Spend any time making music at home or in a studio and you’ll appreciate the importance of arming yourself with the best studio monitors you can stretch to. It’s a familiar scenario; you spend hours working on a track, and after fine-tuning the mix, you’re pretty happy with how it sounds. But then you listen to it somewhere else – in a different studio, through your phone, on your car stereo, over PA speakers in a club - and the mix sounds utterly awful.
If this is a fair description of your experience to date, then it could be time to upgrade your studio monitoring setup. Sound like you? Our expert guide to the best studio monitors is a great place to start.
Studio monitor speakers are essentially designed to reveal a true picture of the audio you're creating. You might not love this warts and all approach, but this uncoloured picture of your mix means you can make informed choices about what might need changing, confident that what you’re hearing in your studio will translate to the methods of playback described above and beyond.
Of course, we have to point out that studio monitors can be less pleasant-sounding, and in some cases more fatiguing to the ears, than standard hi-fi speakers, where the tonal balance is designed to enhance music for the average listener. While a decent pair of studio monitors may reveal some of the less optimal elements of your mix, they'll also help point you in the direction of things that need fixing. If you’re looking to enhance your abilities as a producer this can only be a good thing.
With this in mind, we've rounded up what we consider to be some of the best studio monitors currently on the market, from budget options to pro-quality monitoring setups. We've also found the best prices online right now. If you need further guidance, hit the ‘buying advice’ button above where we can answer all your burning questions.
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Best studio monitors: Our top picks
Monitor speakers vary immensely in terms of price, performance and design, so it's not easy to pick out one set that can truly be called 'the best'. In addition to our handy top 5 video above, we can guide you to a couple of models we've tested which performed well above the mark for the price.
First up, we were hugely impressed with the on-board graphic EQ of the KRK Rokit G4 series. Often, bedroom producers, or those with small studio spaces, can suffer from poor acoustic treatment. Sound waves bounce off walls, making 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 of getting a balanced, accurate sound.
Elsewhere, the new IK Multimedia iLoud MTM speakers offer great all-rounder performance for home and bedroom studios, and for not an awful lot of cash.
Best studio monitors: Product guide
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.
Read the KRK Rokit G4 review
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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).
Read the Focal Shape 65 review
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.
Read the HEDD Audio Type 20 review
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.
Read the Genelec 8010A review
IK’s latest addition to its growing monitor range, the iLoud MTMs are crammed with tech that belies their relatively low price point. The ‘MTM’ bit refers to the D’Appolito configuration, which, in this case, places a 1” tweeter in between two 3.5” mid-range woofers, with a bass reflex port around the back. Everything is DSP-controlled and they can be calibrated to suit your room courtesy of IK’s proprietary ARC calibration system, which is built right into the speakers and the measurement mic comes bundled as part of the package.
The MTMs are clinical and brutally ‘honest’ and take imaging to a level that we’d expect to hear from monitors costing three times as much. Subtle mid/high details that previously went unnoticed become perfectly audible, making corrective targeting of individual elements within the mix almost supernaturally easy. Low-end solidity and control are remarkable for a speaker of this size, too, and they never really seem to get fatiguing.
For those with limited desk space, or seeking a surgical secondary pair to their main ‘fun’ monitors, the iLoud MTM really is a truly incredible solution.
Read the full IK Multimedia iLoud MTM review
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.
Read the full Yamaha HS5 review
From their famous Oxygen MIDI controllers, M-Track digital interfaces, and robust studio monitors, M-Audio is the go-to company for many budding producers looking for high-quality, affordable home studio products.
The BX3 and BX4 are the latest offerings from M-Audio and are a fantastic option if space is an issue. The compact 3.5” (BX3) and 4.5” (BX4) Kevlar LF drivers and 1” silk dome tweeter offer a surprisingly good bass response and precise high-end frequencies - especially considering the price.
For us, these are perfect for the beginner producer. They are simple to set up, look great, and, most importantly, sound phenomenal.
Read our full M-Audio BX3 and BX4 review
Output is well known for its much-loved audio plugins, virtual instruments, and beautiful studio furniture. The release of the Frontier nearfield loudspeaker sees Output enter the studio monitors arena, with a little help from their friends over at Barefoot Sound.
This absolutely stunning monitor is accented with a solid walnut base that not only looks good but is there to isolate the speaker. The 6.5”/1.25” coaxial aluminium alloy drivers offer a superbly flat response which is usually reserved for a much higher-end speaker - it makes sense when you consider it was designed with Thomas Barefoot himself!
So if you are looking for an honest-sounding set of monitors that will be sure to add a touch of class to any home studio, definitely check these out.
Read our full Output Frontier review
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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 FX8 is reaching the end of its life, recently superseded by the FX80. This new model includes a new contoured baffle enclosure design, a 30mm silk dome tweeter in a coaxial configuration for improved off-axis response, boundary control EQ switches to enhance mixing in different spaces, plus Class-D amplification which makes for cleaner, more reliable power. We'll be reviewing the FX80s soon.
Read the Fluid Audio FX8 review
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.
Read the Mackie XR Series review
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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.
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.
Best studio monitors: Buying advice
Studio monitor speakers come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes and types, so it’s worth exploring some of the options available to you when searching for the best studio monitors.
First up, you need to think about amplification. The electrical signals coming out of a home studio mixer 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 - something you’ll find in active monitors - or used separately and externally, alongside passive speakers.
Monitor speaker layout
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 monitor designs at the cheaper end of the spectrum, 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 are clearer.
What size studio monitors do you need?
Size matters; as a general rule, the bigger the monitor, the more power it can output, and the more bass frequencies you can expect it to kick out. Your room’s size and how well acoustically treated it is will also determine the size of monitor it can handle: big, loud monitors can easily overload a small space.
Where should you place studio monitors in your room?
Listening distance is an important factor to consider too. Nearfield monitors are designed to be placed fairly close to the listener’s ears in a typical home studio. Midfield monitors, on the other hand, should be placed further away, at a further distance apart, in a bigger room.
Lastly, if you find yourself in a professional studio, you’ll usually find 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 to my computer or interface?
If you opt for active monitors, they usually feature jack, XLR, phono, digital and/or USB connections, which are designed to be hooked straight into your audio interface or computer. If your interface has balanced outputs, opt for your monitors’ balanced XLR or jack input to reduce unwanted noise.
When working with passive monitors, you’ll need to send your interface or computer output to a separate external 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.
So, there you have it. By now you should have a good idea of what you need to find the right studio monitors for your circumstances. Now, get creating!