There are three basic reasons anyone would ever need to buy a pair of decent studio monitors. You’re either looking to record and mix a big sound project, record your own voice and guitar at home, or simply upgrade your existing ordinary speaker system to something that packs more of a punch (and looks good getting the job done).
Don’t be swayed by sales, and a long list of specs on the packaging when you’re looking for a good product. Read on to find out which set of monitors best suits your recording needs with a budget under $500.
Also, take a look at our picks of laptops for music production/recording.
Studio Monitor Buying Guide
If actually plan on using your studio monitors in a dedicated space, then wattage shouldn’t be an issue. Most people use them in the same way that they use bookshelf speakers, however. You don’t want to have speakers exceeding maybe 50 or 60 watts in most bedrooms or dens.
Total Harmonic Distortion
THD, as its often called, is an indicator of how accurate a pair of loudspeakers is. Even the best studio monitors ever made add some distortion. A clean circuit should be as close to zero as possible. Some studio monitors distort sounds at around 0.001 percent, which is excellent.
Regular consumer-grade loudspeakers use tricks like bass boosting to create a full spectrum of sound. While this ends up being quite loud, it distorts the sound. Look for a pair of studio monitors that don’t offer these tricks but instead provide an excellent response with frequencies down to 30Hz. You might want to look for ones that go even lower if you plan on working with hip-hop or trance tracks.
Number of Drivers
Certain monitors will have a woofer, subwoofer, tweeter, and mid-range drivers. Others will have fewer. Depending on the kind of music you want to listen to, you may need to go with a model that offers a greater number of drivers. If size and weight are a concern, however, then you might want to go with a more modest design.
Don’t pay more than you have to. Some budget studio monitors sound every bit as good as ones that cost a great deal more. A few brand names tend to fetch quite a bit of money on Amazon just because of who markets them.
Mackie XR824 Professional Studio Monitor
• Excellent waveguide provides ideal acoustics across the entire sound spectrum
• Eight-inch woofers are made from Kevlar
• 160W amplifiers are built-in
• Has a tendency to overheat
• Automatic shutoff feature isn’t reliable
No matter what the conditions of your home studio are like, the XR824 provides neutral, accurate, and clear reproduction as a result of its well-designed elements. While it’s not the most bass-heavy speaker around, it still performs admirably when it comes to deeper tones. The quoted range is somewhere around 36-22,000Hz, which includes plenty of tones that humans normally can’t hear.
Since the elements are made from Kevlar, they’re quite durable and can hold up to a great deal of abuse. Other sophisticated features like acoustic space filters and an anodized aluminum tweeter help to ensure that they work equally well with every kind of music. While they’re certainly priced a bit toward the higher-end of the spectrum, these speakers do pack a lot into a package that weighs less than 23 lbs. They even come with a switchable HF/LF filter, so you can match the monitors to the size of the space you’re working with.
JBL 308P MkII Powered Monitors
• Powered design comes with built-in amplifiers
• Sleek high-impact black plastic cabinets
• Impressive +4dBu/-10dBV sensitivity switch
• Studio subwoofer sold separately
• Some assembly required
With one of the broadest sweet spots on the market today and a neutral frequency response that sounds particularly natural, the JBL Professional 308P series is certainly among the better options for those who play music at concert pitch. When the manufacturer last redesigned these speakers, they added a new boundary EQ that restores low frequencies even when you put them up against the walls. If you plan on running a home studio or a cramped entertainment room, then this is good news.
Connectivity options provided by these speakers are quite generous. They come with balanced XLR and 1/4-inch TRS inputs attached to volume control. While they are a powered set, they don’t sound anything like regular consumer-grade PC speakers. These sound just like commercial speakers even when you turn the volume up. While there is a point at which they will start to bleed, it’s fairly hard to reach as long as you only ever listen to music at a reasonable level. Harmonic distortion is quite low, so they’re even perfect for really bass-heavy rap records.
Rockville APM8C Powered Monitors
• Comes with a 10-inch bass driver
• Supports USB audio input
• Package includes a full set of mounting gear
• 200-500W output may prove too strong for some uses
• Weighs nearly 80 lbs. per pair with stand
These eight-inch 2-way speakers come n a classic wood finish that makes them look like relics straight out of the past, but they’re loaded with all the latest tech. Advanced options like USB ports, 1/2-inch thick MDF enclosures, 400W active amplifiers, and class D circuitry make them among the most modern studio monitors you can buy.
