Studio monitors are often overlooked as a crucial component of any studio. The monitors allow the producer or mixer to listen back to the recorded content and make decisions based on what they hear. A good set of monitors will translate the recorded media in its purest form and not colour the sound in anyway.
If you are making informed decisions about how the kick drum or the bass sounds, you certainly don’t want a set of monitors that boost the low end and likewise, you don’t want a pair of monitors that have an overly bright sound that might change how you hear the top end of your mix.
In this list we will cover 10 pairs of studio monitors that are affordable for the home studio budget but can easily stand up to the rigours of producing a professional mix. If you are building your first studio, or you are mixing for your own band or other bands, these speakers will help you get big results for a low budget.
Studio monitors typically connect straight to the back of your audio interface or your mixing desk depending on what sort of setup you are using. They come in pairs and will each run off one of the interfaces audio outputs.
Most studio monitors are connected with ¼” jack or XLR cables but some may also included unbalanced RCA cables.
- 1 What is the Difference between Balanced and Unbalanced Cables?
- 2 What Should I look for when Purchasing Studio Monitors?
- 3 Presonus Eris E3.5
- 4 KRK Rokit RP5
- 5 Yamaha HS5
- 6 Samson Resolv RXA5
- 7 M-Audio BX8 D3
- 8 JBL 305P
- 9 IK Multimedia iLoud
- 10 Alesis Elevate 5
- 11 Mackie CR4
- 12 Behringer Truth B2030A
- 13 Summary
What is the Difference between Balanced and Unbalanced Cables?
Balanced cables have multiple conductors. One hot, one cold and one ground/sheild. The signal in the hot and cold conductors are combined but run out of phase with each other resulting in the overall signal being “balanced”.
Unbalanced cables just have two conductors, one running the audio signal and the other for the ground/shield.
Balanced cables should be prioritised when available as they have less chance of outside interference such as buzzing, static, hum or power noise. If you are setting up your monitors over a large distance (For instance, in a big room or with the monitors positioned far from the listening position) then balanced cables will offer a stronger signal with less degradation.
What Should I look for when Purchasing Studio Monitors?
When buying studio monitors there are a few main factors to consider:
- Room Size – You don’t want to put a pair of dual 8” driver speakers into a tiny home studio with no acoustic treatment because the speakers are total overkill for the room. You also don’t want to put a pair of single 3” driver monitors into a large commercial mix room because the speakers are inefficient for the room.
- Intended Use – If you are just setting up a demo studio at home, you don’t need the highest quality speakers. If all you need to do is listen back to what you record without making informed mix decisions, you can be a bit more flexible with choices. If you are buying monitors for mixing or professional use, you want to look at higher spec.
- Frequency Response – Most monitors cover the top end of the frequency spectrum between 19-22kHz pretty well regardless of their size. Where smaller monitors do struggle is with the low end. A set of small drivers are going to struggle to accurately reproduce low end. If you want to get into mixing and want to focus on the low end, bigger drivers and a larger frequency response is essential.
Studio monitors are available in many shapes and sizes is ideal for finding the right pair to fit your setup. You can even colour match your speakers to your studio with the plethora of options available today.
Presonus Eris E3.5
Presonus have made a compact and professional studio monitor setup perfect for anyone getting started with audio work, gaming or multimedia use. The Eris E3.5 are a tiny pair that pack a serious punch.
They have a response of 80Hz – 20kHz so they won’t be very useful for those super low bass runs and kick drum hits but if you are looking to use them just for tracking and listening back to demos they will fit the bill.
The rear panel allows for both balanced and unbalanced connections so they should fit into any working environment with ease.
The small 3.5” Kevlar drivers are paired with a 1 inch silk dome tweeter and are rated at 25w per speaker which is more than ample volume output for any home application. These speakers are built with quality being the aim and their solid construction should handle anything you throw at them.
The rear panel also has an Acoustic Tuning section which allows you to cut or add +/-6Db of high and low frequencies to accommodate whatever your rooms natural response might be.
While these speakers are active speakers, only the left speaker contains a power amp, the right speaker is passive and draws its power from the left speaker when connected. This means you only have to have one spare power outlet to run these speakers in your studio.
KRK Rokit RP5
KRK Rokit’s are quite possibly one of the most recognisable studio monitors from their bright yellow Aramid Glass Composite drivers. The RP5’s are seen in home and commercial studios all over the world and are surprisingly affordable considering how they perform.
They contain a Class A/B amplifier which offers large headroom and low distortion. The speakers can handle a lot more than their rated output which adds to their durability in the studio for heavy use.
They have a frequency range of 45Hz – 35kHz meaning you can get down into the low end of your mix well and also to the extreme highs. These monitors have a very natural sound and the MDF enclosure is designed for low resonance and minimal colouration of what you hear back.
