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Not all speakers are created equal, especially if you’re working in a studio.
While there are plenty of decent speakers out there for home audio and gaming, you’ll want to use dedicated speakers for your studio setup. Whether you’re recording vocals, editing video or tracking an instrument, studio monitors let you hear sound in its most natural, unfiltered state.
Studio Monitors vs. Speakers
Home stereo speakers are often designed to boost or enhance audio levels, say, by upping the bass or bringing out richer tones in the mids and highs. Studio monitors, however, are designed to not enhance sound at all, keeping all frequencies flat. What you get: purer, cleaner sound for more accurate mixing.
While home stereo or hi-fi speakers are often referred to as “passive” speakers (meaning they require an external amplifier), studio monitors are “active” or “powered” speakers, which means the power amplifier is built into the speaker cabinet directly. Since the amp and speaker are specifically built to work together, you’re less likely to blow out your speakers. All the crossover components (including the amps, drivers, and speaker enclosures) also come together, making studio monitors a better pick for consistent, reliable sound.
One last distinction: most home speakers are designed to blast sound throughout the room. Studio monitors, however, are more subtle, designed to only project sound a short distance, to prevent anything in the room from muddying up any frequencies.
What You Need to Know Before Buying a Studio Monitor
When shopping for studio monitors, the two main things to consider are size and sound. Unless you’re recording in a huge studio with a ton of musicians and moving parts, you won’t need super large speakers.
Engineers also use the terms “near-field,” “mid-field,” or “far-field” to describe studio monitors. This refers to the listening configuration a monitor is designed for. Near-field monitors are used in smaller speakers, which can be easily moved around so that the sound is directed straight at you, for a more immediate and intimate experience. Like their name suggests, far-field monitors optimize sound to travel over a farther distance. That’s great for larger rooms, where you have more space for your speakers.
The second thing to consider is sound. The best studio monitors will replicate audio in its more natural state. While it’s impossible to completely cut out distortion, look for the THD (total harmonic distortion) reading, which lets you know how cleanly a monitor can reproduce whatever audio you feed it. The lower the THD specs, the better.
Frequency range is also a good measure of sound reproduction, and most of our options have a frequency response of at least 50Hz-20kHz. However, this number just tells you the highest and lowest frequencies the monitor can handle — it doesn’t tell you how those clean these frequencies will sound.
While professional musicians and sound engineers will want to invest in true studio monitors, we’ve rounded up some accessible units that deliver accurate sound and versatile performance, whether used as studio monitors or just as an upgrade for your home, office or den.
1. Samson M30
Samon’s M30s are a great choice for beginner musicians starting their own studios.
They’re only 7.5-inches tall, so they won’t take up a lot of room on your desktop. They’ve got a frequency response of 50Hz – 20kHz and a respectably low signal to noise ratio. Each speaker is powered by a 10W amplifier, which is perfectly fine for a bedroom studio. Their two-driver system will pump out balanced sound, but you can add more low-end by flipping a bass boost switch on the back of the M30’s left speaker. You can also plug a subwoofer into an AUX out port.
If you’re short on space, and don’t want to mix your new album on a pair of headphones, Samson’s M30s are a solid choice. If you need a little more power, we recommend stepping up to the company’s M50s, which output 40W per channel, but are a little bigger.
2. M-Audio BX5 D3
More seasoned musicians should step up to M-Audio’s BX5 D3s.
The monitors have a frequency response of 52Hz – 35kHz, and output a whopping 50W per channel. Each speaker has a 5-inch kevlar driver and 1-inch high frequency tweeter, with computer optimized waveguides that ensure your music will sound as clean as possible.
Unlike the other studio monitors in this guide, the BX5 D3s need to be connected to a mixer with either a 1/4-inch TRS or XLR cable. If you want to hook them up to your computer, you’ll need a 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch adapter, an audio interface, or a USB mixer. You can plug them into a non-USB mixer if you’re playing music live.
Our favorite little touch is that M-Audio designed the BX5 D3s with a little LED, which shines a light straight forward. This allows you to easily align both speakers to they’re directed toward you perfectly, ensuring you hear sounds from both channels perfectly. If you’re afraid of your music having an imbalanced mix, this feature eliminates that chance.
Ultimately, M-Audio’s BX5 D3s are a set of smartly designed studio monitors with enough power to fill any room they’re in without cranking the volume knob.
2. PreSonus Eris
We like these two-way professional studio monitors from Eris, which get a great frequency range of 70 Hz – 20 kHz. Quality built-in components include Kevlar low frequency transducers, low-mass silk-dome tweeters and 50 watt Class AB amplification. Mid and high-range is clean, and bass is surprisingly punchy.
The unit also includes protection from radio frequency (RF) interference, which can affect the consistency and quality of your sound. Built-in controls let you adjust the monitors to better match your mixing environment, so audio is more accurate.
4. Mackie CR-X 5
Mackie’s CR-X 5s are a pair of high-end studio monitors designed for both playing live and listening to the latest digital mix of your tracks through a computer.
The speakers have an 80W amplifier, but Mackie doesn’t specify their frequency range. We’ve heard some of Mackie’s gear in the past, though, and music has always sounded very clear. Each speaker has a 5-inch woofer and .75-inch tweeter, which is what you should expect from speakers in this size class.
The CR-X 5s have a pair of TRS (1/4-inch) inputs, a set of RCA inputs, and a standard AUX input. This is a generous assortment of inputs, and allows you to keep the studio monitors connected to different sources simultaneously instead of constantly plugging and unplugging cables. One of the only downsides to the CR-X 5s is their weight. They weigh nearly 15 pounds, so you’re not going to want to carry them around the studio very often.
If size isn’t a big issue, Mackie’s CR-X 5s are sure to deliver crystal clear sound that’ll help make it easier for you to get the perfect mix.