You know you need decent studio monitors. You’ve spent hours working on a track in your home studio or bedroom, and after meticulously tweaking the mix, you’re pretty happy with how it sounds. But then you listen to it somewhere else - in your mate’s studio, in the car, on your phone, or even over a club PA system - and the mix sounds nothing like it did in your own room. Sound familiar? If so, your studio monitoring setup might need a rethink. We can help with our round-up of the best studio monitors around.
Studio monitors are essentially designed to reveal a true picture of the audio coming out of your speakers, warts ’n’ all. Whether you like it or not, this uncompromising picture of your mix balance means you can make critical choices, confident that what you’re hearing will translate to all other playback systems.
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In this respect, monitors can be less pleasant-sounding, and in some cases more fatigueing, than hi-fi speakers, where the tonal balance is designed to enhance music for your average music listener. So while a decent pair of monitor speakers may shine a light on some of the less optimal elements of your mix, they'll also help you fix them and improve your ability as a producer.
It's a good time to be looking too; with Black Friday 2019 on its way there are some cracking bargains out there. Whether it's a Black Friday treat for yourself, or a long overdue studio upgrade, we'll be keeping our Black Friday music deals hub updated with the latest offers. If you can't wait, we've got you covered with this roundup of the best studio monitors in 2019, including today’s best prices on top music gear.
Which are the best studio monitors right now?
Monitor speakers vary immensely in terms of price, performance and design, so it's hard to pick out one set to call 'the best'. What we'll present instead is a couple of models we've tested which performed above where you'd expect for the price.
For starters, we were hugely impressed with the on-board graphic EQ of the new KRK Rokit G4 series. Often, bedroom producers, or those with small studio spaces, can suffer from poor acoustic treatment. Sound waves bounce off walls and make it hard to get an accurate representation of the mix. By using the accompanying KRK app, and then making subtle alterations, you can give yourself a fighting chance at getting a balanced, accurate sound.
Elsewhere, at the top end, the immense Adam S2V manage to combine a relatively small form-factor with a truly jaw-dropping sound. In particular, reverb and delay-drenched synths through these speakers made the hairs on our necks stand up. A serious piece of kit for those who can afford it.
Best studio monitors: buying advice
Monitors come in all shapes, sizes and types, so it’s worth looking at some of the options when searching for the best studio monitors.
First up, you need to think about amplification. The electrical signals coming out of a mixing desk or audio interface are fairly weak, which means monitors need the help of an amplifier. That amplifier can either be incorporated within the speaker itself, in active monitors, or used separately and externally, alongside passive speakers.
The layout of speakers themselves is crucial too. A classic two-way speaker employs one woofer, dedicated to producing low frequencies, and a tweeter that kicks out high-mid and high frequencies. The signals are separated by a crossover filter which splits the input into low and high bands. In cheaper monitor designs, this crossover point sits at a crucial midrange area, so many higher-end monitors feature three-way (or even four-way) designs that employ more speaker drivers, aiming to keep those key midrange frequencies free of crossovers and so clearer.
Size matters; as a general rule, the bigger the monitor, the more power it can output, and the more bass frequencies it will kick out. Your room’s size and how well acoustically treated it is will probably determine the size of monitor it can handle: big, loud monitors can easily overload a small space.
Listening distance is important too. Nearfield monitors are designed to be placed fairly close to the listener’s ears, in a typical home studio. Midfields, on the other hand, are designed to be placed further away, at a further distance apart, in a bigger room. Lastly, professional studios usually also feature giant, full-range monitors, referred to as mains.
Monitor sizes are based on the woofer diameter. For a nearfield monitor, this can range from three inches to eight inches. For most small to medium rooms, nearfields are more than adequate.
How do I connect my studio monitors?
Active monitors usually offer jack, XLR, phono, digital and/or USB connections, which are designed to be hooked up directly to your audio interface or computer. If your interface has balanced outputs, opt for your monitors’ balanced XLR or jack input to reduce noise.
For passive monitors, you’ll need to send your interface or computer output to an amplifier and then connect that to your monitors. At the very least, active monitors also include a level control, while room-compensating EQ controls are also common.
We've rounded up what we consider to be some of the best studio monitors currently on the market, from budget speakers to pro-quality monitoring setups.
The best studio monitors you can buy right now
Best high-end all-rounder studio monitors
Launch price: $1,999/£1,499/€1,719 (single) | Frequency response: 32 Hz - 50 kHz | Speaker configuration: 3-way | Driver size: 7.2", 4", 1" | Tweeter type: Air Motion Transformer | Inputs: XLR, RCA | Powered: Yes (300w) | Digital connectivity: HEDD Bridge, Dante, AES67
As a newcomer to the studio monitor marketplace, the Berlin-based HEDD Audio - set up by ex-Adam Audio MD Klaus Heinz and his son Dr Frederik Knop - is quickly gathering a buzz. The Type 20s have a sleek, futuristic, somewhat dinky look - but their ‘cute’ size is in no way indicative of their sound!
