When it comes to making the most of your drum machines, synths, DAWs, plugins and other music making gear, sooner or later you’re going to want to pay critical attention to the sounds you’re working with and how they mix together to form the basis of your tracks and that’s where studio monitors come into the picture – forget trying to make music on your home HiFi system, studio monitors are designed to give you an as accurate representation of your sounds and music as possible, warts and all.
There’s never been a better time to invest in studio monitors with respected manufacturers such as Genelec and KRK working hard to bring cutting edge audio technologies to an army of music producers, sound engineers, musicians and DJs at an affordable price point.
In this round up of active nearfield monitors I have put together a hand picked selection of some of the best monitors on the market today, with prices to suit all pockets.
Studio monitors featured in this guide:
- Alesis Elevate 5 MK II
- ADAM Audio T5V
- Behringer Truth B2031A
- Dynaudio LYD-7
- Fluid Audio FX80
- Focal Alpha 65 Evo
- IK Multimedia iLoud Micro Monitor
- Kali Audio IN-8 2nd Wave
- PreSonus Eris E3.5
- Genelec 8010A
- KRK ROKIT 7 G4
- JBL 306P MKII
Alesis Elevate 5 MKII: Best budget monitors under £150
Overview of price and specs.
Typical Price (per pair): £118.00
Recommended for: Beginners, casual hobbyists, small bedroom studios, multimedia producers and podcasters.
Special Features twin bass ports on each speaker
Woofer Size/Type: 5-inch low-frequency driver in ported enclosure
Tweeter Size/Type: 1-inch silk dome tweeter
Frequency Response: 56Hz – 20kHz
Dimensions: 184 x 221 x 269 mm
Manufacturer website: www.alesis.com/products/view/elevate-5-mkii
My thoughts: For many years Alesis have been delivering affordable monitors to cash strapped producers and the Elevate 5 MkIIs represent their latest attempts to cater to the ever growing small project studio and bedroom producer market.
The original Elevate 5 monitors were unveiled at NAMM way back in 2013 but technology marches ever onwards and the Alesis boffins have seen fit to make some minor adjustments and given these the MKII moniker.
They’re actually based around technology taken from Alesis’s well regarded Monitor One and M1 Active monitors (now both discontinued) and feature 5 inch low-frequency drivers and 1-inch silk dome tweeters housed in high-density wood cabinets with twin bass ports. A built in amplifier delivers 40 watts to both speakers (so that’s 80 watts in total according to my calculator!).
With a 5 inch driver in this price range you wouldn’t and shouldn’t expect world class bass and in my home studio I soon gave up trying to figure out what was going on with anything below the 60hz region. There is a bass booster switch on the back which you can flick to try to see if it helps aid clarity but in my experience it was best ignored.
Likewise, any 1-inch tweeter in this price range is obviously going to fall down in comparison to the kind of tweeters you’ll find in studio gear costing twice or four times as much but I found them to be adequate enough for non-critical mixing tasks (if there is such a thing!)
Listen very carefully! If these are going to be main speakers in your setup for a while then it’s vitally important you develop a good understanding of their weaknesses (which might not be totally obvious if you haven’t any experience with more costly monitors).
These speakers can go loud enough – you shouldn’t be mixing too loud anyway – and when you’re not working on your beats or tracks they make for a decent set of bread and butter speakers for all your gaming and video watching needs (and if/when you’re listening to movie soundtracks through these speakers do remember to pay attention to how they sound so that you can take that knowledge into your own mixing sessions).
In terms of connections you get a pair of RCA jacks plus a pair of 1/4 inch TRS jacks so you can connect them to your audio interface or mixer of choice. There’s a handy volume control and headphone socket (3.5mm) on the front of the right speaker.
Overall then, for beginner producers, hobbyists and students on a tight budget there’s much to appreciate about Alesis’s Elevate 5 MKII monitors. They represent a genuine – and easy – step up from your average laptop, computer or home HiFi speakers at a very welcome wallet friendly price indeed.
Alesis Elevate 5 Active Studio Monitor Speakers Video
…for what you are paying, these are some of the best options out there for the cash. They are a great buy for beginner setups and if you already have great monitors we’d also recommend them for that second ‘AB comparison’ pair. Great value monitors overall.Music Radar review, September 2021
ADAM Audio T5V: Best monitors under £300
Overview of price and specs.
Typical Price (per pair): £295
Recommended for: Bedroom/Small home studios. Electronic music producers. Score composers.
