Top 10 Studio Monitors for Music Production in 2021
Deciding upon a pair of studio monitors is an important choice for every music producer. Monitors form an essential part of any studio setup, so before you buy, it’s well worth taking the time to understand the various options available to help you to make an informed choice.
Studio monitors differ from regular hi-fi speakers in that they give a flat, neutral response. This is because they are specifically designed to enable you to listen critically to your tracks and make correct mix decisions. You should never mix with regular speakers as they will artificially colour the sound, and this will adversely affect your mix.
In this article I’ll give you an overview of what you need to lookout for when deciding upon which studio monitors to buy, followed by a rundown of the Top 10 Studio Monitors available in 2021. There is something in this list for every budget, so if you’re thinking of purchasing a new set of monitors then keep reading.
How to Choose The best Studio Monitors
Speaker Size vs Room Size
Studio monitor speakers come in a range of different sizes; however, the most typical range is around 5 to 8 inches. Unless your studio is in a large room such as a basement (typically greater than around 16 square meters) then you should be fine with 5-inch monitors. In fact, if you’re producing in a small space, then you may find that smaller speakers will give you more precise results.
Near Field vs Far Field
This is an easy decision. Far-field monitors are generally used in professional recording studios where space isn’t an issue, and the rooms are properly sound treated. Unless you are planning on listening to your monitors from several meters away and have great room acoustics, then near-field monitors are your best option here.
Active vs Passive
Quite simply, active monitors contain a built-in amplifier, whilst passive monitors need to be driven by an external amp. This makes active monitors easier to use without any complicated setup or additional gear. The downside of is that they are generally heavier and less portable. The advantage of passive monitors is that you can upgrade your amplifier and speakers separately without having to replace the whole system. For a simple home studio setup, you probably want to opt for active studio monitors for their simplicity of setup and price point. With this is mind, all the monitors I’ve recommended below are active rather than passive.
When reviewing monitor specs, make sure you take note of their frequency response range. Ideally you want monitors that will cover the sub range close to around 30Hz, right up to the highs of 15KHz or greater. In general, the wider the frequency range the better. Larger and more expensive monitors usually have wider frequency responses.
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t spend more than you can afford. Once you’ve worked out your budget you should do some research to see what monitors give you the best value for your money. And that’s where this article can help! Below I’ve compiled a list of the most impressive monitors for two budgets: One for under $500, and the other for under $1000. Let’s get started!
Best Studio Monitors under $500
PreSonus Eris E5
The PreSonus Eris E5 still stands as one of the best budget studio monitors available. At around $240 per pair, they represent incredible value for money. The E5s have an honest and clear sound, with an accurate flat response which lets you easily pin-point the details within your mix. The 5.25-inch Kevlar cone woofer and 1-inch silk cone tweeter produce highs and mids that are incredibly crisp and clear, with the overall frequency range spanning a decent 53Hz to 22Khz. Great for a small room setup, however if the depth of the bass is important to you (and you have the room size), then perhaps opt for the E8s instead.
Although the monitors are compact, they still pack a punch with a surprisingly loud SPL of 102dB. Additional extras include adjustable acoustic tuning, and various protective measures such as output limiting and over-temperature and transient protection. The PreSonus Eris E5 are a wonderful budget option for the small home studio that most people will be more than satisfied with.
Speaker Size: 5.25” woofer, 1” tweeter
Power: 45W and 35W Class-AB amplifier
Frequency Response: 53-22,000Hz
Inputs: XLR and jack (balanced) and RCA (unbalanced)
Dimensions: (W x D x H): 178 x 198 x 260mm
Weight: 4.63 kg
Key Features: Adjustable tuning, limiting, over-temperature and transient protection.
KRK Rokit 5 G4
KRK’s Rokit range of studio monitors are much loved in the world of music production. Now in their fourth generation, the distinctive black and yellow colour scheme has become somewhat iconic. Sleek and professional looking, this latest version now has Kevlar tweeters and woofers which increases sound clarity across all frequencies. A removable front panel can be swapped out for grille covers for added protection, and a front-firing port offers great low-end extension.
The outstanding feature of these monitors however is the rear LCD display and rotary encoder, which you can use to adjust the EQ to compensate for your acoustic environment. There is also a KRK audio tools app available, which can help you obtain the perfect room setup.
