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What Sets a Studio Monitor Apart?
What you'll find in this article...
- What Sets a Studio Monitor Apart?
- Components of a Near Field Studio Monitor – Speakers (AKA Drivers)
- Technical Stuff You Need To Know
- Other Techy Stuff
- Best Studio Monitors Under $500
- Best Studio Monitors Under $200
Accuracy – Studio monitors are made to be extremely accurate. In fact, you might discover that its sound is so accurate that you don’t recognize it since our ears are so used to hearing speakers that compensate and present the sound in an universally appealing way. While a flat response that represents all of the sounds as they actually are does allow for great power in your mixing, it can take some time to develop a correct ear for this new sound, and you may want to do some “easy listening” through the speakers to help retrain your ears.
Durability – All speakers sue some sort of cone system to help amplify the sound waves generated by the magnet. However, there is a lot of difference between a speaker that has a cone made out of cardboard and one made out of fiberglass. And most studio monitors are going to have cones made of Kevlar, fiberglass or polypropelene. These materials are not only more durable, they are lighter and allow for a faster response and more accurate sound. The more money you have to spend on a studio monitor, the better a unit you can buy.
Cabinet – The cabinet that the speakers rest in can easily distort the sound. A lot of attention is paid to creating cabinets that have the correct bevels at a fe key areas, such as on the corners or where the speakers meet the cabinet, in order to create the best sound. Also, cabinets are not interchangeable. Each manufacture has developed a cabinet specifically for its speakers.
Components of a Near Field Studio Monitor – Speakers (AKA Drivers)
Your near field monitor will have two major types of speakers in it:
Tweeter – This is always included in a near field studio monitor and it delivers your high mid range sounds and high frequencies. The best tweeters are made of glass, carbon, titanium, or other metal alloys. Below that you have your silk tweeters that are prized for their smooth, airy response. Mylar is a synthetic similar material to silk, but its sound can be vulnerable to weather changes.
Mid-range – Not many near field studio monitors will have these, but in a three-way monitor it will use a tweeter and mid-range combination in the cabinet and then let the lows be handled by a subwoofer. The mid-range handles all of the mid-range sound. A three-way set up is going to require additional configuration for the extra speakers required. The advantage of a three-way set up is that it allows you to separate the lows from the mid-range sounds. Sometimes lows can over-power some of the mid ranges when they are both being handled by the same woofer.
Woofer – The Woofers in the two-way setup will typically handle the frequencies below the tweeters and the lows. However, in a three-way set up it only handles lows and then the super-lows are handled by a sub-woofer while the mids are handled by the mid-range.
One of the important things to decide is whether you want to go with a passive or an active setup. An “active” or “powered” setup will contain the amplification system inside the cabinet. A Passive monitor will need to have amplification provided from outside the unit.
Passive – If you already have a suitable amplification system, than a passive monitor can be a great way to save some coin. Howeve, you need to be aware of the different dynamics that can exist between the amplifier and the speakers and make sure you get them configured correctly so that they deliver true sound. These systems also give you more flexibility in setting up multi-speaker arrays
Active – Since the cabinet for the monitor provides all of its own power, all you have to do is plug it in and away you go. Active cabinets can help you rest assured that you are getting the correct sound without a lot of extra configuration work . Additionally, you can buy active (powered) monitors that are configured for bi-amplification. Bi-amplification helps the cabinet better distribute the power to keep the powerful lows from overriding or distorting the way higher frequencies are played.
Technical Stuff You Need To Know
There’s a lot of terminology surrounding Studio Monitors. Here’s a cheat sheet to help you survive your shopping experience.
This gets complicated in a hurry. But, basically, a “balanced” cord works really hard with its shielding and equal voltages across the cord, to help reduce interference.
Good stuff. May not be worth the extra cost for every situation.
It has two wires with reversed polarity, and because they cancel each other out — and because their voltage and load is equal across them — they equal ground, eliminating the interference.
As a rule of thumb, keep your unbalanced cords short, to help prevent interference.
Connections – Compatibility is key! Make sure your monitors will work with the rest of your stuff.
- 1/4″ – This connector is typically used to connect unbalanced line-level or instrument-level audio to their amplifiers. (Typically is TRS)
- TRS – This stands for “Tip, Ring Sleeve” and denotes the three contacts. It can be used with either balanced cables.
