The Top 10 Best Home Studio Monitors | The Ultimate Guide
You’re increasingly committed to the craft of recording or mixing and want to elevate your work into the realm of the professional; to put out radio ready music, obtain clients, and establish a career from your home studio.
You’re on the lookout for the best studio monitors to fit your workspace, budget, and genres in which you plan to work.
Well, you’re at exactly the right place. We’ve put together a complete, in-depth buying guide that will teach you all of the essentials to help you equip your home studio with the best fit possible for the tasks at hand.
This buying guide includes ten choices of pro studio speakers that are perfectly suitable for all home recording applications. These choices are put together to present you with models that deliver some of the most value-for-dollar presently found on the market, and are affordable for musicians looking for quality beyond bare entry level.
CAUTION: Monitors are sold BOTH individually AND as a pair. When purchasing, be sure to verify that you have selected the appropriate option.
PreSonus Eris E5
The Eris series be ProSonus are available in models with 4.5”, 5.25”, or 8” drivers, all bi-amped, and active, and built with the home studio musician in mind. The Eris are widely popular for having some of the flattest frequency response in their class. With home studios already presenting a number of acoustical issues, a hyped frequency response is not something you should be spending your time working against. Our favourite Eris E5 offer a frequency range of 53Hz – 22kHz with a max SPL of 102dB, a front-ported cabinet, room EQ controls, and an impressively transparent reproduction making them suitable for a wide range of audio applications.
Yamaha’s HS series have been a leader in near-field monitoring since the companies legendary NS10. They carry Yamaha’s iconic design on the inside and out—the classic white driver in the front enclosed in a sophisticated mounting system which eliminates unwanted resonance and provides increased accuracy. The series offers a selection of driver sizes—for the home studio we recommend the bi-amped HS5 which offers a frequency response of 54Hz – 30kHz, 70W of power, room EQ controls, and a rear bass port.
The JBL LSR305 are an affordable option that offer a great level of control and characteristics of much higher-priced monitors. They have an expansive stereo perspective due to their image control waveguide which widens the listeners sweet spot immensely. The 5” driver and 1” tweeter offer a frequency range of 43Hz – 24kHz, max SPL of 108dB. On the rear are room EQ controls to fine tune the monitors frequency response to match what’s going on in your room, as well as a bass port providing the extended low end.
You may have heard about the KRK Rokit series by now, and can likely pick them out in a crowd. These have been extremely popular among electronic and hip hop producers and DJ’s. Apart from their immediately recognizable design, the KRK Rokit are widely known for their affordable price tag and tight punchy bass. These are a fantastic choice for musicians in the production process as this hyped low end can help encourage a vibe during the creative process, but this can be detrimental for critical listening applications. Suitable for the home studio are the bi-amplified, near-field Rokit 5 G3 which offer a frequency response of 45Hz – 35kHz, Max SPL of 106dB.
KRK Rokit 5 G3
Focal Alpha 65
Focal manufacture premium audio products that have previously been positioned for the professional end market. That was until their release of the Alpha series, offering a selection of 5”, 6.5” or 8” drivers for the home or project studio consumer. These are bi-amplified, near-field monitors that offer a huge amount of detail across their entire frequency range. They offer a great deal of control over their output with their adjustable room EQ controls and provide an articulate low end due to their twin front-facing bass ports. We recommend the Alpha 65 as they offer a wide frequency range of 40Hz – 22kHz, max SPL of 106dB, and a superior transparent response. If what you want is precision and want to keep it under $1000, this is gonna be it.
If you want something affordable that will provide a modestly flat response then take a look at the M-Audio BX5 D2. These have been a best-seller for years for their value-for-dollar and many home studio musicians find that if they move on from the BX5, they often land on the same model the next size up—the BX8. I worked on these monitors during my early years in a series of small home studios and found the biggest contributor to a poor product was a lack of skill and no shortcoming of the monitors themselves. They are bi-amplified and near-field, have a frequency range of 56Hz – 22kHz offering 70W of power, and a rear-facing bass port.
