the powered speaker by a standard unshielded cable. As earlier mentioned, size of the monitor is one of the crucial considerations you should make especially if you don’t have a lot of space to place your monitors. The dimensions of the Mackie CR Series CR3 are nice and company; you can easily place it on your crowded desk.
Though the Mackie CR Series CR3 has no room or placement compensation cables and lacks EQ controls, it still represents good value. It will serve well for anyone who needs something that sounds better than what the average computer speaker produces.
The Best Studio Monitors under $200
JBL LSR308 Studio Monitor
This monitor promises superior performance. Unlike many other speakers that only take a single on-axis measurement, JBL LSR308 design criteria need 72 measurements that yield in excess of 1200 times more data. This helps you determine how the speaker will actually sound in your room. With this wide range of measurement, JBL LSR308 can sound right in almost any kind of working space. This speaker is made to play flat down to about 37 HZ, which is plenty of music.
These speakers are some of the good sounding speakers you can purchase though they might not play as loud and since they are smaller they lack the pattern control that is usually possible with larger speakers. With this in mind, don’t expect them to play as deep or with the authority of bigger speakers.
However, if your room acoustics might pose a challenge to you with other speakers, you can give JBL LSR308 a try. They deliver neutral sound even in unusually bigger working space irrespective of the room acoustics. Thus you don’t have to go through the inconvenience of being right in front of the monitor for you to make accurate adjustments.
Anyone who wants a speaker that will capture the subtle details of the music even in the midst of dense mix but at relatively affordable price, JBL LSR308 will deliver results; its HF detail takes care of this quite well. This monitor might produce low hissing sound even when gain is absolutely down. This might not be a big deal though it is might be noticeable when it’s quiet.
These speakers are evidence that you can still get quality audio solutions without having to spend a fortune. Mackie CR4 (Pair) is made to give your superb performance and sound not just for personal use but also for professional applications. The compact design of the monitors means even if you work at a really tiny space, you can still use them with ease. Do not be misled by their small size, these studio monitors can deliver.
One thing you will also like about this monitors is their front facing controls; these make it easy and convenient to make any adjustment. You can also plug in your mobile device or smartphone with its auxiliary input. The speaker is suitable for entertainment and multimedia applications that allow you to listen to any of your multimedia files if you are right inside a professional studio.
Thinking about the sound quality, these monitors will not disappoint you. If what you yearn for is studio-like sound quality that you can only get from more expensive studio speakers, Mackie CR4 (Pair) is one of the more affordable monitors that will give high quality and rich sounds. These monitors might be a bit more costly than some cheaper alternatives, but going by the specs and features, it’s worth the price.
The Best Studio Monitors under $300
KRK RP5G3-NA Rokit 5
Looking for professional performance, accuracy for recording, mastering, mixing and playback at a fairly affordable price? KRK RP5G3-NA Rokit 5 Generation might be just what you need. This system is quite powerful for its size. The bass too is punchy and full for such a relatively small speaker. This 50Watts two-way active speaker is ideal for both home entertainment and professional use.
You are sure to get high frequencies of up to 35Hz, extended bass response and exciting vocal clarity. Coming with a bi-amp, it powers a 5-inch woofer and a 1-inch tweeter. It is designed to deliver maximum headroom but with minimal distortion. The waveguide will impress you as it ensures quite detailed imaging. Its aramid glass woofer is engineered to offer a clear response in mid-range.
Housed in low resonance enclosure the monitor includes a manufacturer-installed foam pad right at the bottom to offer enhanced isolation from the surface it is set upon. This way it the foam pad acts as effective vibration isolators. Thus, you don’t have to incur extra costs on overpriced foam pads. The radius edges of the enclosure reduce distortion caused by diffraction. This model offers a wide array of options for the frequency response to match the acoustics of your room.
You might be disappointed that the monitors will not come with cables to plug into the interface but this can just take an extra 20 bucks. These monitors might not be as accurate as the other more expensive speakers but they offer impressively deep bass for their category.
Presonus Eris E5
Anytime you are mixing music, you want to use a pair of monitors that will truthfully reveal what you are listening to. The Eris E5 is designed to deliver this kind of performance. With a Kevlar low-frequency transducer, class AB amplifier, compact Eris E5 sports, silk dome tweeter powered by a 35 Watt amplifier, expect high-quality audio performance from this product.
It doesn’t matter whether you work from a fixed location or you need to move from location to location as you deal with different genres of music, it’s easy to take your Eris E5 speakers anywhere. In addition, it’s very easy to customize their sound to blend with type of music and room.
Eris E5 offers three EQ controls in the acoustic tuning section, namely, Cutoff, Mid, and High. The controls enable you to actually fine-tune the monitors and to largely approximate the sounds of different speakers. This is vital; it enables you to hear what your mix might come out like in different settings such as on a portable radio or car stereo.
In case you wonder whether you will need subwoofers with these speakers, well remember these monitors are basically intended to be used for recording and mixing. They are not actually designed to thump. In any case pushing the bass up too much will deceive your ears and you might just end up with a bad mix. So, you really don’t need subwoofers with these speakers.
With the right budget, Eris E5 can as well be one of the excellent options for you if your primary interest is recording and mixing your music using studio monitors that will give you excellent results.
