Find the perfect studio monitors for your home recording project with our latest post. We rate the top monitors for every budget in our comprehensive buyer’s guide.
Studio monitors are essential to a quality sound recording, but are also great for listening to music too.
They allow sound to be heard without coloration. They give a true representation of the original recording, without the thumping bass boosts or pronounced vocals that can affect the sound of ordinary loudspeakers.
To make that perfect mix you need to hear each frequency perfectly, and this is where monitors come into their own.
We’ve compiled a list of the top studio monitors available right now. Our choices reflect every budget, ranging from the best studio monitors under 200 bucks, right up to the those that cost significantly more. Get started with our guide to studio monitors, or jump straight in with our studio monitor reviews.
Before you buy, take a look at our checklist of what to look for in a good set of studio monitors. We’ll start by giving a quick introduction into just what they do, so if you’ve heard it all before then you might want to skip to our checklist.
For all the amazing gear you might have, it means nothing if you can’t reproduce your recordings accurately in the mix. The most beautiful sounding microphone in the world amounts to little if the vocals get lost in the mix because they were listened back on Hi-Fi speakers.
Consumer speakers (for CDs, MP3s etc.) boost frequencies to make the music more pleasurable to our ears. Usually the bass, treble, and vocal range get some kind of treatment. This means that these types of speakers aren’t reproducing the sound in a faithful way.
Monitors allow you to hear audio in its purest, untouched form, free of any sound coloration. Mixing audio requires precision and that can only be achieved with monitors. Monitors have as flat a frequency response as possible. This means that each frequency is represented accurately, with no boosting or cutting to make it sound more attractive to our ears. If a recording is made to sound great on the monitors at mix down time, then it follows that it will sound great on any mass consumer speakers. If a recording is mixed using consumer speakers then the same can’t be said. It will probably sound completely out of balance, as you’ve EQ’d the hell out of it when compensating for the naturally boosted/cut frequencies.
Here’s a list of things to consider before you buy. Though they all look quite similar, monitors have many different features that affect how they sound.
This is the thing that most people get excited about when looking at new speakers for their car or living room. Power plays an important role with monitors, but not just for the reason many think. Yes, the power rating (in Watts) directly affects the level of volume that your monitors can produce, but it also affects the the overall dynamic range, and the amount of headroom you have to work with. Monitors with a higher Wattage will allow you to be more precise with your changes during the mix, as they give more detail to the sound. Models with more power give more definition to the audio you hear. The lows are deeper and the highs are more articulate.
With regards to the headroom, a pair with a high power rating is less likely to clip when loud transient sounds (usually drums) are played. Sounds like these put much more load on your monitors than the average ambient music. Depending on what style of music you are recording this could be very important.
The way the power is delivered is also important to how the monitors sound. Studio monitors deliver power in 3 different ways:
Single Amplifier – With one amplifier, a crossover network splits the output and sends the high frequencies to the tweeter, and the lows to the woofer.
Bi-amplifier – The tweeter and woofer each have an amplifier.
Tri-amplifier – Three amps drive a tweeter, woofer, and mid-range speaker.
The more amplifiers the more detailed the sound reproduction is. Having dedicated amps for each frequency range gives clearer audio, but it will definitely add some digits to the price tag.
2. Active or Passive?
Active monitors are those which have a built in amplifier (or amplifiers) and crossover circuit to deliver power to the drivers. This means you don’t need to buy an external amp to power them. The further benefit to these monitors is that you can rest assured that the amp is perfectly matched to the speaker. Most monitors are active these days.
Passive monitors require an external amp to power them.
Those who are mixing bands and instrument based music don’t need to worry about a subwoofer. However, if you are mixing for film or TV then a subwoofer (and extra speakers) is needed. A subwoofer allows you to hear the lower bass frequencies more clearly, so if you are mixing EDM for clubs then a subwoofer might be a good idea too.
Be aware that really low frequencies have large wavelengths, and this makes them particularly troublesome to hear in small rooms. Room modes are more prevalent in the lower frequency ranges and this means areas of peaks and dips in volume can occur. Small rooms aren’t conducive to mixing the low frequency audio that sub woofers give.
4. Speaker Placement
You should consider where your speakers will be placed in a room too. Placing them close to walls will result in inaccuracies in the audio. The speakers should form an equilateral triangle with your head at the point.
This arrangement gives the best stereo image and ensures that sound from each monitor reaches your ears at the same time.
Placing the monitors on isolation pads or stands can also help to improve the efficiency and accuracy of their sound reproduction.
You should also ensure that the monitors be placed away from the walls and that nothing impedes the direct path of the audio.
