Let’s start by saying congrats:
By making it this far, you’re well on your way to building an epic home studio.
But there’s one piece of the puzzle missing, and it’s a pretty important one:
Your studio monitors.
You need a decent set of studio monitors for recording, producing, mixing, and mastering, and a set of powered speakers is generally the way to go at home (we’ll discuss different speaker types shortly).
As you’ve probably realized, though, there is a metric butt tonne (technical term) of monitor options out there.
Which are you to choose!?
That’s what I’m here to help you answer. We’re going to look at 12 of the best powered speakers on the market, and I’ll also show you what you need to be looking out for in terms of tech specs, so you can make an informed decision.
- 1 Monitors vs. speakers
- 2 Active vs. passive monitors
- 3 12 of the best powered speakers for your home studio
- 4 How to choose the best powered speakers
- 5 How to set up your powered speakers
- 6 Conclusion
Monitors vs. speakers
Let’s start with a simple definition, answering the question:
What is the difference between monitors and speakers?
Technically, there is no difference, but the difference does make all the difference.
Let me explain:
Studio monitors are speakers, they are just a specific kind of speaker designed for recording and mixing music.
That’s what I mean when I say there is no difference.
However, the term speaker is generally used when talking about hi-fi or consumer audio equipment (like your stereo system or home theatre speakers), where the term monitor is almost exclusively used in the pro-audio domain.
The distinction between the two is their sound.
Where consumer speakers are designed to sound good, studio monitors are designed to sound flat and honest.
That means their frequency response profile isn’t hyped to deliver more bass or a shiny top end. Instead, studio monitors play back what you’re mixing exactly how it is.
That is, they don’t color the sound at all.
In the pro audio world, we want this, because we essentially want to make our mixes sound good on crap speakers. When we achieve this, then our mixes will sound dope on great speakers.
Let’s quickly look at the two main kinds of home studio monitors before diving into my top 12 options.
Active vs. passive monitors
So, what you need to know about monitors (and all speakers) is that the actual speaker part, you know, the circle bit that moves back and forth when you play music through them, is a passive component.
What that means is that it doesn’t have an active electronic circuitry. It’s just a piece of cardboard with a magnet behind it (sort of).
To get it moving, you need some form of amplifier to take an audio signal, turn it the hell up, and then push those drivers in and out.
Passive (unpowered) monitors don’t have amplifiers built-in, so you need to use a separate amplifier.
This is pretty common in home theatre systems, where the amp is the centerpiece of the system and drives all of the speakers involved.
You’ll also find a bunch of studio monitors that use the passive design, though by and large, these are ‘higher-end’ models.
By contrast, active (powered) monitors have amplifiers built-in, so you don’t need to bring your own.
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That’s generally the kind of monitors you want to grab for your home studio, as it means your amp and speakers are perfectly matched, and you have less cable mess going on behind your desk.
12 of the best powered speakers for your home studio
Do I love them because they’re super affordable?
Do I love them, because they look bloody awesome?
Do I love them because they sound fantastic for what they cost?
Yes, yes, and yes.
Styled like the infamous NS10, the Yamaha HS8 features striking white 8” speaker cones with a wide frequency response right down to 38Hz.
They’re available in all-white, too, which can be a really interesting look in the home studio
These monitors have inputs on either XLR or TS jack, whatever cables you have available, and have a level control on the rear as well to prevent overloading.
Working in a home studio can be tough, acoustically speaking, which is why the HS8 incorporates a couple of room control switches.
One of these drops the low end down by 2dB or 4dB to reduce bass build-up, and the other boosts or cuts the top end by 2dB.
All in all, a solid set of monitors for beginners and pros alike.
Adam Audio T7V
I’m a massive fan of Adam Audio.
They produce some seriously quality units at fairly affordable prices, really hitting that sweet spot for home studio buyers.
I’m going to talk about their most commonly seen monitor, the A7X, a bit later on, but let’s first turn our attention to its cheaper little brother, the T7V.
The Adam Audio T7V is a 7-inch monitor (could you have guessed?) that extends right down into sub territory at 39Hz.
The U-ART tweeter reaches well beyond human hearing (25kHz) and is matched with Adam Audio’s waveguide with dispersion control as seen in their much more expensive S series.
Translation: the highs are rich and accurate without being overly directional or colored.
Translation translation: these monitors offer exactly what you’re looking for in a set of powered speakers for the home studio.
On the rear panel, you’ll find a bass reflex port (to help the T7V achieve its powerful low end), a level boost/cut, and both unbalanced and balanced inputs to play nicely without whatever kind of gear you’re working with.
You’ll also find a sneaky little warning label that tells you these monitors are capable of damaging your hearing if you crank them too loud, which means these guys really rock.
You can also shape the response of the powered speakers to your room by boosting or cutting either the high or low frequencies (or both) by 2dB.
I’m yet to have a go on a set of JBL LSR305s, but all I’ve heard is good things.
In fact, I’ve heard a tonne of good things, and looking at the price tag, I know I’ll be heading to the JBL corner of the store next time I grab a set of powered speakers for my home studio.