Special Features: The U-ART tweeter features the same “HPS Waveguide” as ADAM’s top-of-the-line S Series monitors
Woofer Size/Type: 5″ woofer
Tweeter Size/Type: .9″ U-ART ribbon tweeter
Frequency Response: 45 – 25000 Hz (Crossover frequency: 3 kHz)
Dimensions: 179 x 298 x 297 mm
Weight: 5.7 kg
Manufacturer website: www.adam-audio.com/en/t-series/t5v/
My thoughts: When it comes to picking a pair of ‘serious’ monitor speakers German manufacturer ADAM are definitely one of the names you want to be looking out for. They’ve been in the pro-audio business since 1999 and have built up a strong following in the electronic music production world thanks to innovative technologies such as the X-ART (extended Accelerating Ribbon Technology) tweeter.
ADAM have several different monitor ranges to choose from but it’s their cheaper T series I’ve opted for here and in particular T5V which to my mind represents an excellent compromise between price and performance.
It’s the cheapest monitor ADAM currently manufacture but the T5V certainly isn’t cheap rubbish – you’re still getting some world class audio technology for your money here including ADAM’S U-ART 1.9” Accelerated Ribbon Tweeter which is taken from their more expensive AX and S Series monitors.
Since their launch these gorgeous speakers have been showered with numerous industry awards and have found a home in many pro-studios so if you invest in these you can enjoy the glow of feeling like a “pro” yourself, while you boil the kettle and wait for your latest FL Studio update to finish downloading!
Powering these up and running audio through them for the first few times could trigger many goosebump and grin inducing “Ooh” and “Ahh” moments for you in a way that most cheaper monitors simply can’t – the TV5s deliver a beautifully clear top end – thanks to that aforementioned U-ART Accelerated Ribbon Tweeter – combined with powerful, tight bass notes (down to 45hz) and a dynamic, full on mid-range that always inspires me to get on and make my own music.
The T5V is ADAM’S entry level monitor so if you can stretch to it – and your room can handle it – then you might wish to forgo the T5V in favour of the bigger T7V or T8V and if money is really no object then you’ll want to check out the Adam S2V from ADAM’s ‘S’ series, their flagship monitor range, but if you’re on a tight budget the T5V deserve to be at or near the top of your list of potential monitors.
Lastly, ADAM’s marketing team were pretty keen for everyone to know that British Techno legend Carl Cox has a pair of these bad boys – along with other speakers – in his custom-built ‘El Rancho’ studio in Melbourne, Australia. So if they’re good enough for him…
Adam Audio T5V Speaker Review courtesy of Streaky
I’ve yet to come across any truly negative takes. And given their similarity to the A8Xs, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better all round option in this bracket.Mark Smith, Resident Advisor review, March 2018
The T5V delivers plenty of clarity, decent imaging and volume from a pretty compact footprint. A tidy package, at a good price.Music Radar review, September 2018
Behringer Truth B2031A
Overview of price and specs.
Typical Price (per pair): £350
Recommended for: Home studios.
Special Features:Manual frequency correction. Ultra-high resolution ferrofluid-cooled tweeter. Built-in limiter circuit for low and high frequency overload protection.
Woofer Size/Type: 8.75″ woofer
Tweeter Size/Type: 1″ dome tweeter
Frequency Response: 50 Hz to 21 kHz with
Dimensions: 250 x 400 x 290 mm
Weight: 15 kg
Manufacturer website: www.behringer.com
My thoughts: A step up from the Alesis Elevates, the Behringer Truth B2031A monitors have proven to be a big success for Behringer and are worth considering if you’re willing to spend more cash for more power (265 Watts of bi-amplified output to be specific) a bigger sound and more advanced features. That bi-amplification means you get 2 dedicated amplifiers per speaker system for improved signal integrity.
The Behringer Truth B2031A monitors boast a long-throw 8.75 inch polypropylene woofer for tight and accurate bass and the woofers are complimented by a high-resolution, ferrofluid-cooled tweeter.
The drivers are magnetically shielded and set into a moulded baffle trim that incorporates a tweeter waveguide (used to control directivity) and there are separate high- and low-frequency limiters to protect the drivers from overload.
At the back of the B2031A you’ll find a panel of useful filter switches which let you adapt the monitor’s low- and high-frequency characteristics to suit your listening environment.
