Best Studio Monitors

Best Studio Monitors

Once upon a time, musicians had to go to professional, stand-alone recording studios if they wanted to make an album. These days, of course, you can get results from a home studio that recording engineers back then could only dream of at a fraction of the cost. One of the most important components of any good studio is a good pair of studio monitors. So today, we are going to cover ten different models in order to find out what might be the best pick for you.

Edifier R980T 4″ Active Bookshelf Speakers – Best Choice Of Studio Monitors For Powerful Sound Under $100 — $

Currently priced at under $100 for a pair, you would be hard-pressed to find a better deal for a solid couple of studio monitors in this price range. The R980Ts offer an immersive level of sound, well-measured across all frequencies, and a surprising amount of bass in such a small and budget-friendly package. They also have some surprisingly thoughtful features at this price range, such as two sets of RCA audio inputs so that you can go into them from your computer and your turntable, for example. Also, the included speaker wire is red and black, so there is no guesswork as what signal is going to the right speaker vs the left.

Edifier manufactures 8 million units a year!

While most reviews have been positive, a few have complained about buzzy speakers or echoey sound quality

They can definitely fill a smaller space with sound.

Pros:

  • excellent bang for your buck
  • balanced sound across frequency ranges

Cons:

  • As is common with some studio monitors, the volume and bass knobs are very difficult to adjust. This can cause an issue in more cramped home studio situations where space is at a premium and it may take a bit of adjusting to get behind the monitors to get the right angle to properly adjust the knobs.

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KRK RP5-G3 Rokit Powered 5″ Studio Monitors+Headphones+Condenser Mic+Cables – Best Monitor Choice If You Are Putting Your Speakers Up Against A Wall — $$$

The KRK Rokit series is generally considered a great choice for a studio setup. While these come in other sizes of the speaker like 6-inch and 8-inch, the 5-inch speaker version will be the best choice for most small to medium size rooms. A favorite feature of these speakers is that, unlike many studio monitors, the bass port for the Rokits are on the bottom front of the units instead of the back. The reason that this is a benefit is because in smaller studio situations, your studio monitors are likely to be up against a wall or in a corner. If the bass ports are on the back of the monitors, the walls are likely to suck up a good portion of the bass response, giving you an unrealistic representation of your mix. With the Rokit monitors pushing the bass forward, you are less likely to run into this problem. That being said, do not expect a huge amount of bass to pump out of the Rokits and there isn’t a dedicated bass adjustment knob on the back of the unit. There is, however, an adjustment knob to clear up the high end, which of course, does relatively alter frequency dynamics across the board.

KRK nearly exclusively focuses on the manufacturing of studio speakers.

Does not feature an adjuster for bass, but does have one for high frequencies

Other reviewers are equally happy with these monitors.

Pros:

  • Bass port on the front of units instead of the rear
  • balanced frequency response
  • high-frequency adjustment
  • the package comes with cables
  • mic and headphones

Cons:

  • nonadjustable bass

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Mackie CR3 3″ Creative Reference Multimedia Monitors Speakers+Monitor Stands – Best Choice For A Casual Gamer or For Editing Sound For Video — $$

Mackie is one of the most trusted names in studio equipment and their CR3 Series is quite popular for many applications. Having AUX and Headphone inputs directly on the front of the unit (they come as a pair of speakers, one powered and the other passive) is an inspired touch, one that allows you to quickly switch to headphone monitoring of a mix or quickly plug in a smartphone. Another positive feature of these monitors is that they have isolation pads, which prevent the stands that these are rested on from sucking up any of the sounds. A volume knob on the front that lights up when the volume is engaged is helpful for not accidentally blasting yourself with sound. The general assessment of these monitors is that they are most ideal for gaming and editing sound in video( this seems to be reflected in that Mackie calls these “creative reference multimedia monitors” and not “studio monitors)–not particularly recommended for dedicated home studio work, but you could do a lot worse for $100.

Mackie started as a company solely dedicated to mixers, but by 1996 had also begun manufacturing power amps and monitors.

These monitors come across as being more directed towards other applications than studio monitoring of recording mixes

At about $100 for the pair, you could do a lot worse if you are just diving into home recording

Pros:

  • Exceptional mids and highs
  • isolation pads
  • about $100

Cons:

  • Not a lot of bass response

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Audioengine A2+ Powered Desktop Speakers (Red) – Best Speaker Design To Appear Like Studio Monitors, When That Is Not What They Are — $$$

These speakers are designed in such a way to be a mid-level solution for your desktop or laptop computer set-up. They are not meant to be used as studio monitors, even though that is what they appear to be from a design standpoint.