Each pair comes with a set of high-density foam isolation pads along with angle adjustment modules, so you can fine-tune them to enjoy the best listening experience possible. They come complete with dual RCA pro audio cables and nickle-plated jacks, so you won’t have to worry about the system introducing any unwanted noise. OFC spirals and special shields help to block out electromagnetic interference from other pieces of equipment. While this has helped to ensure that the Rockville monitors fetch a healthy price, it’s still quite a bit more affordable than most other speakers that come with all of these options built right in.
Yamaha HS5 Powered Studio Monitor
• Offers XLR, TRS and phono inputs
• Has some of the largest magnets in any monitors
• Quieter than some speakers
• May buzz if turned up too high
Yamaha has refined their HS line for countless years, but this pair represents the latest achievement as far as the HS5 series goes. While they might not offer as much power as some of their competitors, these studio monitors are among the few that can accept both balanced and unbalanced signals with equal ease. They boast a large frequency response range of 54-30,000Hz, which includes plenty of frequencies that only dogs can hear.
Among budget studio monitors, the HS5 series is somewhat expensive. The package does come with some extras though, so if you don’t have any equipment this could save you some money. It includes two cables as well as the monitors and they mount almost anywhere. Even though each speaker has a five-inch woofer installed, the whole kit only weighs around 25 lbs. The power pack on the back of each speaker provides a 0-4dB room control switch, which enables you to use these in the smallest studios with no problem. There are even enough input blocks to plug an electric guitar or bass directly into the back.
Pioneer Pro DJ DM40
• Generous 4Ω nominal impedance
• Very inexpensive
• Frequency range starts at 70Hz, so it might cut out low frequencies
• Needs an audio converter cable
Massive 2x21W amplifiers drive the DM40 by Pioneer, which makes it the perfect studio monitor for DJs who do their mixes. This line is descended from the older S-DJX series, and it inherits the front-loaded bass reflex system from it. A 3/4-inch soft dome woofer and a 4-inch fiberglass driver make it fairly large as far as a compact studio monitor goes, but it has the sound to back up this size. Its unique design makes it capable of impedance matching with almost any kind of signal. Some users have reported that they’re able to get it to interface with 10kΩ gear just fine.
At 12.4 lbs., it’s also one of the lighter designs that can still be called a full-featured studio monitor. It’s possible to use them in many different ways despite this small size, however. Feedback from owners indicates that some have even hooked them up directly to television sets and gotten pretty good sound out of them.
Edifier R1280DB Wireless Studio Monitors
• Comes with a remote
• Features both optical & coaxial inputs
• Comes with a 13mm silk-dome tweeter
• Wireless design can sometimes experience feedback
• Distorts sounds when pushed, especially if listening to bass-heavy dance tracks
If you’re looking for a modern techie solution to your audio problems, then the R1280DB is one of the best wireless models in its price range. It offers Bluetooth connectivity as well as a bunch of traditional I/O ports, so you can be sure it’ll work will all your devices. While it might not be the best for jamming to rap music, R1280DB offers naturally fine-tuned treble tones that are hard to get out of digital speakers. That being said, they’re among the best studio monitors under 500 for more traditional audiophiles.
Since they’re computer-controlled, you should find that these monitors work with most modern gadgets. They’re certified compatible with iOS, Android, OS X, and Windows devices. That’s not something you normally see from powdered studio monitors, which are usually designed to work with more traditional types of audio equipment.
KRK RP5G3 Rokit Studio Monitors
• HF adjustment tailors the speakers to taste
• Clarity of tones up to 35kHz
• May need a stereo-to-RCA cable adapter
At only 33 lbs. for the full set, KRK’s third generation of powered studio monitors is relatively light considering everything they have to offer. Bi-amped A/B circuits offer excellent headroom without distorting sounds and a proprietary waveguide system comes optimized for listening out of the box. There are plenty of adjustment options as well, so you can be sure that the soft dome tweeter will sound exactly like you expect it to.
While they are a bit higher in price than some of their competition, these are one of the few powered sets that don’t introduce unnecessary levels of feedback when connected to electric keyboards and other similar instruments. If you’re using some kind of hub to plug your MIDI instruments into because you run a home recording studio, then these might be a good pick for you.
Any of the speakers on this list could be considered among the best studio monitors under 500. If you need a technologically advanced solution that will work with all the latest gear, then you’ll more than likely want to look into the Rockville APM8C monitors. They have a huge bass driver and support for some modern I/O systems. APM8C loudspeakers even look pretty futuristic.
Those looking for a more traditional experience that still has a good selection of I/O ports might want to look into Yamaha’s time-tested HS5 series. Mackie’s XR824 speakers are also a good pick for those in this market. They’re pretty close to what you’d find in most professional recording studios. Anyone who was planning to lay down some tracks in the comfort of their own home might want to give these a try.
That being said, you more than likely couldn’t go wrong with any of these options.