The LSR range does offer larger monitors (8-inch, for example), but I’m recommending these because they are aimed at musicians on a budget.
And here’s the thing:
If you’re on a budget, you’re probably not investing in acoustic treatment (egg cartons don’t count, guys).
And when your room isn’t treated, you’re gonna have bass problems. The easiest solution, then, is to not pump too much bass in.
Hence, 5-inch monitors.
Don’t let their small size fool you though, these babies really crank,
The 5-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter are powered by separate Class-D amps and are capable of some seriously loud outputs.
Volume aside, though, the LSR305s sound natural, flat, and honest, and offer both XLR and TS inputs, as well as frequency shaping to fit your room.
M-Audio has planted themselves firmly in music production home studio territory with some budget-friendly interfaces and excellent MIDI keyboards, so it makes sense that they’d top the whole thing off with a set of dope powered speakers.
The AV42 are little baby boys (4-inch), perfect for working on tracks in your bedroom.
Sure, they don’t have a tonne of low end, but they’re also not going to upset your downstairs neighbor when you’re recording guitars at 11 at night.
The AV42s have some interesting stuff happening on the front panel as well, with an aux-in port allowing you to use these simple consumer audio-powered speakers, and headphone outputs giving you a second monitoring option.
One thing to note is that the only input available is on RCA (a bit weird for professional powered speakers), and you’ll need to plug your interface into one monitor and then slave it over to the other one via the speaker’s output.
A bit weird, but maybe that’s part of what keeps the price on these guys so damn low.
KRK Rp7 Rokit G4
If you’ve seen even a couple of photos of bedroom music producers’ home studio setup, you’ve probably seen a set of KRKs.
Their distinctive yellow drivers are what set them apart, at least visually.
The Rokit 7 G4 is the fourth generation (shock, horror) of the famed Rokit 7, a 7-inch powered speaker designed especially for you home studio types.
Here’s why these monitors are dope:
- DSP-driven Graphic EQ with 25 setting
- Kevlar drivers
- Class D power amplifier
- Available in white (looks sick, IMO)
- Front-firing bass reflex port for enhanced low end and accurate bass response
Those bright yellow Kevlar speakers are more than just pretty, though.
They are precision-matched to each other, meaning when you buy a pair of Rokit 7, the manufacturing tolerance between the two is so low that they are basically identical.
It’s the same logic applied to buying a matched pair of microphones, and I think it’s a damn good idea.
Avantone Audio Active MixCubes
These are some really interesting little powered speakers.
For a long time now, sound engineers have used two or more sets of monitors in their studios. In fact, many high-end studios will have a set of big boys in the walls, and two sets of monitors sitting on top of their mixing desk.
Generally, one of those is either a set of Yamaha NS10s, or Avantone MixCubes.
Basically, two sets of monitors that kind of sound like crap. But if you can make your mix sound good on them, you’re absolutely set, and it will sound huge on anything else.
The Avantone Audio Active MixCubes are, well, the active version of these famous monitors, and they are every bit as good (read: bad) without having to lug around a separate amp.
Plus, they are tiny and cute.
They come in black, red, or the classic cream livery (which is what I’d be grabbing for sure), and offer a balanced input, gain control, and ground lift switch on the rear.
Because the Avantone Audio Active MixCubes are full range speakers (rather than having more than one speaker with a crossover in between), you get a true understanding of how your mix will playback on limited range audio devices like a phone or old car stereo.
For that reason, many sound engineers just grab one of these as a secondary monitor, and use it to mix in mono.
Focal Alpha 50
Focal has got to be one of my favorite monitor manufacturers.
Pronounced Fo-Cowl (they are French), the Alpha 50s are 5-inch speakers with a 1-inch aluminum inverted dome tweeter taking care of high-frequency duties.
That inverted dome is something real special, as it helps reduce directionality in the monitor so you have a wider listening sweet spot.
This is ideal when mixing in a home studio as it means you can move around the desk a little more and not be stuck in just one spot.
Despite their tiny footprint, the Focal Alpha 50 reaches right down to 45Hz thanks to its front firing bass reflex ports.
You can boost or cut this response with the low-end EQ knob on the rear (same goes for the highs), but however you shape them, the Alpha’s are neutral and clear with virtually no distortion added.
Adam Audio A7X
Told you I’d be talking about the A7X.
Man, this is a cool set of nearfield powered speakers for the home studio.
Here are just a few reasons why:
- Handmade tweeters created in Berlin
- A fast response in the highs for maximum transient responsiveness
- Carbon/Rohacell/Glass fiber – super light but very stable
- Front-firing bass reflex ports
- Wide frequency response goes as low as 42Hz
- Analog XLR and RCA inputs
- Room acoustic adjustments
- 2-year warranty
- Easy to access on/off switch on front
The acoustic controls are some of the best I’ve seen around as well, you get high and low frequency shelves, as well as a knob for independently adjusting the tweeter level.
But what’s great about them is that they are recessed, so you can’t accidentally knock them and mess with your speaker settings, which results in some weirdly screwed up mixes.
If you’ve got 5 minutes to choose a pair of powered speakers for your home studio, and you need something that delivers the best balance between affordability and performance, go with the Adam Audio A7X.
