For the dedicated audio enthusiast and producer, a good pair of studio monitors is an essential piece of gear.
Whether you’re mixing a track for your band or composing a film score, you will need studio monitors to get the job done. The monitor you choose should be able to provide as clean and accurate a reproduction of your music as possible.
Once you’ve decided you want to invest in a pair of monitors, it can be difficult to know where to start. There are several things to think about long before you even begin selecting which models to buy.
You might have a bunch of questions like:
- What makes a good studio monitor?
- What kinds of specs guarantee that you will get that clean accuracy and flat response?
- What should I expect from different budget ranges?
Since there are so many factors other than accuracy to consider when making a buying decision, we’ve put together this guide to help you choose the right monitor for your specific needs.
First and foremost, it can be hard to differentiate between a set of speakers and a pair of studio monitors, so let’s start there.
- 1 Our Top 3 Studio Monitor Picks
- 2 Studio Monitors vs Regular Speakers
- 3 Monitor Size
- 4 Types of Studio Monitors
- 5 Active vs Passive
- 6 Frequency Range
- 7 Wattage: How Much Power are you Pushing?
- 8 Single-amp, Bi-amp, and Tri-amp
- 9 Genre: What Kind of Music are You Recording?
- 10 Portability: Accuracy on the Go
- 11 EQ, Room Correction, Crossovers and Additional Features
- 12 Do I Need to Get a Subwoofer?
- 13 A Word on Acoustic Treatment
- 14 Budget: Get the Most Bang for Buck
- 15 That’s a Wrap!
Our Top 3 Studio Monitor Picks
Before we get into the buying guide, let's quickly review our top picks. After countless hours of research and experience, these are the 3 monitors we recommend for each budget range. For more options, please scroll down the page.
Studio Monitors vs Regular Speakers
With a regular set of speakers available at a more affordable price, you might wonder whether the extra expense for studio monitors is worth the money.
From a purely aesthetic point of view, when a set of speakers are put side by side with a pair of studio monitors, they seem pretty much the same. But, in terms of functionality, studio monitors go the extra mile when it comes to producing a ‘true’ sound. Standard speakers are designed to enrich the sound of the recordings, whereas studio monitors aim to provide an accurate duplicate of the source audio. Putting it simply, speakers are intended for end users to enjoy a final piece of audio, and monitors are designed for those looking to create and produce.
Studio monitors allow you to iron out the kinks through mixing and mastering until the sound is exactly how you want it to be. For most beginners, the output of a studio monitor sounds flat and under-powered, but this is, in fact, a huge plus. This is because it enables you to fine tune and maximize the quality of your output.
When it comes to choosing between a set of studio monitors or standard speakers, it all comes down to the purpose of your purchase. If you’re looking for something for casual listening, a typical set of speakers will suffice; however, if you are interested in producing and finding weaknesses in your audio, studio monitors are the obvious choice.
Once you’ve decided that you are indeed in the market for home studio monitors, you need to know that they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
One of the most important factors in choosing the ideal option is the size of your home studio. Most beginners start off with a small set of nearfield studio monitors, which are small enough to fit on a desk and work in close proximity to each other.
While many people will encourage you to get the biggest monitor you can afford, to maximize your bass response, we don’t advise that. In smaller home studios, you will most likely need a simple 5-inch monitor. However, for larger control rooms, you might find yourself opting for an 8-inch.
Types of Studio Monitors
Once you have decided on the size of your monitor based on the dimensions of your control room, it’s a good idea to look into what specific type to get. Since every recording space is different and the proximity of your monitor speakers differs from one workstation to another, you can cut through a lot of confusion by deciding whether you need nearfield, midfield, or farfield monitors.
Nearfield Studio Monitors
Nearfield monitors are designed to be positioned roughly one to two meters away from you. These are great for beginners starting out with a small workstation or studio.
- Hear the sound come directly out of the speakers
- Minimizes sound bouncing off the walls and/or ceiling
- Likely won’t need an acoustically treated room
- Less volume at greater distances
- Narrower “sweet spot”
Midfield and Farfield Studio Monitors
Midfield studio monitors are designed for medium-sized rooms and should ideally be positioned between two and four meters away from you.
Farfield studio monitors, otherwise known as ‘soffit-mounted monitors,’ are dedicated to high-end professional studios. They are best positioned around three to five meters away from you.
