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Best budget studio monitors 2022: pocket-friendly home studio speakers, with most pairs under $200/£200

Best budget studio monitors 2022: pocket-friendly home studio speakers, with most pairs under $200/£200
(Image credit: IK Multimedia)

Every music producer will reach a stage in their life when they need a pair of their very own pair of the best budget studio monitors. After a while, a pair of studio headphones alone just won’t do. Sure, most music-makers start out by relying on a cheap-and-cheerful pair of headphones to listen to their creations - or even worse, our built in laptop speakers - but hearing your recordings for the first time through a set of specialist studio speakers is a milestone event. The treble has more clarity, the bass sounds fuller, and everything is faithfully reproduced in HD.  

If you’re old enough to remember standard definition TV, you’ll remember how amazing it was to watch your favourite film in high definition for the first time. To a home recording enthusiast, installing your first set of 'proper' monitors has that very same effect - but as this guide will prove, you don't need to rely an unlimited bank balance or an amazing studio space to get a great sound anymore.

Sometimes, a pair of budget studio monitors is all that's needed. Even though most of us can tell our 'Bridge over Troubled Water' from our 'Hot Dog Flavoured Water', only those with the most particular hearing can truly appreciate the nuances of a really high-end pair of monitors. We'd also argue that the quality of cheap studio monitors has improved so much over the last few years, and as such, a pair of today's $/£250 monitors would be roughly equivalent to the $/£500 monitors of a few years ago - and with that, this guide includes multiple pairs of the best studio monitors under $200/£200. It's also worth noting that even the best studio monitors can sound weak and lifeless in a room which isn't properly acoustically treated. 

We’ve included some expert buying advice at the bottom of this guide which you can get to by clicking this link. If you’d rather get straight into the products, keep scrolling.

Best budget studio monitors: Our top picks

While there are cheap studio monitors on this list that will double up for gaming, multimedia and streaming audio, if you're after purely studio reference monitors we’d comfortably point you towards the IK Multimedia iLoud Micro (opens in new tab) or the M Audio BX5 D3 (opens in new tab) pairs.

Both options are built for the budget-conscious music producer, and have features geared specifically towards making sure you get the clearest, most precise image of your mix. Your mixes will sound way better through these speakers than your cheap headphones or laptop speakers, and your ability to critically appraise a track will increase dramatically. You'll also be able to spot where your mixing weaknesses are, in order to improve for next time.  

If you require something that delivers more in the way of versatility, the JBL One Series 104s (opens in new tab) are great budget speakers in their own right. They don’t take up loads of space on your studio desk and would happily pull double duty for gaming or watching films if you needed them to.

Best budget studio monitors: Product guide

Best budget studio monitors: IK Multimedia iLoud Micro

(Image credit: IK Multimedia)
Good things come in small packages

Specifications

Frequency response: 55Hz – 20kHz
Speaker configuration: Two-way
Driver size: 3”
Tweeter type: ¾” silk dome
Inputs: Dual RCA Stereo, 1/8” TRS, Bluetooth

Reasons to buy

+
Superb sound reproduction
+
Small
+
Portable

Reasons to avoid

-
Larger speakers would be nice

Budget studio monitors don’t have to be large to produce a great sound. The IK Multimedia iLoud Micro monitors prove that, producing a clear, accurate sound from a small 3” driver. We particularly liked the room-correcting EQ features at the back of the speakers too, which help if the location you have them situated is hindering the sound in any way. 

The choice of 1/8” jack for an input makes them ideal for iPad or laptop producers, while the RCA inputs mean they can easily cope with record players, DJ mixers or audio interfaces too.

Bluetooth inclusion is nice, and makes them versatile, but judged solely on their monitoring performance the iLoud Micro set is well worth your consideration. Don’t be put off by the size either; these things are capable of some serious volume.

Read the full IK Multimedia iLoud Micro review

Best budget studio monitors: M-Audio BX5-D3

(Image credit: Future)
The best studio monitors under $200/£200 for serious first-time producers

Specifications

Frequency response: 52Hz – 35kHz
Speaker configuration: Two-way
Driver size: 5”
Tweeter type: 1” silk dome
Inputs: ¼” balanced or unbalanced, XLR

Reasons to buy

+
Exceptional clarity
+
Room correction

Reasons to avoid

-
Hard to find fault here

We’re huge fans of the M Audio BX5 D3 series, for a number of reasons. While there are other speakers on this list that will double up as multimedia speakers, or stream from your mobile device, the BX5’s are designed specifically with reference monitoring in mind.

