Best Studio Monitors 2018
Speakers are the piece of gear that gets the final influence on your music before it hits your ears. They are a vital part of crafting your sound and shaping your music. So, they should be the most expensive, awesome pieces of equipment you ever buy, right? That’s always true but also unrealistic. A good pair of speakers will help you improve your sound, but there’s a law of diminishing returns at play because, at some point, paying more money is not going to make a big enough difference for you to notice.
The biggest change and improvement is going to happen when you move from headphones. Suddenly your music opens up, it suggests possibilities the intensity of headphones can often miss — and you don’t have to spend much to encounter this experience. Your music will get another boost when moving from budget to mid-level monitors. This is where most mixing gets done, on decent monitors for a reasonable price that fit the space in which you make your music.
Speaker recommendations are always a hot topic of discussion. They have a large impact on your studio setup and not just in terms of sound. They also have to look the part because they project an aesthetic and reflect your taste to the clients/friends/lovers who wander into your producing space. People tend to recommend the speakers they have because few people ever get the chance to sit down and compare different ones. So, to reassure themselves regarding their own choices, they tell you how amazing their speakers are. But that’s the thing: most studio monitors are going to sound great and so it’s easy to make a good decision. In an ideal scenario, you should have pairs of different monitors so you can cross-compare different situations. But realistically a single pair will do the job.
In our selection of the best studio monitors of 2018, we try to cover a range of budgets. We’re looking for value for money, as well as pedigree, technology, design and sound quality. It’s important to choose a size of speaker appropriate to your room — bigger is not automatically better, but then who can resist a bigger cone?
Our 2018 Picks
Street Price: Mackie CR3 (pair) – $99 (at time of writing)
Street Price: Mackie CR4BT (pair) – $169 (at time of writing)
Street Price: Mackie CR5BT (pair) – $219 (at time of writing)
We begin with the cheap and cheerful. They call them “Creative Reference Multimedia Monitors” but they have an awesome pro-audio pedigree. Mackie has made trusted studio monitors for decades and that quality can be found throughout their range of speakers. Although these are entry-level they would massively improve your listening experience over computer or laptop speakers or headphones.
The Mackie CR3 manages to produce 50w of high-quality sound from a pair of 3″ woofers and two ferrofluid-cooled silk tweeters. On the back, they take either balanced TRS jack inputs or unbalanced RCA but they also have a very handy minijack input on the front for your phone and a socket for your headphones. The tuned rear bass port and acoustic isolation pads lend to the air of quality these speakers evoke.
The amplifier is built into a single speaker, the other is a passive satellite. This keeps the price and the weight down while offering great combined performance. They also look quite impressive although the neon green lines might be slightly overpowering for some.
At under $100 for the pair you can’t go far wrong with the Mackie CR3s, although they do have two slightly larger versions, the CR4BT and CR5BT, which are identical but have larger woofers and come equipped with Bluetooth technology for using wirelessly. The larger 4″ or 5″ woofer would improve the overall frequency response and add more impact to the bass. Worth considering, if your budget allows.
- LF Driver Size 3″ woofer
- LF Driver Type Polypropylene coated
- HF Driver Size 0.75″ tweeter
- HF Driver Type Silk dome ferrofluid cooled
- Total Power 50W Peak
- Frequency Range 80Hz-20kHz (-10dB)
- Crossover Frequency 3kHz
- Maximum Peak SPL 97 dB SPL @ 1m
- Input Types 1 x 1/8″ (aux), 2 x 1/4″, 1 x Dual RCA Stereo
- Output Types 1 x 1/8″ (headphones)
- Other I/O Bare Wire terminal connects pair
- Enclosure Type: Rear ported
- Enclosure Material :Solid MDF wood cabinet with black vinyl wrap
- Height: 8.2″
- Width: 5.5″
- Depth: 6.2″
- Weight: 9.4 lbs.
Link to Website: mackie.com
Best of their class last year and they remain the studio monitors of choice. Anyone shopping for speakers needs this range of Yamahas on their list. They do follow on from the heritage of the legendary NS10s but with the sort of improvements and updated technology that makes the HS8 genuinely classic.