- Wider “sweet spot”
- Can fill larger rooms with loud, high-quality sound
- Can be positioned further away without sacrificing bass
- Can lead to inaccuracies due to louder sounds exciting the room “modes”
- You will need acoustical treatment and good room design
Active vs Passive
While there are a countless number of active studio monitors to choose from in today’s market, it’s worth mentioning that the recording industry originated with passive monitors. And while there is nothing significantly different in terms of superiority, it’s good to know the difference between them.
Active studio monitors have a built-in amplifier and operate on an active crossover instead of a passive one. These types of monitors have become popular for those who do basic home recording because they have a simple plug-in-play approach to the setup. This comes in handy not only for home recording studios but also for anyone who doesn’t have a lot of space.
With active monitors, you don’t have to deal with extra rack gear. It also saves you some extra bucks and the hassle of picking out an amplifier that is matched specifically for your monitor.
Passive studio monitors, on the other hand, do not have an amp onboard and require you to buy a separate amp. They can be tricky for those who do not know how to choose the right amp that will work best with their monitors.
If you’re new to monitor speakers, you might also find yourself mixed up with those tricky cables and leads that come with the amplier. That’s not to say that passive monitors are a bad choice, as they can, in fact, allow for more versatility. You’ll find that most professional studios tend to invest in passive monitors and also have their respective amps. These amps are normally more powerful and are of a higher quality than the built-in amps you find in active monitors. They also have their own settings that give you more control over the sound.
Take Away: If you’re starting out and looking for something that will offer minimal rack gear space and a lot less confusion and cost, we would definitely recommend getting yourself a good set of active monitors.
Since accuracy is vital, one of the first things you will need to confirm is that the monitors you choose can handle the full frequency range of your audio. More enhanced monitor speakers produce a greater frequency range with little or no distortion. Most studio monitor specs provide their highest frequencies in kHz (kilohertz) and the lowest frequencies in Hz (Hertz). Our ears can typically only hear frequencies between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz (20kHz).
The average monitor below the $1,000 price tag typically produces highs in the range of 22-32 kHz and lows in the range of 40-55 Hz. When it comes to the low end, studio speakers deliver true justice to your recordings with larger and more powerful woofers and amplifiers. The average frequency response for most recording work is between 50Hz-20kHz.
Before you start browsing for studio monitors based on the frequency range, bear in mind that those specs don’t actually tell you how the monitor will manage the frequencies.
Okay, so the monitor you’ve been looking at can handle a frequency range of around 50Hz-20kHz, but how can you be certain that it will reproduce those frequencies equally? You will want to check out how much distinction there is across the frequency range. This is typically found in decibels (Db). Let’s say you found a monitor with a frequency range of 50Hz-20kHz ± 3 dB; this suggests that some frequencies may be louder or softer by as much as 3 decibels in various areas across the frequency spectrum.
Wattage: How Much Power are you Pushing?
When it comes to studio speakers, the amount of power that handles the system is ultimately going to have asignificant impact on the overall sound. It affects not only the volume but also the dynamic range—which allows you more headroom. The more power an amp has (in watts), the more volume it can yield seamlessly without any distortion.
It commonly goes unnoticed that music peaks like kicks or snares need ten times the amount of power that average music material would require. For example, for a specific volume level that would demand 20 watts, the program peaks will require 200 watts. While you don’t need to dish out on a high wattage studio monitor, keep in mind that more wattage will give you more volume, dynamic range, definition, and overall sound.
Single-amp, Bi-amp, and Tri-amp
How the input signal is distributed to power each driver in the monitor is ultimately determined by whether it’s a single-amp, bi-amp, or tri-amp structure. You’ll find that most monitors typically consist of two speakers, a tweeter (for HF), and a woofer (for LF). There are the odd few that add a third speaker which redirects mid-frequencies to the mid-range speaker and low frequencies to the woofer.
For single-amp monitors, there is a crossover network that splits the output of one amplifier, sending all frequencies to their respective speakers (HF to tweeter, LF to woofer). On the other end, we have bi-amp monitors with a crossover network that leads two separate amplifiers that are each used to mutually power both the high and low-frequency drivers. A tri-amp studio monitor has a crossover network that divides the output signal in three ways to three different amps that individually drive an HF, MF, and LF speaker each.
