Recording and mixing music is becoming easier and easier to do in a home studio. One of the most important parts of building a home studio is purchasing a quality pair of studio monitors.
Given the fact that this article is for those building a home studio, we’ll assume that you don’t want to spend thousands of dollars. Contrary to what some might think, however, there are plenty of excellent studio monitors available for less than $1,000 for a pair.
- What are Studio Monitors, and Why Do You Need Them?
- What You Need to Know Before Buying Monitors
- How Were The Winners Determined?
- What Are the 5 Best Studio Monitors?
- Honorable Mentions
What are Studio Monitors, and Why Do You Need Them?
Chances are you arrived at this guide already knowing what a studio monitor is and does, but just in case you have any confusion and/or need a refresher, here we go -
While the layperson might think of a “monitor” as a display you hook up to your computer, in the pro audio world a monitor is actually a speaker; It’s a special type of speaker, purposefully designed for the critical listening that is required during music production.
Essentially, the job of a studio monitor is to let you hear your source audio in its rawest, purest, most uncolored and transparent form. What exactly does uncolored and transparent mean? To grasp this concept, think about the two main groups of people buying speakers. Out of 100 people, 98 of them are not musicians (or at least don’t record music) - they simply listen to it. This group of people buys consumer speakers, that artificially boost certain frequencies and use other tricks to make music sound better (usually the bass and treble are boosted, which we typically perceive as making music sound better).
The remaining 2 people are the ones recording and producing the music that the other 98 are listening to. So, they need professional speakers that tell the truth - this means the frequency response has to be flat, i.e. no artificial boosting or cutting of any frequencies. The idea is that if a music producer can get a mix sounding great on some pro studio monitors, when it’s played out on any other sound system, it will sound good.
It’s kind of a funny phenomenon - when you buy and plug in your first pair of studio monitors, the music coming through them initially sounds worse! That’s because your ears aren’t used to hearing things so honestly. All of your other bookshelf speakers, car speakers, iPhone earbuds, etc. were sort of “lying” to you and making music sound artificially better. The cool thing about this is that once your ears acclimate and your studio monitors become the norm, you’ll hear music in a completely different (and better) way.
Buying good studio monitors is especially important for those who intend to mix at home. While you might be able to get away with tracking or laying down the foundation of your music using headphones, getting an accurate frequency response during the mixing process is key to achieving a good mix.
It’s important to note that buying monitors is not the only step needed in accurately monitoring music - treating a room is also an important step. A bad sounding room can make great monitors sound bad, but that's a deep enough subject that it deserves its own article.
What You Need to Know Before Buying Studio Monitors
Studio monitors are a very important purchase, and they can be pricey. Sure, you can spend as little as $99 for a pair of Mackie CR3, but you need to ask yourself, “Am I really making the best choice per my budget and needs?” To answer that, it’s important that you get educated on some terminology, and the various features and tradeoffs different monitors have. Trust us, if you read through the following considerations, you’ll be much more informed and confident in shopping for the best studio monitors for you.
Passive vs. active: One of the biggest things to consider is if you want passive or active monitors. Passive - or unpowered - monitors are just speakers, and you have to buy a separate amp to power them. Active monitors - or powered - have an amplifier built into them, so you don’t need to buy anything else. Neither solution is objectively better, but active monitors provide the advantage of convenience and peace of mind. It’s already hard enough selecting a good pair of monitors without having to also think of what amplifier would go well with them. With an active monitor, you are assured that the manufacturer specifically matched up the internal amp with the speaker, leading to the best performance.
Speaker size: Often, a studio monitor’s model number is based on the size of the woofer, which is measured in inches. The JBL LSR30*5* has a 5” woofer, the JBL LSR30*8* has an 8” woofer... you get the idea. The size of the woofer is very important as it not only dictates the physical dimensions of the entire monitor (the larger the woofer the bigger the whole speaker needs to be), but most importantly the bass response. Simply put, bigger woofers can produce better, deeper bass. A monitor with an 8” woofer will output significantly more bass than a 5”. If you produce music in bass-heavy genres, getting the biggest woofer you can would be something to consider. Another option is to start off with 5” or 6” speakers, and later on add a subwoofer. Just to illustrate this scenario, you could opt for a pair of KRK ROKIT 5 monitors, then later you can add on the KRK 10s subwoofer for some serious bass.
