Tracking Down the Best Budget Monitor Speakers for 2017
Anyone who has tried to set up a decent recording studio will tell you the same thing: it's expensive! There is a lot of gear to purchase, along with a hundred and one peripherals that eat away at your budget in a rapid way. One suggestion I have for new studios is to try to find some cheap studio monitors in order to save a few hundred bucks.
Thanks in large part to the internet, we now have a lot more choices at our fingertips. You're no longer restricted to whatever that expensive music supply store carries. And perhaps more surprisingly, some of the less expensive stuff isn't bad at all! Finding a good set of cheap studio monitor speakers isn't difficult, and for under $300 you have some decent options.
I've written this piece in order to help you find the best studio monitors for under $300. I'll be reviewing four in total, and I'll go over each product and explain why it's on the list. I'll also cover any potential detractors or deficiencies you should be aware of.
M-Audio AV40: An inexpensive, versatile studio monitor speaker set.
If your budget is quite limited and you're looking for a reliable and balanced sound at a cheap price, this is a great set of studio monitors to consider. They aren't huge and they are not suited to a big studio space, but if you've got a smaller space to work with, they're excellent.
They also work well in pairing with other, larger studio monitors, and they're great for an auxiliary workstation.
What I enjoy most about these speakers is the balanced sound you'll get from it. They are neither boomy nor tinny, and they can handle just about any type of music with aplomb. It includes a tweeter and a woofer. The woofer is a 4 inch unit, coated for excellent isolation, so you won't get tons of buzz at low frequency. The 1 inch tweeter does an excellent job of managing the highs. The overall result is a balanced tone that's neutral enough for most recording tasks.
Each speaker has its own 20-watt amplifier. In the back you'll find inputs for either RCA or 1/4 inch jacks that should work with most setups. There's a manual volume control on the front. Each speaker has a laminated wood housing and magnetic shielding, so you can have it close to your computer. They're about 8.5 x 6 x 7 inches in size.
Overall these are a clear and balanced set of cheap studio monitor speakers that resist distortion and buzz. They're a steal at well below $200, and that's extra money you can put to good use elsewhere.
Behringer 'Truth' Ultra Linear: Budget studio monitors with wide frequency range.
Behringer has made a name for themselves by providing inexpensive yet powerful studio equipment. Their stuff isn't the top of the line by any means, but it's great and it gets the job done. These speakers by Behringer are a great example of that: they're a cheap studio monitor set for under $300 that has tremendous upside.
They are referred to as 'ultra linear', due to the fact that they provide an even referential sound throughout the frequency range. They're designed to deliver an accurate sound and keep it fairly flat, and they do that quite well.
The 6 and 3/4 inch woofer is huge and provides an excellent bass range. This means that, despite the smaller size, these speakers let you hear those low frequencies as well as much bigger models, and it's smooth and distortion free the whole way along.
The highs are achieved using a 3/4 inch tweeter that is 'ferrofluid cooled' to handle the vibration. The highs are quite bright, so you might have to do a little adjustment (or just take that into account), but for the price they are also very accurate.
These guys have a huge frequency response range and they're ideal on their own or in tandem with a larger set. They many not look like anything special on the outside, but they are inexpensive and you get a lot of sound for a low price.
KRK Rokit RP5: Sophisticated sound in a small package
These are probably my favorite studio monitor speakers for under $300. There are few other models out there that can achieve the sound quality and true audio reproduction of a set like this.
I find that a lot of speaker companies can focus too much on the bass, and try to impress with an oversized woofer. In the mean time, the tweeter is ignored and the mix is off kilter. With the Rokit series they've taken pains to ensure the high end frequencies are as crisp and clear as possible, and that has really paid dividends in the overall sound quality picture.
Don't take that to mean that the bass has been forgotten. The 5 inch Aramid Glass woofer provides phenomenal low frequency response and lets you basically go as low as you need without distortion or buzz.
A nice feature is the gain control, which gives you a range of +6 to -30 decibels. These speakers are loud! You'll be blown away by the amount of pure, balanced sound you can produce if you want to.
You have both XLR and 1/4 inch inputs in the rear, as well as high and low frequency level adjustments: something that others in this range don't typically have. You can manually adjust the highs and lows to exactly suit your tastes.
Overall this is a budget studio monitor speaker set that's priced below $300. One of the first ones I'd recommend you check out.
PreSonus E5: Versatile yet inexpensive studio reference monitors
The Eris E5 is a compact yet powerful studio monitor speaker that provides a lot of versatility for various recording studio setups.
First let's start with the sound quality. The speaker features a 5.25 inch woofer that provides an excellent low frequency response in most situations. The tweeter is a one inch silk dome type, and it results in a monitor with excellent, referential low, mid and high ranges.
The cabinet itself is shielded against magnetic and radio interference, so it should provide a clean, balanced and neutral sound without any of the pops and buzzes that can be heard on cheaper, less insulated models.
What I particularly like about the PreSonus Eris E5 is the amount of customization you can do. You have the typical unbalanced RCA, 1/4 inch and XLR inputs in the back, but you also have other great stuff. For example, you have a gain control knob on the back. You have mid and high range controls for precise tuning. You have a low frequency cutoff filter, and an 'acoustic space' control, that lets you alter the sound based on the configuration of your studio setup and distance from the wall. All these minute controls give you the perfect sound quality for recording exactly as you like.
A note: if you're interested in buying these cheap studio monitor speakers, you can get them for under $300. However, they sell each speaker individually, so be aware that you'll need two for a balanced setup.
Budget Studio Monitors Poll:
Best Practices with Studio Monitor Speakers
When it comes to your speakers, you want to be careful to avoid the pitfalls that amateur studios run into. If you're already confident in your ability to mix and record, feel free to skip this section. I've got a few tips for newcomers.
Neutrality is Key:
The best tudio monitor speakers aren't suited for pumping bass or making your walls shake. They are built to reproduce a neutral sound that give the best and most honest impression of the recording. The purpose is to ensure that your mix will sound good on virtually any speaker setup, from tinny car speakers to the dance floor. You should focus on getting speakers with a balanced sound that doesn't sound either tinny or muddy.
Placement is Important:
You'll want to be sure that your budget studio monitors are placed to best effect. They can't be too close to you, even though it might be convenient to do so. The ideal setup is several feet away from wherever you'll be sitting and mixing. If that requires getting some speaker stands, it's a worthwhile investment. If you're too far away you won't get the full audio range and you'll miss stuff, I guarantee.
Wide Frequency Range:
Whatever cheap studio monitor speakers you end up with, they should have a relatively good frequency range. That can be best achieved by having multiple drivers (though some single driver speakers might surprise you). The wider the frequency range, the more diversity you'll have in what you can record or mix.