Studio monitors are probably the most important piece of studio equipment when you are trying to achieve perfect sound. Finding the best studio monitors can be a tough pick with so many monitors on the market. Before we jump into our list of the best studio monitors in 2020 I’ll give you a scenario:
You’ve spent hours after hours mixing your track and made sure every frequency is sitting perfectly in the mix. You run over to your friends house and it sounds like crap through his speakers. You listen to the mix in the car and it doesn’t sound anything like it did in your own home studio. This is where studio monitors come handy. They are designed to deliver a flat and uncolored sound (unlike hi-fi speakers that are meant to sound good with any sound and in any space, often enhancing bass and treble in the process. With the best studio monitors, you’ll get a purer and cleaner sound for more accurate mixing!
So before we dive into our list of the best studio monitors on the market, there are some things to consider!
Studio monitors vs regular loudspeakers
- Designed to keep all frequencies flat
- Wider frequency response
- Custom amplifier built-in
- Built for short distances
- Designed to boost and enhance frequencies
- Often requires an external power source
- Built for long distances
Find the best studio monitors – buying advice
Purchasing a pair of studio monitors is an important step for making better mixes. Studio monitors come in all different shapes , types, sizes and features to fit your mixing space or your home studio. Most common monitors will cost you $250-$350 a pair which could be a lot for many home producers. If you are looking to upgrade your existing studio setup I would start by looking at better studio monitors. Sure, you can have the best studio monitors available and your mix still sounds like crap. But at least you will be able to hear the mix in its pure form and make changes accordingly.
Before you decide which studio monitors to buy you should look at your audio interface to see what options you have. Some monitors have XLR inputs so if you have a standard interface with ¼” inputs you’ll need a converter.
Active or passive monitors
There are two main types of studio monitors: active and passive. Active monitors have a built-in amplifier so you don’t have to deal with extra gear. Passive monitors require an external amplifier. In my opinion the best studio monitors today are active because the built-in amplifier matches the speakers. With passive monitors you’ll have to find an amplifier that matches your passive speakers which could be a headache. It’s worth mentioning that every senior music producer within the recording industry started with passive monitors but I believe they have been outdated in favor of passive monitors. To sum up, I recommend going with active monitors so you get an internal amplifier that is specifically matched with the speakers!
Studio monitor size
Many believe that bigger studio monitors are better but that’s not always the case. The size of your room should determine the size of your studio monitors. For home studios the best studio monitors are probably a pair of near-fields. Near-field monitors can be placed on your studio desk and the sizes vary between 5-8 inches. If you are producing in a bigger room you should probably go for a pair of 6-8 inches monitors. If there is no acoustic treatment in your studio low frequencies tend to be hard to control. A rule of thumb is the smaller the room, the smaller the studio monitor. If you already have bigger studio monitors in a fairly small room you should consider buying bass traps instead of smaller monitors.
The wattage of studio monitors doesn’t only impact your maximum volume. The best studio monitors also have a higher-wattage set because it gives a richer and more detailed sound across a wider dynamic range. Cheaper monitors tend to have a lower wattage which could cause distortion on higher and lower frequencies. Higher wattage studio monitors can handle a higher output and still deliver a clear sound. Another thing to keep in mind is the size of your home studio (I’ll talk more about size below). Most home studios are fairly small and normally don’t require studio monitors with higher wattage. When you are looking for the best studio monitors for your bedroom studio, 50 watts is a good starting point!
Positioning the monitors
Truth be told, it doesn’t matter if you buy the best studio monitors if they are not positioned well. A pair of near-field monitors should be placed approximately 3-6 ft (1-2 metres) away when listening. If you have your studio setup in a bigger room you should try positioning the monitors at least 6 ft from the walls. If they are placed too close to the walls you will have a problem with lower frequencies bouncing and make the sound boomy. It’s also a good idea to invest in a pair of speaker stands to keep your monitors a couple of feet from the ground.
What about separate subwoofers?
