Best Studio Monitors for 2017
Music is all about listening. All your other processes, the creation, the production, the song and melody all have to be realized into sound waves your ears can hear. The generation of those sound waves could be viewed as the most important component in your signal chain. Yes, but everything is important. Being able to accurately hear something made on terrible equipment isn’t going to make it any better, but it helps you make the best of what you’ve got. What a good set of studio monitors offers you is a more precise and accurate representation of your music. As with most pieces of studio equipment, the better they are, the easier the task of crafting your sound becomes.
Studio monitors differ from regular Hi-Fi speakers or sound systems, in that they are about accuracy. They are not about warmth or “sound,” their job is to represent your music as flatly and plainly as possible so your music will sound amazing on every sound system. If you mix on bass heavy DJ speakers, then you’ll compensate by reducing the lower frequencies which might result in the loss of bass on another system, like the radio, or headphones. The job of the studio monitor then is not to give you a great sound, but a transparent sound, to give your ears the best chance of creating a great mix.
Ideally, you should mix on a range of speakers, to ensure your music sounds good on everything. But that’s probably unrealistic for many of us. So if we’re going to get one set of studio monitor speakers, which ones should they be? Should you throw money at it or are there budget options that would do just as well? People can and do mix on headphones and even earbuds. In fact, it’s a good practice to check mixes on other devices. So put a mix on your phone, play it in the car, listen to it on headphones to check it sounds right on all those formats. However, studio monitors give you a great starting point; they give you freedom and air and let you mix at different levels. You should have some.
Things to consider
Always the killer first question and all the usual clichés of “you get what you pay for” tend to hold true here. However, it’s totally possible to mix on rubbish speakers. What you get when you pay more are size, power, and accuracy. Those things may help your mix, but there’s a lot of great mid-range monitors that would take a lot more money to improve upon.
Bigger does not necessarily mean better. You need a speaker size appropriate to your environment. If you are in a small room with huge speakers that are only ever turned up to 1 or 2, then you are not getting the full benefit of what they offer. The size of the woofer and tweeter within the speaker will also have an impact on the range of frequencies it can handle, but honestly, all this means is you should avoid tiny speakers.
Passive or active
Passive speakers need an amp, active ones come with an amp built in. If you already have an amplifier in your studio, then passive speakers can be a much cheaper option. However, these days most people use active monitors because they are easy, require less wiring and the amps are “matched” to the speakers. Also, they don’t tend to cost as much as a separate amp and speakers.
Speakers are all about the ears. Can you honestly decide to buy a pair without first listening to them? You can rely on expert opinion and online reviews — we all have to do that to a degree — but nothing beats going down to a music shop and auditioning a few pairs of speakers. You might find something which really works for you, something you hadn’t considered and there’s even the possibility of receiving some decent, knowledgeable advice.
Our 2017 Picks
Let’s begin with something good, simple and budget. M-Audio is better known for their audio interfaces and controller keyboards, but they’ve been making decent monitors for a while. If you are scraping together a small budget, then these should be on your check-out list. They are a bit confused over their purpose. Many shops list them as “Studio Monitors” when M-Audio downplay this a little and label them as “desktop speakers for professional media creation.” This is because they are not going to give you a studio level of accuracy. They will sound great. Great for music, great for video and also gaming and general use — you can see where this is going can’t you?
The M-Audio AV42 is a decent quality pair of monitors you can do everything on. They are not perfect but if you are mixing in a home studio where you also listen to music, edit video, play games and other applications then these are going to work great. They’ve even got a front mounted auxiliary input for your phone and a headphone output.
