Not all speakers are created equal, especially if you’re working in a studio.
While there are plenty of decent speakers out there for home audio and gaming, you’ll want to use dedicated speakers for your studio setup. Whether you’re recording vocals, editing video or tracking an instrument, studio monitors let you hear sound in its most natural, unfiltered state.
Studio Monitors vs. Speakers
Home stereo speakers are often designed to boost or enhance audio levels, say, by upping the bass or bringing out richer tones in the mids and highs. Studio monitors, however, are designed to not enhance sound at all, keeping all frequencies flat. What you get: purer, cleaner sound for more accurate mixing.
While home stereo or hi-fi speakers are often referred to as “passive” speakers (meaning they require an external amplifier), studio monitors are “active” or “powered” speakers, which means the power amplifier is built into the speaker cabinet directly. Since the amp and speaker are specifically built to work together, you’re less likely to blow out your speakers. All the crossover components (including the amps, drivers, and speaker enclosures) also come together, making studio monitors a better pick for consistent, reliable sound.
One last distinction: most home speakers are designed to blast sound throughout the room. Studio monitors, however, are more subtle, designed to only project sound a short distance, to prevent anything in the room from muddying up any frequencies.
What You Need to Know Before Buying a Studio Monitor
When shopping for studio monitors, the two main things to consider are size and sound. Unless you’re recording in a huge studio with a ton of musicians and moving parts, you won’t need super large speakers.
Engineers also use the terms “near-field,” “mid-field,” or “far-field” to describe studio monitors. This refers to the listening configuration a monitor is designed for. Near-field monitors are used in smaller speakers, which can be easily moved around so that the sound is directed straight at you, for a more immediate and intimate experience. Like their name suggests, far-field monitors optimize sound to travel over a farther distance. That’s great for larger rooms, where you have more space for your speakers.
The second thing to consider is sound. The best studio monitors will replicate audio in its more natural state. While it’s impossible to completely cut out distortion, look for the THD (total harmonic distortion) reading, which lets you know how cleanly a monitor can reproduce whatever audio you feed it. The lower the THD specs, the better.
Frequency range is also a good measure of sound reproduction, and most of our options have a frequency response of at least 50Hz-20kHz. However, this number just tells you the highest and lowest frequencies the monitor can handle — it doesn’t tell you how those clean these frequencies will sound.
While professional musicians and sound engineers will want to invest in true studio monitors, we’ve rounded up some accessible units that deliver accurate sound and versatile performance, whether used as studio monitors or just as an upgrade for your home, office or den.
1. PreSonus Eris E4.5 2-Way Powered Studio Monitors
We like these two-way professional studio monitors from Eris, which get a great frequency range of 70 Hz – 20 kHz. Quality built-in components include Kevlar low frequency transducers, low-mass silk-dome tweeters and 50 watt Class AB amplification. Mid and high-range is clean, and bass is surprisingly punchy.
The unit also includes protection from radio frequency (RF) interference, which can affect the consistency and quality of your sound. Built-in controls let you adjust the monitors to better match your mixing environment, so audio is more accurate.
PROS: Small, lightweight speakers that pack a punch.
CONS: These are rear-ported speakers and some prefer front-ported speakers for more versatility.
2. Edifier R1700BT Bluetooth Bookshelf Speakers
If you want something that’s easy to pair and easy to use, consider picking up this popular set of active near-field monitors from Edifier.
This set of speakers works great for music listening or for a small production and recording studio, but it’s also great to keep on your desk or shelf for gaming or watching TV.
The speakers deliver clean, undistorted audio with surprisingly strong sound imaging. Built-in Digital Signal Processing (DSP) and Dynamic Range Control (DRC) help to prevent distortion.
Adjust the settings using the audio dials on the side to create your desired mix. Edifier says the front facing bass reflex port helps to amplify low frequencies, giving the bass more power. Frequency range is 60Hz – 20KHz.
What we like: use Bluetooth to connect your phone, tablet or computer to the speakers. Two AUX inputs let you connect two devices at the same time.
This set includes a 4-foot RCA to RCA cable, 4-foot 3.5mm to RCA cable, 16-foot speaker cable and a remote control.
PROS: The MDF wood build is sturdy and stylish.
CONS: Some say the Bluetooth connection isn’t that strong, so your device has to be within a few feet for the Bluetooth to work.
3. Edifier R1280T Powered Bookshelf Speakers
Whether on the bookshelf, a desk or as part of a studio setup, these powered near-field monitors get you sound that is focused, consistent and true to life. The faithful sound reproduction means you’re hearing music as artists intended.
Connect these speakers with a turntable, your computer or portable device, then personalize the sound with the bass, treble and volume dials on the side. This set includes all the connecting cables you need, along with a mini remote control.
The MDF wood is sturdy and blends easily with any decor style. The speakers come with the grill on but you can remove them for a more vintage-style look.
PROS: Well-balanced sound that’s surprisingly full and vibrant.
CONS: No Bluetooth connection. The speakers could take a little while to “break in.”
4. Yamaha NS-6490 3-Way Speakers
We like these chic and elegant speakers for casual home listening, or as part of a 7.1-channel surround sound system. Producers like keeping a pair of these speakers in the studio too, thanks to their ability to reproduce audio accurately. You’ll hear music that’s more faithful to the way it was originally recorded.
The three-way speaker delivers 140 watts of power, with room-filling, high-fidelity sound. The speaker has three drivers inside: an eight-inch woofer, four-inch midrange and a 0.75-inch dome tweeter. The components all work together to provide a larger frequency response and wider soundstage. Sound is crisp even at high volumes.
PROS: Clean, streamlined, minimalist look. Magnetically shielded to fit into a larger home theater or home audio setup.
CONS: At 25 inches tall and almost 30 pounds, this might be too large and heavy for some.