If you've spent any time making your own music - at home or in a studio - you know how important it is to gear up with the best studio monitors you can afford. We've all been there; you spend countless hours working on a track in, and after fine-tuning the mix, you’re pretty happy with how it sounds. But then you listen to it somewhere else – maybe in your mate’s studio, through your phone, in the car, or even over PA speakers in a venue - and the mix sounds awful.
If this sounds like a familiar scenario then your studio monitoring setup might be in need of an upgrade. We can help with our expert guide to the best studio monitors available today.
Studio monitor speakers are essentially designed to reveal a true picture of the audio you're creating. Whether you like this warts and all approach or not, this uncompromising picture of your mix balance means you can make informed and critical choices about what might need changing, confident that what you’re hearing will translate to all methods of playback.
Because of this, monitors can be less pleasant-sounding, and in some cases more fatiguing, than standard hi-fi speakers, where the tonal balance is designed to enhance music for average listeners. So while a decent pair of studio monitor speakers may shine a light on some of the less optimal elements of your mix, they'll also help point you in the direction of things that need fixing, and this will only enhance your abilities as a producer.
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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 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, 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.
Best studio monitors: Buying advice
Monitors come in all shapes, sizes and types, so it’s worth exploring 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 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, 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.
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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.
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How do I connect my studio monitors?
If you opt for active monitors, they 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.
When working with 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. We've also found the best prices online right now.
Best studio monitors: Full round-up & reviews
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
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
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.
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
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.