For the most part, bi-amp and tri-amp studio monitors produce a more accurate frequency response and deliver greater definition. Because each speaker is powered individually rather than all from a single amp, every driver can reproduce its designated frequencies more accurately.
When comparing each of these types of powered monitors with the same speaker size, we will always recommend the bi or tri-amped monitors as they will normally deliver a clearer and more defined sound.
Genre: What Kind of Music are You Recording?
The kind of music you will be recording and producing can also be an important factor in determining what kind of studio monitor you should be looking for. Certain types of monitors work better with specific styles of music and genres.
Smaller-scale recordings like vocals and acoustic audio typically require less from studio monitors. For lighter work like this, a simple pair of nearfield studio monitors with a woofer between 4-inches to 6-inches will do the job.
But if you’re looking for something with a little more bass and punch for rock, hip-hop, or heavy house tracks, you’re better off with a larger monitor to push more power and air.
Portability: Accuracy on the Go
Most people will purchase a set of monitors and dedicate space for them on a workstation or a pair of studio monitor stands. But what if you need something for the road?
While a studio monitor with a woofer that’s less than 5-inches will typically not deliver accurate output, there are a few smaller-sized monitors that work great and are easy to lug around. So how can you figure out the best portable monitors for you?
As we’ve discussed before, active monitors are great for those looking to minimize the rack gear space and jumbles of cables, and this means they are also more ideal in terms of portability. The primary consideration when choosing the best mobile option is the size of your monitors. There are various brands like Fender, Tannoy, Adam, and JBL that offer small-sized monitors that provide precision.
*Other specs to look into for an accurate portable monitor include the SPL, frequency response, wattage, and driver sizes.
EQ, Room Correction, Crossovers and Additional Features
Once you’ve decided what type of studio monitor you’re opting for, it’s a good idea to look into the additional specs and features. With so many monitors to choose from, there is a variety of features to optimize your sound.
Most studio monitors on the market have some sort of built-in EQ that helps with tuning your room. Other brands have taken it a step further with digital processing, which improves the performance of your acoustic space.
While these features are great, you need to keep in mind that you can’t get around the nature of physics. Room correction and EQ can help you get the most out of a bad-sounding room, however, at the end of the day, no pair of monitors will fully make up for the uncontrolled/untreated acoustics of your room. So be sure to treat your room if possible..
Do I Need to Get a Subwoofer?
One of the questions that comes to mind for many audio beginners is whether they need a studio subwoofer.
We can answer that by telling you it depends entirely on the audio you’re recording. Say you’re mixing audio for TV or film; you would most likely need a studio monitor accompanied with a subwoofer. But if you’re working on some tracks with little bass, a decent pair of monitors should suffice.
When adding a subwoofer to accompany your studio monitors, the sub handles some of your low frequencies and pretty much all of your very low frequencies. This is great because it helps you hear exactly what's happening in your bottom end.
One question you should ask yourself is how your listeners will hear your work. If you plan to feature them in a dance club or a home theatre system that has a sub, then you will need a subwoofer to hear all of your low bass octaves. But if you’re mixing audio that will most likely be listened to on basic speakers and/or with headphones, you’ll find that you most likely won’t need to add a subwoofer to your extended gear array.
Also, if you work with bass-heavy music like rock, EDM, or hip-hop, you might want to think about adding a studio subwoofer that will handle those low frequencies.
Another thing to consider is the size of your control room. If you have a small room, you won’t have enough space to allow the low-end frequencies to properly develop. If you add a subwoofer to a small room, it’s completely counterproductive and leads to a lot of inaccuracy. You might find some bass notes sound solid whereas others sound indistinct, which will ultimately lead to an unbalanced sound.
Also, you need to be careful about introducing too many bass-heavy frequencies into your room. While acoustic treatment options like bass traps or diffusers are helpful in reducing these inaccuracies and imbalances, the size of your room will always be a hindering factor for accuracy.
The bottom line: If your recordings require the accurate monitoring of deep bass frequencies and you’ve got enough bass to handle the low frequencies, then you should consider getting yourself a sub. But if you are on a tight budget or just starting out, you can leave a subwoofer out altogether for now. Keep in mind that using a subwoofer will require you to have proper acoustic treatment in your control room.
