HomeGear and Equipment→ What are the Best Budget Studio Monitors: 9 Monitors Reviewed

Marco Sebastiano Alessi

21 February, 2022

What are the Best Budget Studio Monitors: 9 Monitors Reviewed


Whether you’re an audiophile, a professional, or just like home studio recording, upgrading the audio equipment in your home recording studio is a crucial step towards a new sonic experience.

The best budget studio monitors will diffuse sound waves across your environment, creating an immersive soundscape in your room that makes you appreciate the audio quality of each production.

As someone who has produced dozens of albums over the last decade, I can guarantee you that working on the same album with two different pairs of studio monitors will lead to two albums that sound very different.

It may seem subtle at first, but once you start appreciating the quality of music production, you’ll realize the right monitors will open the door to the best music production and optimal listening experience far beyond just using studio headphones.

Today we’ll look into the world of the best budget studio monitors. Yes, they are cheap studio monitors, but the sound quality of these studio monitor speakers is anything but. Nevertheless, these budget studio monitors will provide you with everything you need.

This is true whether you’re a music producer or simply someone who loves to mess around with a digital audio workstation like Pro Tools, and especially true if you listen to music in a small room, office, or home recording studio.

Let’s take a look at the best cheap studio monitors.

What is a Studio Monitor?

best budget studio monitors

Studio monitors are probably the most critical piece of equipment music producers need if they want to upgrade their productions’ quality.

They allow you to listen to how your music interacts with the environment and adjust specific frequencies to make your music sound crystal clear in any environment, from pubs to DJ sets.

Furthermore, most of them come with a headphone input, headphone output, and stereo RCA inputs so music makers can achieve the best sound quality in every situation.

Studio monitors can be two-way or three-way.

Two-way monitors feature a tweeter, which is the upper and smaller speaker responsible for higher frequencies, and the woofer, responsible for the low and mid-range frequencies.

In a three-way monitor, you’ll have a mid-range speaker that’ll be responsible for reproducing, you guessed it, mid frequencies.

Most small studio monitors feature a two-way design that covers the entire frequency range. Although they might work well in small environments, it’s recommended you add a subwoofer to achieve accurate sound reproduction, especially if you’re a mixing or mastering engineer.

What Makes a Good Studio Monitor?

Essentially, the best studio monitors should be able to reproduce sound accurately throughout all audible frequencies.

In practice, it means you shouldn’t hear any distortions caused by the speakers even at a high volume, and you should be able to hear all frequencies even when you listen to music at a low volume.

Good studio monitors provide accuracy, transparency, and clarity, which are essential when you’re working with audio frequencies. They might not be the best option when listening to music, but they’re a must-have if you’re starting a career as an audio engineer.

Frequency response

Frequency response is a crucial element you should always take into consideration when buying a new powered studio monitor. Essentially, a speaker’s frequency response measures the frequency range, which is the range of sounds the speaker can reproduce.

As humans can hear sounds between 20 and 20.000 Hz, the best studio monitors must cover this frequency response entirely to ensure good sound quality.

Frequency response is important in all phases of audio production: from recording to mixing and mastering. A studio monitor that provides a flat frequency response throughout the frequency range.

Why Studio Monitors Can Improve Your Music Production

Why Studio Monitors Can Improve Your Music Production

Studio monitors allow you to listen to music without affecting the audio frequencies in any way. This is a crucial feature for music producers, but also audiophiles tend to appreciate the clarity and transparency of music reproduced by studio monitors.

Often, audio speakers and headphones emphasize certain frequencies, especially the lower ones, to make the music more captivating.

While this may be a valid feature for the average music consumer, an enhanced lower end of the spectrum results in a song that’s different from the way it was intended.

It may not be a biggie if you’re listening to pop music while commuting. However, genres like classical or experimental electronic music can be significantly affected by the change in the audio frequencies.

If you’re a music producer, by getting a pair of studio monitors, you’ll hear your tracks precisely as they sound. Studio monitors leave frequencies untouched, creating the perfect environment for professionally mixing and mastering your music.

Why It’s Better to Start With Cheap Studio Monitors

These days, you can create a functional recording studio even if you’re on a tight budget. It’s a fantastic thing, something audio engineers twenty years ago would have never thought possible.