Neumann KH 120 A
Neumann are for sure better known for their excellent microphone offerings than they are their monitor selection, but that doesn’t stop the Neumann KH 120 A being a serious piece of audio monitoring equipment.
The carefully crafted aluminium enclosure reminds me of older Genelec speakers, and they definitely ooze that same kind of class.
With a 5.25-inch woofer and 1-inch titanium and fabric speaker you get a really clear picture of your recordings, though the frequency response only goes as low as 52Hz so they are a little lacking in the bass compared to competitors.
That may be intentional as part of their design though, as these are high-quality monitors that you should probably be using with a subwoofer, if you have the cash and acoustic treatment on hand.
Focal Twin6 Be
I mentioned earlier that Focal is one of my favorite powered speaker manufacturers.
The Focal Twin6 Be is one of the reasons why.
Unlike the other monitors we’ve discussed so far, these are 3-way monitors with two 6.5” woofers and a Beryllium inverted-dome tweeter.
You won’t tell from looking at it, but the Twin6 Be has a special speaker cone design (called the “W” composite sandwich cone) which optimizes the frequency response curve for maximum transparency and a tonne of versatility.
The powered speakers also boast an incredible frequency range (40Hz-40kHz), making them a solid choice for home studio owners with a decent chunk of cash to splash.
Mackie HR824 mkII
I used to have an old set of these monitors, and boy are they punchy.
They’re quite compact, but they’re pretty weighty (not great for travelling recording engineers but ideal for the home studio), and they have a ferrofluid-cooled tweeter which keeps the highs sounding cool and clear.
What’s really interesting is the rear panel on the Mackie HR824 mkII.
You can switch between different responses to allow for different monitor placements (up against the wall, in the corners, or free in the middle of the room, and you can also adjust the high and low frequencies to different degrees.
If there is one manufacturer of monitors that absolutely owns the market, it’s gotta be Genelec.
When I was a young rookie sound engineer, I saw these guys in every studio around (maybe not this model, but Genelecs of some kind) and I fell in love.
Now, if I’m honest, I think these days there are manufacturers around doing bigger and better things with more exciting features or more affordable price tags, but you still can’t have a list of home studio powered speakers without at least one pair from Genelec.
So, the 8010A.
These are like, tiny. They can literally fit in your bag.
The drivers in these guys are 3-inch (on the woofer front) with ¾” tweeters, so they’re a great option for checking how your mix sounds on small systems (like in the car or on Bluetooth speakers), and they are epic as a set of second monitors in your home studio.
How to choose the best powered speakers
I’m going to keep this brief, so think of this as a quick checklist for figuring out which set of powered speakers are best for your home studio:
- Driver size – bigger means more bass response, but more issues in untreated rooms. 5-inch monitors are a good middle ground.
- Price – you’ve gotta work within your budget.
- Driver configuration – most powered speakers have a tweeter and a speaker, but some have three speakers or even more. Distributing the frequency load between speakers offers a more refined sound, but increases the cost.
- Space – how much space does your home studio have? Bigger monitors need more space to breathe and to fit.
- Connectivity – what output types does your interface or other audio device have? Some can be converted (e.g. TS to XLR), but some can’t, at least not easily. Try to choose something that has the same type of connector.
- EQ and room correction – consider whether you need to adjust the speaker response to your room. Most monitors offer some subtle shaping, whereas others give you much more detailed control. Consider your own needs and your own space.
How to set up your powered speakers
You can’t just grab a set of monitors off the shelf and chuck them anywhere in your home studio.
Your placement and position matters, because your speakers are propelling sound into the air, and as such are interacting with the shape of the room and the objects in it.
Here’s what you need to do when setting up your powered speakers:
- Keep your speakers away from the walls, both behind them and to the sides
- Position the tweets at ear-level. If they need to be positioned a little higher, try to tilt them down so they are directed at your ears when you’re in mix position.
- Avoid asymmetry. Try to have your mixing position in the centre of parallel walls so you don’t mess up the stereo field.
- Aim for a 60-degree angle between the speakers, or 30-degrees between each separate speaker and the mixing sweet spot.
- Be careful of reflections. Your speakers will reflect off the walls, as well as the ceiling above and the mixing desk below. Where possible, apply some form of acoustic treatment anywhere the monitors are pointing at. Good spots include directly behind the powered speakers, as well as above, behind, and to the sides.
- Don’t mix too loudly. Not only will you damage your hearing, your mixes will end up translating poorly to other sound systems. Try to keep your monitoring levels around the 80dB mark.
- Roll off the subs a bit. Poorly treated rooms (or even rooms that are treated as well as they can be, but are still aren’t perfect, like most home studios) tend to have a lot of issues in the low end. The best thing to do is roll back on the low end in your monitors, and use your studio headphones or the good old car sound system test to check out the sub frequencies of your mix.
Now that you know everything you ever need to know about powered speakers, you’d best be excited to grab a pair and set up your home studio!
Some might even ask if you’re amped?
Get it? Amped.
Because they’re powered.
Forget it. Until next time!