There’s a common misconception that studio monitors are the “next level up” from high-quality home theater speakers. After all, if they’re the best speakers to use when creating music, they should be the best for listening to it, right?
Not exactly. The reason that’s a misconception is that the musician or engineer editing or mastering a track is listening for very different things than the “end user.” Studio monitors are designed for accuracy. The person working in a studio needs to hear precise and detailed sound – the good and the bad – in order to create the right mix of audio elements. The person listening in a home theater is much more interested in hearing great sound, usually in a much larger environment than a studio. In most cases the latter would rather that their audio system and speakers hide any imperfections or emphasize their preferences (such as booming lows), while the former needs to hear completely transparent audio.
That doesn’t mean studio monitors are always the wrong choice for home listening. Some audiophiles prefer to hear an album or track exactly the way it was recorded, and in that case they’d be well served by studio monitors. But hearing audio exactly as it was recorded can also mean an unpleasant listening experience. For example, the poor quality of MP3s burned at low bit rates, recordings that have been digitally clipped to boost “loudness” or CDs recorded by bad engineers can all have you reaching for the “off” switch when heard through studio monitors.
To put it simply, you don’t want studio monitors for your home theater unless you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. On the other hand, a high-quality set of monitors, positioned correctly, is mandatory for creating perfect mixes that will sound great once they’re released. Headphones are important too, but they won’t give you the real world feel of your music. You need the best studio monitors you can afford.
The good news is that home audio enthusiasts don’t have to pay the $10,000 or more that professional studios spend on monitors; it’s not even necessary to spend the $1,000+ that many home monitors go for, since many of the best studio monitors for home use sell for under $500. That’s the sweet spot for most home studios and it’s where we’ve focused.
Studio monitors can be either passive (requiring an external amplifier) or active (with built-in amplifiers). Active units are now pretty much the standard for home studios, though, so that’s what you’ll find on our list of the best studio monitors.
And here we go.
The Best Studio Monitor Speakers Of 2019
We’re sure we don’t have to convince you that JBL makes excellent speakers, and at a price just below that of the PreSonus monitors we’ve just reviewed, we definitely like the LSR305s.
The primary argument for these monitors (other than price) is that the company uses much of the same technology that it developed for its more expensive models, like its Image Control waveguide for accuracy and Slipstream double-flared port for deep and accurate bass, along with long-throw five-inch woofers and one-inch damped Neodymium composite soft dome tweeters similar to those in much more expensive JBL studio models.
It’s a good argument. The LSR305 monitors produce clear, solid sound which doesn’t have quite the same punch or perfect mid and lows as the very best studio monitors, but is much more than sufficient when accuracy is your goal. You can fine tune the highs and lows as well as the speaker levels; there are just the two balanced input jacks without an unbalanced RCA option.
We’d personally go with one of the higher-ranked options on our list, but these JBLs are definitely worth a look.
These are also big monitors, although not quite as big as the Mackies (15 inches tall instead of 17), and they’re also the latest version of a long-time standard, the Yamaha HS80. The HS80 and its cousin the HS50, were very good. The HS8 is better.
The eight-inch cone woofer with built-in limiter and the one-inch dome tweeter (with a new thick but shallow waveguide) have been redesigned to provide even more clarity and accuracy, with less vibration, than on Yamaha’s predecessor monitors. The rounded MDF low-resonance cabinet is also designed nicely, with a rear-firing port to greatly reduce noise. Overall the audio is true and easy to listen to, with only real drawback being the response range of the lows; you’ll find most of that problem goes away when you use the “room control” attenuation switch (similar to the Mackie’s acoustic space switch) to adjust the speakers to the size of your studio. There’s also a “high trim” switch to do the same for the high frequencies. A variable level knob completes the controls.
One negative for the HS8s is that they only accommodate two input types, balanced XLR or ¼” TRS. On the flip side, they sell for several hundred dollars less (per speaker) than the HR824mk2. Are they the best studio monitors you can buy without spending several thousand dollars? No, that’s why they come in at #3 on our list – but they’re close to our top two choices. There are also smaller and less-expensive version of these speakers, with 5” or 6.5” woofers, by the way.