With a frequency response of 32Hz to 50kHz, their front-ported three-way design (7.2” woofer, 4” midrange driver and 1” ‘Air Motion Transformer’ tweeter) kicks out a scrumptious full-range presentation that completely blew us away. The best studio monitors out there right now.
Affordable nearfield monitors that are perfect for electronic music
Launch price: £208/$239/€209 (each) | Frequency response: 42 Hz – 40 kHz | Speaker configuration: 2-way | Driver size: 7”, 1” | Tweeter type: Kevlar | Inputs: Combo input XLR / 6.3mm balanced jack | Powered: Yes (145W) | Digital connectivity: No
If you've ever stepped foot inside the studio domain of an electronic music producer, the chances are you're familiar with the famous yellow speaker cones of KRK. The Rokit series - now in its fourth generation - is the Gibson-owned brand's affordable nearfield range, and has a selection of neat features which make it worthy of note.
For starters, the G4 range is among the first monitor series at this price bracket to include a graphic EQ function on the speaker itself. In-built digital signal processing (DSP) offers a suite of tools, including a room analyser, to ensure the speakers' output compensates the space you're mixing in for any dead-zones or sonic blind spots you may be unwittingly harbouring. Some of the best studio monitors for smaller studios, and ideal for anything bass-heavy.
Best mid-priced nearfields
Launch price: $899/£600/€699 (single) | Frequency response: 40 Hz - 35 kHz | Speaker configuration: 2-way | Driver size: 6.5", 1" | Tweeter type: aluminium/magnesium inverted dome | Inputs: XLR, RCA | Powered: Yes (80w mid and low freq, 25w high freq) | Digital connectivity: None
Available in 40, 50 and 65 flavours, the latter of which we’re reviewing here, the Shapes, from Focal, now sit between their budget-friendly Alpha series and the Solo6 Be - another 6.5" two-way monitor - in terms of price.
Aesthetically, the Shapes are an interesting departure from Focal’s other designs. The main speaker cabinet is black-painted MDF with a luxurious walnut veneer, appearing less ‘studio spaceship’ and more ‘hi- connoisseur’ – in fact, they’d look just as at home in a domestic cinema setup as in a production environment.
Interestingly, the Shapes are non-ported, with dual 6.5" passive radiators (one on each side of the monitor).
The best studio monitors for their compact coaxial design
Launch price: $299/£349/€399 (pair) | Frequency response: 53 Hz - 20 kHz | Speaker configuration: 2-way, coaxial | Driver size: 5.25", 1" | Tweeter type: Silk dome | Inputs: XLR, RCA | Powered: Yes (80w mid and low freq, 25w high freq) | Digital connectivity: None
The Equator D5s are much smaller than the Q series but maintain the design aesthetic; a coaxial design. Sound emanating from a single point-source shouldn't exhibit the sort of midrange phase distortion that a traditional two-way monitor design can introduce when the audio, split at the crossover, collides when radiated from the separately located tweeter and woofer.
Equator believe that no two transducers have ever been manufactured with identical output characteristics and that, without the left and right speakers having the same characteristics, image shifts will occur in the stereo field. That's where some of the DSP comes in – to provide accurate voicing for each individual monitor by delivering a consistently matched output curve for every unit, that voicing being created, say Equator, by award-winning recording engineers, who referenced their hit mixes.
Best compact mid-range 2-way design monitors
Launch price: $440/£259/€305 (single) | Frequency response: 67 Hz - 25 kHz | Speaker configuration: 2-way | Driver size: 3", 0.75" | Tweeter type: Metal dome | Inputs: XLR | Powered: Yes (woofer 25w, tweeter 25w) | Digital connectivity: None
At the smallest end of the Genelec 8000 bi-amplified monitor series is the 8010A. Though relatively light (1.5kg each), the 8010As are solid thanks to the die-cast aluminium enclosure, with metal driver grilles to prevent damage in transit. Portability is key, with power and input sockets neatly tucked in at the rear.
They come with tiltable Iso-Pod rubber stands attached, simultaneously taking care of axis angle and transmission reduction. They feature standard 8000 series mounting sockets for a variety of options, from truss hanging to floor stands. These are rear ported (bass reflex) enclosures, and just beneath the port is a recess housing five dip switches. Three contour the low-frequency response: -2dB and -4dB bass tilts which combine for -6dB, and Desktop Control which dips -4dB at 200Hz.