As to who should consider these speakers, my feeling is that anyone wanting a loud, clear monitor with plenty of bass extension, at a sensible UK price, wouldn’t be disappointed. They probably work best for pop and dance music where they provide a good compromise between true neutrality and an exciting playback experience.Sound on Sound magazine review, May 2001
Dynaudio LYD-7: Best mid-price 7 inch monitors
Overview of price and specs.
Typical Price (per pair): £620.00
Special Features: Innovative side-flared slotted rear port. Advanced DSP with wall-boundary, sound balance, and bass extension adjustment options.
Woofer Size/Type: 7″ woofer
Tweeter Size/Type: 1.1″ tweeter
Frequency Response: 45Hz–22kHz (Crossover frequency: 4300Hz)
Dimensions: 186 x 320 x 296 mm
Weight: 8 kg
Manufacturer website: www.dynaudio.com/professional-audio/lyd/lyd-7
My thoughts: These popular 7 inch monitors have made a name for themselves thanks to their ability to deliver pro-level precision at a mid-level price point that could be hard to beat in terms of sheer bang for your buck.
The Dynaudio LYD range are specifically aimed at artists working in smaller setups such as editing rooms and home studios and are designed to deliver low volume precision meaning you can use them all day long at a comfortable level without suffering from fatigue or, worse, hearing damage.
The Dynaudio LYD-7 are based around a Bi-amped speaker design with high quality Class-D amplification (50 Watt per Woofer and 50 Watt per tweeter).
For those of you who like to take a break from production to tweak settings while wondering if things sound “better” as a result, on the rear panel you’ll find a “voicing” settings panel where you can adjust the Bass Extension (-+-10 Hz), Sound Balance (dark, neutral, bright)), and Position (free or wall-mounted installation) to best suit your room.
The LYD-7s have proven more than adequate in my home studio but If you’re a producer who favours very bass heavy hip hop or EDM then you might want to consider the LYD-8s instead for the improved clarity in the lower frequencies.
Dynaudio LYD Studio Monitors video overview
The LYD 7s perform closest to the Genelec 8340s. The focus is on a meaty mid range that doesn’t turn harsh, making it easy to mix less forward elements, especially reverb tails, quickly and audiblyComputer Music Magazine, December 2016
Fluid Audio FX80: Best Coaxial studio monitors under £400
Overview of price and specs.
Typical Price (per pair): £380.00
Special Features: Coaxial design. Adaptable EQ. Auto standby function.
Woofer Size/Type: 8″ woofer
Tweeter Size/Type: 1.2″ tweeter
Frequency Response: 35 – 22,000 Hz
Dimensions: 340 x 254 x 295 mm
Weight: 7.8 kg
Manufacturer website: www.fluidaudio.com/product/fx80/
My thoughts: Fluid Audio’s FX range are the only coaxial studio monitors on my list. ‘Coaxial’ means that the tweeter is mounted in the centre of the woofer in a coaxial configuration so that all the sound emanates from a single point. From a technical point of view this is useful both for improving off-axis response and also delivering extremely realistic imaging. It also allows for a more compact footprint cabinet.
In the FX80 The tweeter is mounted in a hard plastic wave guide that allows the high frequencies to flow uninterrupted with no audio smearing from the woofer’s movements. To my ears it means there’s no trouble picking out problems in the highest frequencies of even my busiest mixes.
Moving down the frequencey spectrum, the FX80s 8 inch woofers offer very impressive bass extension making them a good choice for anyone working in those bass heavy music genres who may feel that other monitors in this price range often leave them guessing about exactly what is happening down there in the – often mysterious – low end.
In terms of connections you get TRS and XLR balanced inputs and unbalanced RCA inputs and there’s an eight–position DIP switch to select various EQ options.
One nice touch to note is that the illuminated LED on the front panel is not only a status indicator, letting you see whether the FX monitor is on, off or in standby mode, but also acts as an alignment beacon which allows you to align your speakers to your ear level.
If you’re curious about coaxial monitors then the FX80s make for a great introduction to the technology at a price that can’t be matched by any other brand that I’m aware of.
Sean Phelan on the Fluid Audio FX80 coaxial monitors
I genuinely enjoyed my time with them. The FX80 produces a usable, wide–bandwidth performance that, once I’d learned its quirks, I’d have no problems using in a mix context… if I was on a really tight budget and worked, say, in EDM or indie guitar music, the FX80 would be a pretty smart monitoring choice.Sound on Sound magazine, February 2020
Focal Alpha 65 Evo
Overview of price and specs.
Typical Price (per pair): £600.00
Special Features: Unique Slatefiber cone. Low-shelf and high-shelf filters. Auto standby.