This listening set up should dictate the size of monitors that you purchase. If using big, powerful monitors might make things a bit of a squeeze then you should go with smaller ones, that allow the perfect acoustic set-up. Smaller speakers will naturally sound better in a small room anyway.
5. Speaker Size
The physical size of a pair of monitors is dictated by the size of the woofer. The woofer is the largest speaker and is measured in inches. A bigger woofer should give a more detailed bass response. Those who seek thunderous bass lines or beats would be better with a larger woofer (or even subwoofer). As we mentioned in the previous point though, the size of your room should dictate the speaker size.
6. Frequency Range
The frequency range of a speaker gives the lowest frequency it can handle up to the highest. The human range of hearing typically ranges from 20Hz – 20kHz in the best case scenario, but monitors will exceed this. The frequency range of a monitor tells us it can handle these frequencies, but not how well it handles them. This is a much more important characteristic.
This is typically expressed using the decibel scale. For example, a set of monitors rated at 35 Hz – 25 kHz ± 3dB has a maximum deviation of 3dB across the frequency range. This means some frequencies may be boosted or cut by as much as 3dB. In your quest for the perfect studio monitors, you want this fluctuation to be as small as possible. The smaller the dB value, the flatter the frequency response of the speakers. The flatter the frequency response, the more faithful and accurate the reproduction of the sound is.
The frequency response graph here shows how a set of monitors handle each frequency across the range. Ideally, the line should follow as close to 0dB as possible. A 0dB value indicates no cutting or boosting of the frequency. You can see a noticeable dip between 80Hz and 130Hz in the response of these particular monitors. At around 105 Hz there is a dip of almost 4dB. This means that the bass response of these speakers is not ideal, and not suited to mixing electronic or bass heavy music.
These are the studio monitors that we feel best represent what’s available. We’ve included the best budget monitors, and also the ones we’d choose if money wasn’t an issue.
We’ve put them into a comparison table below so you can compare them at ease. Each column can be sorted in ascending or descending order. We’ve left the frequency response value out of the table as it wasn’t available for every set of monitors. However, we have included it when possible in the more detailed reviews that follow the table.
|Picture||Model||Powered||Woofer Size||Frequency Range||Power||Rating||Price|
|Mackie CR4BT||Yes||4"||70Hz - 20kHz||50W||4.3||$$|
|KRK RP5G3-NA Rokit 5||Yes||5"||45Hz - 35kHz||50W||4.6||$$$$|
|PreSonus Eris E4.5||Yes||4.5"||70Hz - 20 kHz||50W||4.5||$$|
|JBL LSR305||Yes||5"||43Hz - 24kHz||41W||4.5||$$$$|
|Yamaha HS5||Yes||5"||54Hz - 30kHz||70W||4.6||$$$$$|
|Mackie MR5||Yes||5.25"||45Hz - 20kHz||50W||4.3||$$$|
|Audioengine A5+||Yes||5"||50Hz - 22kHz||150W||4.5||$$$$$|
|Alesis Elevate 5||Yes||5"||55Hz - 20kHz||40W||3.9||$|
The Mackie CR range pack studio quality features into an affordable and compact package. The CR4BT model balances home convenience with high precision audio output. Despite having the usual monitor inputs, it is also bluetooth enabled. While this won’t excite any recording engineers, it is a very convenient feature for the home recording artist who requires their monitors to double up as multimedia speakers. Bluetooth allows you to instantly stream from phones, computers, or tablets straight through the high performance speakers.
Anyway, back to the monitor specs… The CR4s are housed in wooden cabinets and feature high quality components. They have custom tuned ports to ensure an even frequency response. This model has a 4 inch woofer and 0.75 inch silk dome tweeter. It will deliver 50 Watts of stereo sound, which is pretty good for monitors that are as well priced as these ones. They will reproduce frequencies of 70 Hz – 20 kHz. Those who mix electronic dance music or film may want to find something that can handle lower frequencies than this. For others the bass response should be just fine.
The CR4s have a few other convenient features. Besides the Bluetooth, they have a front aux panel input for headphones or a phone. You can also assign the volume control to the left or right speaker, depending on your set-up. This gives some flexibility in your recording set-up.
A nice touch by Mackie is the inclusion of speaker vibration pads. These can be expensive and will improve the quality of the audio output of the monitors by reducing sound transfer through vibrations.
Bottom Line: These aren’t the best monitors out there, BUT they are very good monitors. They also offer a level of convenience that the others can’t match. They are perfect for the home recording artist that needs their monitors to offer a little more. With Bluetooth and front aux inputs these monitors double up as awesome multimedia/computer speakers.
