For quite some time, there has been an ongoing debate on the subject of budget studio monitors. You’ll find some people who claim that you can find one that gets the job done for under $100, while others will declare that nothing below the $300 range will be sufficient.
Actually, both of these assumptions can be considered right depending on what your specific monitor needs are.
While there is no substitute for quality of sound, you might not be financially ready to invest your hard-earned money into an expensive pair.
This is where we come in.
After looking at what’s available in this price range on the market, we have compiled a list of some of our personal favorites when it comes to studio monitors that don’t hit the three digit mark.
Here are the top picks for studio monitors under $100!
The M-Audio AV32 is one of the best studio monitors you can get your hands on for under $100.
It's worth mentioning that we found other less expensive monitors on the market that put a greater focus on the aesthetics rather than the performance of the speakers. However, M-Audio has been able to strike a balance between form and function with the AV32.
The cabinets of the AV32 are made of good quality MDF, and the baffle features a 3-inch woofer with 10 watts per channel and a complex waveguide tweeter. Some of the controls are presented at the front of the unit, which gives easy access for users, and a convenient headphone jack is included for private listening and headset usage.
The back panel includes an RCA input, making it compatible with all your gear, including your mixer, computer, or iPhone/iPod.
The woofer has its own discrete waveguide, and it offers up to 20 watts of power. While 20 watts doesn’t sound like an incredible amount of power, it’s more than you might expect considering the price range.
The AV32 starts at around 20kHz and drops to 80kHz, which you might not find too impressive, but it’s a pretty good range for the 3-inch woofer of this monitor. Their flat response is also relatively good across the range.
- Regarding performance, it works just as good as it looks. With easy-to-access controls and an additional headphone jack for a headset, the options on the humble AV32 are decent compared to other budget monitors in this price range.
- The response is moderately flat with the 3-inch woofer, and it offers 20 watts of power.
- We found that the speakers take quite a bit of time to set up for beginners.
- While the waveguide is an exceptional addition, its design makes it a bit tough to find that perfect harmony in the near field.
Bottom Line: The M-Audio AV32 is a solid piece of equipment for this budget range. Although it's far from being a professional monitor, it's got everything you need to get the job done on a tight budget.
The Mackie CR3 is another pioneer in the entry-level studio monitor category. With Mackie holding a strong reputation for offering efficient, affordable monitors, the CR3 remains a popular choice and cannot be overlooked for this list.
Mackie designed its CR series with a playful look and a solid build. The CR3 cabinets are made of good quality materials, and the gray matte finish with fluorescent green trim around the cones and controllers gives it just enough pop to stand out.
The CR3 positions its 3-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter up front and center. It also provides an AUX input and a headphone port, which is great if you want to switch to monitoring with a headset.
Unlike the M-Audio AV32, it doesn't have a fancy waveguide, just a simple baffle with speaker ports. However, the baffle encompasses a built-in amp that can reach up to 50 watts of power. The source connectors also include an RCA input with an additional set of balanced/unbalanced TRS ports.
One additional attribute is that it has a positioning switch on the back panel that allows the user to change the left/right positioning of the active speakers. And unlike other monitors, the power cord is mounted onto the CR3, right next to the power switch on the back.
Regarding performance, we can’t claim that the response is perfectly flat. While the CR3 has an obvious bias, audio enthusiasts will most likely not be bothered by it (unless you’re a professional with a golden ear - then it might be irritating).
- We loved the overall aesthetics of the CR3 and the easy-to-access features.
- The audio clarity is exceptional, particularly in the mids and highs.
- A nice little bonus is the fact that they include isolation pads to avoid any vibrations from the desk.
- Though the mids and highs sound great, the low end doesn’t provide as much bass as we’d expect.
Bottom Line: The CR series is notable for its excellent quality budget monitors, and the CR3 is no exception. For an affordable, entry-level option, they're a great choice!
Up next we have the Alesis M1, which upholds Alesis' long run of good quality budget studio monitors.
The M1 has earned its spot on this list due to the wide range of monitoring solutions it offers.
The overall look of the M1 is relatively simple and minimalistic in design. While it doesn't feature the traditional sleek black cabinets or complex baffles and waveguides, it maintains a moderately appealing aesthetic (read: they look alright). Alesis went with basic good quality MDF.
Everything you need is conveniently located on the front, and back of the unit. On the front you’ll find a 3-inch woofer and a 1-inch tweeter along with the power switch and volume knob. The controls are found on the back with a boost switch located on the side. The source connectivity of the M1 includes a set of TRS and RCA I/O connectors.
When it comes to power, it can offer up to 20 watts with each cabinet being capable of producing 10 watts. It may not seem like much, but for a relatively small monitor, it’s better than you might expect.
The bass boost is merely a monitor toggle switch that allows bias on the low-end frequencies, which comes in handy when you want to feel that pounding bass. Just above the bass boost switch is a USB port, which you can link directly to your computer with a digital conversion rate of 16-bits.
- We love the versatility the M1 offers with the USB port and several other connecting options in addition to the bass boost switch.
- The overall look and design of the Alesis M1 isn’t particularly impressive, but aesthetics may not be a primary concern when looking for an affordable monitor.
- The response rate isn't exactly flat by expert standards, but a beginner will barely notice.
Bottom Line: It's safe to say that while the performance is not outstanding, it's also not lacking any of the necessary elements to produce satisfactory results.
The PreSonus Eris E3.5 makes its way onto this list as the little sister of the Presonus Eris series. These monitors retain the same technology as the older sister models to supply studio-quality sound with relatively accurate frequency response.
At first glance, these monitors look appealing and well-structured. With a sleek matte black finish, the cabinets include a custom-woven Kevlar 5-inch woofer, which delivers a clean overall sound through more consistent dispersal throughout the frequency range. The combined woofer and 1-inch silk dome tweeter are usually unheard of in this price range.