Woofer Size/Type: 6.5″ Slatefiber cone
Tweeter Size/Type: 1″ inverted aluminium dome
Frequency Response: 40 – 22000 Hz
Dimensions: 339 x 261 x 289 mm
Manufacturer website: www.focal.com/uk/monitoring-speakers/alpha-evo/alpha-65-evo
My thoughts: The Germans and Danes each have an entry in my monitor roundup and now it’s time to welcome the French competition in the form of the Focal Alpha 65 Evo.
With the stylish Evo range, French manufacturers Focal have taken their popular Alpha monitors and evolved them (hence ‘Evo’) into something that looks and sounds even better.
The Alpha 65 Evo has a 1 inch aluminium tweeter and a 6.5 inch woofer (this is a unique Slatefiber cone developed and manufactured in Focal’s workshops).
In terms of connections the Alpha 65 Evo features a 1/4 inch (6.35mm) TRS jack input plus XLR and RCA analogue inputs.
Overall this is a fantastic monitor. The Alpha 65 Evo’s tech means you get to enjoy a well designed speaker with excellent dynamics, fantastic low-end extension and superb stereo imaging too – all of which makes mixing your tracks much easier.
Not cheap, but it not only sounds great, but offers a substantial uplift over the numerous budget monitors on the market.Music Radar review, October 2021
IK Multimedia iLoud Micro Monitor: Best portable monitors under £350
Overview of price and specs.
Typical Price (per pair): £349.99
Recommended for: Producers working in small spaces and anyone who needs to be able to transport their music gear around easily.
Special Features: extremely compact. Bluetooth functionality. 56-bit digital signal processor with various EQ settings.
Woofer Size/Type: 3″ woofer
Tweeter Size/Type: 3/4″ silk dome tweeter
Frequency Response: 55 – 20,000 Hz
Dimensions: 180 x 135 x 90 mm
Manufacturer website: www.ikmultimedia.com/products/iloudmm/?pkey=iloud-micro-monitor
When Italian software developer and hardware manufacturer IK Multimedia first unveiled their iLoud Micro Monitors there was plenty of scepticism to whether speakers this small could possibly be a genuinely capable studio tool or if they’d be little more than glorified computer speakers. Luckily the sceptics were proven wrong and these tiny marvels of technology have since gone on to win plenty of plaudits and fans.
Each monitor features a 3/4 inch silk dome tweeter and a 3 inch woofer with a large-flaring front-firing bass reflex port.
iLoud Micro Monitor’s small footprint means closer placement to your ears which helps minimise room reflections. The internal 56-bit digital signal processor (DSP) is what really helps these pint sized marvels excel at their job offering as it does various EQ settings for optimising the bass and treble response as well as position compensation.
If space and budget allows then I’d recommend you think about a larger set of speakers on my list here but for producers needing to mix their music on the go and anyone who finds themselves working in small spaces, such as hotel bedrooms, these tiny speakers can be worth their weight in gold.
Produce Like A Pro iLoud Micro Monitors Review
It’s clear … that the IK Multimedia iLoud Micro Monitor speakers have been made by people who understand studios, and music production. For small studios in particular, we think the IK Multimedia iLoud Micro Monitor system excels in every respectMusic Radar review, September 2020
Kali Audio IN-8 2nd Wave
Overview of price and specs.
Typical price (per pair): £640.00
Special Features: 3 Way system with coaxial midrange/tweeter. EQ for adjustment to the installation location.
Woofer Size/Type: 8″ woofer plus 4″ midrange
Tweeter Size/Type: 1″ soft dome tweeter
Frequency Response: 37 – 25.000 Hz
Dimensions: 441 x 285 x 254 mm
Manufacturer website: www.kaliaudio.com/independence
The bass response extends down to an impressive 45 Hz at -3dB, giving the IN-8s the serious low end weight you’d expect from an 8-inch driver, and meaning you can probably just about get away without needing a subwoofer even if you’re producing bass-heavy music… the Kalis punch above their weight, competing with far more expensive monitors.Juno.co.uk monitor roundup, January 2022
PreSonus Eris E3.5: Best monitors under £100 for Youtube videos
Overview of price and specs.
Typical Price (per pair): £100
Recommended for: Producers working on music for media projects, video games and Youtube videos.