And yet, today you can get professional studio monitors for as little as $100. They deliver professional, accurate sound, and in the right environment, they can help you achieve industry-standard results.

Remove Noise and Echo

from your videos and podcasts

If you’re a beginner, investing in high-end studio monitors might not be the best option for you, simply because the right affordable studio monitors can meet your needs for a long time without compromising the sound quality.

As we said earlier, a fundamental aspect is to get monitors that can make the most of your studio environment. If the room where you’re working is big, the only options you have is to buy big-size studio monitors or smaller monitors with a subwoofer.

On the other hand, if you’re in a bedroom-size recording studio, you can choose between the options mentioned above and enjoy the clarity and transparency the best budget studio monitors can deliver.

Studio Monitors vs. Studio Headphones

Studio Monitors vs. Studio Headphones

You may be wondering why using precious space in your recording studio while you can just use your headphones. The reality is that there are some very good reasons why you shouldn’t use studio headphones all the time.

First of all, always listening to music with your headphones has a negative impact on your auditory perception. Over time you may suffer hearing loss and be unable to hear some frequencies as clearly as you used to.

Studio monitors, on the other hand, allow you to listen to music with the same level of clarity without putting too much pressure on your ears.

When mixing or mastering music, the best practice is to listen to music via the studio monitors and use headphones only when there’s something that requires total concentration.

Are Studio Monitors Worth it for Listening to Music?

Are Studio Monitors Worth it for Listening to Music?

If music is an integral part of your life and you want to enjoy it in the most authentic way, then listening to music with studio monitors is an experience that will change you forever.

The transparency of the audio reproduction provided by good-quality studio monitors enriches the sonic palette of all music genres, from pop to jazz to classical music.

The only genres that may be affected negatively by using studio monitors are the beat-heavy electronic genres. For example, if techno is your favorite genre, music consumption on studio monitors will make songs sound weaker and less energetic.

For all the other genres, I strongly recommend you give it a try. It’ll be hard to go back to your standard speakers.

Passive vs. Active Speakers

The difference between passive and active speakers is simple: passive speakers don’t have a built-in amp, while active ones do. As a result, passive speakers need to be connected to an external amp to function, while active speakers are ready to reproduce music right away.

Because of their built-in amps, active speakers require power, so they’re the perfect all-in-one solution for music producers and DJs.

In terms of audio quality, there’s no big difference between the two options. However, I’d always go for active speakers for my recording studios: since every component is included in the studio monitors, it’s easier to achieve professional audio reproduction without having to set up both amplifiers and speakers.

Near-field vs. Far-field

Nearfield monitors are placed closer to the listener and provide an audio reproduction that’s less affected by the environment. They also reproduce music in a way that’s more in line with the average listener’s experience.

Nearfield monitors are generally placed some 2-3 feet away from the listener, are relatively small in size, and have a narrow frequency response.

On the other hand, far-field monitors have bigger drives, are placed farther away from the listener, and make the most of the room acoustics.

Lower frequencies benefit greatly from these types of studio monitors, as they allow the longer wavelength of low frequencies to expand and envelope the environment. Far-field monitors are generally placed 8-10 feet away from the listener.

What About the Subwoofer?

What About the Subwoofer?

There are some music genres that definitely require a subwoofer or big enough studio monitors that can compensate for the lack of it.

In fact, small studio monitors, between 3 and 5 inches, won’t be able to perfectly reproduce lower frequencies, resulting in audio reproduction that doesn’t correspond to the actual, authentic sound.

If you work in the genres of rock, dance, or hip-hop music, and upgrading your studio monitors is not an option, then a subwoofer will compensate for the missing frequencies and provide you with the transparent reproduction you need.

When buying a subwoofer, it’s fundamental to take into account the layout and size of your room. Frequencies, especially the lower ones, are magnified by walls, glass, and furniture in the room.

As a rule of thumb, you should place your subwoofer in front of you, on the floor, and a few feet away from the wall to ensure frequencies won’t be amplified by being too close to the wall. This is the best way to guarantee a transparent, detailed sound reproduction.

Do You Need Studio Monitor Stands?

