When it comes to the best studio monitors, you want what works best for you in terms of both features and feedback.
Whether you are an individual audiophile who enjoys utilizing the best technology that is available and accessible to your budget in your home studio or a professional looking to keep abreast of the latest developments, there are a range of hi fi speakers available that are suited to meet your needs.
This guide is intended to give you an introduction to the best studio monitor according to reviews to help you go into 2021 with the ideal monitor for you. This article includes what you should consider before purchase and follows on by succinctly reviewing the latest consumer studio monitors.
For reference, studio monitors come in pairs. ‘Monitor’ is used to refer to both monitors together in this article.
Work within your price range is generally sound advice to give when it comes to technology in general, not just in reference to studio speakers. There is no point in driving yourself into debt if you don’t need to, especially if you aren’t going to be using the equipment to earn the money back. Budget is therefore among the things to consider when making a purchase.
Some monitors will fit within your price point when your purpose is considered whereas depending on what you want to achieve, some will need to be saved up for and the investment will be definitely worth it.
Generally speaking, home studio monitors price range from $100 to $3k depending on the brand, what it does, the frequency response and the size. Professional high end speakers tend to star entering the market at around the $70-100 mark.
The difference between a pair of active monitors and a pair of passive monitors refers to whether the components are integrated or separate. In an active monitor, everything is built in. This refers to the amplifier in particular. This allows for an increased level of ease when it comes to the calibration of the sound.
Active monitors also always involve a mains outlet. Passive monitors split up the signal using a system of components that are, as the name implies, passive. In order to function, they require an external amplifier.
This facilitates the ability to mix and match components, although this isn’t something that is suggested if you are completely new to the field – not unlike how custom-building your own PC is recommended more for people with some savvy with the replacement of parts and cobbling them together.
The size of each monitor is something that should be considered in relation to where you are putting the pair of monitors to use.
You don’t want to be tripping over an oversized monitor speakers in a small room, plus the feedback would be less than ideal.
If you are in a larger space for your studio recording, you don’t need to keep everything to the bare minimum when it comes to scale. Work with what space you have. Space is important as reflections and vibrations will need to be considered when you are working in addition to the size factor in isolation.
Compatibility is important when it comes to using multiple bits of kit together. It is important to check your connections to ensure that they work together optimally. This is because some cables can affect the transition of sound, loose ones moreso. This is by adding unnecessary noise due to the unstable connection.
The nature of the connection itself in terms of being either balanced or unbalanced can interfere with the radio frequency. Balanced is used to refer to when there are three conductors. Two of these are used for signals while the other is for grounding. Unbalanced is used to refer to two conductors with two connectors each. The shorter the cable, the less issue there is going to be when it comes to interference.
When it comes to the frequency, you will want the fullest range possible. When describing the frequency, hertz refers to numbers < 1k (Hz) in reference to bass frequencies and kilohertz refers to numbers > 1k (kHz) that are played by the dome tweeter.
In terms of most studio recording work, a good range as a standard baseline is from 50 Hz to 20 kHz. While range is important, you should also bear in mind that it is more important that the monitor reproduces the frequencies truthfully without any distortion first and foremost.
The material that the speaker driver is made from has an impact on the sound but is this really important in relation to all of the other components? How important it is will depend on your own priorities when it comes to the sound you are producing.
Either way, you want a material that won’t vibrate too much when playing back your recordings due to the potential of adding increased interference as a result.
When it comes to the total harmonic distortion figure, alternatively written as the THD, it really isn’t all that useful in isolation. This is because it varies according to the signal level, frequency and the individual types of harmonic disruption involved.
Each type has a different cause. For example, two times the harmonic stimulation frequency – known as second-order harmonic distortion – often comes from defects within the components themselves such as the spaces available for air inside the monitor as a whole.
In contrast, third-order harmonic disruption refers to the presence of sine waves ‘clipping’ the amplifier. However, total harmonic distortion doesn’t indicate how audible any distortions will be, which is the important thing when it comes to music recording
When it comes to the use of an equalizer, this is where the general opinion of users tends to be mixed. Before you purchase an equalizer, check the acoustics and flat frequency response of the room first to see what you are working with.
Some of the faults in the resulting sound may be possible to rectify using DIY rather than spending money.
It is generally advised for you to listen and attune yourself to your speakers first.
Remember, when it comes to the sound itself, accuracy should be your priority rather than how good it is. It can sound absolutely perfect to the ear but if it isn’t a true reflection of how it registers, it is useless in terms of what you want to actually use it for, which is the accurate assessment and feedback of your sound.
Auto Room Correction
This feature allows you to make the most out of any home studio room.
While it may not be preferred by more expert audiophiles who prefer the experience of fine-tuning the details by hand, it is ideal for those who are just starting out in their music journey.