Speaker Size: 5” woofer, 1” tweeter
Power: 55W and 35W Class-D amplifier
Frequency Response: 43-40,000Hz
Inputs: Combo input XLR / 6.3 mm jack balanced
Dimensions: (W x D x H): 190 x 241 x 285mm
Weight: 4.85 kg
Key Features: LCD display, EQ presets, mobile app with room correction tools
JBL 305P MkII
The 305P MkII is another great affordable option. Most notably it features its own patented Image Control Waveguide. According to JBL this waveguide “makes the sweet spot where you’re getting perfect high-end and stereo imaging a much larger physical area”. A unique low frequency slipstream port also ensures that the speakers are giving maximum bass output regardless of the size of the speaker enclosure.
The back panel sports a three-position boundary EQ switch to compensate for placement of the speakers near a surface such as a desk or wall, and a HF trim control which allows you to adjust the high frequencies gain. The result of all this tech is a crisp high-end with excellent imaging, and a fantastic bottom end response. In summary, these are quality reference monitors at a great price point.
Speaker Size: 5” woofer, 1” tweeter
Power: 41W and 41W Class-D amplifier
Frequency Response: 49-20,000Hz
Inputs: Line input XLR and 6.3mm jack balanced
Dimensions: (W x D x H): 185 x 231 x 298 mm
Weight: 4.73 kg
Key Features: Boundary EQ, HF trim switch
Yamaha have been setting the standard in professional audio for many years, and the HS5 is certainly no exception. These well-built studio monitors come in two stylish colour options, either all-white, or black with a white speaker cone. The Yamaha logo also lights up when powered on, which looks great, especially when using late at night.
It’s not just style over substance however, as these monitors really perform. The clarity and detail in the high end is amazing, and the transient response is impressive. Like the JBL 305P, the HS5 also features bass room control and high frequency trim adjustments, to fine-tune the sound to your listening environment. The Yamaha HS5s are another solid option at a very reasonable price point.
Speaker Size: 5” woofer, 1” tweeter
Power: 45W and 25W (70W Bi-amp)
Frequency Response: 54-30,000Hz
Inputs: XLR input, balanced
Dimensions: (W x D x H): 170 x 222 x 285 mm
Weight: 5.3 kg
Key Features: Room Control, HF Trim
Kali Audio LP-6
Kali Audio are relative new kids on the block but are already causing waves in the studio monitor market. The LP-6 has received rave reviews since its launch in 2018, with reviewers noting their incredibly flat response, tight bass output, and low noise. These monitors are designed for either small or medium sized rooms, with enough punch to deliver 85dB of continuous output within the recommended listening distance.
The waveguide on the monitors ensures that “the directivity of the loudspeaker is smooth throughout its frequency response”, and the low noise front facing port allows them to be placed near to walls without adversely affecting the low-end. They also feature boundary EQ settings as well as both low and high frequency trim adjustment to ensure you get the best sound possible whatever room you are in. The price is incredible considering what you are getting for your money.
Speaker Size: 6.5” woofer, 1” tweeter
Power: 45W and 40W Class D Amplifier
Frequency Response: 39-25,000Hz
Inputs: XLR and ¼” balanced jack and unbalanced RCA
Dimensions: (W x D x H): 222 x 260 x 359 mm
Weight: 7.01 kg
Key Features: 3D imaging waveguide, dual-layer voice coil, low noise port tube
Best Studio Monitors under $1000
Adam Audio A5X
Your first impressions of the Adam A5X monitors will be their sleek design and obvious premium build quality. They are very compact, and this small footprint allows them to fit discretely into your studio setup. The monitor’s main stand out feature is Adam Audio’s proprietary X-ART tweeter, which consists of a pleated membrane which compresses or expands as an audio signal is applied. This design results in clear, precise and accurate sound reproduction even at lower volumes, and a superb stereo image.
The monitor also has front facing bass ports, that are great for small studio spaces where you are limited to placing your speakers close to a wall. Despite its small dimensions the A5X is also an immensely powerful unit, with no noticeable distortion when really cranking up the volume. Other features include room EQ / tweeter gain adjustment, as well as a ‘stereolink’ function which allows easy dual volume control from a single speaker.