Special Features: Three different types of audio inputs. Bass and Treble controls. Overheating protection and subsonic filter
Woofer Size/Type: 3.5″ Woofer with Kevlar cone
Tweeter Size/Type: 1″ Tweeter with silk cone
Frequency Response: 80 – 20,000 Hz
Dimensions: 210 x 141 x 162 mm
Weight: 2.9 kg
Manufacturer website: www.presonus.com/products/Eris-E35
My thoughts: Coming in at less than 90 bucks It’s quite remarkable just how cheap – and capable – these monitors really are. The boffins at PreSonus certainly know a thing or two about producing quality monitors and luckily for us their knowledge has been poured into the creation of these wallet friendly wonders.
Obviously something this cheap can’t fully compete with the more expensive PreSonus Eris range but they still boast high quality components including Kevlar drivers.
On the back of the left Eris 3.5 you’ll find a TRS jack and RCA input, plus a stereo mini jack and high and low frequency controls. On the front panel you get a Volume control and 1/8-inch headphone output.
The Eris E3.5 features a one-inch silk-dome tweeter and 3.5-inch woofer. As you might expect from monitors of this size the bass doesn’t extend as deep as we’d typically desire so if you’re mostly wanting to create bass heavy music, but have a limited budget, then consider the Alesis Elevate MKIIs instead.
Overall there is detail here – even low down – that again you shouldn’t really expect for speakers of this size … Great media monitors, then, ideal for video mixing, Youtubers, gaming and budget music production, and the price is verging on the ridiculousMusic Radar review, September 2021
Genelec 8010A: Best portable Genelec speakers under £500
Overview of price and specs.
Typical price (per pair): £499.00
Recommended for: Producers wanting to get into Genelec technology without breaking the bank. Producers working in small spaces.
Special Features: Genelec technology squeezed into an extremely compact design. Rear panel room compensation switches. Vibration decoupling Iso-Pod stands.
Woofer Size/Type: 3″ woofer
Tweeter Size/Type: 3/4″ tweeter
Frequency Response: 67Hz-25kHz (3000Hz Crossover Frequency)
Dimensions:95 x W 121 x D 115 mm
Manufacturer website: www.genelec.com/8010a
My thoughts: Genelec have been a famous name in speaker design for over 40 years now and If you’re on the hunt for professional studio monitors then a set of Genelecs is likely to be high on your list of possible purchases/wish lists.
These might be the smallest Genelec monitors you can buy in their best selling 8000 series but there’s been no scrimping on quality or features. They’re solidly built and certainly look and feel like a premium product. The 8010As small size but premium technology make them a fantastic option for anyone finding themselves working in tight spaces be it a bedroom studio or even a hotel room.
Talking of technology, there’s all sorts of Genelec wizardry squeezed into these cute little guys (or girls if your prefer!) including room response compensation, intelligent signal sensing, protection circuitry and two optimised amplifiers (25 W Class D for both the bass and treble).
When it comes to the actual sound you can expect solid bass down to 67hz and a crystal clear high end up to 25 kHz. They can go plenty loud too. That 67hz number for the bass is worth noting, by the way – it does mean they struggle to reproduce those super low frequencies in a way bigger and more expensive Genelec monitors simply don’t so you’ll need to decide if it’s good enough for your needs. (Of course you could opt to pair the 8010As with a subwoofer for more bottom end if your budget allows).
I do like to use the 8010As when doing detailed sound sculpting work in my low-mids and mid range frequencies in particular then switch to a bigger pair of monitors when it comes to tackling those filthy low bass notes.
Overall then, these are quality studio monitors that come highly recommended by numerous professional music producers. They look and sound like professional quality gear – as you’d expect from one of the world’s leading speaker manufacturers – and would make a useful addition to anyone’s setup.
Of course Genelec gear never does come cheap and the 8010As are no exception but in my opinion these 8010As offer an excellent compromises between price, performance, build quality and size.
Genelec’s monitors can be found in professional studios around the world so if you do decide to treat yourself to a set of these you can rest assured you’re in good company.
Sure the 8010As can’t compete with Genelec’s flagship ‘The Ones’ models, which are much more expensive anyway, but in my experience they are more than adequate enough for anyone starting out in music production. You can always upgrade to a set of The Ones should your music career really take off!
Genelec 8010A Studio Monitor video
If you are regularly on the move they will make a great investment, combining portability and durability equal to the calibre of sound.Music Radar review, July 2014
KRK ROKIT 7 G4: Excellent value 7 Inch studio monitor speakers
Overview of price and specs.
Typical price (per pair): £340.00
Recommended for: Electronic music production.