The design of the unit is purpose made with this in mind. The soft radius on the edges ensures minimal diffraction and the front mounted bass port means you can place these closer to a wall than traditional rear ported speakers, perfect for those tight home studios.
The rear of the unit contains XLR, Jack and RCA connections meaning no matter what your setup is, these monitors will effortlessly slot into it. Along with a HF and LF level adjustment for tuning to your own room and a master volume for each speaker to ensure the volumes are equally balanced across both sides.
When it comes to reliability, Yamaha have proven themselves time and time again in multiple arenas of the music world from guitars to mixing desks to the famous Yamaha NS-10 studio speakers. The HS series is a modern take on the classic NS-10 sound in a more budget friendly price range.
These speakers have a 5” driver and a 1” tweeter covering everything from 54Hz up to 30kHz. These will fit most applications well except for anyone who needs to mix super low frequencies. If you did go for a pair of speakers without a huge bass response, you could always pair them with a sub at a later date.
The HS5 are rated at 70w meaning they are loud! Especially for the types of rooms they are built for. These monitors will allow you to get plenty of headroom on your mixes and minimal distortion as a result.
This unit is rear ported but Yamaha’s expert design team have created a way to design the port to minimize any unwanted reflections and build up at the rear of the units. While I still wouldn’t recommend placing a rear ported unit right up to a wall, the HS series won’t present as many issues as some other rear ported speakers might.
The HS series come with mounting points so the speakers can be mounted on walls or ceilings for any tight fitting studios.
The rear panel provides an XLR or ¼” connection as well as a low end cut switch allowing you to trim 2 and 4dB of low end and a high trim allowing you to add or remove +/-2dB at 2kHz to match your rooms reflections.
Samson Resolv RXA5
The RXA5 from Samson is a low budget monitor with high specs. The first thing that stands out is the inclusion of a ribbon tweeter over the more common dome tweeters. Ribbon tweeters are more often seen on higher end monitors and are known for their ability to provide a softer dispersion of high frequencies making it easier on the ears for long periods of time.
Coupled with the units 5” butyl coated driver, these speakers pack some punch. The coating on the driver will force a fast recovery meaning those transients are faster and this improves the overall low end performance of the speakers.
The speakers cover everything from 50Hz up to 27kHz meaning you’re not short of any key frequencies here. They will happily cover everything from rock to pop and in between. The only thing missing here is access to those 30Hz sub bass notes but if you are producing sub-bass heavy music, it’s worthwhile investing in a sub to couple up to your monitors.
The speakers are rated at 70w and their Class A/B Amplifier provides plenty of headroom when running at high volume.
The rear panel has an unbalanced RCA input as well as balanced ¼” jack and XLR inputs, a master volume for each speaker and a low and high frequency cut and boost for tuning the speakers to your specific workspace. The unit is also rear ported at the top.
M-Audio BX8 D3
If you want to set up a studio to mix professionally, you would certainly want to look into bigger speakers. Speakers with bigger drivers cover a wider frequency range, especially that troublesome under 50Hz range that all home studio owners often struggle with.
The BX8 by M-Audio is a Class A/B amplified, 150w a side studio monster that has an 8” Kevlar driver and a 1” silk dome tweeter giving you coverage from 37Hz up to 22kHz. These speakers cover enough of the low spectrum to remove the need to consider a sub in the future.
The optimized rear ports allow the low frequencies to bloom in just the right way with minimal distortion and turbulence giving the listener the best sonic experience with all the low end you could possibly want in your mix.
The rear panel has a ¼” and XLR input for connection to your interface or mixer, a master volume and a toggle switch to run the speakers flat or with -2/-4dB of low end roll off. This can be useful when setting the speakers up close to a wall as it will trim some unwanted resonance.
The front of each monitor, between the driver and tweeter, is a pinhole LED that will appear brightest to use when the monitors are set at the optimum angle. This is a very clever addition to help you line up your speakers for maximum performance to your listening area. This means you’ll get the most out of the speakers whatever your room.
JBL are a company that most of us would associate with high end studio gear with monitors that cost the same as a small car. We might see their logo in the worlds top studios, but now you can also see the JBL logo in your own studio with the 305P. These budget friendly Class D studio monitors deliver 82w of power, perfect for any application.
With a frequency response of 49Hz – 20kHz these speakers have enough range to fulfil most studio needs from drum and bass mixing to nailing a smooth top end.
The front of the 305Ps is loaded with a 5” driver and a 1” Neodymium tweeter providing the speakers with their signature fast transients and dynamic sound. These speakers are very highly spec’d for such a low price point and would surely make a great addition to anyone’s home setup for personal or professional use.
The 305P monitors have enough connectivity to suit any set up too with a rear panel containing a balanced ¼” and XLR input as well as a boundary EQ switch for dealing with those tricky room placements and a HF trim for taming bright reflections, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get these monitors singing in any room.