- Type: Two-way desktop reference speaker
- Low-Frequency Driver: 4″ diameter, polypropylene-coated, with high-temperature voice coil
- High-Frequency Driver: 1″ diameter, silk cone tweeter
- Frequency Response: 75 Hz – 20 kHz
- Crossover Frequency: 2.7 kHz
- RMS SPL: 101.5 dB @ 1 meter
- Signal-To-Noise Ratio: > 90 dB (typical, A-weighted)
- Input Connectors: Left and right RCA line input, and 1/8″ aux input
- Polarity: Positive signal at “+” input produces outward low-frequency cone displacement
- Dynamic Power: 20 watts continuous, per channel into 4 Ω
- Input Impedance: 10 k Ω unbalanced
- Input Sensitivity: 100 mV pink noise input produces 90 dBA output SPL at 1 meter with volume control at maximum
- Protection: RF interference, output current limiting, over temperature, turn on/off transient, subsonic filter
- Indicator: blue power LED for aligning wave guide
- Power Requirements: 100-120V/~50/60 Hz, 220-240V/~50/60 Hz; powered via detachable 2-conductor line cord
- Cabinet: Vinyl-laminated MDF
- Dimensions: 8.4″ x 5.7″ x 7.4 (21.3 cm x 14.6 cm x 18.8 cm)
- Weight: 7.6 lbs (3.43 kg)
PreSonus Eris E5
They’re not so well-known for their speakers but PreSonus has an excellent reputation for outboard gear, mixers, and audio interfaces. They have a range of Eris studio monitors, but the E5 sits there at the sweet spot of price and performance. They are not much bigger than the AV42s and are actually quite petite on the desktop but their build and makeup is nothing like the M-Audio. There are 70 watts of amplification driving 5.25″ woofers made from woven Kevlar. The controls and connections, balanced and unbalanced are all of excellent quality and there’s Acoustic Tuning built in. This means, depending on the space and environment, you can roll-off the power a little bit. There’s a handy pictorial guide on the back of the speaker.
The Eris range is gradually gaining a reputation for accurate and consistent frequency response. If you have a little bit more to spare in your budget, then these should be a serious consideration.
- Frequency Response: 53 Hz – 22 kHz
- Crossover Frequency: 3 kHz
- LF Amplifier Power: 45W
- HF Amplifier Power: 35W
- Peak SPL (@ 1 meter): 102 dB
- LF Driver: 5.25” Kevlar®
- HF Driver: 1” silk dome
- Input Impedance: 10 kΩ
- Volume Range: A-type taper
- MF Control: -6, 0, +6 dB
- HF Control: -6, 0, +6 dB
- Low Cut: Flat, 80 Hz, 100 Hz
- Acoustic Space: Flat, -2 dB, -4 dB
- Protection: RF interference, Output-current limiting, Over-temperature, Turn-on/off transient, Subsonic filter
- Power: 100-120V ~50/60 Hz or 220-240V ~50/60 Hz
- Cabinet: Vinyl-laminated, medium-density fiberboard
- Width: 7” (178 mm)
- Depth: 7.68” (195 mm)
- Height: 10.24” (260 mm)
- Weight: 10.2 lbs (4.63 kg)
The M-Audio AV42s will do a decent job of being all-round speakers for your home studio. But if you can stretch to the PreSonus Eris range then your music will thank you.
You will hear a lot of talk about the legendary Yamaha NS10 near-field studio monitors. They were renowned for their awesomely accurate sound. As someone who worked in a music shop demoing NS10s to people day in and day out I can tell you that actually, they were very top heavy. The presence of NS10s in every studio in the world was much more down to the fact that the famous studios had them (along with many others), so then whenever a studio was built, it had to have NS10s. The Yamaha HS8 is a direct descendant of those legendary speakers, but thankfully they’ve been improved upon.
The HS8 is the larger of the range and look decidedly impressive on stands either side of your screen or console. Of course, you have to get them in black — the white ones are not remotely rock ‘n’ roll. It has 8″ woofers, giving a great response down into the bottom end. With 120 watts of power, you’ll feel them pumping in your chest if you’re in a smaller space but they do have some controls to adjust them to your room. Similar to the Acoustic Tuning of the PreSonus speakers you have “Room Control” to keep the low end under control and “High Trim” to adjust for early high-frequency reflections.
- Speaker type: 2-way bi-amp powered studio monitor
- Frequency range (-10dB): 38Hz – 30kHz
- LF : 8″ cone
- HF: 1″ dome
- Crossover: 2kHz
- Output power: 120W (LF:75W, HF:45W)
- I/O connectors: XLR3-31 type (balanced), PHONE (balanced)
- Power consumption: 60W
- Shape: Bass-reflex type
- Cabinet material: MDF
- Width: 250mm (9.8″)
- Height: 390mm (15.4″)
- Depth: 334mm (13.1″)
- Net weight: 10.2kg (22.5 lbs.)
