Can you spend less than $200 on a good set of studio monitors or should you save up for a more expensive option?
Studio monitors are essential for creating great sound, and some will spend thousands of dollars on the best money can buy. But does this mean that you’re out of luck if you’re stuck on a budget but still want to get quality results from your speakers?
There is a wide range of monitors on the market that include a variety of features, abilities, specs, and styles, and there’s no doubt that some of their price tags will make both your jaw and your bank balance drop.
When picking out studio monitors, one of the primary goals is to find options that produce flat, consistent and accurate audio signals. The good news is there are several monitors at a low enough price point that can get the job done.
We’re now going to take a look at some of top studio monitors under 200, to help you create quality sound without breaking the bank.
The JBL LSR305 is considered audio perfection on a bargain budget. This studio monitor looks incredibly good for its price, with a jet black smooth surface and glossy finish. Its magnetic shielded 5-inch long woofer is bigger than the average woofer. JBL promises to be a durable addition to your studio with accurate, clean sound, so you’ll likely find the LSR305 to be a worthwhile +3 year investment.
The LSR305 is an active bi-amplified monitor with the amp built into the speakers, so you can save a whole lot of gear space on your work station. Despite some complexities, it’s relatively easy to use and provides enough control for audio gurus to work with.
Although the LSR305 doesn’t have wireless streaming and the setup approach is slightly different compared to other speakers, JBL managed to squeeze in a considerable amount of performance and value into these speakers.
The source connections for the LSR305 include XLR and balanced TRS inputs, which makes it compatible for consumer level signals (-10 dB) as well as professional signals (+4 dB) through a selective input sensitivity switch. This wide range of inputs helps you connect to almost anything from your iPhone to your DAW.
On top of the drivers, JBL’s image control waveguide technology (ICW) is a notable addition, designed to help break up audio frequencies from all positions while still allowing for accuracy throughout the soundstage. To our surprise, we found that this breakthrough technology in the LSR305 almost lives up to the hype.
The slipstream low frequency rear-port design has a double-flared shape that reduces turbulence and provides greater low-frequency extension.
Linear Spatial Reference technology (LSR) combines transducer technology with the latest in psychoacoustic research to produce more accurate and consistent results. The LSR305 employs 72 axis measurements to make the speakers suitable for almost any sound space.
Additional accessories include:
- Stick-on pads for the base of the speakers
- Removable power cables
- With its slipstream low frequency design and LSR technology, JBL offers audio geeks so much to work with for so little.
- The image control waveguide technology, while originally developed for more expensive and larger monitors, is available in the LSR305, which we think is a great competitive advantage.
- Since it’s larger than the average studio monitor, it can be a hassle for smaller work stations.
- The approach for setting up these audio monitors is a little different than the usual setup, and we didn’t find any type of wireless streaming option.
- While some critics were quick to judge and complain about an initial ‘hissing,’ we found that using a good XLR cable eliminates all those issues.
Bottom Line: For a $200 budget, we feel this is an ideal choice. The JBL LSR305 gives you many desirable qualities at an affordable price point.
The Yamaha HS5 is another remarkable product with terrific value. This studio monitor pays homage to the trademark Yamaha look. Available in either all white or all black with a sleek finish, the HS5 will sit pretty on your work station. While it’s still slightly larger than the average monitor with a 5-inch woofer, it’s by far one of the best looking active monitors in this price range.
Similar to the JBL LSR305, the HS5 is also an active bi-amplified studio monitor with a rear ported cabinet. The HS5’s amp unit is perfectly harmonized with the transducers that operate in each model of the HS series. With a separate amp dedicated for both the tweeter and the woofer, the HS5 assures a seamlessly flat response while also giving you some extra gear rack space.
With state-of-the-art technology, Yamaha introduces their newly developed transducers in the HS series, which achieve an astoundingly smooth response over a wide range of bandwidth. These transducers operate on an advanced magnetic field design, which controls the flow of magnetic response to deliver flawless, neutral audio transitions.
For inputs, the HS5 can accommodate a varied selection of balanced and unbalanced sources, including keyboards, audio interfaces, and mixers through XLR and balanced TRS inputs (compatible with consumer level signals, -10 dB, and professional signals, +4 dB).
The HS5’s cabinets have a low resonance enclosure design, which is constructed to increase precision in sound reproduction and remove undesirable resonance. The high trim control gives you more flexibility in controlling high frequency response, while the room control helps you to minimize the exaggerated low-end that is common when speakers are located next to walls.