Physical size and weight: We hinted at this when talking about the size of the woofer, but monitors with larger speakers are generally bigger and heavier. A studio monitor is meant to have a fixed spot in a home or project studio, so it’s not so much a matter of portability as it is the space you have available. Make sure to pay attention to the dimensions - imagine your shiny new monitors arriving at your doorstep, only to realize your studio desk is not big enough (the first time we took home a pair of KRK ROKIT 8s we were surprised at how much desk space they took up). One option if you’re short on space is to place your monitors on speaker stands. Also, be aware that most studio monitors are not light. A single KRK ROKIT 6 speaker weighs 18.5 lbs!
Watts: A studio monitor’s power rating is measured in watts - the higher the watts, the more volume and headroom you’ll have, which is important since without ample wattage, transients in your music could cause distortion or clipping. All of the studio monitors we recommend have ample wattage per their speaker size - at the very least enough for home studio use. We suggest you worry about speaker size above all - but watts is still a good spec to be aware of.
Frequency response: The average human hearing range spans from 20Hz-20kHz. Monitors will specify their frequency range, which can look something like 35Hz-35kHz or 37Hz-24kHz (just to give a couple random samples). A low end of 35Hz means that bass frequencies below 35Hz will not be handled by that specific monitor speaker. Most importantly, their sound signature needs to be flat - after all, that’s what makes a studio monitor a studio monitor. This is where you have to be careful of marketing speak, as they will all claim to be flat and transparent, but the real story might look a little different.
Budget: Ideally, studio monitors are something you don’t want to skimp on. It’s arguably better to not get cheap monitors that don’t do their job well just for the sake of having monitors; You get what you pay for. Also keep in mind you need to buy a pair, and they are often sold separately, which can be a little confusing. Around $150 for each speaker (so $300 total) is where you’ll start finding some very reputable and solid options. It’s also worth into looking if retailers offer a discount for buying a pair, as opposed to 2 individual speakers separately (we’ve seen Amazon do this).
How Were The Winners Determined?
Of course when it comes to music gear, there is objectively no such thing as the best. Studio monitors might sound great for one person, and horrible for the next. Having said that, there are certainly monitors that are more conducive to mixing music. In order to come up with this mix we searched the web high and low for recommendations, and then tallied the results. Our main sources for recommendations came from the likes of Gearslutz and reddit subreddits like /r/AudioEngineering and /r/WeAreTheMusicMakers. Finally, we also looked at recommendations in our own Equipboard community. Using these resources we counted only votes from people with first hand experience. In other words, we did not count anyone who said something along the lines of “I heard from a friend…” or “ So-and-so studio uses…”
Best Studio Monitors
So, without further ado, here are our results!
1. Yamaha HS8
Woofer Size: 8”
Frequency Range: 38Hz-30kHz
Total Power: 180W
Yamaha has long been hailed as an industry leader when it comes to monitoring, and the Yamaha HS8 powered studio monitors illustrate why. The HS8 is an update to the well-respected HS80 monitor, and many suggest that they are among the flattest and most accurate speakers in this price range. That’s particularly great for those who need monitors for mixing.
Unlike other, smaller monitors, because of the 8” woofer the HS8 is accurate when it comes to bass response; expect bass reproduction to be tight and focused. Investing in an 8” speaker means that you might not necessarily need a subwoofer - although you might still want one if you’re going to mix particularly bass-heavy music (Yamaha’s HS8S Subwoofer is a perfect complement).
On the rear panel, aside from the things you would expect in a quality monitor (level knob, XLR and ¼” input, both balanced), you also have ROOM CONTROL and HIGH TRIM switches. Room Control is used so that you can compensate for bass that builds up if you place the monitor near a wall (which is an issue many small studios have to deal with). High Trim lets you boost or cut 2 dB above 2 kHz if you need to. Having these options is great to be able to dial in a good balance, since we can’t all place these perfectly in an acoustically-treated room. And speaking of placement, definitely keep their size in mind, as each speaker has a rather large footprint of 9.8” x 13.1”.
