Over the last few years, we have reviewed just about every studio monitor ever released, and are noticing a trend that smaller and cheaper monitors are starting to sound better and better. Here are the best dozen that we have looked at costing less than £500 a pair (all prices stated are street price).
ADAM Audio T5V
We reviewed both the T5V and T7V from ADAM, but we’re opting for the former option for this round-up. Not only is it the cheaper model, but it offers a slightly more joined-up listening experience, with the five-inch polypropylene woofer and super-efficient Accelerated Ribbon Tweeter delivering a 45Hz to 25kHz frequency range. The winning features, however, are the tech innovations that trickle down from ADAM’s more expensive monitoring options, which include that tweeter design and HPS Waveguard technology that gives an even dispersion to the sound both horizontally and vertically. We love these monitors so much that we even featured them in our Gear of the Decade list. What this all means in practice is simple: these sub £300 monitors deliver a sound which is right up there with speakers three or four times their cost.
IK iLoud Micro Monitors
The IK Multimedia iLoud Micros were touted as the smallest studio monitor ever released when they were announced at the NAMM show a few years back, and we were pretty sceptical about the claims, especially when they were unpacked for review measuring just seven inches in height. However, in that height, they manage to pack in EQ controls, enough connections and a frequency response of 45Hz – 22kHz, despite only having a three-inch woofer (plus 0.75-inch tweeter). While there must be some enhancement built in there to extend the bass so low from a speaker so small, the response doesn’t sound too coloured; it’s tight and rounded, offering a reasonably true picture. If you are tight for space – and funds – then these are well worth a listen.
JBL 306P MkII
We used to say that you would have to spend at least £500 to get a decent set of studio monitors, but these have made us change that rule as they deliver simply exceptional results for the buck and are now even cheaper than when we reviewed them! These are the mid-sized point of the 3 series from JBL and feature a 6.5-inch mid/bass unit along with a one-inch Neodymium tweeter with a bi-amped, design delivering a maximum continuous SPL of 98dB (110dB peak) and a frequency range of 39Hz-24kHz. Like other speakers here, you can adjust EQ settings and, as with the Presonus’ – there’s a Boundary Control to shelve excessive bass frequencies induced when the speakers are close to walls. They deliver an open, excellent response, with plenty of detail and are easily among the best sub £500 speakers out there.
JBL One Series 104
These monitors are aimed at podcaster, video game enthusiasts and music producers, and actually perform well beyond their size and price (and, yes, that is the price per pair!). They are great for desktop music production – although can’t be angled – and each feature 4.5-inch LF driver and a 0.75-inch soft-dome HF tweeter. At one time you would never have considered speakers of this price and size to deliver the goods, but we had them lined up against three-way speakers costing five times the price and they held their own in all but the most detailed of tests. They are cheap enough to buy as your second set of AB comparison monitors, but you may end up using them as your primaries!
The Creative Reference series from Mackie is really designed for bloggers, podcasters and YouTubers, but they also function well as an entry point for music producers on a budget. These are the cheapest monitors in our round-up, so you don’t get the greatest accuracy and sound, but they are way more than a step above traditional speakers. The CR4 boasts a four-inch polypropylene coated woofer and a 0.75-inch silk-dome tweeter, with a frequency range quoted as 70Hz–20kHz. It suffers a little from port chuffing but is a balanced speaker with a smooth and refined response with a full and natural midrange. If you are new to music production and don’t want to take too big a financial risk, give these an audition.
Tannoy Reveal 402
Some monitors tend to stick around for a long time before being replaced and why not if they deliver the goods? We first reviewed these Tannoys five years ago and they have been regularly cropping up in our budget roundups ever since. They feature 50W of power evenly distributed between the 4-inch woofer and 0.75-inch tweeter and a frequency response of 56Hz to 48kHz (stated). For less than a couple of hundred pounds for the pair, they are one of the cheapest sets of monitors on offer here, but are surprisingly accurate, more so than even their more expensive and larger siblings, the 802s. They have a solid response across the range, performing especially well in the mids and upper mids, with ample power and decent features for small to medium-sized rooms.