Adding a separate subwoofer to your studio setup will give you a more accurate low-end. Depending on what music you’re producing this could give you the best results when mixing. Even the best studio monitors can distort bass notes if the output is too high. If you’re producing bass-heavy dance music or rock you’ll want your setup to reproduce low-end sounds accurately. Before buying a separate subwoofer you will need to make sure you have space in your home studio. Placing a subwoofer against a wall will make the bass notes sound louder than they are which could lead you to mixing them to quiet.
Review: 5 best studio monitors available
The Yamaha HS8 is a classic and one of the most recognised pairs of studio monitors. It’s packed with outstanding features like a 8” cone woofer that gives you a smooth and well-defined sound on the lower frequencies. The reproduction of high frequencies are great too. Thanks to the built-in 1” Dome Tweeter the high-end output gives an almost incomparable crisp and clarity. Every single detail of your mix can easily be heard so you can adjust your mix accordingly. I really like the feature Yamaha calls “Room Control” which gives you the capability to counteract the sound issues that come from speakers being placed near walls
- Offers incredible clarity
- Room Control
- High-trim Control
KRK Rokit 5 G4 is definitely another classic. If you’ve been researching for the best studio monitors you probably stumbled across these yellow-cone monitors. KRK has managed to stay on top of the food chain when it comes to studio monitors at a very affordable price. KRK Rokit 5 G4 is a 5” monitor with a detailed high-end and a slight boost of low frequencies. Because of the bass-extension the Rokit 5 G4 isn’t really flat response speakers. However if you are not an advanced audio engineer you probably won’t notice the boost (The bass-boost actually makes them good as “regular” loudspeakers) . The monitors are very small which is ideal for home studios with limited space. Overall, this is one of the best monitors in its price range!
- Built-in isolation pads
- Small monitors packed with power
- Not full flat-response speakers
- No audio cables included
Adam Audio A7X is a 7” studio monitor with a balanced sound and great frequency reproduction. The mid-range frequencies are clear and the built-in X-ART ribbon tweeter is handmade in Berlin. Thanks to the rich and detailed audio output, A7X is one of the best studio monitors available today. They are expensive but if you are on a flexible budget it’s a no-brainer. The low-frequencies are well reproduced and if you operate in a home studio you never have to worry about buying a separate subwoofer. I like that you can adjust the lows, mids and highs with a shelf filter positioned at the back of the monitors. All you need is a screwdriver and these monitors can be fine-tuned to fit whatever room you’re in.
- The upgraded X-ART ribbon tweeter
- Doesn’t cause fatigue on the hearing
- Compact design
- Takes up a lot of space on your desk
The Finnish manufacturer Genelec have been around for years and astonished us with their innovative studio monitors. They are one of the leading monitor manufacturers in the world and the active monitors M040 is close to perfection when. They are very comfortable and easy to listen to and I’ve never experienced listening fatigue while using the M040. Compared to the competition, Genelec have managed to create a big output for a 6.5 inch monitor. The high-frequencies are smooth and the mids and lows are well balanced. Round the back you have controls for Bass Level, Bass EQ and Tabletop EQ. Although I’ve never experienced any issues with the high-frequencies from the Genelec M040, I do miss the ability to trim the HF.
- Fairly small monitors with big output
- Bass-tweaking options are superb
- Friendly for home studios without acoustic treatment
- No EQ for high frequencies.
- You’ll get a good bang for the buck – but they are in a higher price range.
JBL is also a veteran manufacturer in the business and their monitors are built on solid and proven technology. The JBL 308P MKII is one of the best studio monitors because of the detailed and revealing sound. These monitors are built to last and I’ve heard a rumour that every speaker leaving the factory at JBL have to pass a “torture test”: Playing at full output for 100 hours without loosing quality. JBL 308P MKII allows you to fine tune the output to fit your home studio acoustics. You can either boost or cut high frequencies with a three-position trim switch. As the name suggests these are 8 inch monitors so if you decide to go for the 308P MKII you’ll need some space on your desk!
- Durable + 5 years warranty!
- Excellent stereo imaging
- Exceptional value
- Missing Bass boost-feature
- Heavy and might be ideal with monitor stands.