Bottom Line: The bottom line is that these are not only a great value when it comes to 8” speakers; around - and even above - their price range you’ll be hard pressed to find a near-field monitor that provides this much clarity and detail with an honest and flat response. You would seriously need to spend 2-3 times as much before you had a tangible improvement. With the HS8 you will be able to hear details in your mixes you never even knew were there, and the majority of users say if you get your mix sounding great on these, it’ll sound great everywhere. If you’re deciding between these and KRK Rokit 8 monitors, while the Rokits are good monitors in their own right and favored by electronic music producers (we review them later in this guide), there’s no denying the HS8s are better for music production and mixing since they’re more honest. The HS8 has tight-yet-accurate bass reproduction (the KRK Rokit is known to be bass-heavy), crystal-clear mids, and the high-end detail is just superb. On top of all that, these monitors look great, and are very good for casual listening as well. Best of the Best.
- “Excellent overall response, great monitors all around.”
- “Don’t even hesitate, pull the trigger.”
- “My mixes really really improved moving to them from some budget Alesis units.”
- “[Get] Yamaha HS8's, no question. And create a treated room.”
2. Equator D5
Woofer Size: 5.25”
Frequency Range: 53Hz-20kHz
Total Power: 100W
Of the brands featured in this guide to the best studio monitors, Equator is definitely the most boutique. The company founder previously founded Event Electronics, makers of the popular Event 20/20 monitors. He took his extensive experience into Equator and set out to make studio monitors that are technically and acoustically superior to the competition.
The Equator D5 strikes a delicate balance of being a fantastic studio monitor offered at a fantastic price, and has been making waves in professional audio settings. Their magic lies in an internal DSP, whose details we’ll leave you to read on Equator’s website. The mid-range is particularly detailed, as Equator themselves discuss:
“...delivers a detailed mid-range that allows for clarity in that complex 900Hz - 3 kHz range. Guitars, voices, strings, horns, & reverb trails are very clearly and accurately portrayed and any mid-range anomalies in the source material can be easily determined and addressed.”
They look great and have a very solid build quality. On the back panel you’ll find a level control, balanced XLR and ¼” jacks, and a BOUNDARY 3-way toggle which lets you tailor the bass response depending on how you position the monitors - corner, wall and free-standing. In terms of footprint it’s a fairly compact 7” x 8.5”.
Bottom Line: A pair of Equator D5s costs less than Yamaha HS8s, and given their budget friendly price it almost seems implausible that they’re as good as everyone says they are. Well, after hours of research and testing them for ourselves, we too can support the claims. They have a flat response, the stereo separation and soundstage are superb, the bass is punchy, the mid-range is best-in-class (as we mentioned), and the highs are clear and detailed. Considering the Equator D5s are in the “budget-minded” tier, it’s remarkable how impressive they sound. The only downside we can see is that they don’t fill out that low-end as well as an 8” woofer would - you can mix bass with confidence on these, you just won’t really be able to feel it as much, making a subwoofer a possible consideration.
- “The speakers have fantastic clarity and frequency response for their price point.”
- “The Equator D5's will be too small for EDM, if you want those, you'll have to get a sub.”
- “I demoed both [Yamaha HS50M and Equator D5] and went with the Equator D5s. It's a year later and I still love them.”
- “They translate very well to other systems, and have good clarity.”
- “If you're looking for that perfect set of small footprint monitors to add to your room OR as your main set of speakers then you need to give these a try.”
3. JBL LSR305
Woofer Size: 5”
Frequency Range: 43Hz-24kHz
Total Power: 82W
Without a doubt, the JBL LSR305 is the highest recommended studio monitor in “budget” territory. The word “budget” is oftentimes not synonymous with quality, but that could not be less true in this case. These studio monitors are very highly praised for good reason - for around $300 for a pair, the quality/price ratio is unmatched. The JBL LSR305 deliver a flat frequency response, with very punchy and accurate bass despite a 5” woofer, and clear highs
If you’re a budding producer or mixing engineer, being able to get such a high quality, honest, and flat set of monitors for relatively little cash is key, and will take the quality of your productions to the next level. While the 5” speaker is on the smaller end, it’s an advantage if using them in a relatively small room. If the low end doesn’t cut it for you, that can definitely be remedied with a subwoofer like the JBL LSR310S, though even without a subwoofer the low end is represented accurately, so you should be able to mix your bass-heavy productions no problem.