- LEVEL control (+4dB/center click) , EQ: HIGH TRIM switch (+/- 2dB at HF) / ROOM CONTROL switch (0/-2/-4 dB under 500Hz)
KRK Rokit 8 G3
Street Price: $250 (each) (at time of writing)
No list of studio monitors would be complete without the thumping yellow woofers of a pair of KRK Rokits. They range from a 4″ woofer all the way up to the Rokit 10-3 which has a 10″ woofer and a 4″ mid-range driver along with the regular 1″ tweeter. The Rokit 5s would be a good comparison to the Eris 5, but I like the bigger 8″ woofer of the Rokit 8 to give the Yamaha a run for its money.
This is the third generation of Rokit studio monitors, and although KRK does make some better, high-end monitors it’s the Rokit that keeps turning up as a favorite. They are slightly curvier than previous versions and have a different shaped bass reflex port. There’s a foam pad on the bottom to give some welcome insulation from your stands or desktop. They are chunky and imposing for a smaller space, so if your studio is under the stairs, or in the back bedroom then maybe consider the Rokit 5 or 6. As with the Yamaha and PreSonus you can tweak the low end with a knob on the back and you can do the same with the high frequencies to help it sit in the room better.
The woofer’s made from a glass-Aramid composite, which they say contributes to the midrange clarity and tight, low end. KRK design some proprietary waveguiding into the structure of the enclosure which they claim gives superior imaging. It’s safe to say that these have been engineered to a very high standard.
- Configuration: 2-Way
- System type: Active Studio Monitor
- Low-Frequency: 8″ Aramid Glass Composite woofer
- High-Frequency: 1″ soft dome tweeter
- Frequency Response: 35Hz – 35kHz
- Max Peak SPL: 109 dB
- Amplifier Class: Class A-B
- Power Output: 100W
- High Frequency: 25W
- Low Frequency: 75W
- Input Impedance (Ohms): 10 K Ohm balanced
- HF Level Adjust: -2dB, -1dB, 0, +1dB
- System Volume: (-30dB – +6dB)
- Input Connectors: Unbalanced RCA, Balanced 1/4″ TRS, Balanced XLR
- Enclosure Construction: MDF
- Finish: Black vinyl wrap
- Port Configuration: Front firing slot port
- Dimensions (D x W x H): 11.73″ (298mm) x 10.83″ (275mm) x 15.50″ (394mm)
- Weight: 26.5 lbs (12.00 kg.)
What a good set of studio monitors offers you is a more precise and accurate representation of your music. As with most pieces of studio equipment, the better they are, the easier the task of crafting your sound becomes.
Street Price: $795 (each) (at time of writing)
When talking to people about studio monitors Genelec tend to be the speakers that everyone wants but few can afford. It’s difficult to point out exactly why they are worth the extra money but it will be down to the engineering. The M040 may be smaller than the Rokit 8 and Yamaha HS8 but they have a quality that makes them the high-end choice.
Genelec talks about the Natural Composite Enclosure, which is how the cabinet is made, using injection-moulded half wood fibers. Then there’s their “Directivity Control Waveguide” technology, similar to that found in the KRKs, which gives the speakers a wider listening area and better imaging. Whatever the reason, the Genelec M040 is a favorite amongst professionals and their size actually makes them perfect for home studios. These are part of Genelecs more budget line of monitors, but a pair will set you back the best part of $1600. Just be thankful you’re not mixing in 7.1 surround.
- Frequency response: 44 Hz to 21 kHz (-6 db)
- Power Configuration: Bi-amped
- LF Driver Size: 6.5″
- HF Driver Size: 1″
- HF Driver Type: Dome
- HF Driver Material: Metal
- LF Driver Power Amp: 80W
- HF Driver Power Amp: 50W
- Total Power: 130W
- Frequency Range: 48Hz-20kHz
- Crossover Frequency: 2.5kHz
- Maximum Peak SPL: 107 dB
- Input Types: 1 x XLR Combo, 1 x RCA
- Enclosure Type: Ported
- Height: 13.25″
- Width: 9.25″
- Depth: 9″
- Optimized amplifiers
- Protection circuitry
- Room Response Compensation
- Natural Composite Enclosure Technology (NCE)
- Laminar Integrated Port Technology (LIP)
- Directivity Control Waveguide Technology (DCW)
- Weight: 15.4 lbs.