KRK Systems are well respected manufacturers of studio monitors, and these don’t disappoint. This is the third generation of a highly regarded range of speakers. They are bi-amped to give superior audio detail, and feature a 5″ woofer and 1″ tweeter. The woofer is a glass-Aramid composite that provides clear mids and a defined bass.
These KRKs have a really broad frequency range of 45Hz – 35kHz (+/- 2 dB). A deviation of just 2dB over the entire range is good and gives them a pretty flat frequency response. These monitors can be trusted to reproduce audio accurately through the frequency range. The soft dome tweeter provides clear highs, and the high frequencies can even be adjusted to personal taste. The same can be done for the low frequencies too. This is particularly convenient as it allows the speakers to be customized to the room acoustics.
The bi-amped delivery of power is the mark of a quality set of monitors. The dedicated amps for both the tweeter and woofer mean the highs are crisper and the lows are deeper. The class A/B amplifiers offer more headroom and lower distortion.
The speakers don’t look anything special, but that is because they are designed for good acoustic performance. The front port acts as a low frequency extension and will reduce boundary coupling (reflected sound waves combining with the speaker output that provides audio exaggerations and cancellations of particular frequencies). The angled edges also perform a task, as they reduce distortion caused by sound diffraction. Finally, a low resonance enclosure reduces colorization and distortion.
Bottom Line: These monitors give really high quality sound reproduction. Having two amps makes a huge difference to the definition at the top and bottom end. They also feature some really clever physical design to counter the negative effects of room acoustics. These monitors are very tough to beat without spending considerably more money.
The A5+ monitors are the recent upgrade to Audioengine’s flagship A5 model. The A5+ have the same award winning sound, but complete with customer requested features and upgrades.
The A5+ monitors pack an enormous 150 Watts of power. This is unrivaled in speakers of this size, and gives a huge amount of headroom and really crisp highs and lows. The output comes courtesy of 5″ Kevlar woofers and 3/4″ silk dome tweeters. The smaller tweeter doesn’t affect the clarity of the high frequencies. The power is delivered to the drivers via two A/B class amplifiers.
The frequency response of 50Hz-22kHz ±1.5dB doesn’t offer the widest range of frequencies we have seen, but it does offer the flattest curve. A deviation of just 1.5 decibels across the frequency range is very impressive and compares with a 2 dB deviation with the KRK Rokits. A flat frequency response means an authentic reproduction of music through the speakers, and the A5+ are one of the best in the business at under $400.
Aside from being an attractive set of monitors, the A5+ also double up as a great set of multimedia speakers. They have every input connection you can imagine, and also come with a remote control. They also feature a handy USB power port for charging phones or iPads.
These really are full of features, and Audioengine have thought of everything. There’s the gold plated connectors, improved thermal management, magnetic shielding, acoustically tuned wood cabinet, and variable preamp audio output to name but a few. It’s the sound quality that makes them stick out though.
Bottom Line: These are great monitors for mixing or amazing speakers for the audiophile. They provide the perfect balance for dual use. They lack the XLR input or acoustic tuning controls of other models, but they have exceptional quality components that are put together incredibly well. The sound reproduction of these is said to be the best for the 5″ woofer size.
The Eris E4.5 monitors feature a 4.5 inch Kevlar woofer and 50 Watts output. The Kevlar woofer gives a clean sound throughout its frequency range. One of my favorite features of these monitors is the acoustic tuning controls. They allow you to adjust the frequency response of the speakers to match the acoustics of your room. This is an amazing feature that means you can always have accurate mixes.
The acoustic controls include an Acoustic Space switch that compensates for the boundary bass boost that can happen when a speaker is too close to a surface like a wall. This has three different settings according to the positioning of your speakers. The high and mid controls mean you can counter the destructive effects of room acoustics. There is also a low cut-off filter that means you can easily add a subwoofer to your set-up. Simply adjust the top end of the subwoofer to match the low end of your monitors. The E5’s come bundled with the PreSonus Temblor T8 subwoofer.
The E4.5s have plenty of connection options. They accept 1/4″ stereo, 1/8″, and RCA inputs. They will take your line-level smartphone no problem. They also have a headphone amp with connection at the front. This means you can check your mixes with headphones at ease.
Bottom Line: These speakers offer some amazing customization options that ensure they sound great in any room. If you don’t have much acoustic treatment in your room, then you’d do well to get monitors with features like these.
The LSR305 features the same waveguide technology found in the +$5000 JBL M2 monitors. The patented design controls the sound in the horizontal and vertical planes to ensure that the audio reaching your ears is highly accurate.