There are a number of factors involved in automatic room correction that can make or break the corrections themselves.
This includes whether you are correcting for one listener in a room or many, the target curve that is being used to calibrate the sound quality in the first place and whether or not the monitor has the computing power necessary to make the analysis and adjustments required or not. Even among people who are passionate on the subject, there are disagreements.
Whether or not the auto room control of your chosen monitor works for you ultimately comes down to the room you are presently using it in and the monitor itself. Look around. See what is available for your particular chosen purpose and setting. Don’t be afraid to engage in specialist forums to get the advice that you need from people that are already using the product.
Trim controls, in relation to both low and high frequencies, help to counterbalance unhelpful environments.
For example, for low frequencies, the trim control relates to the bass response. In reference to high frequencies, it can tune down the reflections coming from the room to keep things in a state of overall equilibrium.
As with many other considerations related to speakers, the recording studio that you are working in and the pair of studio monitors that you have chosen has an impact.
Sensitivity refers to the maximum voltage of the input signal that an amplifier can handle. If the voltage exceeds the signal’s input, this can result in distortion which is definitely not ideal when it comes to getting the truest sound possible. It is suggested to set the monitor volume to zero.
From there, set the unloaded decibels to +4. This is a good midway point. For reference, unloaded decibels are often referred to in shorthand as ‘dBu’. From here, maximize the interface volume and then gradually increase the monitor volume until it displays the cleanest feedback possible.
When it comes to an industry standard, this studio monitor is the one of the best.
The Yamaha HS8 has a frequency range of 38 Hz to 30 kHz at -10dB and 47Hz to 23 kHz at -3dB and 8" cone woofer and 1" dome tweeter. Pair this with the ability to accept both balanced and unbalanced signals and you’ve got yourself a pair of durable and accurate high end consumer monitors.
The bi-amp design of the Yamaha allows for fine-tuning with a crossover frequency of 2 kHz. This means that at either end of the low frequency, you can get the accurate sound that you need. This is even more so when paired with the highly responsive trim controls.
The transducers are refined to give you flawless feedback over the wide frequency with a flat frequency response as an ideal baseline. Constructed to minimize unwanted noise, the Yamaha HS8 lets you focus on what you need to.
The other models in the HS series like Yamaha HS5 are also a good alternative.
JBL 305P MKII has a broad and detailed stereo image in terms of feedback. It utilizes what is known as Image Control Waveguide Tech that provides an accurate frequency response across both high and low frequencies.
When it comes to balanced sound to allow for the optimal use of the home recording studio you produce, the JBL has a bi-amp design that provides a level of accuracy ideal for specialist hobbyists and professionals alike.
The frequency response is 49 – 20 kHz at +/- 3dB with an adjustable input sensitivity as low as +4 dBu and as high as -10 dB depending on the fine-tuning that your setting and music recording studio requires.
The KRK Rokit 5 is a versatile monitor for home studios with a range covering 42 Hz through to 40 kHz with no loss of focus.
The frequency response is 49 Hz – 20 kHz at + 3 dB while the range is 43Hz – 24 kHz at -10 dB.
At these ranges, these consumer speakers cover everything that music production needs it to.
Flat Low Frequency Adjustment helps to provide better accuracy in different environments.
The only downside of KRK Rokit 5 G4 is in terms of usability is the fact that the near volume and trim controls are on the back, making it awkward to adjust depending on where the set of monitors speakers are positioned in your home studios.
Adam Audio is one of the most reputed brands when it comes to monitors.
The Adam Audio A7X nearfield monitor is equipped with a transient frequency response.
This means that it responds to changes as they happen, meaning that you don’t have to stop and start when adjusting. Adam audio A7X does the legwork for you, in short.
Adam Audio A7X is reliable and works at a range of 42 Hz to 50 kHz with a seamless crossover frequency.
X-ART Ribbon tweeters helps picking up on the little details of the sound produced with a high level of accuracy, meaning that nothing is left out.
The Mackie HR824 has a range of 35Hz to 20 kHz (+/-1.5dB). While it is ideal for tinkering with to get the response that you want to fit your home studio, it is a little awkward to access the connectors once the set of monitors is in place.
Corner positioning and placing them too close to walls should also be avoided due to the extension of the bass. With internal damping and a decent tonal balance, it has a high resolution feedback that lets you analyze the sound accurately.
With highs with a crisp quality to the ear and a rich mid range, this is a good set of home studios speakers for beginners.
You get the same sound quality and frequency response of the maker’s studio set-up but made for home use, particularly when it comes to the price point.
It is easy to adjust the trim controls and there are multiple connector panels to keep everything that you may want to adjust as intuitive as possible. With a range of 70 Hz - 20 kHz (+/- 6 dB), it is well-made for home use and basic monitoring system.
