Do know what to look for when buying studio monitors? I sure didn’t. I ended up grabbing a pair of cheap 3-Inch monitors to save some cash and boy, I regret it. If you’re in the market for a new pair, then strap in because, in just a few minutes, you will learn how to choose studio monitors so you can grab the best pair for your studio at the right price. I’ll also offer my recommendations for some monitors and tell you which pair I bought when I was shopping around.
What are studio monitors?
Studio monitors, also known as reference monitors, are loudspeakers housed in speaker enclosures that are used in professional audio production environments, such as recording studios, film studios, television studios, radio studios, and project or home studios, to ensure that the audio being produced is being reproduced accurately.
Is it possible to obtain good results with only one studio monitor? While it’s possible to get by with just one studio monitor speaker for casual listening, using two in stereo is highly recommended if you want to create professional-quality music during the mixing process.
AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3
AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3
Should I listen to playback on monitors or headphones?
Generally, a combination of both monitors and headphones is recommended for a well-rounded monitoring approach. Using monitors for general listening and checking the mix’s overall balance and headphones for scrutinizing details and fine-tuning. This dual perspective can help you achieve a more accurate and reliable assessment of your audio production.
Monitors offer a natural and immersive listening experience. However, they are influenced by room acoustics and may not be suitable for noise-sensitive environments. On the other hand, headphones provide detailed and precise monitoring, ideal for focusing on subtle nuances and fine-tuning.
They offer isolation from external sounds and can be used anywhere. Keep in mind that headphones provide a different spatial perception compared to monitors.
How to choose studio monitors
When buying studio monitors, there is no one-size-fits-all for studio monitors. Everyone’s ear is different, and everyone has a different taste. And some of these factors might not be important to you, and that’s ok. The keyword in all of this is you. You might work with trap music or vocals or edit podcasts. The point is that you need to consider what you need it for and how you will use it.
1. Look for high-wattage studio monitors
Power is not just for volume; it’s also for dynamic range. As an audio engineer, you probably add a lot to your mix. If you don’t have a set of studio monitors with a high dynamic range, you won’t be able to hear all of the elements in your final track.
A monitor’s power is measured in wattage, and a high wattage will allow you to listen to transient details, making it easier to make precise adjustments to limiters, compressors, and gates. Sounds that tend to peak, like snare hits or kick drums, can require up to 10 times the power. This can make your track sound distorted, making you hear clipping on musical peaks.
2. Look for speakers with a lot of headroom
To provide the best dynamic range possible, invest in a set of speakers with a lot of headroom. Headroom is the maximum amount of undistorted signal the speakers can handle. When buying studio monitors, choosing a pair with plenty of headroom will help retain the details of your track when listening to playback so you can turn your speakers up to 11 without losing quality.
2. Choose between active and passive studio monitors
The choice between active and passive studio monitors boils down to your needs and preferences. Passive speakers draw their power from an external amplification source. They have wattage ratings but do not provide any power. The rating is there to indicate their ability to handle power. Active speakers come with an internal power source. They typically have multiple power amplifiers.
So the woofer, tweeter, and midrange speaker each get a separate power source. The woofer usually hogs up a lot of power. With a dedicated amplifier, the tweeter (for high frequencies) will sound great regardless of how much power the woofer uses, rendering a clear and accurate playback.
Most studio monitors are active speakers. I wouldn’t suggest getting a pair of passive speakers unless you have no other option. So, when buying studio monitors, look for active ones. An active speaker will have an amp built into the speaker cabinet, while a passive speaker will require an additional external amp
3. Choose between single-amp, bi-amp, and tri-amp
Active speakers have amplifiers built-in. Single-amp, bi-amp, and tri-amp refer to how the power is divided among the speaker’s components. A single amp configuration will power both the tweeter and the woofer, sharing power between the two as needed.
A bi-amp speaker has two dedicated amplifiers for the high and low frequencies, resulting in a cleaner, more accurate frequency response. A tri-amp configuration is used in monitors that have dedicated midrange speakers.
4. Consider the size of your room
Do you have room for studio monitors? You may be working in a very small environment. If so, chances are you’ll want a small pair of speakers. Consider the size of the overall area that it will take up in your room or desk. If you do not have the space on your desk, consider grabbing a pair of studio monitor stands. Most manufacturers provide this as an optional add-on when buying studio monitors.
5. Consider the audio inputs
When buying studio monitors, consider what audio inputs it needs to support. It would be unfortunate if you bring a pair of studio monitors home to realize that you have incompatible equipment. Do you need ¼ inch TRS or RCA inputs? How about ⅛ inch stereo inputs? Perhaps you need AUX inputs to plug your phone in via a 3.5mm cable? How about XLR, Bluetooth, Optical, or Coaxial?
When buying studio monitors, you should know which inputs and how many you require. You should have a way to input an audio interface as well.
6. Choose between ported or closed studio monitors
You’ve probably noticed many studio monitors have holes in the front or rear. These kinds of monitors are called ported cabinets. This is there to extend the frequency response to provide more bass. When monitors vibrate, the backward movement will create internal air pressure inside the cabinet. The holes (or ports) redirect the air pressure outside the cabinet, allowing a better low-frequency response.
However, if the port is positioned in the rear of the monitor, then you might experience over-extended lows. If you place your monitor in front of you, you should be fine. But if they go to the corners or walls, consider front-ported or closed monitors.