The LSR305s are bi-amp monitors, powered by two class D amplifiers. Bi-amp monitors ensure that the sound reproduction is clear and defined in the highs and lows. Class D amplifiers are rare in this price range and offer the highest level of amplifier efficiency.
The LSR305s pack quite a punch in the low end due to their 5″ inch woofers. The bass is further helped by the patented Slip Stream port design. It has a double flare shape that is designed to extend the lower frequencies and reduce distortion. The 305s will actually handle frequencies all the way down to 43 Hz, which is impressive for monitors of their size.
They have the usual balanced XLR and 6 mm TRS inputs, but have a selectable input sensitivity switch. This makes the LSR305s compatible with a wide range of sources, without any danger of signal overloads. They also feature high and low frequency filters. They allow you to compensate for room acoustics by fine tuning the bass and treble.
The only thing where the LSRs lack is in power. Rated at 41 Watts they fall short of the 50 Watt standard for this size of speaker. As it has two class D amplifiers, it still has significant headroom and clarity through the frequencies though.
Bottom Line: These aren’t as powerful as similar models in this price range and size, but they do offer some smart technology and a really detailed sound. They have a really good reputation for sounding great throughout the frequency range.
The HS range from Yamaha has quite a reputation and has won awards in the past for its amazing sound reproduction. The HS5s are the mid size speakers with 5 inch woofers and a 1 inch dome tweeter giving 70 Watts of output. The HS7s and HS8s are more powerful and even better, if you have a big enough room to handle them.
70 Watts of power is pretty much unrivaled in monitors of this size and price. The good news is that they sound great when cranked up too. They are powered by two amps to ensure that the highs and lows are crisp and detailed. The low end is well defined with very low distortion, while the high end reaches 30 kHz
The HS5s also have room controls and a high cut filter. This means you can adjust the speaker output to the acoustics of your room, and also tinker with the sound to your liking. The room control is especially important if you have to place your speakers close to a wall. The HS5s come with XLR and TRS inputs, but sadly lack RCA.
The HS series have cabinets that are specially designed to reduce resonance and enhance the accuracy of the sound reproduction. The cabinets are made from a very dense MDF that provides a great deal of acoustic damping. Yamaha have over 100 years of experience building pianos and employ some of the same techniques in their speaker cabinet design.
Bottom Line: These speakers have a reputation for being among the most well defined and clearest around. They have an amazing frequency response, and will sound great at high and low volumes. If you can afford them than they will definitely be worth the investment.
The Mackie MR range are famed for their versatility as well as their sound reproduction. They have both high and low frequency filter so that you can fine tune your music. They will also connect to almost any source with their RCA, XLR, and 1/4″ inputs. They are also easily hooked up to a subwoofer, with the Mackie MR10S being the best fit.
The MR5s have feature a well designed frequency waveguide that give a wider sweet spot than regular monitors, and also ensures a smooth frequency response. The wide sweet spot offers a bit of flexibility in your studio set-up as you have more room to maneuver. The wider sweet spot can lead to more accurate mixes too as you are less likely to move out of the sweet spot.
The MR5s have a 5.25″ polypropylene woofer and 1″ silk dome tweeter. They give 50 Watts of power output, and have a frequency response of 45 Hz – 20kHz. They are housed in a wooden cabinet that has a tuned rear port for really clear bass. The cabinet is acoustically optimized to tighten the sound and reduce transmission loss.
Bottom Line: These monitors perform, really well in small to medium rooms. They are super versatile with high and low frequency filters allowing you to tinker away with the sound. They also have huge woofers for their size for a punchy bass.
These Alesis monitors are the only ones we have included in our list that retail for less than $200 for the pair. They actually cost a lot less than that, but still offer a significant amount of quality. We thought it was important to represent the best monitors for every budget.
They are 40 Watt monitors, housed in solid wood cabinets. A 5 inch woofer and 1 inch silk dome tweeter help to deliver the power. They deliver clear, detailed bass all the way down to 55Hz. High frequencies are represented up to 20 kHz.
They are magnetically shielded to stop any interference with objects close by. This is an especially important feature for those mixing in tight spaces. There are plenty of connection options too. RCA jacks on the back will hook up to an interface or mixer, there are 1/4 ” inputs, and a 1/8″ stereo connection gives headphone access. There is a bass boost switch on the back too, if you feel you need it.
Bottom Line: These monitors aren’t feature packed, but they are a lot cheaper than most. They give a good level of sound reproduction, but don’t have the customization options of the more expensive options. They’re awesome monitors for their price.
We hope you’ve found our guide to monitors useful. If you have any questions about anything monitor or audio related then leave us a message and we’ll get back to you promptly.
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