Do You Need Studio Monitor Stands?

Monitor stands are essential if you want to reach optimal audio accuracy. Professional stands prevent vibrations from affecting audio reproduction, which is crucial in all professional recording environments.

Mixing and mastering engineers spend endless hours studying and optimizing their studio decks to ensure audio frequencies are not affected by the room ambience.

Especially when accuracy is of the essence, opting for professional stands will enhance the quality of your studio monitors and help you achieve professional results.

With the speakers on top of it, your desk will act as the body of a guitar, amplifying certain frequencies and affecting the unbiased sound studio monitors are supposed to provide.

All the objects on the desk, their different parts, and your movements as you play or type will have an impact on the sound you hear. The most straightforward way to fix this is to buy stands that will isolate the studio monitors and decouple them from your studio deck.

The optimal isolation provided by the stands is a necessary step toward getting the ideal audio clarity required in a professional recording studio.

In the same way as a high-quality mouse can help you improve your workflow, professional stands will become essential when you want to take your sound to the next level.

Bluetooth Connectivity

Given that studio monitors can be a great option for audiophiles too, the Bluetooth option some of them provide helps you make the most of your professional speakers by allowing you to connect them with any device wirelessly and use them as a PA system for your shows and house parties.

Most of the studio monitors discussed below come with the option to connect them via Bluetooth. Bear in mind that, although Bluetooth connectivity is generally a reliable option, there’s nothing more stable than connecting your monitors via wire.

At first, music may not sound as enjoyable as you expected, the reason being that the frequencies reproduced by the studio monitors are flat, without the emphasis on the low frequencies typical of standard audio speakers.

Over time, you’ll learn to appreciate the intrinsic beauty of the sound coming out from these quality monitors. Normal speakers might make music more enjoyable but also alter the audio in ways that were not intended by the artists.

What are the Best Budget Studio Monitors: 9 Monitors Reviewed

  1. PreSonus Eris e3.5

    PreSonus Eris e3.5

    Price: $100 (pair)
    At this price, you can’t get anything better than the PreSonus Eris e3.5. The 3.5-inch Kevlar woofer and 1-inch silk dome tweeter provide a crystal-clear studio-quality sound, ideal for mixing and mastering music in a small environment.

    However, the PreSonus Eris e3.5 also comes with controllers that allow you to personalize the output, adding additional depth to the sound coming out of the speakers. Furthermore, the acoustic tuning controls let you achieve the flat response ideal for mixing and mastering audio.

    At 50W combined, a pair of PreSonus Eris e3.5 monitors may well be the best budget studio monitors for bedroom music producers and audio professionals working in a small project studio.

    If you want to learn more about What is the Audio Mastering Process and How to Master a Song – jump on here

  2. Mackie CR4-X

    Mackie CR4-X
    Price: $125 (pair)
    Again, these budget studio monitors are a great value for money. The Mackie CR4-X provides the clear playback necessary to mix and master music efficiently.

    With a frequency response from 80Hz to 20kHz and 50W power, this pair of budget studio monitors will give you an enveloping sonic experience in your workroom.

    On the downside, the bass response is slightly more pronounced than the other ones. While it’s not a big deal considering the price, if you’re looking for 100% flat sound or accurate playback, you may want to consider other options.

  3. KRK Classic 5 Powered Studio Monitors

    KRK Classic 5 Powered Studio Monitors

    Price: $300 (pair)
    KRK is a historic and iconic brand for a reason: anyone working in the music industry will recognize at first glance the yellow woofer speaker cone that characterizes all the monitors created by the California-based manufacturer.

    Thanks to the +2 dB KRK Bass Boost, you can customize the stereo output and create your own personalized sound. There’s also a smartphone app that allows you to adjust the sound directly from your phone.

    These KRK monitors are one of the best options for DJs looking for the best budget studio monitors. If you’re an electronic producer looking for accurate and transparent sound, these classic DJ speakers are a fantastic option.

  4. JBL 305P MkII Professional

    JBL 305P MkII Professional

    Price: $290 (pair)
    JBL has made above-average speakers renowned worldwide for the last seventy years, and the JBL 305P MkII is no exception. Eighty-two watts of power and an accurate frequency range are what define this little studio monitor.