KRK ROKIT 5 G3
Street Price: $149 (each) (at time of writing)
You’d normally expect KRK ROKIT speakers to feature further down the list in terms of price. But the G3 range is so good — all the way down to the smallest ROKIT 4 — that they find themselves as one of the best budget studio monitors around. The sweet spot for sensible money is the ROKIT 5 G3. There’s something about the sound of a 5″ woofer that elevates a speaker to a more professional level.
The ROKIT 5 comes with an innovative bi-amped Class A/B amplifier driving a 5″ glass-Aramid composite woofer and 1″ soft-dome tweeter. It produces the sort of high-headroom, low-distortion performance that brings sparkle to your mix. They are also designed to fit into less than perfect room shapes with the waveguide, radiused front baffle, and front-firing bass port.
On the back, you have XLR and TRS balanced inputs along with RCA unbalanced. Tone controls over high and low frequencies give you some ability to tune it to your room. There’s a reason why you see that yellow cone all over the place. The look is distinctive, and any sound enthusiast will recognize them as soon as they come into your room.
The G3 range goes all the way from the 4″ ROKIT 4 to the 3-way 10″ ROKIT 10-3 so if you need something bigger then there are options. But the ROKIT 5 would be the one to impressively suit most small home or project studios who want to demonstrate they know what they are doing. And at under $300 for a pair, they are really good value.
Note: Most powered studio monitors are sold as singles, so you need to allow for a pair or more if you are mixing in surround sound.
- 10″ Lightweight, Glass-Aramid Composite woofer, 4″ Midrange Driver, and 1″ Soft-dome Tweeter Delivering Pristine Clarity and Extended Response from 25Hz to 30kHz
- Radiused Front Baffle Reduces Distortion from Diffraction
- Proprietary Waveguide Optimized for Superior Imaging
- Front-firing Bass Port Reduces Boundary Coupling
- Custom-designed Bi-amped, Class A/B Amplifier
- High and Low Frequency Controls Help Tailor the Monitors to Their Location and User Preference
- Multiple Audio Input Connectors (XLR, ¼” TRS, RCA) for Universal Connectivity in Any Environment
- Peak SPL : 113dB
- Frequency Response 25Hz – 30kHz (-10dB)
Link to Website: www.krksys.com
Street Price: $349 (each) (at time of writing)
Best of their class last year and they remain the studio monitors of choice. Anyone shopping for speakers needs this range of Yamahas on their list. They do follow on from the heritage of the legendary NS10s but with the sort of improvements and updated technology that makes the HS8 genuinely classic. Just look at them — calm, understated, smooth, professional, none of the razzmatazz of the ROKITs. These are civilized speakers for the discerning ear. You can also get them in white, but….No, always get them in black.
The HS8 is the larger of the range and are slightly imposing but for the larger room, these are going to rock (or dance, or jazz or whatever genre you’re playing with). It’s pumping out 120w of power through a generous 8″ woofer, the sort of energy you’ll feel in your chest. No need for unbalanced inputs; this is for TRS and XLR only. A little bit of tone control on the back helps you tune them into your space.
The newly designed bi-amplified drivers and scientifically ported enclosures help deliver amazing accuracy and transparency. They won’t make your mixes sound good automatically, they’ll point out all the problems you didn’t realize were there and give you a chance to fix them.
If the HS8 is going to make you feel small, then do consider the 5″ or 6.5″ alternatives.
- Power Configuration Bi-amped
- LF Driver Size 8″
- LF Driver Type Cone
- HF Driver Size 1″
- HF Driver Type Dome
- LF Driver Power Amp 75W
- HF Driver Power Amp 45W
- Total Power 120W
- Frequency Range 38Hz-30kHz
- Crossover Frequency 2kHz
- Input Types 1 x XLR, 1 x 1/4″ (TRS)
- Enclosure Type: Ported
- Height: 15.4″
- Width: 9.8″
- Depth: 13.1″
- Weight: 22.5 lbs.
Link to Website: usa.yamaha.com
After numerous awards and many stellar reviews, it’s hard to ignore the Adam Audio AX series of near-field monitors. They have an aggressively powerful vibe about them that radiates energy. You can sense these are going to be awesome just by being in the same room.
Street Price: $699 (each) (at time of writing)
Neumann has an unparalleled reputation for the beginning of the studio signal chain. Their microphones are legendary. Their speakers have been a more recent development, but they have already acquired a lot of admirers for their compact size and punchy, transparent and detailed sound.