During our testing of the BX5 D3's, we found them to have an incredibly wide frequency range for the price you pay, as well as other useful first-timer features such as room correction - and even a nifty built-in LED light to ensure you have them set up at the right angle for your ears. 

If you’re putting together a music studio on a budget, and are looking for speakers whose main aim is to provide clarity and accuracy when it comes to mixing and recording, then the M Audio BX5 D3 might just be the perfect set for you. 

Read the full M-Audio BX5-D3 review

Best budget studio monitors: JBL One Series 104

(Image credit: JBL)
Compact and portable budget studio monitors

Specifications

Frequency response: 60Hz – 20kHz
Speaker configuration: Two-way
Driver size: 4.5”
Tweeter type: ¾” soft dome
Inputs: Stereo RCA, Stereo TRS, 1/8” jack, Bluetooth

Reasons to buy

+
Good connectivity
+
Wide frequency range

Reasons to avoid

-
No onboard EQ

Designed with home recording, podcasting and portability in mind, the JBL One Series 104 studio speakers deliver a lot of performance for not a lot of cash. As you’d expect from JBL, we were seriously impressed with the sound reproduction, which was both balanced and accurate across a wide frequency range. 

We found that the Series 104's - with no onboard compensation EQ - need to be positioned no more than about 12 inches from a wall if you want to avoid additional low-frequency build-up. A fairly minor issue, however, for what appears to be a great set of budget studio monitors.

Bluetooth 5 connectivity makes them versatile too – one minute they’re at the heart of your studio and the next they can be in the kitchen streaming from your phone. A great choice for lots of situations. 

Read the full JBL One Series 104 review

Best budget studio monitors: Presonus Eris E3.5

(Image credit: Presonus)
Affordable nearfield monitors make ideal upgrade from laptop speakers

Specifications

Frequency response: 80Hz – 20kHz
Speaker configuration: Two-way
Driver size: 3.5”
Tweeter type: 1” silk dome
Inputs: Stereo TRS, RCA, 1/8” jack

Reasons to buy

+
Great value
+
EQ tuning

Reasons to avoid

-
Bass reproduction comes up short at volume

If your recording journey has started with you using headphones or the speakers in your laptop, the PreSonus Eris E3.5 will provide an instant upgrade. These affordable studio monitors offer a variety of connections, and the onboard EQ correction is superb to find at this price point. 

The Eris E3.5 monitors pull a fairly reasonable amount of low-end out of the small 3.5" speakers, even with the LF range only extending as far as 80Hz. There is a lack of low-end clarity in certain areas, but as an upgrade from headphones or laptop speakers, the Eris 3.5's fit the bill happily.

During our review process, we found that the Eris' are not quite so capable at higher volumes. For a shade under $/£100 though, the quality is still exceptionally impressive - meaning that these monitors are well worth taking a chance on.

Read the full PreSonus Eris E3.5 review

Best budget studio monitors: Alesis Elevate 5 MKII

(Image credit: Alesis)
Updated budget nearfield monitors deliver serious volume

Specifications

Frequency response: 56Hz – 20kHz
Speaker configuration: Two-way
Driver size: 5”
Tweeter type: 1” silk dome
Inputs: RCA, Stereo TRS

Reasons to buy

+
Well made
+
Bass boost is useful

Reasons to avoid

-
Unboosted bass is a bit thin

At the budget end of the spectrum, there are certain concessions that have to be made versus more advanced models. Often, this comes in a reduction of the available frequency range and, more often, it’s bass that suffers. The Alesis Elevate 5 MKII proves this point, but that doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker; the Japanese firm has included a dedicated bass boost switch for those moments when you are listening for pleasure, rather than for reference. 

When we tested these with reference listening in mind, we found that the 40 watts that the 5" driver and 1" high-frequency tweeter kicked out were more than adequate when mixing in a smaller room - but not so much when we expanded into a larger space. This will be no problem for the typical bedroom producer though, with the power on offer being more than enough for most.