    Powerful enough to use for small shows or a home studio but ideal for workroom environments, the JBL 305P MkII speakers offer an incredibly detailed listening experience with transparent sound reproduction of all frequencies.

  5. Pioneer DJ DM-40 Desktop Monitors

    Pioneer DJ DM-40 Desktop Monitors

    Price: $200 (pair)
    Although mostly known for its excellent turntables, Pioneer entered the market of budget monitor speakers in 2016 with the DJ DM-40. Affordable and boasting an incredibly good sound quality, this pair of speakers has become a favorite option of bedroom DJs worldwide.

    The most impressive feature of this studio monitor is the quality of low frequencies: the bass is deep and rich but never overshadows the high frequencies.

    As a result, the DM-40 is the perfect choice for electronic audio engineers and DJs working in small environments or a home studio. However, if you’re not into electronic music, you may find the lower frequencies too enhanced.

  6. Yamaha MSP3A Powered Monitor Speakers

    Yamaha MSP3A Powered Monitor Speakers

    Price: $450 (pair)
    The sound coming out of the Yamaha MSP3A is accurate, transparent, and enveloping. With a 4-inch woofer and a 0.8-inch tweeter, this studio monitor guarantees pristine sound without occupying much space.

    Need more bass? No problem! The bass reflex enclosure and Twisted Flare Port can enhance lower frequencies without compromising the clarity of the sound giving playback a natural sound.

  7. Samson MediaOne M30

    Samson MediaOne M30

    Price: $150 (pair)
    This affordable studio monitor can be a good solution for bedroom producers, with the Bass Boost switch allowing you to highlight the lower frequencies without distortion.

    The frequency response is far from being transparent, I’m sure they can be used for general multimedia editing, but I wouldn’t use them for mixing and mastering an album. Instead, I’d recommend them primarily for multimedia consumption or as a backup pair of monitors.

  8. Hercules DJMonitor 42 – 4″ Active Multimedia Speakers

    Hercules DJMonitor 42 – 4″ Active Multimedia Speakers

    Price: $139 (pair)
    The expansive sound spatialization and immersive ambience impressed me the most about this studio monitor. These monitors can be used both in the studio and as DJ monitors, but they do emphasize lower frequencies considerably.

    If you’re new to music production or making music in a small studio, the DJMonitor 42 will give you a taste of a professional studio at a very reasonable price.

  9. JBL 1 Series 104-BT Compact Desktop Reference Monitors

    JBL 1 Series 104-BT Compact Desktop Reference Monitors

    Price: $215 (pair)
    This pair of desktop consumer speakers differ from the previous budget monitors in more than one way. First of all, their ovoid design makes them stand out compared to the standard minimalist design of professional monitors.

    Although they offer plenty of details and the overall sound is quite rich, the JBL 1 Series 104 emphasizes low frequencies to an extent it becomes too inaccurate for home recording. However, it’s still a fantastic speaker for listening to music and multimedia entertainment.

How to Choose the Right Budget Studio Monitors

If you thought that choosing a powered studio monitor was as easy as choosing any of the Amazon best sellers and plugging them in, think again! Each room is different, and so are the best budget studio monitors and how they interact with the environment you place them in.

Generally, 5-inch monitors are considered the best for bedroom-sized recording studios. If you’re recording in a room bigger than 30sq m, you should consider getting a bigger studio monitor, for example of good pair of 8-inch speakers.

The reason why smaller speakers won’t reproduce audio clearly in a big space is because of the way frequencies interact with the environment.

A small studio monitor in a big environment will let the frequencies disperse too much, which in turn emphasizes lower frequencies and compromises the accuracy of the frequency range.

On the other hand, big monitor speakers in a bedroom studio will overwhelm the small room with frequencies, making it difficult, if not impossible, to listen to a track accurately.

Where to Place the Studio Monitors?

First of all, the monitor should be at the same height as your ears. There are some dedicated stands that help put the monitors at the perfect height while minimizing vibrations.

Next, the distance between you and the two monitors should form an equilateral triangle. If you look at your studio desk from high up, the three elements (monitor 1, monitor 2, and yourself) should be equidistant.