Audioengine products tend to be geared towards a consumer’s listening experience for gaming, ambient music, and other applications one might opt to use a somewhat nicer option to run sound from their laptop.

These are not studio monitors.

If you are looking for speakers for something like a cocktail party, these would be a safe bet.

Pros:

  • Points for design

Cons:

  • Again, these are not studio monitors

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JBL 305PMKII 5″ 2-Way Powered Studio Monitor (new model) – Best Overall Pick In This Roundup — $$

The JBL 305PMKII is a uniformly fantastic choice for a studio monitor. The first indicator that puts it over others in its weight-class is that there are XLR inputs as opposed to RCA (which can cause buzziness). There is a three-selection Boundary EQ switch on the back in lieu of isolation pads. The Boundary EQ acts as a compensation tool to adjust for changes in dynamics if the unit is on a table, stand, up against a wall and so forth.

JBL introduced a wealth of innovations with their flagship M2 monitors. Over the years, they have been able to bring many of those features into monitoring systems under their brand name at a more budget-oriented price.

The 5-inch is a great option, but for those needing a significant amount of bass, moving up to the 8-inch model is a good idea.

These JBLs are considered by many to be some of the best monitors in their class and we are not going to disagree

Pros:

  • Boundary EQ
  • XLR input
  • overall great attention to design detail and sound quality

Cons:

  • May want to move up to the 8-inch for better bass monitoring

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Edifier R1280DB Powered Bluetooth Bookshelf Speakers – Best Everyday Speakers That You Can Control From Across The Room — $

These are a fun pair of powered speakers for your home or office, but are not meant to be used for studio monitors. An obvious indicator that that is not the case is the presence of RCA inputs (which can be buzzy), as opposed to XLR. A nice feature of these speakers is that they are Bluetooth-compatible and do come with a remote control, so you could feasibly make adjustments to the sound from anywhere that your signal is being picked up.

Edifier does make dedicated studio monitors.

These, however, are not studio monitors.

Bluetooth-compatibility do make these a fun option for home entertainment usage.

Pros:

  • Bluetooth-capability

Cons:

  • Not designed for studio monitoring

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Yamaha HS5 Powered Studio Monitor, Pair – Best Attempt At An Update Of A Classic — $$$$

Arguably, Yamaha’s most respected product in the studio monitors game is the ubiquitous NS10 which debuted in 1978. These bookshelf speakers became favored in the studios of many top producers and home enthusiasts as a monitor of choice. The idea among most producers was that the NS10’s sound characteristics practically guaranteed that if a mix sounded good on these, then it would sound good on pretty much anything a consumer would be listening to the end-product on (vinyl record, cassette, etc.). The Yamaha HS5 was designed as a more modern response to that design, but in our estimation serves as a strong secondary pair of monitors as opposed to your mains. The reason for this is that tracks jump out in the midrange, leading you to believe you need to tame them, there ending up with tracks that have less midrange than you would ultimately want.

Of course, if you end up internalizing this and can work around it, compensating for it in the final mix, we could see these monitors being your main studio monitors as long as you checked your final mix among other devices (which you should probably always do, anyway). We don’t really think these are going to develop the rabid following that the NS10 has over time, but we’ll be keeping an eye on these in the years to come to see if they do have the same kind of staying power.

The Yamaha HS5 was designed as a modernized update of their legendary NS10

Built-in early bass roll-off takes getting used to

The speakers are pleasantly bass neutral in small rooms that have not been acoustically tampered with (sound or echo-proofed, for example)

Pros:

  • Great value
  • the characteristic sound makes them beneficial as secondary studio monitors when you are checking mixes across different devices

Cons:

  • Dynamic characteristics take some getting accustomed to
  • weak bass response

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PreSonus Eris E3.5 – 3.5″ Professional Multimedia Reference Monitors with Acoustic Tuning (Pair) – Best Budget Monitors For Creating Your Lo-fi Synth-pop Masterpiece — $

PreSonus reportedly spent a boatload in research and development to bring you the Eris series of studio monitors. With the design features, these are great for the money but probably won’t be your main monitors if you are creating bass heavy music or are working with a boatload of tracks. A 3.5-inch speaker simply cannot create that sort of dynamic response. The lack of an XLR input also makes one hesitant to brand this as a speaker system that could work in the full range of potential monitoring situations. It appears though, that these would be ideal for gaming or for listening to mixes of fairly low-stakes music–lo-fi synth-pop, for example.

PreSonus was established in the mid-90s in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by recording engineers to solve recording issues in engineering CDs.

While great for simpler kinds of music monitoring, the 3.5″ speaker and lack of an XLR make this not ideal for many studio monitoring situations.