KRK is revered by many in the recording industry for its outstanding monitors, and we’d guess that a majority of home studios feature the company’s Rokit powered speakers distinguished by their sunshine yellow woofers, their terrific performance – and their very attractive, entry-level pricing around $300 for a pair. That’s a nice neighborhood indeed, and although we have four other outstanding entries on our list, these KRKs move to the top because they combine performance with extreme affordability.
Rokit Generation 2 monitors have been a long-time favorite in home studios, and the G3 models have taken the line to an entirely new level. The 5-inch glass/Aramid composite woofers and one-inch soft dome tweeter are still the same, but the waveguide, front-firing bass port and cabinet have all been redesigned to allow more flexibility in positioning and reduce distortion, while providing greater frequency response, more power and tighter sound. One common issue with studio monitors is bass but on the Rokit G3s the lows are full and clear, surprisingly so for such small speakers. The mids and highs are true and distinct, with great separation and range (up to 35 kHz). Studio monitors must be accurate, and these KRKs are.
The Rokit G3s give you good control over output, allowing you to adjust the high- and low-frequencies up and down by 1-2dB, and adjust volume from -30dB to +6dB. And you have your choice of three input connectors: balanced ¼” TRS, balanced XLR or unbalanced RCA. The design of the MDF cabinet is sleek and good-looking, the price is definitely right, and the sound is definitely eye-opening for a small pair of studio monitors. You won’t find better studio monitors without spending a lot more money (and if you want to do that, we recommend checking out the next entry on our list as well as KRK’s RP103G3 3-way monitors, which are much bigger and cost several hundred dollars more.
Mackie’s HR studio monitors have become extremely popular but have also been somewhat controversial. Some owners absolutely love them, while others find their bass performance to be too overpowering, artificial or simply annoying. That’s largely due to the internal passive radiator at the back of the cabinet which provides strong bass response; it can cause serious issues at the low end if the monitors are improperly located in a room. Make no mistake, though – even though the HR824mk2 can be a bit finicky its clarity, balance and accuracy is just plain great, and when everything’s set up “right” the bass is clean and powerful.
These monitors feature an 8.75-inch die-cast magnesium cone woofer with a 1.6-inch voice coil, and a ferrofluid-cooled, one-inch titanium dome tweeter with a neodymium magnet in a polymer suspension, with a waveguide that does a nice job cutting down on reflected sound and creating a very large sweet spot. The best way to describe the overall sound of these Mackies is smooth and transparent, with the detail of the lows and mids standing out more than the highs (which suffer a bit from the disappointing upper end of their frequency range, 20 kHz).
User control is impressive with balanced XLR or ¼ inch TRS and unbalanced RCA inputs, a dial for input sensitivity, a high-end -2dB/+2dB switch, an acoustic space switch letting you set the bass to whole space, half space or quarter space to accommodate the size of your room, and yet another switch that allows settings for low-frequency roll-off. The glossy MDF cabinets are well-constructed both for looks and acoustic performance.
The HR824mk2 speakers are the largest and priciest in our rankings of best studio monitors; they stand 17 inches tall which may be too large for some setups, and they sell for well over $500 apiece. But at 250 watts and with commendable accuracy, they’re a great choice for those with a big budget.
Details for the Mackie HR824mk2 2-Way Studio Monitor:
We know that many who are shopping for their first home studio can’t afford $1000 or even $600 for a pair of monitors, which is why we finish our list with two choices that come in substantially below that level. The Eris E5 speakers will only run you a few hundred bucks for a pair, but they’re surprisingly good.
They have 5.25-inch Kevlar woofers and one-inch silk dome tweeters, internal braces in the MDF cabinets to help with resonance issues, nice customization options (there is a midrange tuning control in addition to one for the highs, plus an acoustic space switch and a bass cutoff control) and the normal three input options (balanced XLR or 1/4” TRS, unbalanced RCA). More importantly, they produce the type of sound you’d expect from higher-end monitors: good imaging, detailed and clear mids and highs, and smooth, accurate bass.
They don’t sound “enormous” and their frequency range isn’t the best, but for a small and lightweight pair of studio monitors, the PreSonus speakers are impressive.