IK Multimedia iLoud
This offering of “micro monitors” from IK Multimedia is aimed at anyone working in a small space. These monitors certainly fit the bill of “micro”, with their 3” driver and ¾” inch tweeter, these are small, but don’t let their size fool you.
For such a tiny speaker, they still work all the way down to 55Hz right up to 20kHz, meaning even with their small footprint, they can still deliver the goods, especially for a home studio setup for writing music. Perhaps the lack of anything below 50Hz limits their use as mixing speakers, but for a travel rig or a small home rig, they will certainly deliver.
The Class D power amps push out 50w which is enough to make the low end punch through nicely. While there is a bit of volume on tap here, these speakers are designed for close proximity listening and their built in limiter prevents any unwanted peaking and distortion.
The rear of the unit has RCA and ⅛” connections. No jack or XLR in sight, but due to their small size, IK also decided to keep the footprint on input sizes down. If you are adding these to a setup that typically has ¼” connections, you can get a small headphone style adapter to remedy that issue.
The speakers are also Bluetooth enabled and can receive audio from any device that has Bluetooth connectivity.
The rear panel also has some EQ switching options to account for the monitors being flat or on a desk facing up and a HF and LF -3dB cut.
Alesis Elevate 5
When we’re looking at budget friendly gear, Alesis provides quality and affordability every step of the way. Their Elevate studio monitors are no exception. For a very small financial outlay, we get a pair of monitors that put out 80w from a 5” driver and a 1” silk dome tweeter.
Even the design of these speakers out perform their price point. The waveguide around the tweeter is elliptical to optimise the dispersion of the high frequencies and increase the stereo imaging, giving the speakers a wide sound. The unit is also dual front ported so the low end is tight and fast when listening back.
Giving a frequency response of 55Hz – 20kHz, they might not go all the way down into sub-bass territory but the bass we do get is tight, fast and punchy meaning those drum mixes will sound marvelous.
When setting these up in your home studio, you can actually save yourself a power outlet, the power amp is housed only in the right speaker. Once the right speaker is powered, the left speaker draws its power via the connecting speaker cable.
The rear panel has connections for ¼” jacks and RCA cables as well as a switchable bass boost. The speakers master volume is actually located on the front of the right speaker which is a small touch that comes in handy when working in a cramped space. You can easily tweak the volume without having to try to get behind the units.
The CR4 are very striking with their black cases and green trim, they will certainly be a talking point in any studio environment and are perfect for a range of studio based or multimedia applications.
As with some other offerings in this list, the right speaker is the powered speaker and the left speaker is totally passive, drawing it’s power from the right. These rear ported speakers have a frequence range of 80Hz – 20kHz meaning you do lose a lot of useful lowend but for recording demos, songwriting sessions and any other multimedia use, these 4” driver loaded speakers will pack a punch.
Having the speaker master volume on the front of the speakers is a very useful feature so that the volume can be adjusted from the listening position rather than the rear of the units, this makes small tweaks very quick and fast.
The rear panel has a pair of ¼” jack inputs and a pair of unbalanced RCA connectors as well as the option to pick which side the powered speaker is on. This is a great option if you need to sit your powered speaker quite close to a power outlet, you don’t have to run long runs of power cabling.
Behringer Truth B2030A
The B2030A from Behringer is a set of speakers designed with balancing price and features into a loud package. Putting out 125w of power, the B2030A are certainly louder than you’d ever need, which is never a bad thing when it comes to having plenty of headroom.
These speakers work all the way from 50Hz up to 21kHz meaning all your sub-bass notes and kick drum hits will thump with enough power to satisfy even the most bass hungry studio goers.
The main driver is 6 ¾” in size and described as “long throw” to maximise the signal dispersion around the room. No matter how close or far you sit to these speakers, they will sound the way that Behringer intend. There is a tweeter covering the high end which is ferrofluid cooled for efficiency in translating the top end clearly.
These monitors have a wide “sweet spot” and plenty of options on the rear panel for tweaking LF and HF cuts along with a Room Compensation switch. Whatever your studio size or layout, there should be an option that allows you to make it work.
On the rear panel we have an XLR and ¼” jack input, but these are strategically placed under the rear amp in a vertical orientation meaning you won’t have any cables protruding from the rear. The dual front porting on these speakers, in conjunction with the clever cable arrangement means that you can position these closer to a back wall in tight studios and compensate with the range of switchable EQ options on the rear.
When buying studio monitors, be sure to pick a driver size suitable for your space. Most companies offer the same speakers with a range of driver sizes.
As you can see from the 10 monitors in this list, you can get a range of sizes and specifications for a modest budget. When buying monitors consider your needs in terms of volume, frequency response and budget. Don’t buy the biggest speaker just because it’s the biggest. Think about your room and what you want the monitors to do for you.
Large monitors are wasted in tiny rooms, and likewise if your studio is huge you won’t get very good results with a pair of 3” drivers trying to fill the room.