Special Features: 4th generation Rokit tech. Useful Android/iOS App with room correction tools. Brickwall Limiter
Woofer Size/Type: 7 inch woofer (made with Kevlar)
Tweeter Size/Type:1 inch tweeter (made with Kevlar)
Frequency Response: 42 – 40000 Hz
Dimensions: 339 x 225 x 284 mm
Weight: 7.6 kg
Manufacturer website: www.krkmusic.com/Studio-Monitors/ROKIT-7-G4
My thoughts: American speaker manufacturer KRK’s distinctive yellow coned ROKITs remain as popular as ever – the ROKIT brand is to said to be the number one best selling monitor brand in the world – with both hobbyist and professional producers alike. Some “serious” gear heads do like to argue that their success is down to marketing hype and looks as much as it to their abilities as a “proper” monitors but over the years the ROKITs have proven themselves more than capable of earning a place in professional studios as well as countless bedroom studios.
Recent years have seen the ROKITs undergo a number of important upgrades and design changes resulting in what I have here: The 4th-generation KRK ROKIT 7 G4.
The KRK team have clearly put a lot of effort and thought into making sure their latest ROCKIT range are a marked improvement on previous models (which were already pretty good, truth be told) and that their monitors can compete with an ever growing amount of competition in this market/price range.
The 4th-Generation ROKITs have much to like including front-firing ports for improved bass extension, custom-designed Class D power amps with built-in brickwall limiter, high-density iso-foam pads on the underside of each monitor, useful room correction and an iOS and Android app that can further adjust your ROCKITs to suit your tastes and room setup and also help with speaker placement and level matching.
Perhaps befitting their monitors-for-the-masses “bedroom producer” image, the ROKITs are loud, in your face and punchy by default which makes them fun to use when producing bass heavy hip hop and up front, electronic dance music so investigate them further if that’s the kind of music you’re making.
As the name suggests, the ROKIT 7 G4 boasts a 7 inch woofer (Kevlar cone with rubber surround)
while high frequencies are handld by a 1 inch tweeter (matching yellow Kevlar HF units). With a frequency response of 42Hz-40kHz, the ROKIT 7 G4s have got most of your music’s frequencies covered nicely but if you do crave more bass you could opt for the larger ROKIT 8 G4s instead which go down to 36hz. Only opt for the smaller ROKIT 5 G4s if you’re determined to save your pennies.
Forget any fears you may have that the ROKITs are for amateurs and teenage wannabes with more money than sense – there’s nothing amateurish about the ROKIT 7 G4 at all and for the money you’re getting a very capable – and deadly serious – set of professional monitors indeed.
KRK ROKIT 7 G4 Studio Monitor Review video with Crossfadr
With their punchy delivery and abundance of EQ tweaking options, the RP7 monitors are Rokit’s best yet, offering plenty of power at an accessible priceFuture Music magazine review, October 2020
JBL 306P MKII: Best selling JBL monitors under £400
Overview of price and specs.
Typical Price (per pair): £350.00
Special Features: High Frequency Trim switch. Patented ‘Slip Stream’ low-frequency port. Image Control Waveguide technology for detailed imaging.
Woofer Size/Type: 6″ Woofer
Tweeter Size/Type: 1″ tweeter
Frequency Response: 47 – 20,000 Hz
Dimensions: 361 x 224 x 282 mm
Weight: 6.1 kg
Manufacturer website: www.jblpro.com/products/306p-mkii
My thoughts: The MkI versions of JBL’s incredibly popular 3 Series monitors got an upgrade with improved drivers and a new Boundary EQ adjustment setting designed to compensate for low frequency variants introduced by the environment.
The MKIIs have certainly been met with plenty of praise in the press including a glowing 9 out of ten review in MusicTech magazine and it’s not hard to see – or rather hear – why.
Considering their relatively modest price the JBL 306P MKIIs really do deliver some fantastic technology including a patented JBL Image Control Waveguide (for detailed imaging) which is taken from JBL’s flagship M2 Master Reference Monitor. There are also refined transducers and a Patented ‘Slip Stream’ low-frequency port for superior bass performance at all playback levels.
These speakers are by no means expensive, and they deliver a very strong performance for their price. They offer a good overall tonal balance, sound less forward than previous JBLs, and yet are still very revealing of detail. I found myself really enjoying them, and I’d be confident using them for serious mixing.Sound On Sound magazine review, July 2019
What are studio monitors for?
Studio monitors help you more accurately hear your music as it actually is, with as little colouration from the speakers themselves as is possible.