Focal Alpha 65
The Alphas were reviewed around five years ago, but are still available and very impressive for a now even cheaper price tag that puts these, the mid-range 65, well within our £500 ceiling. These monitors utilise a bi-amp system delivering 70W for the 6.5 inch mid/bass woofer and 35W for the one-inch tweeter and a resulting frequency response of 40Hz to 22kHz. You also get high and low-frequency shelving controls around the back and auto standby, but the best feature is the sound: controlled, clear and concise. Even with the many newer models released by other companies since their release, the Alpha 65s – indeed the whole Alpha range – still deliver great results for the outlay.
Eve Audio SC203
Well, if you want a mobile music-making choice then look no further. These monitors measure just seven inches high with woofers just three inches in diameter. But don’t let the size fool you, because the SC303s are anything but small and tinny in sound, with a ‘pro’ response that is surprisingly full-bodied. This, in no small part, is down to a rear passive radiator which augments the bass output, helping it reach a reasonable 62Hz. Mids and highs are crisp and accurate too, extending up to 21kHz with convincing detail. These aren’t the cheapest desktop and mobile options in this round-up, but they are very possibly the best monitors of their size which that price tag can buy.
Genelec makes some of the best studio monitors in the world, and the company’s high-end Ones monitors won our Best Hardware and Innovation Gear Of The Year Awards last year. The 8010As have been around for a while, but still represent a great and very compact way to bring the Genelec name into your studio. Despite their size, the three-inch woofer gets 80W of power and the 0.75 inch metal dome tweeter gets 50W, so that’s a lot of punch packed in there. And despite the compact nature, they still manage to deliver a refined bass energy that many much larger monitors struggle with. There’s even EQ moulding and angled stands to get a more custom response from your surroundings. They may be desktop size, but you get studio results.
Kali Audio LP-6
Kali Audio is one of the newest names in studio monitors, a US-based company that has produced a fantastic set of monitors at an almost ridiculous price for what you get. The speakers have been designed with anti ‘chuffing’ front ports and 3D Imaging Waveguide to help maintain strong, high and wide imaging. Like other speakers here, you can adjust the EQ depending on speaker position, but Kali cleverly includes eight studio scenarios and their corresponding dip switches so you can easily tailor these to your environment. As to the sound? Well, it’s accurate but not as harsh as accuracy can bring; there’s a nice musicality and these deliver one of the best experiences per buck. Outstanding.
PreSonus Eris E8
The E8 is the biggest of the budget 2-way Eris series from PreSonus. It features an eight-inch Kevlar woofer (that extends down to 35Hz) and 1.25 inch silk dome tweeter driven by 75W and 65W Class AB power amplifiers respectively. You get MF, HF and Low Cut controls to tailor the EQ to your room should you need to, plus a 3-position Acoustic Space switch. This compensates for bass boosting that you may get when you place monitors next to a wall or in a corner, and introduces a second-order, low-shelving filter that cuts the level of all frequencies below 800Hz by -2dB or -4dB. We found this particularly effective, offering a tightening to the response overall. The E8 is one of the older monitors in this round up but still punching well above its price.
Price £348. For more info, visit presonus.com.
The HS series from Yamaha features the white cone that made the ubiquitous NS10 monitor stand out from the crowd, but not so much that monitor’s distinctive sound, on which many an engineer and producer still argue over, years after its release. Where the NS might have divided opinion, the HS range (the middle 7 of which is included here) is more straightforward, concentrating more on accuracy, and with a clarity that might exceed expectations. There are controls for EQ and we found notching down the treble attenuation by 2dB gave a more joined-up response which, combined with a very solid bottom end, means they are great to work with, and another fine option for small to mid-sized studios. They are also available in white for an even more distinctive appeal.
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