There is a vortex at either end of the port which can create noisy air vibrations, but the Yamaha HS5 has the ability to eliminate this unwanted noise through its advanced noise reduction technology.
- We found the bass region in the HS5 to be remarkably articulate, and the sound and bass response was neutral in untreated rooms.
- The HS5 looks attractive and is extremely receptive to Sonar Works calibration in all listening environments.
- This bass reflex studio monitor had all the great techy specs we need, including advanced noise reduction, low resonance design, and their newly developed transducers.
- Particularly in well treated rooms, it can be hard to calibrate these speakers with an early bass roll-off.
- The limited calibration in the amp power and the low-end extension made this product drop a little in our ratings.
Bottom Line: The Yamaha HS5 is a great value product when it comes to budget speakers. The few drawbacks would not discourage us from taking advantage of the benefits of these wallet-friendly monitors.
Up next is the M-Audio AV42 studio monitor, humbly making its way onto our list. While the AV42 cabinets have a sleek all-black matte finish, the baffles are less appealing with an overly glossy and shiny finish that comes across as cheap.
The waveguide for the tweeter makes up for this with its large and elegant design, which we found much more aesthetically pleasing.
Putting aside the visual aesthetics, the MDF cabinets are fashioned with a bass reflex design to ensure a deep, rich sound. The AV42 is a compact active monitor that can be used by those who have home recording studios as well as on the go audio fanatics. The front headphone jack ensures you can work privately at any time.
Within each cabinet is a 1-inch tweeter placed in that impressive waveguide, and right below it is a 4-inch low frequency driver. Since these two are designed to cross over, both cabinets combined, supply around 20 watts of power and can peak at an SPL of 101.5dB.
While a little different in its source connections, the input and output of this monitor typically include your passive speaker I/O and a set of balanced RCA inputs that you can use to connect a variety of different devices.
- M-Audio did a commendable job in developing an intricate waveguide by replacing the grill with a flexible, uncovered woofer and tweeter cones.
- The AV42 is great for filling up a room with sound.
- There is plenty of bass and low tones in this small monitor.
- Although there’s nothing fundamentally bad about the design of the M-Audio AV42, the overly glossy finish of the baffle put us off and gave the speakers a cheap look.
- We weren’t quite sure why M-Audio decided to put the power switch at the back since the AUX port and volume knob are situated at the front of the monitor.
Bottom Line: Overall the features aren’t spectacular, but considering the budget we’re not too surprised. For a studio monitor in this price range, it gets the job done.
Behringer makes a variety of audio equipment and recording gear, so it comes as no surprise that they were able to make an affordable, budget-friendly studio monitor.
The Behringer MS40 presents itself as a compact monitor that provides a clean, crisp sound.
At first glance, the MS40 gives off an old school, vintage vibe, but if you take a closer look, you will find that this design was created with convenience in mind. The MS40’s cabinets are made of a decent quality MDF, with the baffles being rather moderate in size.
Behringer decided to take a different approach when it came to the traditional rear firing ports; they instead shifted the tweeters to the side to make room for two front firing ports.
One of the really striking elements of this design is the control panel placement. Not only are the power and volume ports positioned at the front of the monitor but the EQ is also conveniently placed next to them.
When the MS40 is compared to its direct competitors, the design is just as unique as the hardware. Where most other monitors have a 1-inch tweeter, Behringer has provided a generous 2.5-inch.
Power in the MS40 reaches 40 watts in total, with 20 watts per cabinet.
What’s even better is that you have both coax and optical inputs on top of the analog set. The two stereo analog inputs include TRS and stereo RCA connectors, which can be used either simultaneously or mixed with a variety of different sources.
- It was a huge plus for us finding all the controls at the front of the monitor since this isn’t the case with most studio monitors.
- We loved the old school design and how it uniquely stands out amongst competitors.
- We found that the MS40 was slightly lacking in midrange (only slightly), which lost points in our book.
- The other issue which may be a concern for users with a small working space is the size of the speakers.
Bottom Line: Behringer truly did justice to affordable, budget-friendly studio monitors. These speakers have all the features you would expect in this range plus a few added benefits.
The Mackie CR4 is already associated with the reputable CR studio monitors. These have been the go-to choice for most audio newbies and beginners for years. Despite its cheap price, we weren’t surprised to find that it’s among the best budget-friendly studio monitors out there!
The cabinets come in a basic dark gray color, but what’s really striking about the CR4’s appearance is that there’s a fluorescent green border around both transducers. In terms of aesthetics, the CR4 has a simple yet appealing design.
We think it’s actually a good thing that Mackie didn’t go overboard on the surface design, because that means they are more concerned with the nitty gritty details of the monitor.