Studio monitors are designed to help you make those crucial mixing decisions about the loudness and placement of every sound in your mix.
Studio monitors can help you detect problems in your mix such as unwanted noise and hum, muddy bass, irritaing sibilance in vocals, stereo phase issues and annoying and painful resonances in your synth pads and leads.
Studio monitors help you to mix your music so that it ‘translates’ well to other playback systems from cheap radio and laptop speakers to world class club systems and everything inbetween.
Just as an artist wouldn’t try to create an exquisite oil painting using cheap watercolour paints so music producers should avoid trying to mix their sound accurately on playback systems that are not designed for the job.
Be aware that due to the laws of physics even the best studio monitors costing thousands of pounds will colour the sound in some way. This really doesn’t mean you can skip the studio monitors though. The essential take home point is they will always colour sound far less than your typical home hifi or consumer headphones will.
Why does accuracy matter when it comes to making music?
Let us imagine you’ve spent eight hours mixing your latest track using your dad’s favourite ‘home cinema’ headphones. You’ve carefully cut and boosted frequencies throughout your 7 minute Synthwave epic and agonised for hours about exactly how far left to pan your Neo from the Matrix vocal sample. It all sounds fantastic while you’re listening with your dad’s super-expensive headphones on, for sure.
The problem is you can be sure that should other people choose to listen to your track they won’t be wearing your dad’s headphones (unless you only intend to write music for your nearest and dearest!).
When played back on other devices there’s the certainty that your mix is going to sound quite different to how you imagined. In otherwords, it might not ‘translate’ well.
All those carefully made boosts and cuts you spent hours on may have done more harm than good and your carefully placed vocals and instruments might be too loud, too quite, not panned wide enough or creating phase issues or other problems.
What you need is a playback system that gives you an accurate – not coloured – recreation of your music so you can make informed mixing (and sometimes mastering) decisions and be confident that your music will ‘translate’ well when played on a range of devices.
If your attempts at mixing has left your bass sounding muffled and your synths sounding too harsh or too quiet then you need to be able to detect and correct those issues before releasing your track into the wild and that’s where a decent pair of studio monitors come in.
What are Active Near Field monitors?
An active near field monitor contains all the built-in active electronics required (typically filtering, EQ, amplification, and crossover) housed inside the speaker cabinet. Many producers/consumers prefer the convenience of active monitors where only one power cable and one audio cable are required to use all of the components contained inside the monitor.
Near field monitors typically feature smaller drivers (the part of a speaker that produces the sound) and they are designed to be placed closer to the listener’s head with the head ideally located somewhere in the optimum “sweet spot” between the left and right monitor. Being closer to the head, and therefore the ears, means that you should hear more of the speaker and less of the reflections and other imperfections created by the size and shape of your room.
Active vs Passive monitors:
Bigger drivers are nearly always a good thing and so passive speakers can often boast better balanced – and louder – sound when compared to active monitors in a similar price bracket however advances in technology means that well designed active monitor speakers are perfectly capable of satisfying the needs of even the fussiest music producers.
One big advantage of the passive monitor is that you can pair it with the amp of your choice. This is great if you know what you’re doing but the disadvantage of this is that choosing an amp can be as time consuming as picking your passive monitors. With active monitors the amp is built in and ready to go so it’s one less thing to worry about.
If you’re a home based hobbyist music maker or student producer then a decent set of active near field monitors – such as those mentioned on my list above – are going to be more than adequate for your music production needs.
The importance of ‘learning’ your studio monitors
Whatever studio monitors you decide to buy – no matter how cheap or expensive they might be – you’ll need to spend time – many weeks or months – learning how they respond to different kinds of music.
You’ll need at least some idea of how your studio monitors are colouring the sound and what problems your monitors, in your particular room, face when dealing with specific frequencies (such as the lowest bass frequencies).
Learning your monitors involves critical listening to a variety of music genres and analysis of both your own and other people’s music. It also means at least some understanding of how your monitors are affected by their precise location in your room (for example, are they placed too close to a wall, do they need to be isolated from a desk or is the shape of the room boosting certain frequencies and muffling others?).
By studying how your monitors reproduce different kinds of music you can better deal with typical issues in your own music such as your bass sounding too powerful (or too weak) or your high end sounding too quiet (or too loud).
Are expensive studio monitors really necessary?
Make no mistake about it, producing great mixes that translate well to a myriad of consumer devices is hard work so any tools you can get that make life easier for yourself are well worth investigating and studio monitors are one of the most important tools in your armoury.