The rear panel features some handy controls: XLR and ¼” balanced jacks, Volume knob, Input Sensitivity switchable between +4dBu and -10dBV, and 2dB cuts or boosts for low frequency trim and high frequency trim. For 5” speakers they have a pretty average footprint, 7.28” x 9.88”, and a single LSR305 speaker weighs in at 10.12 lbs. Aesthetically they are a bit of an acquired taste - they are not outright unattractive, but do have a little bit of a cheap “90s” look. Don’t worry, as the build quality is just fine, which matters more than looks.
Who else likes them? Everywhere you look, these studio monitors are a hit. Over 240 Amazon reviews with an average of 4.5/5 stars, and over 150 reviews on Sweetwater, also with a 4.5/5 star rating. Sound On Sound magazine gives the pro studio perspective, saying, “The LSR305s offer great clarity and sound adequately solid without the deep lows playing havoc when working in a small or acoustically unsympathetic room.” WIRED reviews these with a slightly more consumer angle and rates them 8/10, saying, “Mucho bang for the buck. Small footprint on shelf or desktop. Great versatility. Performance was top-notch regardless of how or where we used them.”
Bottom Line: We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: for the price, the JBL LSR305 studio monitors are a gem. They are the lowest priced monitors on our top 5 best-of list, and for a truly good set of studio monitors we strongly recommend you don’t go below this. There are some $100-per-pair entry level speakers out there, but they will absolutely not be of this caliber when it comes to helping you produce and mix. They are definitely clinical, so maybe not the best for casual listening and entertainment purposes, but be sure they will help you find flaws in your mixes throughout the frequency spectrum. Surprisingly, we read numerous reviews on Amazon and other places of people being very happy with them for non-pro use, so your milage may vary. Overall, these are a no brainer for the award of Best Bang for your Buck.
- “The mids and the highs have great clarity.”
- “I think the LSR305s are a game changer.”
- “IMHO a huge bang for the buck.”
- “The 305's just translate big time.”
- “nice flat response, and low distortion compared to similarly priced monitors. I listened to them and the more expensive equator D5s in my home studio, i ended up sending them back because I liked the D5's stereo image clarity better. In most other ways they were equally good sounding.”
- “They have a better EQ curve IMO than Rokits or Yamahas, which are its main competitors. The bass is good, and if you ever add the sub it makes an insanely competent set of monitors”
4. Yamaha HS5
Woofer Size: 5”
Frequency Range: 54Hz-30kHz
Total Power: 70W
If you like the like the thought of Yamaha’s HS8 monitors but can’t quite spend $700 on speakers, you’re in luck. From the same line of studio monitors comes the Yamaha HS5, which gets nearly as much praise as its 8” big brother.
In the 5” speaker range, there are a lot of options to consider, and finding the best ones can be an exercise in frustration... which is likely why you’re here reading this guide! For this speaker size and price range, chances are you’re evaluating Equator D5, JBL LSR305 (both of which we recommend here), KRK Rokit 5, and possibly even M-Audio BX5 and PreSonus Eris E5. While none of these are outright bad choices, all of them have strengths and weaknesses. The Equator D5 wins for mid-range detail and stereo image, while the JBL LSR305 is our best value pick. The Yamaha HS5 shines when it comes to having the flattest sound signature of them all. You want an honest pair of monitors? You got it. The HS8 is able to extend the low end further due to the 8” woofer, but the 5” limitation in the HS5 might even make this speaker more honest as the bass is a little more focused and punchy, and less boomy (though that can be an issue with the room size and setup). This review sums it up nicely:
“I was looking for a transparent pair of monitors that you could be brutally honest with my mixes, and boy, was it a rude awakening when I brought them home. I had to put on some reference tracks to make sure it wasn't just the speakers that sounded weird, but no, it was my mixes. They are great.”
The rear of the speaker offers the same controls as the HS8 (balanced inputs, level, room control, high trim), and the footprint is a very nice and compact 6.7” x 8.7”, with a single speaker weighing 11.7 lbs. As we mentioned in our review of the JBL LSR305, taking care to match the speaker size to your room size, the Yamaha HS5 might be a better fit for smaller rooms and studio spaces.
