Studio monitors are all about transparency. They are not designed to color the sound or beef it up in unexpected places.
Their job is to present you with the naked truth of your mix. If you’ve overcooked the bass then you’ll hear it, if it’s a bit mushy in the middle then that will become obvious and if your hi-hats are causing you pain then a good pair of monitors will help you sort that out. They are not there to make you sound good; they are there to point out the flaws and help you put together a better mix of sound.
The best studio monitors for 2020 are:
- Adam Audio A7X
- KRK ROKIT 7 G4
- Yamaha HS8
- Neumann KH120
- IK Multimedia iLoud MTM
- Mackie CR3
- Focal Solo6 Be
- Dynaudio Core 7
It’s worth spending some money on your monitors. They will make a huge difference to mixing on headphones (even at the most budget level) and there are few things in the studio that’ll have a bigger impact on the quality of your mix. And you don’t have to spend much to encounter that 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 create. Because there’s no point investing in hugely awesome speakers if your room isn’t acoustically treated and already full of awesome gear.
Speaker recommendations are always a hot topic of discussion. They have such an 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 that wander into your producing space.
People tend to recommend the speakers that they have because few people ever get the chance to sit down and compare different ones. So, they reassure their own choices by telling 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 that you can cross-compare different situations. But realistically a single pair will do the job.
In our selection of the best studio monitors of 2020, 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 the size of speaker that is appropriate to your room – bigger is not automatically better, but then who can resist a bigger cone?
After numerous awards and many stellar reviews, it’s hard to ignore the Adam Audio AX series of nearfield monitors. They have an aggressively powerful vibe about them that radiates energy. You can sense that 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 that’s most likely going to fit into the widest range of studio situations.
The A7X is balanced. It’s versatile. 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 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 getting 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.
Pros & Cons
- Sonically clean and precise
- Probably too powerful for smaller rooms
Street Price: $749
The fourth generation of KRK ROKIT monitors is the smoothest yet. They’re scientifically designed to offer exceptional low-end with punch and accuracy. The enclosure has evolved, become less striking in form while retaining the trademark yellow cone, but that’s not the only thing that’s changed.
Inside is a new design of Class D amplifier giving an even power through the speakers with more efficient distribution, less heat, and better audio integrity. This is combined with matching Kevlar drivers which minimize listening fatigue and give great transparency. The high-end has a pleasing amount of detail while that front-facing port pushes the low-end nicely.
On the back is a DSP-driven graphic EQ with 25 presets to help you model it to your room and acoustic environment. It’s incredibly versatile if you know what you’re doing and if this is your first serious monitor then the presets will take the effort and worry out of it.
For connections, you’ve got balanced TRS and XLR combo jacks and a simple volume control. The power output of 145 Watts is impressive and gives the ROKIT 7 an edge over the more petite ROKIT 5.
The surprisingly affordable G4 range goes all the way from the 5″ ROKIT 5 to the mid-field 10″ ROKIT 10-3 so if you need something bigger or smaller then there are options. But for me, the ROKIT 7 is the sweet spot, being able to fill a room without compromising while not dominating a smaller space.
Pros & Cons
- DSP driven room tuning
- Thumpingly good bass
- Iso-foam pad for great isolation
- Great value
- Not as distinctive looking as they were
Street Price: $239 each
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 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 that you didn’t realize were there and give you a chance to fix them.
If the HS8 are going to make you feel small then do consider the 5″ or 6.5″ alternatives.
Pros & Cons
- Classic but updated sound
- Accurate and transparent
- Look fabulous
- Well priced
- Not ideal for small rooms
Street Price: $349 each
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 of 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 make up 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.
Pros & Cons
- Designed by mathematical modeling
- Comprehensive acoustic controls
- Reasonably priced
- Odd looking
Street Price: $699 each
Usually thought of as multi-media speakers, the iLoud from IK Multimedia has gotten an upgrade with the surprisingly awesome iLoud MTM studio monitors.