The Eris E3.5 offers a few special control features for the user. On the front, you’ll find the conveniently placed volume knob, power switch, and AUX and headset jacks. The source connectors, including the balanced TRS I/O as well as the unbalanced RCA, are located on the back. That equals 3 different levels of input, making it extremely versatile for all playback systems. The rear firing ports are also located at the top-center of the control panel.
An interesting find in the panel were additional easy-to-adjust acoustic tuning knobs for low and high frequencies from -6Db to +6Db. The Eris E3.5 has a 25-watt power amplifier, so it can get surprisingly loud without affecting the clean sound from the speakers. While these monitors are relatively small, the imaging and soundstage are also remarkably good.
This compact yet powerfully designed monitor promises a clean and accurate sound along with smooth frequency response.
- We loved the clean-cut design and the versatility the Eris E3.5 offers for connectivity (3 different line levels).
- The easy-to-adjust controls, including the volume and acoustic tuning, make these speakers convenient and easy to use.
- Compared to other monitors in this category, we found the bass to be a little weaker and less profound.
- Some users noted that these speakers are a little treble heavy and have an audible harshness. Just keep in mind that hearing is subjective and you may not notice this.
Bottom Line: The Presonus Eris series includes some really great low-budget products, and the Eris E3.5 is no exception.
When you first look at the Edifier R1280T, you initially get a nostalgic vibe from the retro design, and it is by far the most attractive option in this price category in our opinion. One thing's for certain; these monitors have a high-quality aesthetic feel.
There is an additional grayish colored mesh grill that can be used to protect from dust or removed for a more interesting look (at least we think so!).
At the front of the monitor, the R1280T presents studio-sound quality with a 4-inch woofer and a 13-millimeter tweeter for natural sound reproduction as well as a front firing port. On the back, there are two source connectors that allow you to plug in just about any playback system, including your laptop, tablet, and iPhone through RCA i/o and AUX ports.
Most of the controls are located on the side of the R1280T, which is not only aesthetically appealing but also incredibly convenient. The low-frequency and high-frequency knobs (from -6Db to +6 Db) are included on the right side as well as the volume knob for ease of access. If that wasn't convenient enough, it comes with a small remote control for volume adjustment and increased flexibility.
These monitors put out up to 21 watts per cabinet, which gives you a decent 42 watts of power overall. Quite like the Mackie CR3, the power is mounted on the unit, so it's not detachable, but there is plenty of length in the cable.
Regarding sound, the R1280T's are surprisingly good considering their price range. There is no audible distortion at higher volumes, it isn't too directional, and it has great audio detail across the low, mid, and high ranges. While the bass isn't that deep, it's thick enough for what you expect for this category.
- The R1280T has a retro look that tops our list in terms of aesthetics.
- The control panel is on the side, which provides very easy access.
- The connectivity gives us various options to plug into.
- The remote control is a great addition, though the material doesn’t seem as high quality as the monitors themselves.
- The bass may not be deep enough for some users.
Bottom Line: The Edifier R1280T is on our list for a good reason. While the drivers are small, the sound is clean and warm with a moderate amount of bass, making it a great choice for someone shopping in this price range.
Last but certainly not least is the Tascam VL-S3. While Tascam doesn’t get a lot of attention in the industry, these monitors are worth a look.
The VL-S3 were designed with robust build quality in mind, and it shows. The cabinets are made of good quality MDF and are covered in a wood grain vinyl layer, while the baffles are made of a decent plastic material.
They have a humble 3-inch woofer alongside a tiny 0.5-inch tweeter. While this doesn't sound like much, when you take into consideration the compactness of these speakers, we can be a bit forgiving.
What Tascam has done differently than most other active monitor makers is they have placed the whole control panel on the back in contrast to the traditional front placement. While this isn't necessarily a deal breaker, it detracts from the level of convenience and usability.
Each speaker is presented with 14 watts of power, giving the set a decent 28 watts overall. Once again, considering their size, that's not too bad of a deal. The VL-S3 also has a built-in crossover that kicks in at 8kHz.
Given the size and price of these monitors, we were happily surprised to find the sound to be considerably flat. Compared to the larger models in this category, we can see a significant difference regarding transparency.
- The wood grain vinyl finish gives a great aesthetic to the design.
- For such a compact monitor, the (understandably) tiny 0.5-inch tweeter seems to work well.
- The transparency and flat response of the VL-S3 was a nice surprise.
- The lack of convenient features on the VL-S3 is a letdown, as many other speakers in this range offer controls on the front.
- We were a little disappointed with the low-end response, but that has more to do with the actual size of these monitors than their quality.
Bottom Line: The Tascam VL-S3 is a worthy addition to the list. However, if you’re looking for a wider frequency response, we suggest looking at the other models we’ve mentioned.
While the options on this list can’t give you the same level of quality that an expensive set of monitors will offer, they can still give you a relatively flat frequency response. Any one of these choices will certainly help to elevate your sound, especially if you’re moving up from regular speakers (or no speakers at all).
After considering all the best this budget range has to offer, we found that the Edifier R1280T topped our list in both form and function.
The retro, vintage feel that Edifier is trying to bring back with the R1280T was our favorite design regarding aesthetics. However, Edifier created this monitor with more than just pure aesthetics in mind. The R1280T is exceptionally convenient to use with everything from the control panel to the connector ports having an easy-to-access home of their own.
While the bass isn’t significant, we found impeccable audio detail across all ranges (bass, mid, high) with no audible distortion at higher volumes. Also, the sound wasn’t too directional, but rather clean and accurate, blending with some warmth and richness.