Speaker Size: 5.5” woofer, X-ART tweeter
Power: 50W (woofer), 50W (tweeter)
Frequency Response: 50-50,000Hz
Inputs: Analogue XLR / RCA
Dimensions: (W x D x H): 170 x 220 x 280 mm
Weight: 6.4 kg
Key Features: Stereolink, X-ART tech, High/Low EQ, and tweeter level adjustment
Dynaudio BM5 MKIII
If you have a larger room or need something with a bit more grunt, the Dynaudio BM5 MKII may be the right choice for you. They are probably best described as a ‘mid-near field’ monitors, with a class-D amplifier providing 50W of power to both the high and low frequencies. Despite the 7” speaker, the size of the monitor enclosure is actually quite small, which is impressive when you consider you’re getting up to 118 dB SPL from these monitors.
The BM5s have a great frequency response down to 42Hz, and if you need to extend this down further there is a switch on the rear of the unit that allows them to be matched up with a separate subwoofer. The high, mid and low response can also all be adjusted to meet your room characteristics.
If you’re looking for powerful speakers in a compact package, the Dynaudio BM5s are a fantastic choice.
Speaker Size: 7” woofer, 1.1” tweeter
Power: Class-D Amp with DSP crossover, 50W LF, 50W HF
Frequency Response: 42-24,000Hz
Inputs: Balanced XLR, Unbalanced RCA
Dimensions: (W x D x H): 186 x 296 x 320 mm
Weight: 7.7 kg
Key Features: EQ Adjustment, Option to pair with a separate sub
Focal Shape 65
Focal are a French company known for manufacturing quality high-end audio gear and have specifically designed their Shape monitor series to perform well in small audio spaces. The speaker cabinet is finished in an eye-catching walnut veneer and the overall build quality feels premium.
The monitors have a number of unique design features such as Neutral Inductance Circuit (NIC) technology to reduce distortion, a Tuned Mass Damper (TMD) to control the mid-range, and side mounted passive radiators to deliver a great bass response.
If you’re after a pair of top-tier monitors bursting with innovative tech, then the Shape 65s from Focal could be the right monitors for you.
Speaker Size: 6.5” woofer, 1” tweeter
Power: 105W Class-AB
Frequency Response: 40-35,000Hz
Inputs: XLR, RCA
Dimensions: (W x D x H): 218 x 285 x 355 mm
Weight: 8.5 kg
Key Features: NIC technology, TMD surround, passive radiators
Genelec 8030 RAW
After a pair of great monitors that are also environmentally friendly? – Well, the new Genelec RAW series feature speaker cabinets made from recycled aluminium. Although the rough looking finish may not be to everyone’s taste, personally I think they give off a great industrial vibe.
It’s not just about the looks with these monitors either. The MDE Minimum Diffraction Enclosure has been designed to achieve a flat frequency response and precise sound stage imaging. The monitors also feature Intelligent Signal Sensing (ISS) & Directivity Control Waveguide (DCW) technology, and room response compensation. They are more than powerful enough too, outputting at 110 dB SPL.
Speaker Size: 5” woofer, ¾” metal dome tweeter
Power: Class D 50W + 50W
Frequency Response: 54-20,000Hz
Dimensions: (W x D x H): 189 x 178 x 285 mm
Weight: 5 kg
Key Features: MDE minimum diffraction enclosure, Calibration, ISS and DCW tech
IK Multimedia iLoud MTM
The iLoud MTMs are incredibly small, lightweight monitors. So small in fact, that the company claimed on release that they were “the smallest studio monitors in the world”. Built using injection-moulded plastic, the build quality is solid, and the design is simple yet stylish. The monitors actually consist of 3 speakers: 2 woofer/mid-range 3.5” speakers and a 1” tweeter.
Each monitor is supplied with adjustable stands for desk mounting and rubber pads if you wish to use them in landscape mode. They feature standard room EQ adjustment, as well as IK Multimedia’s ARC room-correction system. This makes use of an included microphone to take measurements at different listening positions, and then auto-calibrate the EQ accordingly.
So how do they sound? Well, considering their size these speakers sound simply incredible, and are a great choice for those who only have room on their desktop for compact speakers but don’t want to compromise on sound quality.
Speaker Size: 2x 3.5” woofer/mid-range, 1” tweeter
Power: Class D 30W + 70W
Frequency Response: 50-24,000Hz
Inputs: Balanced XLR / jack combo
Dimensions: (W x D x H): 130 x 160 x 264 mm
Weight: 2.5 kg
Key Features: ARC measuring microphone, Adjustable stand
As you can see, there are many great options when choosing studio monitors. In the end, your choice should be dependant upon the room size in which you plan to work, your own personal choice, and of course your budget.
I hope this article has helped you decide which studio monitors are right for you.
Have a great day and Happy Producing!