Group test: powered 3-inch monitors

Unboxed and ready for action.
Unboxed and ready for action.

When space is an issue, it's time to think small, and powered monitors don't come smaller than the 3-inch range. They may be dinky, but they don't have to sound that way, and can provide an effective monitoring solution for a range of budgets.

M-Audio AV32

£70 pair

The most shiny of the group, these are not really suitable for music production. The low frequency range is dominated by a hump around 120Hz that effectively masks all around it, making the low mids hard to discern. The high frequency range is narrow and equally misbalanced.

For more information, go to the M-Audio website.

2.5 out of 5

Tascam VL-S3

£76 pair

Tascam's VL-S3s are the smallest of the 3-inch monitors, and in many ways they sound it, but this is not a criticism; they are realistic with regard to size and price.

The best-sounding of the sub-£100 models by far, with good midrange articulation and a detailed HF/transient response. They roll off significantly below 100Hz, but there's no compensating low/ low-mid bloat as exhibited by some of the others. There is also plenty of volume for the size.

For more Information, go to the Tascam website.

4 out of 5

Mackie Creative Reference CR3

£79 pair

The CR3s are a powerful pair of monitors with a reasonable MF to HF response, and their small box 'boom' is nowhere near as pronounced (bad) as the M-Audio AV32s. The bass end may be larger than the Tascams, but the overall sound stage is less realistic or pure, with more audible resonant peaks (poor phase response). They've got plenty of SPLs before cracking up.

For more information, go to the Mackie website.

3.5 out of 5

Samson MediaOne BT3

£85 pair

Like the M-Audio and Mackies, the BT3s have 3.5mm aux and phones sockets on the front, and as with the M-Audios this is our favourite feature. They lack any real presence in the 7kHz-10kHz range, though there is some airy hiss audible higher up. They have that 'in-a-sock' sound and battle the M-Audios for last place.

For more information, go to the Samson website.

2.5 out of 5

Eve Audio SC203

£389 pair

Do you get what you pay for? Hell yeah, and Eve Audio proves it in this group test. Quality transient response with a nicely-balanced mid range that lets you hear what's going on, which is what you need for tracking and mixing. The bass end is impressive, reaching down surprisingly low (thanks to the non-ported rear passive radiator design) without booming or sounding boxy.

The front mounted rotary switch opens up a good range of functionality that is normally accessed via fiddly rear panel DIP switches, which makes setup and adjustment easy. There are USB and optical digital inputs, besides the RCA analogue, as well as a Sub out.

These are nice to work on, with enough adjustability.

For more information, go the Eve Audio website.

4.5 out of 5

Genelec 8010A

£199 each

Like the Eve Audio SC203s, the low end extends further than you'd imagine, though it seems more like a psychoacoustic trick on the Genelecs. Plenty of power, but it is the sound that makes these the clear winner.

The stereo imaging and soundstaging is a cut above, revealing a dimensionality that makes mixing easy. Transients are clear, the bass is tight, and the mid range is well articulated and free of phase shift problems. They sound like a much larger nearfield monitor. Overall, the voicing is better to our ears than the Eve Audios. They are also individually powered, making them useful for surround setups, too.

For more information, go to the Genelec website.

4.5 out of 5


The best value

Tascam VL-S3

A compact powered monitor that eschews artificial low end bloat, focusing instead on a well-balanced frequency response.

The star performer

Genelec 8010A

Excellent soundstaging and clarity make these ideal for tracking and mixing in small spaces or on the move.

Future Music

Future Music is the number one magazine for today's producers. Packed with technique and technology we'll help you make great new music. All-access artist interviews, in-depth gear reviews, essential production tutorials and much more. Every marvellous monthly edition features reliable reviews of the latest and greatest hardware and software technology and techniques, unparalleled advice, in-depth interviews, sensational free samples and so much more to improve the experience and outcome of your music-making.