The monitors’ placement depends largely on the room you’re using them in. You shouldn’t place monitors on a corner as this will create resonances that are not in the music.

Ideally, looking at your screen, you should have a wall in front of you, and behind you, there should be some space (half of the room) that ends in a straight wall.

Creating the perfect room ambience can be tricky in a non-professional music environment; however, if you buy the right monitor size for your room and can make some adjustments to the environment, you’ll be able to create an effective studio room in no time.

The Importance of a Studio Environment

The Importance of a Studio Environment

Many beginners tend to ignore the importance of an optimized environment when recording, mixing, and mastering music. Often, this has to do with the fact many enter the world of music production without a clear understanding of or plan on how to create the perfect music setup.

The result is usually a recording studio with a cheap studio monitor, an unprofessional studio deck, and a room with plenty of reverberation and frequencies that shouldn’t be there.

All these sounds not only compromise your recording sessions but also make it impossible to accurately assess the quality of your productions. The result is, as you may expect, music that sounds amateurish and rushed.

If you’re serious about entering the world of music production, one of the first steps should be to optimize your studio.

Regardless of whether you have access to a professional recording studio or working from your bedroom, there are tricks you can use to significantly improve the accuracy of your studio environment.

Reducing vibration as much as you can is the first step. Ensure there are no objects causing vibrations and noise while you’re listening to music at a loud volume.

Empty your studio deck and leave only the essentials. Use foam and rubber to reduce the noise caused by your keyboard and mouse.

Next, you should look into the reverberation of your room. A studio environment shouldn’t have many big windows as they tend to amplify the echo and reduce the audio output’s accuracy.

Use soft furniture to further reduce reverberation. Carpets and sofas are great for absorbing echo, but if you want to reach professional results, you should invest in some soundproof panels and place them in strategic places in your room where frequencies will bounce more frequently.

Keep distractions to a minimum. Your studio environment should enhance your workflow and keep you focused for long hours.

It may seem trivial, but audio editing requires a high level of concentration for a long time. Therefore having sources of distractions nearby may lead to missing critical noises or unwanted frequencies in your track.

Recommendations Before Buying Studio Monitor Speakers

Recommendations Before Buying Studio Monitor Speakers

As we’re reaching the end of this article, I want to conclude with a few suggestions for first buyers. Given the infinite amount of budget speakers available in the market, it might seem impossible to choose the right one for our needs.

The reality is it’s not that difficult to choose the best budget studio monitors for your needs, as long as you take into account the following rules.

  • Define Your Budget

    How much can you invest in a pair of active studio monitors? Once you have defined your budget, you can pretty much work out the range of monitors you can afford and define the best options for you.

    For every price range there are professional monitors made available to you, so make sure you figure out exactly how much you can invest in them. If you’re buying everything you need for your studio environment in one go, so use your budget wisely, and don’t forget essential items.

  • Define Your Needs

    What do you need monitors for? Although I wrote this article with musicians and audio engineers in mind, many creatives and audiophiles can also use them and enjoy the sound they reproduce.

    Whether you’re a game developer, a filmmaker, or someone creating a hi-fi system at home, you need to look for studio speakers with features that will enhance the audio quality in your environment.

  • Buy Cheap Now = Upgrade Later

    Needless to say, even the best budget studio monitors won’t satisfy your needs forever. There’ll be a moment when you’ll need more clarity or accuracy: either because you start working with bigger clients or because you moved to a bigger studio.

    Although opting for cheap studio monitors is a great way to enter the world of audio engineering, keep an eye on audio setups that are easy to expand or upgrade in case your career skyrockets overnight.

Conclusion

If you’re entering the world of music production, this list of the best budget monitor speakers will help you find the best studio monitor for your needs.

The good quality sound and overall transparency of the speakers featured here guarantee an optimal output, the required frequency response, and the definition to create a professional song for home studio recording.

One day you’ll get to the point when you need bigger, or better, home recording monitors: either because you’re moving to a larger room, creating more complex soundscapes, or simply because you want to upgrade your equipment to look and sound more professional.

Whatever the reason, these quality monitors have the quality to accompany you in the first steps of your career as an audio professional.

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