- XLR – This connector typically has three pins for mics. It has a ground, a “hot” and a “cold” for balanced cords.
- RCA – The RCA plug is often used for unbalanced signals and as a line input for stereo equipment
- S/PDIF – “Sony Phillips Digital Interface”. A coax cable that is typically used for transmitting digital audio signals between different devices.
Other Techy Stuff
Bi-amplification – Two amps are used. One is connected to the woofer section while the other is attached to the mid and tweeter section. This helps keep the lows from over-riding the highs and mids.
Diffraction – When sound is deflected by an object. Not cool.
Frequency – How fast the sound waves are vibrating, measured in Hertz. Higher sounds have higher frequencies.
Frequency Response – How well the speakers will represent a sound withing a given frequency range. If the sound is higher or lower than that range it may not be represented well by the speakers.
THD – Total Harmonic Distortion. You will see this one alot while shopping. Basically, all speakers and electronic devices will screw up the signal to some extent. The smaller this number, the better. 0 is the goal.
Slew rate – The difference between what the speakers should be producing and what it is.
Transiet rate – The ability of the speakers to keep up with changes of amplitude and to minimize the slew rate.
Best Studio Monitors Under $500
KRK RP8 Rokit
Especially good for Acoustic, Electronic and Hip-Hop studios. The KRK is one of the most favored budget-priced monitors out there — and for good cause. KRK has a wide selection of affordable studio monitor packages to choose from and they are widely used by a lot of happy customers.
The RP8’s use an 8″ woofer with a glass aramid composite core to be able to handle a frequency response range of 45Hz – 20kHz with only 1.5 dB of variance at that range. Plus, it uses a 1″ neodynium and ferro fluid tweeter for incredible reaction rate and the ability to provide extremely true sound.
Additionally, the woofer is front firing, which helps keep the sound from getting amplified and distorted by walls — like so many “back firing” studio monitors will do.
The only real downside with these monitors is that they do not provide a perfectly flat tone and are a little heavy on the mid and low ends. While this makes it more appealing to many buyers, you may want to shoot for a monitor that provides a more “true” flat, studio sound. After all, you do want to hear the flaws in your music and you don’t want a monitor that will cover that up.
Diffraction can be another big problem with studio monitors, and the KRK uses a lot of curves to keep the cabinet from hurting the sound. In fact, it is this attention to detail which helps make the KRK so popular.
Finally, interference is another major problem, and these studio monitors come equipped with Balanced XLR cables and are shielded for use around video.
That said, if you are looking for a top-of the line studio monitor that is well built, award winning, and provides incredible low-frequency delivery — without the hassle of setting up subwoofers — this KRK RP8 is going to be really, really tough to beat when you look at the other monitors in the under $500 price range.
Mackie MR8MK2 Active Studio Monitors Reviewed
These will save you a little more money and are a huge favorite of many home production studios and audiophiles alike. Many people will opt to just get one of these speakers — and with their size, you might be glad you did. However, for the full near-field experience you will want to go ahead and get the full pair.
The 5″ woofer on its little brother — the MR5 — is ample for most mixing, but the ranges below 80 hz tend to drop off pretty rapidly, so you definitely are not looking to use this monitor if you do a lot of electric and hip-hop and other Bass-heavy mixing.
Going with the MR8 (100 watts to the woofer!) gives you that little extra “oomph” and it even has a “bass boost” button to bump it up by 4 dB… not enough to shake the room, but enough to let you hear it a little more.
The MR8MK2 has a couple of advantages over the KRK. First of all, it has a wider “sweet spot” so you don’t have to be perfectly positioned between the two monitors to get the perfect sound. That can be really nice if you have more than one person listening to the mix.
Additionally, it has extra controls, for both the tweeter (high frequency) and the woofer (low frequency).
Like the KRK it uses a 1″ neodynium tweeter.
Compared to the KRK which only has high-frequency controls, the MR8 is a real — if understated — winner.
Yamaha does a really good job at delivering a lot of professional value at the under $500 mark with its MSP7’s.
To begin with, you get 80 watts of power to drive the 6.5″ woofer and 50 watts for the 1″ tweeter. (That’s pretty much the same as the Mackie which is running 50W for the tweeter and 100W for the woofer) . The amplifiers are well-matched to the speakers to make sure that the sound is balanced.