Overall, the Elevate 5 set performs well across a range of listening situations, and would make a superb addition to any studio or gaming setup.

Read the full Alesis Elevate 5 MKII review

Best budget studio monitors: KRK Rokit RP5 G4

(Image credit: KRK)

6. KRK Rokit RP5 G4

Serious budget speakers for serious work

Specifications

Frequency response: 43Hz – 40kHz
Speaker configuration: Two-way
Driver size: 5.25”
Tweeter type: 1” Kevlar
Inputs: TRS, XLR

Reasons to buy

+
Active room tuning
+
Incredible sound

Reasons to avoid

-
Not enough for bigger rooms

Sitting at the top end of what we’d call the budget section are the KRK Rokit RP5 G4 studio monitors. Rest assured though, that the improvement in performance and sound reproduction from the ‘true’ budget speakers makes these definitely worth your attention. 

From the wider frequency spectrum, meaning richer bass reproduction, through to the onboard EQ presented via an LCD screen at the rear of the speaker, these are serious speakers.

If we were being ultra-picky we’d gripe a bit at the master volume pot being located at the rear of the speaker, but that’s not uncommon. Overall, however, the KRK Rokit RP5 G4s make for a comprehensive package for any home studio enthusiast.

Read the full KRK Rokit RP5 G4 review

Best budget studio monitors: Mackie CR3-XBT

(Image credit: Mackie)

7. Mackie CR3-XBT

Affordable offering from the studio specialists

Specifications

Frequency response: 70Hz – 20kHz
Speaker configuration: Two-way
Driver size: 3”
Tweeter type: ¾” silk dome
Inputs: Stereo RCA, Stereo TRS, 1/8” jack, Bluetooth

Reasons to buy

+
Wide range of connections
+
Look great

Reasons to avoid

-
No attenuation controls

Mackie is a brand which is well known and well respected in studio circles. It’s built a solid reputation over the years for delivering quality gear at affordable prices, and that remit extends to their range of monitor speakers. 

We found that the Mackie CR3-XBT monitors hit that sweet balance between price and performance, and offering a great selection of input options, including Bluetooth, with features like a wide frequency range and solid build quality, they have a multitude of uses for the modern producer and music listener.

During testing, the 3” main driver didn't particularly trouble the sub-bass end of the spectrum, but we were still impressed by the clarity and accuracy of a number of reference tracks we tested. 

Read the full Mackie CR3 review

Best budget studio monitors: Fostex PM0.3

(Image credit: Fostex)

8. Fostex PM0.3

Small footprint monitors are ideal where space is an issue

Specifications

Frequency response: 110Hz – 20kHz
Speaker configuration: Two-way
Driver size: 3”
Tweeter type: ¾” fiber glass
Inputs: 1/8” jack

Reasons to buy

+
Surprisingly loud
+
Good value

Reasons to avoid

-
Don’t expect deep sub bass reproduction

It can be quite easy, when you factor in a laptop, keyboard, screen and other things to overwhelm a small studio desk. Adding a large set of studio monitors into the mix complicates things further, which is why the Fostex PM0.3 are such an attractive proposition. Each speaker unit is just under 4” wide, meaning you can happily upgrade from your laptop’s internal speaker without dominating your valuable studio real estate.

For such small speakers, the PM0.3's are exceptionally loud and project well. We found that both mixing and regular music listening were a doddle on this pair of monitors - and while they may struggle in a larger room, the PM0.3's would do nicely for any bedroom producer.

At such a small size there are compromises that have to be made; bass reproduction below 110Hz is non-existent, for example. But if space is a key driver, then the Fostex PM0.3 are a good option.

Best budget studio monitors: Buying advice

Best budget studio monitors: JBL One Series

(Image credit: JBL )

Home listening speakers vs budget studio monitors

If you’re new to home recording or music production, you may be wondering how the best budget studio monitors in this guide differ from the killer high-end Bluetooth speaker you use to stream Spotify or Apple Music – we're talking about the likes of Sonos and Bose here. 

