How to pick the best studio monitors for home recording


Image of Studio monitor speaker with woofer and tweeter

How to pick the best studio monitors for home recording

Choosing the best studio monitors for your studio is an important decision. There are many options available – starting from around $200 for a pair and running up into the thousands! You don’t need to spend thousands though (unless you want to) – so we’ve highlighted some of the best options that are in an affordable price range.

Why do you need Studio Monitors?

The perfection of your musical performance or the quality of your recording doesn’t matter if you can’t hear accurately when it comes time to mix. Studio Monitor speakers are specially designed to provide an accurate ‘neutral’ sound  – they shouldn’t color the audio in any way or artificially boost frequencies. This means that the tracks you mix will translate well to other sound systems like car stereos, cheap earbuds, laptop speakers or a home stereo.

Can I use headphones for mixing?

You can absolutely use a great pair of studio headphones for mixing. There are a few good reasons why you’ll want to eventually invest in a pair of studio monitor speakers though;

  1. Mixing on headphones for long periods of time can fatigue your ears
  2. Headphones have an inaccurate stereo image (too wide), which means mixes done on them won’t have good stereo separation when you listen to them on other audio systems.
  3. Most headphones don’t have a perfectly flat frequency response (unless you’re spending up into the thousands on a very expensive pair). This means you’ll often mix frequencies inaccurately while using headphones.
  4. Certain instruments like synth and vocals sound more energetic and alive in headphones – which means you’ll tend to leave them too dry – where you should be adding a little bit of reverb or delay.
  5. Headphone mixes can end up sounding too ‘full-on’ or loud.
  6. At some point, you’ll want to playback your mix to a group of people who can’t all share your headphones at once!

While headphones can help you get started if you’re on a budget, we recommend getting a decent pair of studio monitor speakers when you can afford them.

Things to Consider when Choosing Studio Monitor Speakers

Here are a few important factors to consider as you’re selecting the Studio Monitors that are right for you.

Size

You want to take into account the size of your room or studio space that you’re working in, as you’re choosing the best pair of studio monitors for your recording setup. If you’re in quite a small space you may find that a pair of monitors with 8” drivers in them will be too big and overpowering for the space. 5” or 6” drivers are probably plenty in the average bedroom-sized space.

Pricepoint

An important factor for consideration is your available budget. We’ve evaluated a few different models at different price points from around $299 for a pair of KRK Rokit 5’s up to around $1500 for the Adam Audio A7x. 

Sound

Not all Studio monitor speakers are created equal when it comes to sound. We’ve provided an overview of the sound characteristics for each of the studio monitors we’ve considered. Some of the things we’ve considered are: Frequency response, Wattage (RMS), Amplifier class and Driver size. These factors will all affect the output sound.

Quality of Construction

You won’t want to choose a pair of monitor speakers that are poorly built. The quality of the construction is an important factor – make sure you choose the speakers that will last you a good few years.

Design Aesthetics

Some Studio Monitor speakers on the market have bright colored designs and a futuristic appearance (Like the KRK Rokits), while others are mellower in their color-palate for a more classical timeless look (like the Yamaha HS5s and HS8s). Choose the style that is right for you!

Active vs Passive Studio Monitors

The term ‘active’ when referring to speakers means that they have built-in amplifiers, while ‘passive’ speakers require an external amplifier to drive them. Most of the studio monitors available these days are active with well-designed, powerful amplifiers built in. This means you don’t need to think about buying a separate amplifier and the units are compact – one less piece of equipment floating around your studio!

Our Recommendations on the Best Studio Monitors

There are hundreds of Studio monitors out there but we don’t want you drowning with information overload, so we’ve rounded up nine of the best studio monitors that we believe stand out from the crowd. 

Best Affordable Powered Studio Monitors

In this list, we’ve chosen a few of the best performing studio monitor speakers that come in under the $800 price point for a pair.