That being said, this is a great entry-level product

Pros:

  • attention to design at this price point

Cons:

  • lack of XLR
  • speaker size unable to provide much bass response

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ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 Bookshelf Speakers, Black (Pair) – Best Studio Monitors That Can Also Double As Part Of Your Home Theater Set-up $$

I will admit that I knew very little about ELAC as a company, but sometimes that is a good thing. There were no preconceived notions going in about just how these would sound when put up against more commonly known monitor brands such as Yamaha and JBL. We are proud to say that these can definitely hold their own against some of the others in this roundup. For their size, these ELACs buck the notion that superior bass response cannot be achieved in such a small package.

These speakers sound great for what they are marketed as. Namely, for home theater systems. That being said, there are some features that make it potentially the best speakers in this roundup that are meant for home theaters and gaming but could First off, the speakers are 6.5-inches. Due to their size, they are simply able to push out more sound than some of the other units reviewed that have 3.5-inch and 5-inch speakers. The tweeters also extend beyond what is regarded the human range limit (many make the argument that even if you can’t technically “hear” beyond a certain point, you still register the frequency). With the tweeter pushed towards the front and the superior bass response combined, you get a real clarity that seems kind of magical for speakers in this price range. One thing that could be perceived as a negative though is what is called by company their “wide dispersion tweeters”. These create an almost reverbed-sounding output that could be confusing when used for a true-blue representation of a mix in the studio.

Of course, when you know your equipment and can compensate for these sorts of quirks–something like that doesn’t need to be a big issue. One minor complaint is that when cranked to the limit, one may hear some micro distortions in tracks. This only appears to happen though when the speakers are pushed fairly beyond where you are going to have them set for everyday use or for monitoring in the studio. All in all, we would have to say that if budget constraints have you wanting a speaker set-up that you can use for your home theater, gaming, and studio monitoring, this is probably the best bet of the bunch.

ELAC is a German company with a long history and in recent years Andrew Jones (formerly of Pioneer Audio) has teamed with the company to bring the Debut line of speakers.

If only it had an XLR input!

A surprisingly well-rounded product that can be utilized for home theaters as well as studio monitoring

Pros:

  • a pronounced bass response
  • great clarity
  • attention to detail by a master in the field

Cons:

  • No XLR
  • micro distortion when speakers are pushed to their limit

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Polk Audio T15 Bookshelf Speakers, Pair, Black – Best Budget Option For Home Theater — $

As far as the speakers available in this roundup go, you could do a lot worse than the Polk Audio T15s for home theater usage. The reason for this is that they are very bass-heavy. There is no way to adjust this to the speakers, so we can only guess that these were made with the consumer in mind that is going to be watching a lot of action or playing games. Unfortunately, we cannot recommend them as studio monitors as they are lacking the kinds of features one demands for such applications as well as a full dynamic frequency range. They do feature a patented Dynamic Balance system that they say allows for a dynamically wide response, but it seemed like bass really was predominant.

These are a great choice for home theater usage.

They are not, however, meant to be used as studio monitors.

These speakers are a superb value for home theater usage.

Pros:

  • Ideal sound for home theater

Cons:

  • Not set-up to be dedicated studio monitors

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Conclusion

Once we looked at all the products in this round-up, it became clear that some were more suited for studio monitoring than others. Some, in fact, were not designed for studio monitoring at all. Thusly, we had to excuse some of these units from being judged along the same lines as dedicated studio monitors. After that, one had to take into consideration what sort of studio applications one might utilize the various monitors up for review. Upon examining this, we were left with only a few options that made the grade.

Our Best Pick

Of the monitors that were deemed appropriate for dedicated studio monitor usage, one pair really stood out among the rest. It is no surprise that the winner in this roundup turned out to be the JBL. There were just certain details that made it stand out, from simple things like bothering to include an XLR input to being able to handle complex soundtracks. Out of all the studio monitors reviewed here, we believe that the JBL 305PMKII 5″ is the best pick for the widest array of dedicated studio monitoring situations. If you have a smaller space and aren’t in a position where you can pump out too much sound, these JBLs are likely to be the way to go. That being said, if you can handle a bit more heft, moving up to the 8″ version will provide more bass response for you.

We do have to give a special nod to the ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 Bookshelf Speaker. These speakers could feasibly be the only speakers you need for your home-life. They sound great as part of a home theater set-up, listening to streaming audio, for use with a record player, and studio monitoring.

Creating a recording studio can be a daunting process. There are so many options on the market that it can be difficult to ascertain what is right for your situation. We hope this review roundup has provided you with helpful information about your studio’s development. Now get out there and mix some tracks.

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