Bottom Line: With any studio monitor, if more bass is needed the natural solution is to add a matching subwoofer to your setup. This is especially true with the Yamaha HS5. You could start off with these, and because of how punchy, clear, and downright honest they are the quality of your mixes will only improve. Eventually, add the Yamaha HS8S Subwoofer, and you’ve got a setup that can last you the rest of your music production life.
- “Hs5's with the Yamaha sub woofer...Magic!”
- “The HS5s are great but you aren’t gonna get low/sub bass. They are however, detailed IMO.”
- “The Hs5's are great for a second reference monitor or with the Yamaha sub, great for hearing all the frequency's.”
- “I have the Yamaha Hs5 they are honest.”
5. KRK Rokit 8
Woofer Size: 8”
Frequency Range: 35Hz-35kHz
Total Power: 100W
Ah yes, the well known KRK Rokit series. It’s great to have another 8” speaker option on this list, and due of their popularity it’s hard to find a “best studio monitor” rundown without KRK making an appearance. The entire Rokit lineup is very popular, which includes the 5” speaker model, 6” speaker model, and even a 10” model. Here’s we’re focusing on the 8” KRK Rokit 8.
This studio monitor is polarizing. Discussions involving it typically go like this:
“I love my KRK Rokits”
“Yeah, but they’re not flat at all”
The critique is definitely valid - KRK Rokit 8s have more of a “V-shaped” sound signature than the other studio monitors on this list, meaning that the bass and highs are boosted. This is not exactly ideal if your aim is to have the flattest, most honest monitors possible. A lot of people seem to not be able to look past this, but in our opinion that’s a mistake. The thing is, these monitors do sound good. If more bass response is what you want and you’re not interested in a separate subwoofer, these are the monitors for you. Also, they are easily the most used studio monitors by pro electronic music producers, and if they can work with them, you will be able to also (the star-studded lineup of pro users includes Afrojack, Wolfgang Gartner, Mat Zo, Steve Aoki, Zeds Dead, Ummet Ozcan, and countless more). After all, with any studio monitor (and studio headphones for that matter), you’ll need to get to know them and their quirks. Most owners of the KRK Rokit 8s are fully aware of their sound coloration, and are able to nail down some good mixes regardless.
With their all-black finish and bright yellow cone, KRK makes some of the most distinctive looking speakers around. Be aware that these speakers are big - the footprint is 10.8” x 15.6”, and just a single speaker weighs a whopping 24.6 lbs. The rear of the speaker has balanced XLR and ¼” inputs, and unlike the other studio monitors on our list they include an unbalanced RCA input. You’ve got a volume knob, a high frequency level adjust with 4 settings (-2dB to +1dB), and a low frequency level adjust, also with 4 settings (-2dB to +2dB).
Bottom Line: KRK has been a very popular choice over the past few years for pros and beginners alike, and with good reason - their monitors sound great. Unfortunately, the fact that they that don’t provide the flattest response means that - if you’re just starting out producing and mixing - your mixes might sound a little different out of the studio than in it. It’s really just a matter of getting used to these speakers. Outside of that, the build quality is great, and the silver lining of their bass and treble boost is that they are fantastic for casual listening.
- “If you’re a new producer who is tired of mixing on headphones and wants a well-built, faithful monitor that will help you make better music without breaking the bank, these might just be the monitors you’re looking for.”
- “I always found the Krk Rokit range to have a mushy and boomy sort of sound.”
- “KRKs are some of the most colored speakers out there.”
- “I have them and I love them. They are large, and if you dont have the proper space for them it does get a bit tricky -- they are definitely loud, with great range.”
- “I've got a pair, and they're fantastic.”
These monitors also got mentioned a fair bit, but did not make the top 5. Click on the name of the monitor for more information about it!
6. Yamaha NS10
7. Mackie MR5
8. KRK Rokit 5
9. KRK Rokit 6
10. JBL LSR308
11. M-Audio BX5a
Did your studio monitors make the cut?
We'd love to know - was this helpful? Want to drop some knowledge on any of the studio monitors in this list? Any other studio monitors you feel should be in the running? Did we mess up a product name, link, or price? Use the comments below to let us know!