KRK Rokit Classic 5

With over thirty years of innovative manufacturing and design in the audio industry, KRK has developed the Rokit line, where the Classic 5 belongs. 

The KRK Rokit Classic 5 Studio Monitor offers a precise, flat frequency response – ideal for mixing and editing without coloring your sound unnaturally. The composite glass-aramid woofer driver and the soft dome tweeter provide smooth and crisp sound – and the 50W Class A-B power amp has plenty of power in reserve to minimize distortion. There’s plenty of connectivity on the back with Balanced XLR and ¼” Jack inputs as well as unbalanced RCA. 

It’s a simple matter to tune the KRK Rokit Classic 5’s to your room with the high and low-frequency controls on the back.

A quick tip: use the foam packaging blocks that come in the box package as vibrations isolators. 

Features and Specs

  • Amplifier: 50W Class A-B
  • Frequency Response:46Hz-35kHz
  • Maximum Peak SPL: 101 dB SPL @ 1m
  • Low-Frequency Driver: 5” Glass-Aramid composite woofer, 
  • High-Frequency Driver:1” soft dome tweeter
  • Dimensions: 15 x 12 x 10 in
  • Price: Check Current Price

Get more details or buy at Amazon.com

Kali Audio LP6

Kali Audio is a newer company in the speaker industry, but they are quickly making a name for themselves as a contender in the market. Kali Audio is based in Los Angeles, California and their innovative new products are gaining popularity for their accurate stereo imaging and precise natural sound.

The Kali Audio LP6 has a 6.5” driver with a pretty large magnet for it’s size to reduce distortion. There’s an obligatory 1” soft dome tweeter that delivers crisp accurate high frequencies. The LP6 is bi-amped with a dedicated amp for each driver. The bass port on the front is specially designed to reduce noise and turbulence – producing clean, smooth low frequency response.

On the back there are a series of dip-switches providing ±2dB high frequency and low frequency adjustments as well as the ability to alter the response to suit the placement of the speakers in your room.

The Kali Audio LP6 is very affordably priced, delivering audio precision and quality that far exceeds the price point.

Features and Specifications

  • Low Frequency Power Amplifier: 40W Class D
  • High Frequency Power Amplifier: 40W Class D
  • Frequency Response: 38HZ – 25kHz
  • Maximum Peak SPL: 112 dB SPL @ 1m
  • Low Frequency Driver: 6.5” woofer with 1.5” voice coil 
  • High Frequency Driver:1” soft dome tweeter
  • Dimensions: 14.125″ x 8.75″ x 10.25″
  • Price: Check Current Price

Presonus Eris E8 XT

Presonus is an American audio manufacturing company based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana – founded by Jim Odom (also the guitarist for the epic Southern Rock band LeRoux) and Brian Smith. Presonus has an impressive selection of products including their Studio One DAW Software, an extensive audio interface range and of course, studio monitors.

The Presonus Eris range includes the E5, the E7, and the E8. We’ll be looking specifically at the E8 with the 8” driver. The E8 XT Studio monitor speakers provide a smooth and accurate audio soundstage with a natural, flat response across the frequencies. They are bi-amped with powerful 140W class A-B power amplifiers for plenty of headroom and they offer useful acoustic tuning options on the back so you can set them up perfectly for your room.

There are plenty of connection options on the back including an unbalanced RCA input and balanced XLR and TRS ¼” jack connectors.

The EBM (Elliptical Boundary Modeled) technology produces an improved high-frequency response and provides 100-degree coverage – meaning it’s easier to place the speakers for the optimal ‘sweet spot’ as well as providing the best experience for collaboration and group listening.

