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Recording and mixing in the home studio has become increasingly achievable.
As technology improves, the cost of good quality equipment is dropping. This is great news for the home enthusiast. You're now able to spend your hard earned money on gear instead of renting out studio time.
This post has been updated for 2019. A few new additions have been added and few have been cut. Enjoy!
We know that buying studio monitors is a significant investment for many home enthusiast, which is why we put together this article to help you find the best studio monitors without spending your life savings.
Studio monitors (sometimes called near field monitors) are essential to recording and mixing. If you are going to invest in one category of gear, you won't regret buying quality monitors.
You most likely already have a good idea of why you need studio monitors, but just to make sure everyone is on the same page, we'll spend a brief amount of time discussing why you need studio monitors and what to look for.
It may look like a daunting task with so many monitors out there, but it doesn't have to be difficult. A bit of knowledge about the features each monitor has can make the decision much easier. Let's get started!
Considerations For Choosing The Right Studio Monitors
So why do you need studio monitors?
Many of you may think you can get away with just mixing using your headphones.
This is a mistake.
While it's always good to use second references such as a car or home stereo as a second opinion, a set of monitors you can trust to translate the mixing and recording decisions you make is one of the most important parts of the recording chain.
There is, however, the opposing argument. The room in which you are listening to your speakers will play a huge role in the quality of sound you are hearing. Some people suggest there isn't really a point in having expensive studio monitors used in an untreated room.
My opinion is that it is always better to have studio monitors if possible. It can be tiresome to mix on headphones for hours and using studio monitors will allow you to get as precise a sound as possible.
The best route is to have both studio monitors, and mixing headphones so you can A/B your mixes.
As you grow as a home producer, you'll begin to train your ear and appreciate the effects of 'sound coloring'. If you haven't spent much time in a studio, you'll have most likely been listening your music on consumer equipment.
This equipment is designed to enhance certain frequency ranges (bass, and treble) that are considered to make the music sound better to the average listener. This equipment is designed to play music that has been mixed in studio monitors.
Studio monitors are designed for another purpose then home stereos. That purpose is accuracy.
Studio monitors are designed to give you a 'flat' frequency response without changing the sound you have recorded. In other words, providing you with the most accurate representation of your mix.
When you first plug in your studio monitors, you may feel disappointed with the sound that is being produced. This is because your ears are accustom to the colored frequency of consumer equipment.
As you train your ears to using a 'flat' response, when you listen you your track on a colored system you will be pleasantly surprised at the result. If you are able to get the mix sounding good on your studio monitors, it will sound fantastic on everything else.
I highly recommend not using your studio monitors for anything other than studio work. If you decide to use them for a party, or a DJ gig, you will likely permantly damage your speakers.
Studio monitors aren't designed to be played a high volume for longer periods of time. They are primarily focused on accuracy, not power. If you need something a little more powerful you should be looking at a PA speakers.
What features you spend your money is important when you're making such a large investment. Here are some areas we think you should focus on:
- Driver Size
Driver size measures the diameter of the cone within the speaker. Make sure you chose the right monitors for your application. This includes not only the type and genre of music you are working on, but also the size of the room and distance from the listening position.
Working on hip-hop or electronic music? Look for a set of monitors with a larger woofer diameter. If you are working in a spare bedroom, large monitors may be unnecessary. You can easily determine the size of the woofer by paying attention to the studio monitor's model number ie. the Yamaha HS8 has an 8'' woofer.
Focus on the most common near field monitors available: active two-way monitors. The active part refers to the amplifier and crossover network that is built into the enclosure of the speaker.
The two-way refers to the two separate drives that handle the different frequency ranges. Typically, a tweeter for the high end and a woofer for the low.
The wattage of your monitors will give you a good idea of the amount of punch your speakers will be able to put out. The higher the watts, the more volume and headroom you'll have.
You'll want to have enough watts in your speaker to prevent and distortion or clipping. Every speaker on our list will have enough wattage to handle anything you can throw at it.
- Frequency Response
This needs to be flat. Without question. You don't want to be mixing on monitors that add any boasting anywhere on the frequency spectrum. The range over which your monitors will sit is dependent on the drive diameter.
Again, looking for bass heavy music? Getting a larger diameter woofer will lower the frequency range your monitors will put out.
Our Top Picks For The Best Near-field Monitors
1. Yamaha HS8
- High performance drivers and mounting system.8" cone woofer, 1" dome tweeter.Impressive 38Hz to 30kHz frequency response.