Mackie’s CR4 includes a 4-inch woofer along with a 0.75-inch tweeter. Both of these transducers don’t really stand out in any way. They’re considered pretty average when compared to others in this range.
The CR4 is a plug in play powered monitor, which is why Mackie decided to conveniently put the power and volume switches at the front of the unit, along with the 3.5mm headphone jack. While this doesn’t qualify as a breakthrough design, it certainly makes life easier for users.
When it comes to budget-friendly studio monitors (excluding a few), you won’t find a lot of fancy specs. The Mackie CR4 is no different. However, the Bluetooth connectivity and additional accessories make up for its modest features. These include a number of cables, including RCA cables and an aux cord, as well as a buffer stand to reduce the vibrations travelling from the speakers.
What has made the Mackie so popular in the market is its performance level. To our surprise, we found that these simple and affordable monitors offered a relatively transparent tone. While it won’t give you a flat response quite like the semi-professional or professional monitors in the market, it does guarantee the job is done. With all that said, when it comes to direct competitors, you’ll find it hard to find something that will sound as good as the Mackie CR4.
- Convenience is key with the CR4, as it purely promotes its simple plug in play style with no additional gear necessary.
- We loved the subtle yet attractive design with front facing controls for user convenience.
- We found that the CR4 was inferior when it came to low frequencies as it can only go to 70Hz, whereas other affordable monitors can go lower.
- We also found some unwanted distortion at higher volumes, which was a big downer for us.
Bottom Line: The Mackie CR4 is a fantastic entry level speaker and does what it’s supposed to do. It offers a number of advantages for the user without breaking the bank.
What sets the PreSonus Eris E4.5 studio monitor apart from its direct competitors is its ability to create accurate mixes that sound equally good on other playback systems.
While at first look we weren’t impressed with the appearance, PreSonus did everything right when it came to efficiency. With most main controls moved to the front of the unit, PreSonus offers a user-friendly design, ensuring everything is within reach without any need to access the back of the monitor. The back of the monitor includes the typical input/output set with a number of additional controls.
Its modest design and size assure that it can fit into any recording workstation and definitely won’t stick out.
When it comes to features, the E4.5 has a lot to offer, including its 1-inch tweeter that assures a quick response when the highs kick in. Just below the tweeter is a 4.5-inch low-frequency Kevlar cone.
The back panel offers even more for audio geeks—acoustic tuning controls as well as mid/high adjustment knobs and a low cut-off switch that allows you integrate a subwoofer if you ever need one. If that isn’t enough, PreSonus squeezed in an additional acoustic space switch for easier positioning.
When it comes to performance, we were surprisingly impressed with the remarkably flat response that came from these small, compact monitors. On top of all that, the monitors have a lot of depth, which is great news for users who want to actually mix.
- It has an astonishing ability to develop a perfect flat response and gives the user options for mixing.
- We found its design to be quite convenient.
- We’re not huge fans of the bland aesthetics of these monitors.
- We found that for audio beginners it takes a while to set up and position the speakers.
Bottom Line: The PreSonus Eris E4.5 has proven to be one of the pioneering studio monitors in this product range. Once you set it up and get it ready, you will likely be very happy with the budget-friendly results.
Now that we’ve shown you some of the best studio monitors under $200, we want to narrow down our options and pinpoint exactly which product offers the most for the least.
The choice comes down to either the JBL LSR305 or the Yamaha HS5, and honestly it’s a close call. Ultimately, we are leaning more towards the JBL LRS305 for several reasons.
Both options are pretty much the same in terms of woofer and tweeter dimensions, so it’s all about the stand-out features like the LSR305’s phenomenal image control waveguide technology.
Other features that set these monitors apart include their ability to pan from side to side and their center imaging function, allowing you to place instruments in both horizontal and three dimensional spaces.
If the waveguide alone isn’t enough to convince you, the linear special reference technology and the slipstream design for the rear port just might do it.
One thing we want to mention is that we noticed that the further apart these monitors are, the better they perform. When placed relatively close together (maybe on either side of a medium-sized desktop), the soundstage tends to get a little congested. We would also like to address the common complaint of the hissing sound through the RCA port. It’s pretty simple; it all comes down to the quality of your cables. Also, a good XLR cable is highly recommended to help you reduce even more noise.
The JBL LSR305 is proof that you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to get quality results from your studio monitors. Although they might not have all the high-end features and cutting-edge technology that your dream set of monitors might offer, you can get a studio monitor for less than $200 that will get the job done.