7. Near vs. far field studio monitors
Near-field monitors typically have smaller drivers and are meant to sit close to the listener (2-3 feet away). The proximity allows direct sound to directly hit the listener’s ear rather than reflecting from the room’s surfaces. Conversely, Far-field monitors have larger drivers and are meant to be placed along the perimeter of a room, farther from the listener.
You can typically find far-field monitors mounted to walls, monitor stands, or behind a mixing desk. Far-field monitors take advantage of room acoustics and use the entire space to allow low frequencies to resonate. Most of us will go with near-field monitors, especially for home studio use. Far-field monitors require a lot of space, which many of us don’t have.
Additionally, far-field monitors are partially dependent on the acoustic makeup of a room, so a lot more money would need to spend a lot of money treating the room acoustically or far-field monitors to be worth it. That said, I don’t want you to write off far-field monitors; they serve a purpose and can give you a much more holistic mixing experience when appropriately utilized.
8. Consider your room’s acoustics
A good set of monitors will come with EQ adjustability so you can tune the speakers to the acoustics of your studio. Some monitors in the market have automatic digital processors that can detect the optimal EQ settings for the best sound in your room. However, If your room echoes, this won’t help. There is no magic pill to get perfect sound if your sound sucks.
You will have to treat the acoustics of your room yourself. That being said, if you have a studio with amazing acoustics, a monitor that can match your room will make your playback sound amazing.
9. Consider the cone size of the woofer and tweeter
When buying studio monitors, consider the cone size of the woofer and tweeter. Most typical cone sizes are 5 to 8 inches. The biggest difference between an 8-inch and a 5-inch speaker is that a 5-inch speaker does not produce as many low-ends as an 8-inch. The lower frequencies are not as powerful, and you might end up chasing a good base tone artificially because the speakers can’t produce anymore.
But, If you are just starting out, go with a 5-inch speaker. They are less expensive and more compact, so your lows won’t be overpowering. Also, note that the size of the cones will have an impact on the price of the monitors.
10. Consider the price
While it’s essential to factor in the price when purchasing studio monitors, it’s equally important to strike a balance between your budget and the quality you seek. And you might find that a budget-friendly option can provide you with even more value than a more expensive one.
The good news is there’s a growing selection of monitors priced around $300 per pair that deliver impressive performance. These gems offer a great way to enter the recording scene without breaking the bank or burdening yourself with a hefty mortgage. However, for those seeking a more high-end experience, the price range climbs to approximately $1400 for a top-tier pair.
If you want more information on choosing the right studio monitors, watch this video from Manchester Music. You won’t regret it.
Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about studio monitors.
How large should my monitors be?
As a general rule, the larger the monitor, the larger the room should be, or the monitor will not function properly. Eight-inch screens become economically viable once the room dimensions exceed 4 by 4 by 2.5 meters. Eight-inch displays work best in the space of 5 m x 5 m x 3 m.
In what range does the price of a studio monitor fall?
At the lower end of the price spectrum, you can find budget-friendly studio monitors that range from under $300 for a pair. Moving up in price, you can find mid-range studio monitors priced between $300 and $1000 per pair. These monitors often offer better sound quality, more accurate reproduction, and additional features that enhance the monitoring experience. If you’re for those seeking a more high-end experience, the price range climbs to approximately $1400 for a top-tier pair.
How much power should studio monitors have?
50 watts is a good rule of thumb if you’re just starting with your home studio. Studio monitors, in contrast to regular speakers, are not meant to improve the quality of the audio as it is being played back; quite the opposite.
Do you need to use a subwoofer?
When it comes down to it, a subwoofer is a must-have component. Begin with a single subwoofer if you’re just starting or the money is tight. Consider adding a second low-tone beast to your system as it develops. You’re pumping up the bass and dispersing it equally over the space.
What is the frequency response range?
The frequency response range of a monitor is an indicator of its ability to faithfully reproduce a wide variety of frequencies. The frequency range that the human ear can detect is 20 Hz to 20 kHz. As the number decreases, the pitch does as well. The typical frequency range for human hearing is 45–20,000 Hz.
The fact is that there is no best speaker. Everyone will have different needs and situations. And there are many factors to consider when shopping for a studio monitor. But hopefully, now you are armed with a little more knowledge to make the best decision when buying studio monitors. And the monitors I purchased when I had some extra cash? The Yamaha HS7i was the one for me.
This article covered the most important things you need to consider when purchasing a set of studio monitors. Here are some key takeaways:
- Choose studio monitors with high wattage and headroom to ensure a wide dynamic range and precise adjustments to your mix.
- Select the appropriate amp configuration (single-amp, bi-amp, or tri-amp) based on your monitoring needs.
- Take into account the size of your room and available space when choosing the size and placement of studio monitors.
- Consider the audio inputs and connectivity options required for your setup, ensuring compatibility with your equipment.
- Consider the acoustic characteristics of your room and explore monitors with EQ adjustability or automatic optimization for better sound reproduction.
- The cone size of the woofer and tweeter affects low-frequency response and overall speaker performance, so choose accordingly.
So, what pair did you grab when buying studio monitors? And did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below. I read and reply to every comment. If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music recording. Thanks for reading and sendoff.