A general rule of thumb when it comes to studio monitors is that you get what you pay for. It almost goes without saying that a pair of hand crafted £/$800 monitors from a reputable company is likely to be of a higher quality than a pair of plastic £/$50 monitors made by a company that specialises in making plastic novelty tat.
However this doesn’t mean that everyone needs to go out and rob a bank in order to afford a pair of world class monitors before they can start making music!
My own general rule of thumb is that if you’re creating music in an untreated space, such as at the kitchen table, then spending too much money on your monitors is a waste of money. Leave the super expensive monitors to the professionals working in their treated studios.
How much to spend on a first set of studio monitors?
For the average hobbyist producer or enthusiastic beginner working in an untreated room I’d suggest your first set of monitors should come in at less than £500. Anything around the £200 to £500 mark is going to be adequate for your needs until you’re ready to step up a gear and start investigating room treatments!
You can avoid buying those £50,000 monitors until after you’ve won your first Grammy!
A cheaper – but still decent – set of monitors leaves you more cash to spend on other studio gear such as a pair of professional studio headphones.
Where are studio monitors used?
Studio monitors can be found anywhere accurate sound reproduction is crucial including recording studios, film and television studios, radio studios, and home studios.
Are studio monitors essential for music production and mixing?
When discussing this topic with friends in the past I have used this analogy: Let us imagine an artist wants to paint a picture of his wife who is sitting naked on a chair and demanding to be painted!Of course it is not essential for the artist to have access to high quality canvas and the world’s finest oil paints but he might find it useful to have at least something suitable to paint on and half decent set of paints to paint with!
In this day and age music production can be done by anyone with a suitable laptop or even a mobile phone and cheap or free software and the resulting sounds can be played back on anything to hand from the cheapest laptop speakers and headphones to a home HiFi system.
However, all these consumer level devices are guaranteed to colour the sound in some way which means you’re not hearing an accurate reproduction of your sound which means you’re certain to be making the wrong mixing choices – such as having your bass mixed too high or too low – which sooner or later will need correcting if your tracks are going to stand up to your competition.
Studio monitors are used by professionals for a reason – they strive hard to get an accurate representation of their sounds with as little colouration from the speakers and their room/studio space as is possible.
Manufacturers such as Genelec go to great pains to ensure their monitors give you the ability to hear what your music really sounds like, warts and all.
In summary, studio monitors are essential for anyone hoping to make a career out of music production and mixing.
Mixing on Headphones versus Studio Monitors
Yes it’s the debate that goes back decades: Should you mix on headphones or studio monitors? Advances in headphone technology mean that the answer isn’t as clear cut as it once was but in general, if you’re striving for professional results, you should always favour mixing on the best studio monitors you can afford in an environment that’s geared towards music production.
That said, there are times when mixing on headphones is crucial and where good quality headphones do have an advantage over studio monitors.
In particular, a good set of professional studio headphones are really useful when you are forced to mixed in a room that you know has had little or no sound treatment. In such situations even the best studio monitors can be a real hindrance and a decent pair of headphones can really help by removing the influence of the room’s size and shape – and the resulting reflections and reverberations – from the equation.
I am aware that some professional music producers claim to never mix on headphones however I think that is unrealistic for most of us and I believe that regularly switching between decent headphones and properly set up monitors is the best way to go when working on my own projects.
Should you produce music without studio monitors?
Of course if you’re making music just for yourself or just for fun then you can get along just fine without investing serious money in a set of ‘pro’ studio monitors, at least until you’re ready to step up a gear.
To return to the artist analogy I used earlier: Sometimes all a budding artist needs to enjoy themselves is a biro and the back of an envelope – the oil paints, specialist glazes and primed canvas can wait for another day.
Don’t stop yourself enjoying the process of making music just because you haven’t got a decent pair of monitors.
Are virtual studio monitors worth using?
Recent years have seen a number of software products from the likes of Waves which claim to accurately simulate sitting in a treated studio with access to several high end monitors to choose from. The theory is you run your tracks through the software and get to hear what they would sound like when played on high end gear, in world class studios the likes of which most of us can only dream about.
These apps do ‘colour’ your sound by design, then, in an effort to replicate the effects of running your sounds through a range of – often very expensive – monitors.
I have not explored these products much – beyond briefly trying a few demo versions – but I know some producers who swear by them. If you’re new to mixing and music production I’d advise against using these apps, at least until you have had some experience of using real studio monitors and have developed your ability to identify and fix common issues in a mix.