They use a symmetrical mid-tweeter-mid design with a pair of 3.5″ high-performance woofers and one 1″ high definition back-chamber loaded tweeter. It’s quite an unusual configuration but it aims to provide an ultra-precise, defined, point source sound. This means that it has a narrower field of dispersal, but this is corrected by having them on tiltable stands which minimizes reflections and gives it a transparent sound to rival much larger and more expensive speakers.
The key to these speakers is in setting them up correctly for your room and for that they include their ARC reference microphone and acoustic calibration technology. Put the mic where you would normally sit and at the push of a button, the speakers create a customized listening sweet spot. That is genius.
The iLoud MTM monitors are going to work best in smaller rooms and their compact dimensions and stands are perfect for that. The naming convention that IK Multimedia use in “iLoud” makes you think of iPhones and iPads and multi-media devices, which is a shame because these are far more serious and useful in a small studio context. So don’t let the name put you off.
Pros & Cons
- Great for small rooms
- Good value
- Not enough power for larger rooms
- Could be lacking in bass
Street Price: $349 each
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 manage 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 that these speakers evoke.
The amplifier is built into a single speaker and 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 sisters, the CR4BT and CR5BT, which are identical but have larger woofers and come equipped with Bluetooth technology for wireless use. 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.
Pros & Cons
- A great first step into proper speakers
- Excellent manufacturer reputation
- Look great
- Useful minijack input on front
- Single amp driving both speakers
Street Price: $99 pair
Focal has a wide range of high-end monitoring solutions. The Solo6 Be is at the lower end of what they offer but it’s still more expensive than most of the monitors on this list. They seem to operate in another sphere. But if you’d like to step up to another level then the Solo6 Be 2-way monitor is the place to start.
It has a Beryllium inverted dome tweeter that can cover five octaves all by itself. The 6.5″ woofer fills in the full low and mid-range frequencies, making for an exceptionally transparent listening experience. The “W” process in the woofer creates a composite sandwich of glass, foam and glass that provides a true optimization of the frequency response by fine-tuning of mass, rigidity and damping parameters.
The bass and mid-range rely on “BASH” technology for the amplification which offers Class AB sound quality with the efficiency of Class D. The tweeter uses a Class AB power stage which is powerful enough for driving the high frequencies.
For connections you have a single XLR input with a sensitivity switch. Two small potentiometers give some tuning control over the high and low-frequency balance. Otherwise it’s the sort of speaker that will sound amazing in any room.
Pros & Cons
- Sounds fantastic
- Relatively small
Street Price: $1,499 each
Yes, these are very expensive when compared to the rest on this list but Dynaudio do make some extraordinary speakers. They are the sort of speakers that find themselves in surround sound production suites and high-end studios. The BM6 is their long-running studio monitor that would normally be on any list but with the Core 7, they are really raising the bar and bringing something different to your speaker stands.
Dynaudio claims that the Core 7 “reproduces what was recorded, nothing more, nothing less” which is, of course, what all monitor speakers aim to do. Few do it as well as the Core 7. The design is fully focused on uncompromised detail and pinpoint imaging. The speaker drivers are handmade to a design beyond anything Dynaudio has produced before.
The 7″ mid/woofer is driven by a 500W class-D amplifier matched with a 150W driving the soft-dome tweeter. The cone is made from Magnesium Silicate Polymer along with aluminum voice coils, glass-fiber formers, and advanced magnet designs. It brings breathtaking honesty to the sound.
There’s a lot of technology built into this speaker. Digital signal processing acts upon the sound, correcting issues created by speaker position and the shape of your room. A full-spectrum, tilting band-pass filter allows you to design the sound balance without affecting phase response. All processing is done at 192kHz and 64bit and if using the AES digital inputs then the Core 7 locks to the most accurate incoming clock.
The Core 7 is an extraordinary speaker that will work perfectly in all environments.
Pros & Cons
- Stunning realism and precision
- Tunable to your room environment
- Analog and digital inputs
- Lots of cash required for a pair
Street Price: $2,599 each
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.
All street prices listed at the time of writing.