M-Audio BX5 D2
Tannoy Reveal 402
The Tannoy Reveal are a popular near-field, bi-amped studio monitor series that offer a choice of models with 4”, 5”, or 8” drivers. The Reveal 402 are the smallest in the series with a compact design perfectly suited for the home studio. They pack a surprising degree of punch are are an excellent choice for musicians working in small studios with little-to-no acoustic treatment. Here you get a frequency range of 56Hz – 48kHz with a maximum SPL of 101dB, a high frequency EQ switch, a front-ported cabinet, superior stereo perspective and an impressively flat response.
Genelec are some of the most sought after studio monitors on the market but have usually been beyond the budget of the home studio musician. Genelec’s 8000 series offers the bi-amplified 8010A that are a wildly accurate and affordable studio monitor that may be small in size, but pack a series punch. The design is compact like you’ve never seen and makes them perfect for obtaining professional result in a small home studio or in mobile recordings. They feature a 3” driver and a 3/4” tweeter that offer a frequency range of 67Hz-25kHz and a max SPL of 96dB. Genelec monitors certainly aren’t cheap. The 8010A are an affordable choice that, though small, should not be overlooked and make an outstanding second pair of reference monitors.
If you’re looking to invest in an upgrade from your current pair of home studio monitors and want something beyond entry-level, the bi-amplified, near-field Yamaha MSP series offer a transparent reproduction and superior stereo imaging without bias. The MSP are available with 5” or 6.5” drivers and can sit comfortably at the top of any home or projects studio monitor shortlist. For producers working with bass heavy music in a comfortably sized room, the MSP7 feature a frequency range of 45Hz – 40kHz, room EQ controls, and a highly detailed reproduction perfectly suitable for mixing and post-production applications.
The Avantone MixCube has an interesting story being the successor of the infamous Auratone 5C, an essential studio monitoring set up for many professional studios. The idea was that the Auratone were said to have sounded so poor that if you can accomplish a good sounding mix on them, then that mix would translate well on anything. These are purchased both individually or as a pair; used individually as a mono playback that is unapologetic and revealing to the listener. An Avantone MixCube in your home studio is a fantastic idea for referencing your mix and you may find yourself asking why you had ever waited so long.
Studio Monitors Buying Guide
Discover Your Brand
Though it is true that you will always get what you pay for, and that the price of a studio monitors will reflect the quality of sound they can reproduce, the market is loaded with some wildly affordable options that do an outstanding job.
You can spend thousands of dollars on world class studio speakers, but unless all factors along the signal path are optimal, your room is correctly acoustically treated, and you have some extraordinary mixing talents, you’re highly unlikely to benefit from this type of investment.
With that being said, if you’re looking to produce high quality recordings or work professionally with audio in for any form of media, studio monitors are absolutely essential in achieving premium quality recordings.
Whether you’re recording, editing, mixing, mastering audio, or doing video post-production, a sonically transparent monitoring system ensures your mix will translate well to every audio listening system available.
A good set of studio monitors will allow you to evaluate what you record with accurate detail and without bias. Common consumer-market speakers colour the sound in ways that attribute ornaments to particular frequencies as to enhance the listeners perception of the audio. This can make them sound great for the everyday listener, but it’s a horrible starting point for the audio professional.
How To Choose
So what makes a good studio monitor? And how should an accurate monitor sound? This answer depends on your listening sensibilities as to know how the real audio is supposed to sound, along with the accuracy in which the speakers reproduce those sounds in the context of your particular studio.
There is a direct relationship between the music you are making, the dimensions and set up of your room, and the monitors you use. This means that the ideal monitor will vary among musicians, applications, and room dimensions. Don’t let this confuse you, this guide will walk you through all the details to help you determine what’s appropriate for your home studio.
Your goal is to ensure that your mix translates well across any and every playback device that your audience is listening on. This means headphones, car stereos, kitchen radios, smartphones, laptops, TV’s…you name it. For this, you want to go after the most transparent and accurate studio monitors that you can afford.
It is not uncommon for electronic music producers and DJ’s to use monitors that offer more low-end. This can help create a vibe during the production process—some extra “pump” the helps one get in the zone.
In mixing, post-production, or making music that is largely acoustic with an emphasis on songwriting, musicality and tone, you will require the most accurate and uncoloured representation of your music as possible.
These sensitive colourations are extremely delicate to work with and applications like this require studio monitors that you can trust and listen to for lengthy sessions without fatigue.