6. Yamaha HS5
Familiar white cone delivers the harsh truth on your recordings
Launch price: £128/$199/€155 (each) | Frequency response: 54 Hz – 30 kHz | Speaker configuration: 2-way | Driver size: 5”, 1” | Tweeter type: Kevlar | Inputs: Combo input XLR / 6.3mm balanced jack | Powered: Yes (70W) | Digital connectivity: No
The famous story about the old Yamaha NS10 studio monitors was that they were chosen not because they sounded great, but because they didn't. The theory being that if you could mix a track to sound good on them, you could be confident it would sound good anywhere. Of course, times have changed and even modern entry-level monitors will do a job, but the appeal of owning a piece of genuine studio history is strong.
The Yamaha HS5 series are reference speakers which are built solely with mixing and monitoring in mind. There's no Bluetooth or graphic EQ, and room correction is basic at best. For sheer accuracy, however, they're hard to beat at this price range. Get your mix right on these and it'll sound fantastic anywhere.
Best value speakers with a coaxial design
Launch price: $324/£299/€399 (single) | Frequency response: 35 Hz - 22 kHz | Speaker configuration: 2-way | Driver size: 8", 1" | Tweeter type: Silk dome | Inputs: XLR, 1/4" TRS, RCA | Powered: Yes (woofer 80w, tweeter 50w) | Digital connectivity: None
Fluid Audio says that it prides itself on the importance of speaker imaging. Its goal is to present a realistic soundstage where you can pinpoint and place each instrument exactly where you want it to be in the mix. A dual concentric design doing its work ought to achieve that goal and, when listening to some mixes on the FX8s, it does become apparent that there is a nicely detailed soundstage.
There is a very good sense of sound location across the stereo spread as well as a decent sense of space back to front. Mixing a track using the FX8s, we were able to clearly hear instruments as we panned them into position. Clarity of sound is very good across the frequency range and the 8-inch woofers, combined with the port, will give you plenty of bottom-end; although if you think it's too much for your situation, there's no bass cut facility to help sort it.
The best value mid-range 2-way monitors
Launch price: $520/£386/€399 (single) | Frequency response: 45 Hz - 22 kHz | Speaker configuration: 2-way | Driver size: 6.5", 1" | Tweeter type: Black anodised aluminium | Inputs: XLR, 1/4" TRS | Powered: Yes (woofer 100W, tweeter 60W) | Digital connectivity: None
Mackie’s HR Series professional monitors have over 20 years on the clock and many fans, but at over a grand a pair for the six-inch HR624 Mk2, they’re not cheap. The new XR series shaves roughly a third off that price tag and delivers a new rear-ported design with class D amplification (bear in mind the HRs use a passive radiator panel and class AB amps).
Despite its less impressive bass extension, the XR624 is particularly revealing for guitar-heavy tracks, and this can be a tough test for even the best monitors.
9. IK Multimedia iLoud Micro Monitor
Best studio monitors with a portable 2-way design
Launch price: $300/£300/€300 (pair) | Frequency response: 55 Hz - 20 kHz | Speaker configuration: 2-way | Driver size: 3", 0.75" | Tweeter type: Silk dome | Inputs: RCA, 1/8" TRS | Powered: Yes (50W) | Digital connectivity: Bluetooth
A sister product to the original single-box iLoud, This two-speaker setup is billed as "the smallest active studio reference monitoring system in the world," and is designed to be used in small "makeshift" working spaces. iLoud Micro Monitor certainly has the look and feel of a downsized 'proper' monitoring system rather than a posh pair of consumer-level computer speakers.
Appearance-wise, the speakers have an appealing 'roundness' to them, and are reassuringly weighty, though they're certainly small and light enough to be carried around. There's a cable connection between the two of them, with the left-hand speaker housing all the controls and connectivity options.
Affordable nearfield monitors that are great for small rooms
Launch price: $398/£298/€339 (pair) | Frequency response: 45 Hz - 20 kHz | Speaker configuration: 2-way | Driver size: 5", 4" | Tweeter type: Ribbon | Inputs: RCA, XLR | Powered: Yes (50W) | Digital connectivity: None
One of the most affordable Adam monitors to date, the T5V is built around a 5-inch woofer and Adam’s U-ART (Unique Accelerated Ribbon Tweeter) tweeter. This Class-D powered two-way design with rear-ring bass reflex is the smaller of the new T Series designs.
Sonically, the top-end is very well tuned, while the HPS waveguide delivers a broad horizontal sweet spot. This contributes greatly to the overall imaging and separation, which is excellent. Although the cabinet is quite deep, front to back, the units feel compact.
The low mid range frequencies could be more prominent, but this certainly isn't a deal-breaker, and by setting the LF EQ to -2dB we achieved a much better result. Adam’s desire is to make the T5V your first Adam monitor, and judging by what we’ve heard here, it could easily make you a fan for life.