Entry Level Studio Monitor Roundup
A step up from your headphones
A good set of studio monitors will revolutionise your home studio. In fact, of all the incremental steps you can take to upgrade your recording rig, the leap from headphones or tiny speakers to dedicated studio monitors is arguably one of the most significant.
Many people start off their home-recording journey using either headphones or – worse still – the tiny speakers built into their laptop, tablet or monitor. This is bad on a number of levels. Allow us to explain why.
When mixing, in order to achieve a balanced end result – where everything has its place in the EQ spectrum and the stereo field – small, or poor quality, sound production devices just don’t cut it. They’re not built for precision in the same way a set of studio monitors is.
No thanks, hi-fi
Often, to accentuate the problem, headphones are built to offer a more classic ‘hi-fi’ sound. This effectively cuts the middle frequencies and boosts both the bass and treble frequencies to make things more pleasurable to listen to. Great for listening to a well-mixed end product, but not so great for getting there in the first place.
Studio monitors, on the contrary, aim to keep the output frequency as close to flat as possible. No boosting or cutting frequencies; it’s the sounds you’ve made, exactly as you’ve made them. Warts and all. The theory is that you can then work on your EQ, panning, compression and other techniques on a level playing field.
So if you’ve yet to take the plunge on a set, here’s a few entry-level monitor speakers we’d recommend to start you off.
Alesis Elevate 3 MkII
Perhaps more of a bridge between internal computer speakers and dedicated monitors, the Alesis Elevate 3 MkII pair are a great way to dip your toe in the water. They’re small enough not to dominate a smaller studio space, and will provide you with a far better tonal palette to make judgements on.
While they’re not perhaps in the same class as some of the others in this list as a pure recording tool, they do stand up better to more generalised use. So if your setup is rocking Ableton Live one minute and Netflix the next, these might be just the ticket.
The Mackie CR3 pair is more in line with a dedicated studio monitor. This small, attractive-looking set will instantly elevate your mixes if you’re graduating up from headphones.
They have some nice features too, like a front-facing volume button – not as common as you’d think – and the ability to choose which speaker acts as the left or right one. Handy if your plug situation is anything like mine (e.g. a messy disaster)…
Presonus Eris E4.5
Presonus is a hugely respected name in studio technology, famous for some of the most iconic audio capture devices in musical history. So you know you’re in good hands with the Presonus Eris E4.5 studio monitors. Despite sitting at the more budget end of the spectrum, these monitors will instantly improve your ability to critically judge your recordings.
A nice pro touch these monitors offer is the ability to tune them according to your recording space. So, for example, if your monitors are next to a wall you can adjust the bass response accordingly, or alter the position.
We’re upping the quality even more here. The Yamaha HS5 is a modern take on the industry legend that is the Yamaha NS10.
NS10s were (and still are) implanted in pretty much every top studio the world over. Not because they were technically perfect, or offered the best sounds known to man, but for precisely the opposite reason. They sounded harsh, unbalanced and generally not cool. However, the theory went that if you could make something sound good on an NS10, you could make it sound good anywhere. Hence their popularity.
Thankfully, Yamaha hasn’t gone back down the ‘so bad it’s good’ route with the HS5 monitors. These are great quality at an affordable price. Should also note that these only come in singles, so you’ll need to get two if you want any chance of sorting your stereo field out…
KRK Rokit RP6 G3
Finally, the KRK Rokit RP6 G3 set is one of the more visually recognisable speaker setups on the list. They’ve gained favour with electronic and hip-hop artists on account of their famously accurate bass response. There are a number of models in the range, all increasing in quality, but a set of the RP6’s will keep you going for years.
It’s important to point out that mixing is an art, rather than a science. It’s also important to listen to your mixes on a number of devices – including headphones and smartphones – to make sure your tracks translate well to other devices. The fact remains however; there’s just no substitute for getting it right in the first place.