Even better, the amplifiers are carefully filtered and bi-amplified to help keep the frequencies from muddling over each other and minimizing the sound. This detail in the circuitry really sets the Yamaha apart from other studio monitors in its price range.
I really like the 1″ titanium dome tweeter for its fast response.
Its all put into a hefty cabinet with nice, rounded corners to prevent sound abuse by diffraction. Additionally, Yamaha has a lot higher quality standards than many of the other companies out there, which means that this speaker will consistently deliver true sound, every time you want it to.
You are limited to XLR cables, but the, why would you use anything else if you are looking for high quality sound?
The only downside? The price. You can get one speaker for under $500, but you’ll be hard pressed to afford two for that price. Worth it? Absolutely. This one is in an entire field of its own.
Yamaha MSP vs HS80?
I was going to review the HS80, but then I discovered the MSP7. You see, the HS80’s are what everybody talks about and may well be the most popular home-price studio monitor on the market.
However, they are just that — the economy line. By going with the MSP series, you get better wattage, more durability, a better cabinet design and better parts. In other words — you are buying a unit that will actually last.
However, you end up paying $400 for a 6.5″ woofer instead of $300 for a 8″ one.
In other words, the HS80s are more accurately compared to the monitors on this page while the MSP might be considered the “next step up”
So there. Now you know the little secret your music store won’t tell you. For this review, its all about the best value for your money.
The #1 Pick – The Pioneer S-DJ05
Did you think that this review was going to list a 5″ studio monitor as the winner? Neither did I.
I love this one because of its FLAT sound. So when you are mixing, you are actually hearing the sound as it truly is — giving you the ultimate feedback as a mixer to adjust and compensate the inputs.
The Tweeter is a soft dome tweeter — nothing to write home about spec-wise — but it listens well and reviews well and that’s what matters. It can handle sounds with frequencies up to 25 kHz.
And, don’t let it’s 5″ woofer scare you off — it can handle frequencies as low as 50 Hz. Not quite as low as the KRK’s 45 Hz, but for the truer sound, I think its an excellent trade-off. Plus the extra bass enclosure gives you a little better feel on that lower range.
It also has more inputs selections available than most of the other monitors and that includes XLR, TRS, and two RCA phono ports. (an LED-lit selector on the front allows you to switch between them on the fly)
The Super-curved enclosure takes a page from other top speaker designers to eliminate sound diffraction.
Plus, you have more control than any of the other monitors. It has both a high frequency and a low frequency equalizer available (similar to the Mackie). However, the
Pioneer is really cool in that you can push a button to turn off all of the equalizing and just hear the true sound. Push the button again and hear it like you would through an ordinary speaker.
Another big sell point is the big knob remote that comes with it. Control the sound of both monitors with the easy to handle knob — or mute them all together. Geeky? yep. But it makes it easier to handle it and I like it. Mackie charges you extra for their Big Knob.
And the best thing?Like the Yamaha, it uses a Bi-Amplification system to keep the frequencies from inter-modulating or muddling each other. The bi-amplification setup is what makes the Pioneer so crisp and true . Frankly, this circuitry is something that you typically would pay a lot more for — and I’m thrilled to see it at this price point.
Sure, it doesn’t have “titanium cones”, but what it does offer is better matched, and better designed — and the full potential is realized. Forget the catch-phrases and go for this winner.
Best Studio Monitors Under $200
Studio Monitors Under $200 Won’t Blow you Away (But they won’t break the bank, either)
The #1 Pick…
As you’ll see in the review below, this one seems to have the best balance of components in any reference monitor at the $200 price point
You can use these to mix music, or just play Pandora through them and revel in its incredible sound.
Its the high fidelity speaker system your friends will envy and it moonlights nicely as a reference monitor for those intense home recording sessions you have planned.
I like the sound. Other home audio enthusiast love the sound. You can’t go wrong.
$200 Studio Monitors You Can Be Proud Of.
4″ is too small
There are several studio monitors out there that have less than a 4″ woofer. Unfortunately, you simply can’t get enough volume out of a 4″ woofer for it to be a true studio monitor. For this review I stuck with 5″ woofers or larger.
High Quality Speakers are Expensive
You know that already. So when you are shopping for sub-$200 studio reference monitors just realize that you are buying a super-glorified speaker system.
It will absolutely blow any normal computer speakers “out of the water”. AND it will be durable enough to handle those pops and crackles that your raw mixes may have.