Some simple rules to follow: The larger the space, the larger the speakers and the more amplification you need. The smaller the space and the lower the volume, the smaller speakers you need.
Recording acoustic guitar and vocals in a small room? Get a small pair of near-field, powered studio monitors with 4″ or 5″ woofers. These will do the job quite nicely. Producing hip-hop or radio-inspired pop tracks? If you’ve got a little more space to work with, consider monitors with an 8” woofer or add a subwoofer to help you sculpt some of those lower frequencies.
Powered (Active) Vs Unpowered (Passive)
Laws Of Power
We’re going to get into some detail about both of these types of monitors, but from the get-go we’ll suggest that if you’re looking for an easy monitoring set up for a home studio that is efficient while being cost and space effective, you’re probably best suited for some powered studio monitors.
Powered Studio Monitors
Also known as active monitors, these are the most popular choice for home and project studio monitoring as they house their own amplifiers eliminating the need for an external amplifier to power them. Simply connect a line-level signal to these monitors directly from your audio interface and power them individually from a 125V wall output.
Unpowered Studio Monitors
Also known as passive monitors, these require a more powerful signal provided by a standalone amplifier. The advantage here is these monitors give you flexibility while working with a multi-speaker set-up. In this case you can pair your preference of monitor to amplifier for more customization. But again, this is likely an unsuitable choice for the home studio and will require additional equipment and know-how. The one instance where we would recommend an unpowered monitor for the home studio would be would be with an Avantone Mixcube.
Frequency Range & Response
Now that we’ve established that accuracy is highest priority, you want to confirm that the monitors your looking at cover the full range of frequencies within your audio and those of your genre (Frequency Range). Furthermore, you want to understand how a particular model handles the frequencies within this range (Frequency Response). Lets investigate this further.
Frequency Range indicates the span of audio frequencies a speaker can reproduce. Frequency Response is the Frequency Range versus Amplitude. In other words, a certain input signal level may produce 100dB of output, but at that same input level, certain frequencies along the Frequency Range may actually produce more or less output than 100dB. This would show as a peak or a valley at a given frequency along the Frequency Response Curve (FRC) depicted on a Frequency Response Graph. You with me?
Oftentimes, speaker manufacturers “sweeten” certain frequencies, giving them a boost or a cut to, for instance, enhance the bass as to sound immediately enjoyable to the consumer market. For critical listening applications, you want to go for a pair of studio monitors that have the flattest frequency response possible with the absolute least amount of “sweetening.” Generally speaking, a boost or cut in frequencies of ± 3dB or less will provide well-balanced sound.
Frequencies are measured in Hertz (Hz). The generally accepted standard range of audible frequencies is 20 to 20,000 Hz, although this will vary from person to person and is greatly influenced by environmental factors. If you’re working in bass-heavy genres, or are looking to work in 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound, do consider a studio subwoofer, which will handle frequencies down to 30Hz or lower.
Near-, Mid-, or Far-field
Sense Of Space
You will see that studio monitors are often marked Near-, Mid-, or Far-Field. These terms indicated the listening configuration the monitors are designed for: near-field being built for close listening and far-field designed to carry the sound over a greater distance with equal accuracy. Consider this important design feature when choosing a pair of monitors for your studio.
If your studio is small, choose near-field monitors. These are designed to be listened to from 3 to 5 feet away from the monitors driver, directly in front of you and angled inward so your head forms the point of an equilateral triangle between the two monitors. This listening position is referred to as the “sweet spot.”
This minimal distance between your ears and the speaker means that the poor acoustics of your studio will have less of an impact on what you hear. This explains why near-field monitoring is the more popular choice when it comes to mixing and post-production. For untreated rooms, these will help create a more accurate listening environment.
In a properly acoustically treated environment, far-field monitors are a great alternate referencing option during mix. They’ll provide new perspectives in the mid to low frequencies and the music’s dynamics.
However, unless you have transformed your entire barn or into a fully functional recording studio, far-field monitors are simply out of the equation for home studio recording applications.
These large monitors are used for high volume listening, are directed toward generously sized rooms and are commonly placed 10 feet from the engineer. In a home studio, you’re unlikely to benefit from this kind of investment.
Single-amp, Bi-amp, and Tri-amp
These configurations explain how the input signal is divided to power the drivers in a studio monitor. Studio speakers are equipped with amplifiers dedicated to each individual driver.