Features and Specifications

  • Power Amplifier: 140W Class A/B
  • Frequency Response: 35HZ – 22kHz
  • Maximum Peak SPL: 105 dB SPL @ 1m
  • Low-Frequency Driver: 8” woven composite woofer 
  • High-Frequency Driver: 1.5” soft dome tweeter
  • Dimensions: 15.12″ x 9.84″ x 11.77”
  • Price: Check Current Price

Yamaha HS Studio Monitor Range

You don’t have to look in too many professional recording studios before you come across a cult classic in nearfield monitoring speakers – the Yamaha NS10 with its distinctive white driver. What started out as a relatively average hi-fi speaker in the late 1970s was picked up by studio engineers and used as a nearfield monitor. The NS10’s have a distinctive sound and many popular records have been produced using them. Not everyone likes the NS10s though, some people think they have harsh high frequencies and are lacking in the low end. 

Yamaha NS10M Studio Speakers mounted sideways in studio with mixing console
Audio-Production-Room-Yamaha-NS10-Studio-Monitors

You can read more details about the history of these fascinating speakers in this article by Sound on Sound.

A few years back, Yamaha decided to resurrect the distinctive look of the NS10s in a whole new series of powered studio monitors – while they were at it, they’ve ironed out many of the quirks in the sound of the original NS10s.

The result is the Yamaha HS line which is visually reminiscent of the NS10s with the familiar white driver, while the cabinet has been updated with a sleeker modern look. You can even get a fully white cabinet version if the white driver alone isn’t enough for you!

Yamaha HS Series Studio Monitor Speaker Range

The range starts with the HS5 5” version, jumps up to the HS7 with a 7” driver and finishes with the flagship model – HS8 with an 8” driver.

They all sound excellent, delivering a precise and accurate audio reference without over-emphasizing any frequencies. The high frequencies on all the models in the series extend up to 30khz and have a beautiful crisp sparkle (much smoother than the original NS10’s which were quite harsh). As expected, the HS7 and the HS8 deliver better lower end responses, but in a smaller space or partnered with a subwoofer the HS5’s are very good.

Yamaha HS5 Specifications

  • Low-Frequency Power Amplifier: 45W
  • High-Frequency Power Amplifier: 25W Class D
  • Frequency Response: 54HZ – 30kHz
  • Low-Frequency Driver: 5” woofer 
  • High-Frequency Driver:1” soft dome tweeter
  • Dimensions: 11.2″ x 6.7″ x 8.7″
  • Price: Check Current Price

Yamaha HS7 Specifications

  • Low-Frequency Power Amplifier: 60W
  • High-Frequency Power Amplifier: 35W
  • Frequency Response: 43HZ – 30kHz
  • Low-Frequency Driver: 6.5” woofer
  • High-Frequency Driver:1” soft dome tweeter
  • Dimensions: 13.1″ x 8.3″ x 11.2″
  • Price: Check Current Price

Yamaha HS8 Specifications

  • Low-Frequency Power Amplifier: 75W
  • High-Frequency Power Amplifier: 45W
  • Frequency Response: 38HZ – 30kHz
  • Low-Frequency Driver: 8” 
  • High-Frequency Driver: 1” soft dome tweeter
  • Dimensions: 15.4″ x 9.8″ x 13.1″
  • Price: Check Current Price

The Higher end options

If your budget can stretch a bit higher to over $700 per speaker ($1400+ for a pair), then you could consider these higher-end options.

Mackie HR824mkii

The Mackie HR824mkii is bi-amped with a dedicated amplifier for each driver – the low-frequency power amp delivers a massive 150W and the high-frequency amp delivers 100W – a total power of 250W per speaker – this helps them handle a massive 111db SPL without distortion. Secondly, these Mackies also come with the biggest driver in their class – a slightly unusual 8.75” diameter. Thirdly, they are sealed and use a passive radiator rather than a bass port – resulting in much tighter low-frequency response – and reduced distortion at a higher volume. The bass response in these is astounding – reaching down to 37Hz. The high frequencies are crisp and accurate and the overall frequency response is clear and natural. 

They feature a unique zero-edge baffle which results in a more accurate sound – no matter what angle you are listening from,

Aesthetically, these speakers are straightforward, clean, and simple with a classy black finish.