The bi-amp feature allows you to focus to get the response that you want in terms of the frequencies. Be prepared to, as you should be with all studio monitors, have to adjust the acoustic space control according to where you have set them up. A subtle hum has been noted by some buyers but this can be compensated for.
With a wide frequency of 70Hz - 20 kHz, the Mackie CR4 is designed for multimedia use. It is ideal for those just starting out in home recording, although the range isn’t the widest out there on the market.
A bonus of this set of monitors is that the power button and volume controls are on the front, making it even easier to make any necessary adjustments. It also features an auxiliary connection, letting you add another device if desired.
Ideal for home-based set-ups, the Mackie CR4 comes with clear stereo imaging and an even dispersion. While not the best studio monitors out there for high end professional set-ups, it packs a punch for the price tag and is ideal for beginners.
The Kali Audio is optimized for nearfield use. For reference, nearfield is used to refer to monitors that are smaller and more compact than the majority, meaning that they are ideal for desk use.
They project the sound from them closer to the listener which means that there is less potential for room distortion to be heard.
It dampens interference and is simple to set up. Overall, the Kali Audio LP 6 is a great mid range monitor and provides good depth and width when it comes to the sound it receives at 39 - 25.000 Hz (-10 dB) and 47 - 21.000 Hz (+/- 3 dB).
The Neumann KH 120 is the first of its kind. Highly efficient with a bi-amp that offers precision and the adjustment of even the smallest details of the sound you are recording, the Neumann’s dispersion provides faithful feedback of the room to let you better adjust to get the truest sound as a result.
Given its size, it has a surprising high frequency response of 54Hz and a low end of 20 kHz (±2dB). It feeds back accurately. It comes with a series of switches at the back that allow the frequency response to be tailored to suit its placement in the room and the room acoustics.
Playing the highs without any grittiness and the bass without overexaggerating, it is a faithful in what it reproduces and has barely any feedback even when not in active use.
The Genelec 8030C is a reliable brand suitable for a range of jobs. This monitor sits in the niche between having a small footprint in terms of what it requires to output and performing well.
It has a high frequency response of 47 Hz and a low end of 25 kHz (-6dB). With adjustable trim controls built-in at the back and switches at the back to compensate for the room, this allows you to adapt as you go.
The active crossovers allow for a high degree of fine-tuning and the versatile mounting options mean that you can experiment to find the monitor position that works best for you.
Studio monitors are versatile tools allowing for the fine-tuned feedback of sound allowing you to adjust, refine and balance out what has been produced in a manner that doesn’t sugar-coat it to be easy on the ears.
Whether you are new to recording at home, are looking to upgrade to the next monitor or are a professional looking to get a monitor that breaks down every last component of the sound to let you analyze your production, studio monitors are varied to suit every budget and purpose.
Regular monitors and studio monitors might share the same common ancestor, so to speak, but they have diverged into distinct pathways of development used for entirely different purposes.
When it comes to home listening such as when playing a game or enjoying the latest movie or game soundtrack, regular monitors will optimize the sound by hiding any imperfections and providing you with an overall quality experience.
The studio monitors on the other hand are made to be precise. They highlight the flaws and imperfections in the sound to allow for them to be corrected.
If you are making home recordings and want the sound to be as optimal as possible for as many listeners as possible while being true to what you have produced, it is a studio monitors that you need to go for.
Unlike regular monitors, set of studio monitors allow you to adjust the woofer and dome tweeter separately to find that crossover sweet spot to get you the quality you desire. Regular monitors on the other hand don’t have anywhere near that level of refined control.
When it comes to starting out on your recording journey, to begin with, you can generally utilize your headphones or a set of computer speakers. This is ideal when you are familiarizing yourself with the territory.
However, when it comes to composing for more listeners than just yourself once you are familiar with the ins and outs of recording, speakers will allow you to pick up nuances that integrated equipment just can’t rival.
For one thing, getting your own monitor frees you from leasing equipment and having to rely on an external company.
When it comes to decent speakers for studios, there are a lot of factors that need to be considered. First, consider what you are going to be recording.
How true of a sound do you need for your purpose in your home studio? Do you want to the best studio monitors which allows you to use in lots of different settings or is it going to be more static? You should also consider your budget when it comes to buying studio gear.
Don’t go breaking the bank when a cheaper low end studio monitors does what you need it to. Don’t be afraid to experiment. If you know people with different models, see what intuitively works in the way that you need it to.
Linda Ritter is a passionate pianist and a songwriter for more than 7 years. With a Masters in Music, she has explored the world of music and has collaborated with several musicians and brands like Roland, Tune Core, and plenty of blogs.