Without wanting to sound too blunt, studio monitor speakers don’t exist for your listening pleasure. They aren’t designed to make your recordings sound good like the aforementioned ‘lifestyle audio’ brands. They are there to offer a point of reference for your music; if the audio you feed into them sounds good, your speakers will too. If not, you’ll soon find out. In short, monitors give you the truth, for better or for worse.

Allow us to explore this a little deeper. Regular speakers, from the aforementioned Bluetooth type, right up to your parent’s prized hi-fi set, are created differently. They are there to sweeten the audio they’re fed, either through gently boosting bass and treble frequencies or by applying other predefined EQ settings. What’s more, the choice - and age - of the speaker cone itself also has an impact.

Monitor - or reference - speakers differ in that they have no prior agenda. They operate with what’s known as a ‘flat-frequency response’, which means they produce the sound exactly as it’s received; in the producer’s case from either the digital audio workstation (DAW), instrument or other source.

The benefit of this approach is simple, yet brings with it a ton of complexity. In theory, if you can make your mix sound balanced, clear and accurate on a set of budget monitors, then you can be confident it will sound good on whatever speakers the end-user chooses. This could mean anything from a mobile phone or iPad, to a car stereo, or even one of the best PA speakers in a club. 

What should I know about budget studio monitors?

When you’re looking for a set of budget studio monitors, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First you need to consider how you’ll connect them to your laptop, recorder or other device. For many, an audio interface will be required. This connects to the laptop or PC via USB and provides connectivity for audio going in – instruments – and audio going out – monitor speakers. Studio monitors are mostly active, which means they employ their own amplification, and require a power source to do this.

Connection-wise, most of the best studio monitors are generally hooked up to your device via USB, XLR, or by shielded ¼” jack cables – the shielding helps reduce the hum from nearby electrical equipment or lights. Finally, consider the size of speaker you’ll need. Most bedroom/home setups will find a set of 5” driver equipped nearfield monitors will more than cope with what you can throw at them, while larger studios may find they need something more substantial to fill the room properly.

Why should I buy a pair of budget studio monitors?

Good question.

If you're new to the world of home production and recording, then a pair of budget studio monitors is really all that you need. Most budding producers just need to be able to hear their creations in a way that 'isn't too bad' - no more, no less. As you progress further, your ear will start to pick up new and different things that it didn't before, and that's when you need to think about the sound quality of your studio monitors. That doesn't mean you should buy better ones, though - more so exploring your budget pair and seeing how far you can push them. You'd be surprised at what they're capable of.

Budget studio monitors are also getting really, really good. Like most musical tech available, the quality of budget studio monitors has also vastly improved over the last few years. There's never been a better time to buy budget studio monitors, if we're honest - with products from the likes of IK Multimedia, M-Audio and Presonus all making a great impression on us for not a lot of money - both aurally and with regards to their build quality and looks.

How we test budget studio monitors

Similar to regular studio monitors, budget studio speakers should also deliver a reasonably truthful and uncoloured sound so what you hear is what the mix actually delivers and you can mix accordingly and correctly. This means they should have a flat frequency response and one that covers the full range of human hearing – 20Hz to 20kHz. 

This might not always be the case when you deal with some low end speakers. By definition they will have been designed as cheaper options. This means they will almost certainly only have two drivers (delivering bass and treble but not the mids that some more expensive 3-driver models deliver) and sometimes be designed in smaller enclosures where perhaps the bass will have been enhanced to sound better. Again, this enhanced bass means you will naturally reduce the bass when you are mixing to compensate so resulting on weedier mixes on any other playback system. 

This used to be a big problem with cheaper speakers but, thankfully, due to advances in technology and design, even these now can have much flatter responses, the ideal type for monitoring your mixes accurately. Over the last decade, we have tested many budget studio monitor speakers from the likes of Adam Audio, JBL, Kali Audio, Eve Audio, IK Multimedia and more that have had an exceptional sound, often for under $/£2-300, something unheard of at one time.

Read more about how we test music making gear and services at MusicRadar

Chris Corfield is a journalist with over 12 years of experience writing for some of the music world's biggest brands including Orange Amplification, MusicRadar, Guitar World Total Guitar and Dawsons Music. Chris loves getting nerdy about everything from guitar and bass gear, to synths, microphones and music production hardware.

With contributions from