A Word on Acoustic Treatment
If you’re really serious about choosing a good studio monitor, you will need to make a serious commitment to treating and controlling the acoustics of your room to avoid inaccuracies.
Keep in mind when treating your room, you need to add sound control products that work for the style of music you’re going for. Bass heavy music will require more bass traps, for example.
No set of studio monitors, no matter how expensive, will ever make up for an untreated and uncontrolled room. There are certain room correction options you can find in studio monitors, but these won’t completely eliminate inaccuracies. While this is understandably an additional investment, it could make or break your recording experience.
If you’re just starting out or are on a tight budget, we would definitely recommend saving some of your cash and dedicating a portion of your budget to some basic absorbent acoustic treatments. This way, you can hear more of the audio from your studio monitors and less of the reflections bouncing around your room.
Budget: Get the Most Bang for Buck
As is the case when buying any piece of equipment, one of the limiting factors that might stand in your way of getting the best studio monitor is your budget.
The audio gear market is packed with a wide variety of monitors that come in all shapes, sizes, specs, and prices. We’re going to run you through what to expect from the high-end, mid-range, and low-end studio monitors.
Best High-End Studio Monitors
It goes without saying that the more expensive the monitor, the better quality you’ll get for your money. More high-end, expensive monitors will deliver enough performance to compensate for the few hundred bucks you would have saved by buying a lower-end monitor.
With more expensive monitors, you’ll find features and benefits that will outweigh your desire to limit your budget. High-end monitors are typically characterized by the following:
- More detail in your highs and lows with larger drivers
- More EQ and room control settings
- Higher volumes without distortion
- A more accurate translation of recording
- Flat frequency response ranging approx 35Hz - 50kHz
- A max SPL of around 120dB
- Work great in wider rooms
- Less portable because of large driver dimensions
Since these high-end monitors aren’t accessible to everyone, particularly beginners, or those on a tight budget, our advice to you is simple: Get the best monitors your money can buy!
Here are 3 high-end monitors we recommend...
Our Top ‘High-End’ Pick
A very compact pair of studio monitors considering that they have 7” woofers, the 2-way S2V’s are seriously professional. The amplification design on a single unit is a combination of Class D woofer and Class A/B tweeter. The refined S-ART tweeter provides you with state of the art stereo imaging.
If you go to the back of the monitor, you’ll find the OLED display that helps you change EQ, time delay, crossover, and volume settings, in a pinch.
You also have a typical XLR input, AES3 digital connectors for daisy chaining multiple monitors, and a USB input.
As for the sound, everything is very well-defined, even the bass, and with a forward facing bass port, you can easily resolve bass build up without ever touching the EQ.
Bottom Line: When you get these speakers, know that you are paying top dollar for pro-quality audio and future customization. They are incredibly versatile and excellent for anyone moving up from the typical bedroom setup.
Right off the bat, you’ll notice these high-end babies have a unique look all their own. With a luxury walnut veneer rather than your typical black plastic casing, you have something that gives your studio more of a home-style flare. You have non-ported shapes onboard with dual 6.5” passive radiators that provide a tight bass response.
There are plenty of EQ controls on the rear as well for adjusting properly to the sound of your studio. Overall, Focal tends to have a more ‘mid’ sound than anything, though that helps to give you a nice, balanced mix in the end.
With tons of depth, accuracy, stereo imaging, and solid transient detail, they are perfect for getting an authentic sound.
Sub-bass lovers should probably stay away, as the small woofers are limited in the bass they can provide. This, in a way, makes them great for home studios though, as most rooms are untreated and can’t handle that sort of sub anyway.
Bottom Line: The Focal Shape 65’s are fantastic upgrades from mid-range studio monitors for serious mixers. They are incredibly accurate, very easy to tweak, and provide a sound that helps put you on the path to better mixes.
Genelec speakers are some of the most popular high-end studio monitors around and typically compete with Adam regarding professional mixing. If your budget allows for it, we would highly recommend these minimal-style beauties.
For starters, they’re made from a natural composite enclosure, essentially molded wood, flame retardants, and lubricants, a truly advanced, professional build that is entirely eco-friendly. The Directivity Control Waveguide gives you some of the absolute best stereo imaging in the realm of high-end speakers. This means you have a much wider listening area and can note depth in your mixes.
