Best Studio Monitors
By: The Gear Dude | Date: 10th May 2020
Having a good pair of studio monitor speakers is an essential part of any recording or mixing setup. These powered (or active) speakers will be different from the traditional built in speakers on a computer or stereo setup as they are designed for a flat response which is referred to as reference quality. When you mix recorded audio, you want to be able to hear any flaws that may be present so that you can correct them. I’ve been asked on more than one occasion though why mixing on studio monitor speakers is important or necessary as more often than not people are going to listen on consumer headphones, cell phone speakers, cheap headphones etc. The reason we do this is so that our music sounds good not only on less than ideal sources but also higher end ones as well. When I mix, I frequently will plug in some iPod headphones in an effort to be sure I’m on the right track! In this article I will discuss what I believe to be some of the best options available.
KRK ROKIT RP5 G4 Active Monitor
The KRK budget line ROKIT RP5 G4 5" is one of the most widely seen active studio monitor speakers of the last 15 years. Widely known for being a consistent sound they are seen alongside professional studio monitors costing 10 times the price. They are also commonly seen in bedroom studios as they’re a great monitor for the price. This current version (4th Generation) was introduced in 2018 with some killer new features. Previously held in reserve for the midline and higher end models they have added the yellow woven Kevlar speaker cones with a matching tweeter so the ROKIT line. The RP5 G4 is front ported for an excellent low-end response. The back panel will reveal a digital control panel to adjust the built in EQ settings, adjust output level and engage the standby mode. Stay tuned as well, KRK is working on an app called audio tools which will offer built in room correction.
M-Audio BX5 D3 Active Monitor
The M-Audio BX5 D3 5" is the current version of a classic active studio monitor. The BX5 has always been known as a great value for the dollar you spend. They don’t have some of the fancy features and digital interfaces seen on some of the other market leading options but what they lack in features they make up for in sound. The BX5 D3 operates on a bi-amplified power system to give it a powerful and precise sound. These monitors are also rear ported which produced a very defined and accurate low end. There is a control on the back for the Acoustic Space feature. This allows you to tailor the sound of the M-Audio BX5 D3 to different room sizes.
Yamaha HS5 Active Monitor
The iconic white coned speaker design Yamaha uses has been a staple in recording studios for ages. Through years of development and perfection we have now arrived at the Yamaha HS5 5" studio monitor speaker. This studio monitor is recognized widely for being amazingly accurate and adding very low coloration. This is a result of a bi-amped driver system, huge high-performance speaker magnets and a scientifically designed enclosure. The speakers also have room correction controls on the back as well should you need to tailor the speakers to the room. All of these features combine to create the current incarnation of a very trustworthy monitor speaker.
Avantone Pro Active Mixcube
Do you have that friend who is always finding and pointing out everything that’s wrong with what you do? Well in the world of studio monitors that friend is the Avantone Pro Active Mixcube. This little cube is an often-understood beast in the world of studio monitors. The goal with these was to make a product to show you what the music you are working on would sound like in less than ideal situations. Examples of this would be cheap iPod docks, less than ideal earbuds, older entry level car stereos, you get the idea. The Avantone Pro Active Mixcube is often seen as a second pair of monitor speakers as some engineers will find them to be so unforgiving. When you sit down with a pair of these it’s really worth comparing A-list produced music to your tracks as the things you will hear are staggering. At gear dude I am a big fan of these and recommend them to anyone really seeking to truly get the best of the best from their mixes.
JBL 305P MkII Active Monitor
The JBL 305P MkII 5" active studio monitor is a budget friendly and feature packed speaker for anyone needing audio monitor accuracy. At first glass they are your typical rear ported studio monitor, they have typical room correction switches on the back of the speaker you would expect, however it’s the things you don’t see which set these speakers apart from the rest of the pack. The JBL 305P MKII borrows some of the design idea of the higher end 7 series and M2 Master Reference line the most impactful one is Image Control Waveguide. Not every room is going to sound the same and as such not every position in said room will be the same either. The JBL 305P MkII benefits from Image Control Waveguide to create a very wide sweet spot so that it sounds great even if you are not sitting in the perfect position.
Adam Audio T5V Active Monitor
Adam Audio is a newer brand entering the scene around 1999 but their products were quickly adopted in many studios. Their Ribbon tweeters give an excellent and non-fatiguing high-end frequency response. They have recently introduced a budget line which brings me to the Adam T5V 5" active studio monitor. These bi-amped monitor speakers while seemingly simple in look provide a world of function for a similar price as its competitors. I mentioned ribbon tweeters once already but want to come back to it. The Adam T5V features the company's U-ART accelerated ribbon tweeter which puts out pristine highs all the way to 25kHz. This is a huge range of frequencies and being that it is a ribbon tweeter is sounds so much better because it allows you to work over long periods without fatigue. These also feature some room correction controls for both high and low frequencies on the rear of the speaker.
Adam Audio A7X Active Monitor
Under $1000 the Adam Audio A7X 7" active studio monitor is one of the leading monitor speakers available today. These differ from the cheaper T series models in that they feature a combination carbon/Rohacell/glass fiber woofer and the X-ART tweeter. The proprietary woofer design has a rare earth magnet and a high strength diaphragm. The Adam Audio A7X active monitor has a level control on the front as well as an on/off switch and two large bass reflex ports. This speaker gets rave reviews from engineers and audio experts worldwide as a world class choice in studio monitor. When you listen to your pair you will also understand why.
Neumann KH80 DSP Active Monitor
Recording and Neumann are two works that go hand in hand from their legendary studio microphones so it’s no surprise that monitors would be and eventual foray they would take. The Neumann KH80 DSP 4" active studio monitor speaker is one of the more affordable options but packs a plethora of goodies inside its sleek German designed cases. While having basic room corrections on the rear panel, the Neumann KH80 DSP has a network-accessible controller you can use to configure your system from a central controller (IOS, Mac, Windows, Android) to make EQ and mix position choices. Being a smaller sized monitor, these are mostly suited for smaller studio settings. These are one of the better choices for 5.1 and 7.1 surround mixing scenarios.
Tannoy Gold 8 Active Monitor
For over 90 years hit records and major movie scores have been recorded and mixed with Tannoy studio monitors. The Tannoy Gold 8 8" active studio monitor speaker is one of the latest products to use many innovations of this English companies innovative and defining characteristics. These monitors employ a Dual Concentric driver which Tannoy has been working for over 70 years to refine. This is essentially a speaker which has the tweeter built into it in order to have all sound emanate from a single point. Dual Concentric speakers will eliminate some problems with sonic interference around the point at which the crossover is set. The Tannoy Gold 8 is a front ported monitor which features a bass adjust switch on the back and front mounted trim and high frequency controls.