In the case of a single-amp configuration, appropriate frequencies are sent to each speaker—highs to the tweeter, mids and lows to the woofer. A bi-amp configuration means that each driver has its own dedicated amplifier powering appropriate frequencies. Same goes for the more uncommon tri-amp configuration which has a midrange driver.
Bi- and tri-amp configurations reproduce much more detailed audio with a flatter response than a single-amp studio monitor as these amplifiers work within a dedicated frequency range, offering overall superior precision.
Driver Types & Sizes
The Paradox Of Choice
As explained above, studio monitors are equipped with a tweeter for high frequencies and a woofer for mid, low-mid, and low frequencies. In some cases you’ll find a third midrange driver added to handle the midrange frequencies. A subwoofer will take a portion of the lower frequencies and everything below that which your monitors do not reproduce.
A larger woofer will reproduce lower frequencies than smaller ones and will do so more accurately. Though this may be a tempting option for a musician working with bass-heavy music, it is best to choose based on the size of your studio.
Speakers are constructed with a deluge of different materials like Kevlar, silk, titanium, paper…on and on. These materials will surely play a big roll in the sound of the speaker but it’s more important to consider the application the speaker is best suited for. A simple Google search about “common speaker materials” will provide you with lengthy resources about the properties of the different materials available.
Cabinet: Ported or Closed
A well designed cabinet is built around the characteristics of the driver, as this is where it gets its maximum performance. A cabinet should be transparent and not colour the audio in any way. Cabinets are designed to eliminate resonant, and create an optimal environment for drivers to perform.
You’ll notice that many models of studio monitors have a hole or slot placed in either the front or back of the cabinet. This hole is called a port and it helps extend the frequency response lower for more bass. It is tuned in such a way as to work with the resonating air from within the cabinet to boost more bass output than the driver alone is capable of producing.
While this only seems beneficial, some find that sealed or enclosed cabinets are more accurate and the tuning of these ports aren’t exactly precise. If the port is placed on the rear of the monitor and the monitor is placed too close to a wall—which is often the case in a home studio—this additional low end can become exaggerated as they produce a build up of low frequencies. To prevent this, monitors with ports on the rear need to be kept at least 3 feet from the wall behind it.
If you’re room is small, consider looking at front-ported studio monitor like the PreSonus Eris E5. You still need to keep them a small distance from the wall, but not as far as back-ported monitors.
Do I Need A Subwoofer?
All About The Bass
The answer to this depends on the size of your room and what your doing with audio. The mathematical reality is that smaller rooms simply aren’t large enough to allow bass frequencies to fully develop; a subwoofer in a small room is just begging for sonic inaccuracies.
If you’re mixing sound for TV, video games, or motion pictures, then a multi-speaker monitoring setup with a subwoofer is essential. Home theater systems and commercial systems in clubs and cinemas use lots of sub frequencies. You will need to be able sculpt these accurately.
If your recording environment is sufficiently large enough with proper acoustic treatment, then you will certainly benefit from using a subwoofer. If not, then don’t sweat it. Learn to use your ears in your room to the best of your ability.
Tailored To Fit
You’ll notice that the rear of most active monitors include tone or equalization controls that help you tailor their sound to your room. A bass cut control reduces some of the low end to prevent boominess that can accumulate in a small working environment, and high frequency adjustments can help reduce early reflections and ear fatigue.
This is a very useful feature that we would highly recommend when choosing home studio monitors. A great way to get a feel for how your mixes are standing up to pro mixes, split A/B test your mix against professional ones and listen to them in a new environment and on several playback devices. Does it sound boomy or muddy? Try dialling out some of the bass from these rear controls and get back to work. Too bright. Apply the same logic.
Constantly A/B your work with that of your idols. Listen to your mix on a variety of playback sources like in your car, on multiple sets of headphones, on any and every home stereo or radio you can find. Working solely on one pair of monitors can get you in a bubble, making you overly comfortable what your own biases.
Well that about wraps up our studio monitor buying guide. Is there anything you feel we have left out? What do you think are the best home studio monitors, and why? What’s working for you, or what’s not? Let us know in the comments below!
Enjoy this buyers guide? Check out the others in our series to learn how to successfully equip your home recording studio.
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