Barefoot Sound Footprint 01
Heading upmarket takes us into a slightly different world of monitoring. Last year Barefoot introduced the MasterStack 12. A monolithic 1800Ws of monitor power and fidelity. Coming in at nearly $50k you are going to need to hear the difference. Half of the cost is taken up with a pair of Barefoot’s flagship MiniMain12 four-way active monitors with integrated subs. All very nice. However, they have recently introduced a slightly more affordable take in the shape of the Footprint 01 for people who are “on a budget” that has to be at least twice that of normal studio monitors.
The Footprint 01 is a 3-way active monitor that takes design and technology directly from the MasterStack. Along with the 1-inch dual ring radiating tweeter and a 4-inch aluminum cone midrange driver, there’s a dual opposing 8-inch paper cone subwoofer. The subs take 500W of power driven by Class D amplifier modules and deliver 150W to the mid and high range drivers.
Barefoot’s Dual-Force technology is designed to prevent vibration in the cabinet. It does this by having two low-frequency drivers, placed opposite to one another and so has the effect of canceling out the energy generated backward by the cones. This ensures all you hear is the sound, not the cabinet
The integrated DSP features MEME (Multi-Emphasis Monitor Emulation) technology found in their other high-end products. What this means is it can emulate the sound of other classic studio monitors. So, for instance, there’s an “Old School” setting which emulates the Yamaha NS10. MEME captures and simulates all the component parts of those classic speakers and gives you a real feel for how it would sound.
At $3495 a pair, it’s a solid investment for a studio, although all the time you’re going to be wishing you had $50k for the MasterStack.
- Description: 3-way active monitor with MEME voice emulation
- Controls: Input level stepped attenuator, MEME voice select
- Audio Input: Balanced XLR, 50 kOhm Impedance
- Sensitivity: 90 dB @ 1 meter with -15 dBV input signal (level control set to 0 dB)
- Frequency Response: 36 Hz – 45 kHz (±3 dB), 45 Hz – 40 kHz (± 1dB)
- Bass Response: -3 dB @ 36 Hz, Q = 0.707, Slope = 18 dB/octave
- Cabinet: 18 liters total internal volume, sealed woofer and midrange enclosures, machined aluminum baffle plate, long fiber wool acoustic damping throughout
- Crossover Frequencies: 250 / 3600 Hz (Passive crossover between Midrange and Tweeter)
- Tweeter: 1″ ring radiator, low distortion motor, rear waveguide chamber
- Midrange: 4.0″ aluminum cone, aluminum phase plug, low distortion motor, ±3.5 mm linear excursion
- Woofers: 8″ paper cone, ±9.5 mm linear excursion
- igh Frequency Amplifier: 150W
- Low Frequency Amplifier: 500 W
- AC Mains Power Input: 85 VAC to 265 VAC
- Power Consumption: Idle: 2 W, Maximum: 765 W
- Weight: Speaker: 35 lb each (16 kg)
- Shipping: 44.5 lb each (20.2 kg)
- Dimensions H x W x D: Cabinet: 14 x 9.5 x 13.0 in (356 x 241 x 330 mm)
- Overall: 14 x 10.25 x 13.6 in (356 x 260 x 345 mm)
What’s best for you?
That’s all down to you. The M-Audio AV42s will do a decent job of being all-round speakers for your home studio. But if you can stretch to the PreSonous Eris range your music will thank you. If you’re in the market for something a bit more mid-range see if you can find somewhere to listen to the Rokits and the HS8s side by side and then choose the one that appeals. If you think nothing of spending over $1000 on speakers then it’s a punch up between the Genelecs and the Footprints. The great thing about that fight is you can’t lose either way. If you’ve been given a blank check, you should certainly pay Barefoot a visit. Although the Footprints are double the price of the Genelecs, they are still potentially affordable to anyone looking for serious gear.
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