The topic of studio monitor speakers is possibly the most discussed subject regarding studio gear. It is indeed an important choice and a difficult one at that, especially for your first set of speakers. We spend hours debating the pros and cons of each brand and model, but in reality we should be spending our time making sweet sweet music! So check this list out and save yourself some time 🙂
Obviously we would all love to be able to drop a few thousand on a set of speakers. Seeing as that is unrealistic for most of us, this guide will focus on entry level options. The specs and features are found easily, so I will avoid repeating all of that….you can find more information in the links provided. I will mention that most, if not all of these speakers, feature EQ adjustments to adapt the speaker to your room and speaker positioning.
I have based the selection on a poll we conducted in our Facebook group – Home Studio Recording Zone. Don’t be shy….join our growing community of over 10,000 members!
1. Yamaha HS5
Not the cheapest of the budget options, but a superb choice for small studio monitors. Yamaha are famous for their NS10 speakers. Originally intended for home use, they slowly made their way into studios due to their mid focused frequency response. Eventually they were in studios all around the world and are still hailed as an industry standard to this day. They claim to have built upon the classic NS10 with the recent HS Series, and judging by the reviews, they have done a great job. The HS5’s are a seriously good choice of speaker at this level, but you may want to consider something else if you like a lot of bass.
The reportedly thin low end is actually probably a good thing for smaller untreated rooms and will help avoid bass build up in corners or tight spaces…. just make sure you double check it with a nice set of headphones or in a car etc, if you find yourself struggling to get it right. You can always add the HS8S subwoofer to your setup, which would give you the best of both worlds – the transient response and mid focus of the 5″ speakers, and room filling thump from the sub! Also available as 6.5″ (HS7) and 8″ (HS8) models, both of which also receive plenty of rave reviews.
KRK speakers have sparked a fair amount of disagreement between users over the years. They have a reputation for a hyped low end and poor build quality. However, they came second in our poll and have hundreds of reviews from users with nothing but good things to say about them, so surely they can’t be that bad!? In fact, a production student of mine recently bought a pair of these on a whim and when she told me, I actually advised her to switch them for some HS5’s. But after researching the latest generation of Rokit speakers I was quite surprised.
The frequency responses presented by KRK show that they appear to have balanced out the hyped bass, now delivering a more even sound compared to prior incarnations of the Rokit line. My student was going to be using them in a small, untreated room too, so having the bass ports on the front was actually better for her as she needed to place the speakers close to a wall….something you should try to avoid with the Yamaha HS Series, even if they do have EQ to compensate slightly. So in the end, I recommended that she keep the KRK´s. She loves them! They have an auto standby feature too, which is a nice touch. Undoubtedly a contender! Also available as 6″ and 8″ models, and a 3 way model that has a 10″ woofer, 4″ speaker for the mids, and standard 1″ tweeter.
The original version of these speakers (pictured) received a lot of attention, and rightly so. They offer fantastic value for money and have become popular as a cheap set of second monitors in many studios. The rear bass port can make it tricky to position them in a small room, but if you can get around that with the EQ options provided, they are a great investment. They don’t go as low as the RP5’s mentioned above, but they still have plenty of bass and punch, so you won’t need a sub in the foreseeable future; unless you want to go REALLY low 😀
The newer second generation model is out now, and one can only assume that JBL have made improvements, especially on build quality, which is where they received the most criticism on the original model. Understandably, some compromises have to be made in order to offer great sounding speakers at such a low price, so as with all the models on this list, build quality tends to be the aspect that suffers the most. We all know “you get what you pay for”, but at this price these monitors truly offer some of the best value for money on the market. Also available in 6″ and 8″ models.
All the other speakers on this list have 5″ woofers and 1″ tweeters. The Eris 5 has the same standard 1″ tweeter size, but has a slightly larger woofer measuring 5.25″. This has the potential to make a difference, but some would argue that overall speaker design is more important than woofer size. For example, the considerably more expensive Neumann KH120A‘s also have 5.25″ inch woofers, yet are said to outperform a number of the larger speaker models on the market, due to their overall design and build quality.
That being said, that difference of a quarter of an inch means the Eris should, in theory (emphasis on the “should“!), offer a bit more punch, body, smooth low end and volume than the other 5″ models here. The bass port is on the front of these too, which is great if you are in a small room. The reviews all agree that they sound great, and as one of the cheapest options presented in this guide they offer superb value and are definitely a good choice for a first set of speakers, or as a second reference pair. Also available in the smaller 3.5″ and 4.5″ models, with the larger options being the 8″ or dual 4.5” woofer variations.
These are the priciest of the 6 pairs of speakers presented in this guide. Probably with good reason too. Focal are synonymous with high end audio at home and in the studio, and their monitors are used by pros all around the world. With the Alpha series they’ve brought their high end inverted dome tweeter design, found on all of their expensive models, into a more accessible price bracket for those of us starting out or on a tight budget. To make it more affordable, they made the inverted tweeter out of aluminium instead of beryllium, which is what they use in their high end models.
The advantages offered by the inverted tweeter are still present in the Alpha series regardless of material used, delivering a more balanced sound throughout the room with a very large wide spot. The Alpha 50’s go as low as the Rokit’s while remaining beautifully smooth and clear in the low end. This is achieved by the dual bass ports and oversized design…the woofer and tweeter are the standard 5″ and 1″ respectively, but the speaker housing itself is a fair bit larger than any of the others mentioned here and is closer in size to a typical 7″ speaker. Similarly to the Rokit’s, they have an energy saving auto standby function. If you want to go bigger, the Alpha range includes 6.5″ and 8″ variations too.
Adam is another brand known for their highly popular pro studio speakers. With the T range they bring their classy ribbon tweeters to the entry level market. Ribbon tweeters are known for claims of superior high end, offering smoothness, detail, and clarity while being less fatiguing than other tweeter designs at the same time. Even though they are rear ported for the bass, they still go as low as any of the other speakers on this list so have impressive bass extension considering their compact size.
If you needed any more convincing, the Adam T5V has already won several awards too, which is amazing considering they were only released in March 2018! They also offer the larger 7″ version, which is actually cheaper than the Focal Alpha 50, and has great reviews too.
Some of the best advice for picking speakers is simply….. try them out. It can be a very personal choice. In store demonstrations can be complicated due to location, availability of specific models, and the listening space offered by the vendor… but if you can, it’s the easiest way to quickly listen to the monitors on your shortlist. If not, you can always order from a reputable online source with a solid returns policy and try them out in your studio, which is obviously the ideal scenario in which to judge your new speakers. That way, if for any reason they aren’t what you hoped for, you can always return them.
The other great piece of advice I can give you is….. within reason, it almost doesn’t matter which speaker you choose! Any of the above speakers will be a great choice, if they fit your connection requirements and you take into account the space in which you intend to use them. What matters a whole lot more, is that you get used to the way your speakers and room sound by listening to a whole load of reference tracks. Check out our playlist of reference songs and be sure to save it to your favourites. I am constantly updating it!
The final piece of advice is that your space is more important than your speakers. Even the most expensive speakers would sound off in a bad sounding room, so make sure you treat your space acoustically!
What did you think? Pick your favourite in our poll right here (be sure to hit the “vote” button), and feel free to leave us a comment below!