They are not the most stylish speakers you’ll come across. In fact, they’ll give Genelec a run for their money as the oddest looking studio monitors. It’s all curves and mathematically correct lines that give them a somewhat dated look. But they more than makeup for it in the stunning representation of frequencies. The build quality is also excellent and these things are never going to break or fall apart.
The Neumann KH120s are all about maximum signal fidelity and distinctly contoured transients across the entire, neutrally designed frequency response. In other words, they sound amazing. The curves and the design ensure a flexible listening position with its Mathematically Modeled Dispersion waveguide. Bass response is always kept under control and the optimized driver design keeps it clean all the way down to 50Hz.
The acoustic controls offer a 4-position bass, low-mid and treble switch allowing it to sit comfortably in a diverse range of acoustical environments. The list of features is very long. It’s a masterclass in design, even down to the dimmer switch on the glowing Neumann logo, just in case you find it annoying.
Perhaps the biggest feature is the price. You’d be expecting over $1,000 for something from Neumann with this level of technology when in fact they are only $699 each.
- Power Configuration Bi-amped
- LF Driver Size 5.25″
- LF Driver Type Magnetically shielded
- HF Driver Size 1″
- LF Driver Power Amp 50W (Continuous), 80W (Peak)
- HF Driver Power Amp 50W (Continuous), 80W (Peak)
- Total Power 100W (Continuous), 160W (Peak)
- Frequency Range 52Hz-21kHz
- Crossover Frequency 2kHz, 24 dB/octave
- Maximum Peak SPL 111.1 dB
- Input Types 1 x XLR
- Enclosure Type Ported
- Height: 10.87″
- Width: 7.12″
- Depth: 8.62″
- Weight: 14.3 lbs.
Link to Website: en-de.neumann.com
Adam Audio A7X
Street Price: $749 (each) (at time of writing)
After numerous awards and many stellar reviews, it’s hard to ignore the Adam Audio AX series of near-field monitors. They have an aggressively powerful vibe about them that radiates energy. You can sense these are going to be awesome just by being in the same room. The A7X is not quite the top of this range but it’s the one most likely to fit into the widest range of studio situations.
The A7X is balanced, it’s versatile, and it copes with wide raging frequencies without wearing you out. It’s modestly sized and yet has a solid and knowing bass response. The precision-made German X-ART tweeter is run by a 50w A/B amplifier while the bass and mid-woofer are driven by a 100w PWM amplifier. It’s all about cleanliness and precision, reproducing the exact sonic details no matter how small. They have a depth of tone, a clarity of image that has resonated with Sound Engineers and Record Producers.
On the back, you get a single XLR balanced input and the return of the unbalanced RCA. Three recessed controls allow you to tweak the low, mid and tweeter independently. They are designed to be set and then forgotten about as these speakers will never leave the space once installed.
We are starting to get into serious money with the AX range but if you like the Adam Audio approach and have a smaller budget then they’ve recently released a “T Series” which aims to bring their expertise to the home studio end of the market.
- Size: Near-field
- System type: Active
- Configuration: 2-way
- Low-frequency driver: 7 in.
- Mid-frequency driver: Not applicable
- High-frequency driver: 2 in.
- Full-range driver: Not applicable
- Driver type: Carbon Fiber
- Frequency response: 42Hz – 50kHz
- Max peak SPL: 106 dB
- Amplifier class: A/B
- Output power: 75W
- Input connectors: XLR, RCA
- Standby mode: Info not available
- Acoustic space control: No
- Power indicator: Yes
- Width: 8 in.
- Height: 13.5 in.
- Depth: 11 in.
- Weight: 20.3 lbs.
- Enclosure type: Ported
Link to Website: www.adam-audio.com
Which should you choose?
Budget is always your first constraint and if you are starting out then those Mackie speakers are a great purchase. You can beef them up to a 5″ woofer and really dive into your mixing. If you have a bit more cash then finding a way to decide between the Yamaha and Rokit speakers could keep you awake at night. They have comparable versions, similar features, good reputations. In many ways, I’d suggest going with personality. Are you an extrovert? In which case, it’s the ROKITs all the way. Or are you more reserved and chilled? Then it has to be the HS8’s. Choosing between the Neumann and Adam Audio is a similar conundrum. Your best bet is to get yourself to a music shop or dealer and demand the opportunity to try them out with some of your own material. But you won’t lose out either way.
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