The accuracy and detail you get in your sound from these studio monitors is also quite incredible. The bass is tight, making it great for untreated rooms, and the dynamics are fast and solid with room to breathe.
There’s a lack of distortion, even with all you can send through these bad boys, meaning you can truly focus on your mixes for hours on end without tiring your ears.
Bottom Line: For a big sound from small studio monitors, these are probably some of the best “lower-priced” high-end speakers for home studio mixing and monitoring. They are perfect for working within untreated rooms thanks to the tight bass response.
Best Mid-Range Studio Monitors
There are plenty of great monitors that can provide a clean, accurate, and overall smooth response without breaking the bank. Sure, they won’t be as good as the big boys, but we can safely say you will still be able to hear all your low and high-frequencies clearly. Some great brands like JBL, Yamaha, Edifier, and Adam have developed “underdogs” in the lower ranges that work superbly. Mid-range monitors offer the following:
- EQ and room correction controls
- A decent amount of bass in your woofer
- Several source connectivity options
- A more accurate and flat overall frequency response (approx 38Hz – 35kHz)
- Some portable options due to smaller driver sizes
Here are 3 mid-range studio monitors we recommend...
Our Top ‘Mid-Range’ Pick
Yamaha studio monitors have been popular for many decades now and many of their HS models can still be found in professional studios around the globe. For mid-range, professional speakers, they’re just about the best you can get.
The 8” cone woofer gives you better bass frequency response and goes down to about 38Hz, great for mixing clear bass sounds. That is complete with a 1” tweeter that delivers sweet, crisp highs. At 120 Watts, you can really hit the fan with your sound in terms of volume.
Even though these studio monitors are bi-amp designs, you still get excellent sounding mids that are just as true as higher-end monitors.
The Yamaha room control, essentially a very basic EQ that is located on the back of the monitors, allows you to trim your high and low frequencies to get the sound you desire for your particular room.
The only thing is you will need XLR or ¼” outputs, as they don’t have any RCA inputs.
Bottom Line: The Yamaha HS8 monitors are top of the line regarding mid-priced monitors. The frequencies are very well balanced and they are voiced like the classic NS10s, though with a bit more bass response for mixing modern music.
The HR series of Mackie monitors have been very popular for over two decades and can be found in professional studios around the world. The issue is, you have to pay serious money to score a pair.
The XR line of studio monitors from Mackie, and the XR624 to be specific, gives you that studio quality sound at a fraction of the price.
This speaker has rear ported design and Class D Amplification. They even have the wood-like finish that gives you the vibe of the older HR model.
Mackies have a specific tone, and these speakers happen to be a little brighter than most. We highly recommend them for rooms that are untreated or sound a little “darker”.
They’re also great for mixing rock and roll, as you can hear the truth in the guitars. That being said, they still provide great stereo imaging and have a pretty wide sweet spot for listening.
Lastly, they come with foam pads and rubber feet, which can be very helpful if you’re planning on having them propped up atop your desk.
Bottom Line: The Mackie XR624s are reliable, high-quality speakers that resemble higher-end speakers at an affordable price. They’re perfect for untreated rooms or mixing live genres.
IK Multimedia is no stranger to making portable products. Just look at Amplitube, their popular amp simulation software that gives you basically any guitar amp you can think of in a box.
They took their portability mindset with them when creating these high-quality studio monitors, and even as portable as they are, they still sound amazing. If you are a producer who is constantly on the go or setting up makeshift studios here and there, these downsized monitors are an excellent alternative to your typical computer speakers.
They’re very easy to travel with and even share all the same connections as higher-end monitors. With ¾” tweeters and a 3” woofer, you can get a bass response down to 55Hz, perfect for small home studio projects. By no means will you be mastering top 40 hits on these little guys, but they do have a surprisingly flat frequency response that gives you tons of detail. Producers are continually moving from studio to studio with their project and being able to carry around wireless monitoring devices with you anywhere you go seems to be the future.
Bottom Line: For seriously small monitors, these things pack a punch. If you’re a producer who is jet-setting around the world, the iLoud Micro Monitors make it incredibly easy to take high-quality sound wherever you go.
Highly suggested: Read our top studio monitor picks under $500 for some more mid-range monitor options.
