Best Studio Monitor
Studio monitors are loudspeakers designed typically for use within professional/home recording studios, radio stations, and television studios. Their main purpose is to give the listener a reference point for which to mix the sound. These speakers aren’t meant to give you the best sound possible but rather the clearest because if there’s something wrong with the mix, the engineer needs to hear it so it can be fixed before it hits consumer systems. However, once a mix has been perfected, there’s no better place to listen to it than on a good pair of reference monitors. For more information on choosing a studio monitor right for your audio needs, check out our buyer’s guide below.
Best Powered Studio Monitor:
Without good, nay, great studio monitors, your mixes have no chance at ever reaching their full potential. Powered studio monitors paint an aural picture and provide an accurate depiction of what is going on in the sonic landscape of a song, thereby pointing you in the right direction to make the changes necessary to perfect and complete your job as a producer/mix engineer. Put simply, if you’re not hearing something on a great powered studio monitor, you’re not really hearing the full picture. We've chosen the best powered studio monitors available today, with each one listed here being no more than 13 inches wide, making them a compact addition for most studio environments, they all feature a low and high frequency driver to boost the dynamic range/accuracy of their performance, as well as power configured for either bi-amped or tri-amped setups, allowing you to easily configure the monitors together to achieve a wide-spanning, accurate-sounding signal.
The Focal SM9s have been described informally as alien speakers by many of the professionals I’ve encountered in my field, and in this name they’re playfully referring to the out of this world sound that they provide. They are the first and final stop that you need to get the mix right, completely honest in their delivery, while revealing everything that really exists in a piece of music. Read Full Review
Dynaudio delivers such an unparalleled audio experience to their products that many monitor manufacturers incorporate some of the company’s components into their own products. But nothing can compare to the real thing, and with the BM15A powered studio monitor, users can harness that sheer power and clarity that can transform a mix session. Read Full Review
Genelec’s 8240A powered studio monitors are the end result of the years of in-field acoustical research and testing that the company has taken on to provide a superior sounding product. Interfacing with optional software and offering multiple modes of operation, these speakers offer a whole new level of sound control and performance. Read Full Review
Neumann’s KH 120 powered studio monitors are the ideal speakers for tracking, mixing, and mastering not just music, but broadcast and post-production work as well. These monitors are made for use as a near-field loudspeaker or as a rear loudspeaker in multi-channel systems. Read Full Review
You’ll definitely recognize the Munro Sonic Egg 150 powered studio monitor when you see it. In case its name wasn’t already an indicator, this unit is shaped like an egg and features a powerful yet neutral sound that have made many consider this product to be a welcome reinvention of the wheel. Read Full Review
Best Budget Studio Monitor:
The role that the studio monitor plays in the recording process is absolutely crucial. Engineers rely on these speakers to evaluate the mix, make adjustments, and dictate what the end result will sound like. Although we all want the most high-end sound possible, not everyone is going to be able to afford the big boy toys used by the most elite professionals. Luckily, there are many more affordable items that exist that still deliver impeccable sound without costing an arm or a leg. We've selected the best budget studio monitors, with each one listed here featuring a tweeter to deliver crisp and balanced high end frequencies, a woofer for low end thump and bass-heavy dynamics, and multiple input types so you can use these monitors with a variety of audio sources.
Yamaha has been supplying studios with accurate and great-sounding monitors ever since the late 1970's. The company’s HS8 continues the tradition, providing a clear-sounding response that will sound great in any room you put it in. Read Full Review
The JBL LSR305 studio monitor is compact in both its size and price, but don’t let that make you think it doesn’t offer a huge sound to any recording studio. Featuring the company’s legendary transducers and low and high frequency trim switches, this monitor means serious business even for those working within a constrained budget. Read Full Review
KRK has been a long-time staple in the world of studio monitors, and they’ve succeeded in upholding their pristine reputation with their Rokit 5 G3. This unit is great for any style of music and offers some cool enhancements to provide a better playback that is clear and dynamic. Read Full Review
M-Audio’s AV32 studio monitors were designed with the desktop musician in mind. Their small size makes them easy to transport and work with, but the sound they deliver is anything but tiny. Read Full Review
The Alesis Elevate 5 studio monitor offers a precise and rich sound that will have consumers doing double-takes when they see how affordable they actually are. Though they don’t look very different from some standard computer speakers, these monitors are capable of taking your mix to the finish line. Read Full Review
Studio Monitor Buyer's Guide
This buyer’s guide is specifically geared towards individuals looking for reference monitors. These pieces of audio equipment are not computer speakers nor something you could find for $100 at Best Buy. Rather, reference monitors are manufactured with a greater number of superior parts so you can hear the difference between a professional recording and something which was done by your friends.
Studio Monitor Types
An active studio monitor has a built-in amplifier to power the speaker, making them heavier but more cost-effective than a passive monitor. The biggest downside to active monitors is they don’t sound as clean as a passive monitor; however, as amplifier technology advances the difference between the two continues to narrow.
A passive studio monitor needs to be powered by an external amplifier. These monitors are lighter and generally sound better because they’re using an external power source. Purchasing all these components separately can be expensive so you generally only see passive monitors in high-end professional studios.
The cone is the large circular part on the front of the monitor responsible for projecting most of the audio you hear. It generally handles mid-range frequencies to as low as 40Hz.
The tweeter is the small circular part on the front of the monitor and handles all the high-end frequencies. There is usually some sort of cage or a crosshatch of thin metal bars over top of the tweeter to protect the fragile cone portion.
The heavier a monitor is, the better it will handle large amounts of sound which causes vibrations that can potentially loosen vital parts over time. Therefore a studio monitor which is well put together is going to weigh significantly more.
When discussing a monitor’s size, most engineers will refer to them by the cone’s dimension. Depending on the manufacturer, you can obtain monitors with cones anywhere from 3 to 15 inches with the most popular dimensions being 5, 8, and 12 inches respectively.
In general, larger speakers are better than smaller speakers but you should also take the size of your room into account.
For example, if the room is smaller than 9’x11’ you would want to go with smaller monitors to match the acoustic space. Conversely, giant speakers in a smaller room will do no better than smaller speakers.
Choosing the right speakers all depends on how much you’re willing to spend as well as the size of your room; the more space you have, the more room you have for details within the frequency spectrum which results in a better sound.
Versatility is another consideration when purchasing studio monitors. This is commonly expressed in terms of the controls you have available on the back of the speaker.
Many monitors will come with standard EQ controls such as a low cut and high trim switches along with an output control and two different input jacks (XLR and ¼”).
Another control you may want to look for is called “room control” but you may also see it labeled as “acoustic space”. This feature allows you to fine tune the output of your speakers to accommodate the size of your room.
Studio monitors generally have a flat response across the frequency spectrum which helps the listener in locating any issues in the sound mix. You may ask why there is a need for all the EQ controls since monitors generally have a flat response. This is because variously-sized rooms react to sound differently and depending on the size and the angles in the room, you may have to make slight EQ adjustments.