The Best Studio Monitors under $500 (click for the full list with reviews)
KRK RP8G3-NA Rokit 8
You need a studio monitor with a wide frequency range and ultra-low distortion for above average recording and mixing. If so, KRK RP8G3-NA Rokit 8 Generation might be one of the monitors that can serve your purpose quite effectively. But be warned that these speakers will occupy quite some space when compared to other speakers of the same price. It might therefore not be the perfect choice for a small bedroom studio. Other than that, this monitor boasts of 100 watts of bi-amped power. Power is transmitted through glass-aramid woofer and one-inch soft-dome tweeter for tight bass and pristine highs.
Though it looks similar to its predecessor, it features several changes which include an upgraded tweeter and amplifier as well as the inclusion of low-frequency adjustment. The cabinets are fitted with a foam pad right on their base which decouples them from any surface they are standing on. Thus with these monitors expect better sound production with near-zero vibration and diffraction.
It doesn’t matter what cables you intend to use with these speakers since they offer connection through XLR inch jack and the RCA phono. The class A/B amplifier comes with advancements that offer more headroom but with minimal distortion. You can thus increase the sound beyond what can be considered maximum reasonable level without distorting the sound in any way.
In a nutshell, these monitors with their stereo positioning and decent clarity plus a fairly good balance of frequencies are some of the most capable monitors that can give your very good service once you are familiar with them.
Equator Audio D5 DSP
Image shifting is one irritating occurrence with many studio monitors. So, getting a monitor that eliminates this aspect is a big plus for anyone who wants to enjoy high-quality recording and mixing. Equator Audio D5 DSP features internal DSP which eliminates the unwanted image shifting. This feature also aids in getting highly accurate voicing. A low distortion amplifier provides 2×50 watts of power. With its coaxial design delivers phase and time accurate mid-range.
You will no doubt find delight in the coaxial feature that is largely unique to these speakers. This refers to the configuration for the two drivers; the tweeter is situated at the center of the speaker’s midbass driver. This is crucial as it optimizes stereo imaging. In addition, these are possibly the only monitors to use digital signal processing, DSP in short. This ensures they achieve more accurate and clearer sound than one can possibly get from traditional designs.
These speakers will save you the agony of coming up with bad mixes which are often a result of lack of detail where it matters during production that is in the midrange. For this reason, we agree with many users that these are arguably, highly revealing monitors that will allow you to focus all crucial aspects of your mix. The bottom extension of these speakers might not be your idea of great but the fact that the monitors reveal detail as well as make mix decisions like subtle changes to EQ makes them one of the best choices you can possibly take.
The Best Studio Monitors under $1000
M-Audio BX8 D2
Anyone looking for big speakers for the value that deliver in recording and mixing music, M-Audio BX8 D2 can easily fit the bill. These are big active monitors having an 8-inch woofer and a 1 1/4 dome tweeter. The cabinet is relatively huge, simply said, these are big and heavy speakers, the kind that you will not want to keep carrying from one place to the next unless it is absolutely necessary.
There is quite an amount of acoustic foam in the cabinet to cater for vibrations. The rear panel is free and carries the electronic components that are the crossover network and the amplifier. The speakers’ internal amplifier though looks elementary, delivers a very satisfying performance, more so in the macro dynamic department. Similar performances are only possible with monitors and amplifiers of a much higher price tag.
When placed as standard HiFi speakers, M-Audio BX8 D2 produces nicely focused and wide soundstage. Just like the sticker on the panel indicates, these speakers are designed to give excellent imaging. The image they generate is geometrically correct, stable and solid with numerous levels of horizontal planes.
Adam Audio A7X
The monitor prides in being a legend in monitoring. What gives this boldness in the face of other monitors in its price category? For one, this monitor has bagged over 30 prestigious awards. What accounts for this?
Looking at the driver technology you will be pleasantly amazed by the X-ART tweeter. This basically refers to a folded tweeter design, acronym ART ribbon. This ribbon, unlike many other ribbons, is not flat but rather is corrugated. As audio is put to the ribbon, the moving folds and produces four times the air of a flat diaphragm. This folded geometry also ensures the frontal acoustic apex of the ribbon can still be made small and hence the dispersion remains sufficiently wide. This makes the X tweeter more efficient and delivers higher maximum pressure. In simple terms, this technology makes this one of the most efficient and powerful monitors in this price range.
You will get near zero image distortions with the Adam Audio A7X. The Pulse Width modulation amplifiers are highly efficient thus the heat to be dissipated reduces to just one-fifth of earlier designs of this speaker. This therefore, leads to much lower temperatures within these amps making the use of heat sinks absolutely unnecessary.
What will further amuse you about these monitors is how low ear-fatigue you will have even after using it for many hours. Interestingly, if in some days your ears are sensitive or you just need to perform a long session, you just need to readjust the tweeters and irrespective of how low you shelf the tweeters, the highs will still be present and quite revealing. In terms of the quality of the sound, Adam Audio A7X Powered Studio Monitor provides a lot of details and lets you hear the mixes so that you can make the necessary EQ changes, reverb, and compression. For anyone with this kind of budget, these make best studio monitor.
After looking at what we have found to be some of the best studio monitors in various price categories, we are sure you will not miss a speaker here to suit your budget and other considerations. Remember, studio monitors will help you enrich the quality of sound from your computer and other audio devices. More importantly, they will give you the opportunity to try and polish your skills in recording and mixing your music whether as a professional or as a hobby.