Best Low-End Studio Monitors
For those who want the benefits of a studio monitor but are on a tighter budget, we have a few top-notch brands to thank for developing some relatively good low-end monitors.
While the answer to “Can a low-end monitor get you the same quality as a mid-range or high-end?” is a definite no, they can have a flat enough response to pinpoint issues in your mix. It’s important to remember the quality you’re getting is equal to the price you’re paying. So that means low-end monitors will get you that kind of performance only to a certain extent and under specific conditions. Low-end studio monitors offer the following:
- Not a lot of room correction controls
- Bass isn’t as tight
- Distortion in loud volumes
- Adequate accuracy and reasonably flat frequency response.
- A lot of portable options due to the small driver sizes
- Work great in smaller rooms
If you do have the budget but are still debating whether to cash out on a more expensive pair, we’ll tell you this: Higher-quality monitors aren’t going to develop or be outgrown anytime soon, so you can be sure that they are a solid investment over time.
Our Top ‘Budget’ Pick
If you fell in love with the Yamaha HS8s above, but fell into a deep sadness because you can’t afford them, don’t fret! The Yamaha HS5s are an excellent alternative and are much cheaper!
The Yamaha HS5s are excellent home studio monitors and are perfect for untreated rooms because they have a very neutral bass. Just like the HS8s, they give you tons of clarity and a great sense of space with excellent stereo imaging.
The best thing about the Yamaha HS5 is how they work with high and mid-range sounds. For many, it’s fantastic because you get a true and linear sound across higher frequencies. Be careful though, as you’ll have to get used to mixing with less bass in your music, as the small woofers will constantly be fighting any sub back.
Bottom Line: Overall, these are some of the best budget monitors for home studios and producers who are mixing live music. They give you a modern replica of the classic NS10s with some nice upgraded features.
JBL has always been a reputable speaker company, though most don’t know they have a range of excellent budget studio monitors. These little speakers are perfect for compact, near-field monitoring, home studio or professional studio. Unlike the HS5s, they’re better at recreating low-frequency sounds thanks to their unique double-flared shape. This is pretty surprising considering they only have 5” woofers.
You can easily mix dance music on these, as well as live music, as the lows are very punchy, though the rest of the sounds are nicely balanced as well. You can also pair these up with the LSR310S powered subwoofer, a very popular choice for dance producers. The stereo imaging on these is pretty solid, and you can move back and forth between them without losing your sweet spot.
Bottom Line: These studio monitors certainly don’t have a “specialty”, though if you want a jack-of-all-trades type of setup, they’re great for that. The sound is very well balanced, the bass response is excellent for a 5” woofer, and you can easily pair it with JBL’s sub.
There’s no doubt that you’ve seen these little yellow cone monitors in someone’s home studio by now.
The Rokit 8 is the biggest in the Rokit Series of monitors and is truly meant for bigger rooms, as smaller rooms may have an issue with low-end response. That being said, you can always adjust the low end on the back, but it’s good not to have to worry about that if you’re in a small bedroom.
The Rokit 8 offers XLR, ¼”, and RCA connections, and they come fitted with foam pads so you can get to listening correctly right away.
The Class A/B amplifier can handle some pretty hardcore sound and gives you a ton of headroom with barely any distortion. This is because they are made with a crazy powerful bottom end that is perfect for mixing EDM or other genres of dance music. The top end is pretty smooth as well, though it is not where the priority lies. They take a bit more time to get used to than other monitors for this reason, though when you finally figure it out, you’ll be able to produce some wicked tracks.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for mid-range monitors that can punch really hard, the KRK Rokits might be your best option. They have a beautiful low end and are great for producing genres of dance music.
That’s a Wrap!
Now that we’ve covered just about everything you need to know when it comes to purchasing studio monitors, we’ll leave you with some final words of advice.
- Remember that all studio monitors are unique and some can sound better or worse than others depending on the type of music you are mixing. Essentially, there is no one-size-fits-all pair of monitors out there, so don’t let intense marketing fool you.
- Acoustic treatment can have a significant impact on your sound. Just because the bass response from a sweet pair monitors is controlled in your friend’s pro studio, doesn’t mean it will be in your bedroom.
- Always use your ears to judge! While a pair of slim, sexy monitors can be enticing, it comes down to how they will make your music sound.