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.
Focal SM9 Powered Studio Monitor
Dynaudio Acoustics BM15A Active Studio Monitor
Neumann KH 120 A - Active Studio Monitor
Yamaha HS8 Studio Monitor
JBL Professional 305P MkII Powered Monitor
KRK Rokit 5 2-way Active Monitor
What separates the Focal SM9s from the rest of powered studio monitors available on the market is the ability to switch between the 2-way and 3-way operating modes. 3-way mode brings together the full-range that these speakers are capable of producing, working with a 1” pure Beryllium inverted-dome tweeter, a 6.5 inch Focal “W” cone for midrange, and an 8 inch Focal “W” cone for the low end. This killer combo unearths elements that might otherwise never go noticed on lesser speakers.
The 2-way mode cuts out the 8 inch low-frequency driver, eliminating sub-frequencies that most consumers won’t ever be able to hear. This allows you to make adjustments to the parts that are the most important to the common man. Just a heads up, the SM9s come separately so you’ll need to make the purchase twice. The price tag definitely will scare off casual hobbyists but for those who are really ready to hear music like they’ve never heard it before, these are the only option to be considered.
Dynaudio’s BM15A powered studio monitor brings to the table an immaculate audio performance powered by the company’s totally custom-designed and built drivers, cabinets, and electronics. A 10 inch woofer cranks out powerful bass frequencies while the unit’s bass reflex cabinet helps to enhance the low frequency response. A pair of discrete MOSFET amplifiers are responsible for the clear signal that comes out of these speakers, offering 200 watts for the low frequency driver and 100 for the highs. Meanwhile, the precision protection circuitry promises that those drivers will remain safe from any damage during use. To top it all off, the unit features an elegant matte finish that makes this thing look majestic which definitely helps the visual aesthetic of your studio. Note: Many retailers sell each side individually, so make sure you order a matching set.
The Neumann KH 120 powered studio monitor represents the marriage between the impressive build standards of Neumann and the pristine audio quality of Klein + Hummel. The KH 120 features a Mathematically Modeled Dispersion (MMD) waveguide, resulting in a wide sweet spot no matter where you sit in the studio. The unit’s low-frequency drivers help to reduce distortion while also dispensing marvelous mid-range and high frequencies. The design of the drivers is calibrated in a sandwich cone shape, which works against breakup and also reduces low-frequency distortion. The monitor’s large front panel ports also work to reduce bass compression and make it easier to mount the speaker in tight spaces.
Comprised by an 8 inch cone woofer and 1 inch dome tweeter, the Yamaha HS8 studio monitor offers a bi-amplified driver and ported enclosures that offer up an honest, untampered sound. This speaker features room control and high-trim response controls that allow the monitor to be tailored to any room that it sits in, meaning that you’ll never worry that the room isn’t doing your mix justice. The HS8 sits in an enclosure that has been designed to eliminate any unwanted frequencies that could potentially influence the sound that comes through the monitor. This monitor is also equipped with an advanced magnetic circuit design that provides a tightly controlled flux field. The end result is a smooth response and dynamic efficiency that will allow you to take your mixes to a whole new level of precision.
Engineers and producers who are looking for affordable studio monitors to use when mixing music would do well to check out the JBL Professional 305P. The unit utilizes the same stereo imaging elements employed in the company’s flagship M2 Master Reference monitors to give a wide spectrum to play with. This gives you a more sound platform to make judgments in the sound of the mix. JBL’s patented Slip Stream low-frequency port allows for accurate bass response even when the monitor is playing back at a low level, a tactic that's a great way to check a mix. High frequency and low frequency trim controls allow users to make adjustments to the playback of the monitor to fit the acoustics of the room that they sit in. And the wider sweet spot this unit offers means you don’t have to necessarily be sitting in the captain’s chair in order to hear the best it has to offer.
Those who have spent even a small amount of time working in music production and mixing are surely familiar with the trademark yellow and black design of the KRK Rokit studio monitor. The company’s Rokit 5 G3 model sports a Class A/B amplifier to drive the woofer and soft-dome tweeter, which are combined into a single composite. The Rokit 5’s active two way electronics offer plenty of headroom while keeping noise amplification to a minimum. A front-slotted bass port and resonant-free cabinet contributes to the monitor’s clear and supreme sound. The Rokit 5 also features a limiter to prevent nasty unwanted peaks from doing any damage to the speaker.
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.