However, they won’t have nearly the range, control, or quality of sound as a $500 studio monitor or $1000 Reference monitor will have.
So for those of you who can save up for a few more weeks, I’d encourage it.
JBL LSR 2325P
An incredibly durable monitor. These monitors actually belong a league higher. However, they are such high-quality, felt they deserved a spot for your consideration.
At the sub-$200 price point you are going to run into a lot of monitors that are simply not up to the task. They tend to overheat and start distorting the sound.
The JBL speaker brand name is one that you can rely on. They actually benchmark their speakers by cranking them all the way up and letting them play for 100 hours. Fe other manufacturers ensure that type of quality out of their product.
JBL’s on Amazon
The downside with the JBL studio monitor is that you are only going to be able to afford one. So you could start with that, and then add the second one later on to complete your nearfield listening set up.
The JBL LSR 2325P has a 5″ woofer that is powered with 55 watts of power and a 1″ silk tweeter with 35 watts. The silk is great because it gives the highs a more “airy feeling and the 5″ woofer is a deep cone setup, allowing for accurate representation of lows down to frequencies of 43 Hz.
Has balanced XLR and 1/4” interfaces as well as an unbalanced (of course) RCA plug.
Both low and high frequency controls are available to help you adjust the sound so you can get an accurate representation in any room — something that I’ve seen left out of even more expensive designs.
If you can find these reference monitors on sale, you can typically buy each monitor for around $130 each. I know that puts it just over the $250 mark for a pair, but its still a really good deal.
With the Mackie Mr5’s you are, first of all, buying the Mackie name and all of their experience in sound system creation.
Additionally, with 85 watts of power, you have more oomph than most of the other speakers we have reviewed. The woofer is 5.25″ and the tweeter 1″. Nothing too spectacular.
What IS spectacular is the bi-amplification circuitry. the Mackie combines their excellent amplification system with a carefully designed cabinet that ensures that you are getting the best sound possible for your money.
Probably the best thing about going with the Mackie’s is that you will get a more true sound than most of the other speakers I’ve reviewed here.
Flat sound means that you are hearing the mix just as it has truly been recorded.
For this fact alone I would opt for the Mackies over the JBL or even the pricier KRK Rokits.
Of course, if you are going to be doing a lot of easy listening through your monitors, than you would probably prefer the M-audio’s or Alesis.
It’s a matter or preference
Alesis Monitor 1 Active 520’s
The Monitor everyone is talking about.
The Alesis 520’s are another really great value for the money, and one that receives excellent reviews.
It packs 75 watts of power, with 25 watts going to the 3/4″ silk dome tweeter and 50 watts going to the 5″ propylene woofer.
It also has three equalizer knobs for low mids and highs to enable you to adjust it to any room you are in.
Click Here to See the Alesis M1 520’s on Amazon
At the sub $200 price point (for the pair of speakers) I would put these near the top of the list, and a great monitor for audiophiles to consider. However, for mixing you may not like it as well as some of the others.
A better monitor to consider would be the Alesis Monitor 1 MK2. It really fills in all the gaps that the 520’s fall short on. You have the little larger 6.5″ woofers, and the 1″ tweeter for bigger sound. It also handles a larger range, going as low as 45 Hz. The MK2 one the TEC award and is raved about on forums everywhere for its incredible sound. Of course, you’ll pay a little more for this excellent budget monitor.
M-Audio BX5a Deluxe
More than You would Expect at this price. BX5A Deluxe These M-Audios are probably one of the most-reviewed cheap studio monitor sets online.
And M-audio does a really good job of packing a lot into this little package.
To begin with they give you a high-quality 5″ woofer that is crafted from both Kevlar and rubber. The 1-inch tweeter uses shielded silk so you get great, airy sound without sacrificing durability.
Some might say that it is a little under-powered with its 70 watts of power, but at this price point I would say thats about what you can expect. However, in this deluxe upgrade from their long-running BX5a system, M-audio cranks up the music and adds incredible circuitry to this cabinet. Basically, you are looking at a full Bi-amplification system with crossovers fully in place to keep the drivers from cross-talking and muddling up the sound.
Its because of this circuitry that the M-audio gets such high marks. Frankly, this is one of the best you can buy at this price point. Audiophiles will love it for its incredible sound and budding home studios can benefits from its studio monitor quality.