- Large magnets in an Advanced Magnetic Circuit design.Built-in bi-amplification: 75-watt LF, 45-watt HF
- Industry standard
- 8'' woofer with 1'' tweeter
- 38Hz - 30 kHz frequency response
- 120 Watt peak
- ROOM CONTROL and HIGH TRIM
Our top choice. The HS series from Yamaha is the industry standard. A quick search of the internet will show you the huge following these monitors command.
The reason for success: accuracy. These speakers are know the have one of the flattest frequency responses within the price range. The domination of the near field studio market began with the NS-10M and continues with the HS series.
The same philosophy of sonic purity without any coloring or alternation of the original source allows the HS8 to deliver a concise, high resolution sound image with a flat response.
Keep in mind that anything less than the 8'' will not give you the strongest bass response, which will be troublesome for hip-hop or electronic producers.
Yamaha packs in a bunch of additional features such as ROOM CONTROL and HIGH TRIM. The room control option will allow you to attenuate any unnatural low-end response you can get when the speaker is placed against a wall (similar to front porting the speaker).
The high trim gives you control of the high frequency response. You are able to input all the sources you'd expect (mixers, keyboards, audio interfaces) with XLR and TRS phone jacks.
One of the benefits of an active monitor is the amp is tailor made to suit the speaker. The HS series speakers employs an amp uni that is perfectly matched to the transducers of the drivers.
Bottom Line: These monitors are the heavyweight in the market. If you are looking for the best, the HS8 is what you want.
2. KRK RP8G3-NA Rokit 8
- 1-inch soft-dome tweeter provides clarity and extended response up to 35kHz
- 8-inch glass-aramid composite woofer delivers clear midrange and tight bass
- 8'' woofer with 1'' tweeter
- Waveguide technology for stereo imaging
- 35 Hz -35kHz frequency range
- Front ported
- 100 watt peak
Electronic music producer? Get these. The bass is extremely clear and punchy. They are used by artists such as Zeds Dead and Steve Aoki.
You've most definitely seen these in studios online. Take note there is some controversy surrounding these speakers.
They aren't exactly flat. This can be fine when you are making bass heavy music, but you want to avoid this at all cost for everything else. Perfect for an electronic music or hip-hop producer.
If you think you may need to buy a sub to go along with your speakers, these will be a good alternative.
You'll also notice these are front ported speakers. This prevents any build up of lower frequency when the speaker is placed against a wall. The LF and HF each have presets to help tune the speaker to the room you are mixing in. It also has a volume knob on the back for additional tweaking.
They have all the standard connectivity for a studio environment with an extended frequency range of 35kHz.
One complaint we've noticed is the large size. Make sure you have at least a 12'' width space for each speaker.
Bottom Line: Great speakers for creating electronic or hip-hop music.
3. JBL LSR305
- MkII series features next-generation JBL transducers, new Boundary EQ, and a sleek new design
- Updated HF and LF transducers: new design improvements result in optimized damping for superior transient response and impressive deep bass with lower harmonic distortion
- Very affordable
- 5'' woofer with 1'' HF driver
- 43 Hz - 24 kHz frequency range
- Class D amp with tons of headroom
- Image control waveguide
The best value for you dollar. The LSR305 punch out of their league and give you professional quality with the lowest price. Searching audiophile forums, you will inevitably run into JBL.
They have always been known for producing high quality speakers that are extremely reliable.
The LSR305s are lively and clean, while still giving you the flat frequency response you need. The sound profile is due to the image control waveguide. First developed for the flagship M2, the waveguide precisely controls the sound emanating from the speaker in both the vertical and horizontal plane. This ensures an accurate and neutral listening position.
These speakers have been well received all over the internet. Their power to fill a room with great clarity and provide sound without inflated lows make them the perfect studio monitor. They are one of the most reviewed monitors on Amazon with a high rating.
They have used a massive amount of JBL experience to manufacture these speakers - one of the main factors enabling them to produce such a quality speaker at a reasonable price.
This includes in house LSR design, enabling the speaker to provide superior accuracy in any room shape. Additionally, the are made with the legendary JBL damped woven composite Neodymium transducers - known for delivering deep bass and smooth high frequency.
Bottom line: If you are on a tight budget and can't afford the HS8, get these. It's hard to find anyone who speaks poorly (except about the questionable appearance) about the LSR305s. They'll give you the studio quality sound you need to get your mixes sounding professional.