Specifications

  • Dedicated Low-Frequency Power Amp:    150W
  • Dedicated High-Frequency Power Amp:    100W
  • Frequency Response: 37Hz-20kHz
  • Maximum Peak SPL:    111 dB
  • Low-Frequency Driver: 8.75” high precision
  • High-Frequency Driver: 1″ titanium dome ferrofluid-cooled tweeter
  • Dimensions: 15 x 12 x 10 in
  • Price: Check Current Price

Adam Audio A7x

ADAM Audio is a German company, founded in Berlin over 20 years ago. They are a dedicated speaker manufacturer and have a strong reputation for producing premium studio monitors. The A7x is one of their most popular models, winning both the Sound on Sound Award and DJ Tech Award for ‘Best Studio Monitor’.

The A7x differs from the other monitors we’ve reviewed so far – with it’s distinctive folded ribbon tweeter and the dedicated, custom-designed Class A/B power amp that drives it. This combination results in an amazing high-frequency response – rating all the way up to 50kHz. This is higher than the human ear can hear (it is generally thought we can hear up to around 28kHz), but this headroom in the high-frequency range means that the audible sounds from the A7x have beautiful clarity and sparkle, without being harsh.

The ADAM A7x has a 7” Carbon/Rohacell/Glass-fibre bass/mid driver coupled with a 100W dedicated amplifier. The low-end response is warm, natural and spacious.

Overall the ADAM A7x produces accurate focused response across all frequencies, allowing all parts of the mix to be heard naturally and with clarity.

Specifications

  • Dedicated Low-Frequency Power Amp:    100W Pulse Width Modulation
  • Dedicated High-Frequency Power Amp:    50W Class A/B
  • Frequency Response: 42Hz – 50kHz
  • Maximum Peak SPL:    114dB SPL @ 1m
  • Low-Frequency Driver: 7” Carbon/Rohacell/glass-fiber woofer
  • High-Frequency Driver: X-ART Folded Ribbon Tweeter
  • Dimensions: 13.5″ x 8″ x 11″
  • Price: Check Current Price

Focal Alpha 80

Focal Audio is based in France with an impressive history of producing audiophile-quality equipment since the 1970s. The Focal Alpha series brings their precision engineering and audio design into an affordable price range for smaller home or project studios

The Focal Alpha 80s deliver remarkably accurate, responsive and clear audio across the frequency range. 

The Polyglass 8” bass/mid driver delivers a powerful low-end response that is tight and natural. Rated at 35Hz it’s the lowest in the speakers we’ve reviewed – an impressive number for the size of the unit.

The Aluminium inverted 1” tweeter produces crystal clear highs.

The midrange is detailed and natural allowing you to clearly hear different instrumentation in the mix.

The sound has a wide dispersion in the room – meaning the optimal listening position is not limited in your listening space. The tonal balance is also consistent at different volume levels.

The Focal Alpha 80’s are solidly built in a solid MDF speaker cabinet, covered with a classy vinyl and unique textured side panels.

Specifications

  • Dedicated Low Frequency Power Amp:    100W 
  • Dedicated High Frequency Power Amp:    40W 
  • Frequency Response: 35Hz – 22kHz
  • Maximum Peak SPL:    103dB SPL @ 1m
  • Low Frequency Driver: 8” polyglass bass/mid driver
  • High Frequency Driver: 1” aluminium inverted dome tweeter
  • Dimensions: 15.6″ x 11.3″ x 13.7″
  • Price: Check Current Price

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Studio Monitors Make a Difference?

Having the right Studio monitors can make a big difference to your mixes. Buy the best pair that you can afford – a great starting point is a pair of the KRK Rokit Class 5’s.

What are the best studio monitors on a budget?

The KRK Rokit Classic 5s or the Yamaha HS5 are a great starting point.

Conclusion

Having the right studio monitor speakers will help you produce your best work. Choose the ones that you think are right for you and that you can afford. They’ll become like old friends as you learn to recognize their sound and get them set up in your mixing space.

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