5 of the Best Affordable Studio Monitors – A (2020) Buying Guide

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a black studio monitor speakersStudio monitors are possibly the essential tool you need to achieve a great sound. However, this doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to get the best studio monitors.

If you’re starting and don’t create music for a living, you’ll need to think about how studio monitors fit into your budget.

Now, of course, many professional-grade monitors cost thousands of dollars. Yet, you can get pretty close to matching the quality — at a fraction of the price. There are plenty of budget monitors that can quickly compare to higher-priced ones.

Ideally, you’d want to land in that sweet spot and get the perfect balance of affordability and quality. So, in this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the top 5 studio monitors that won’t make you sacrifice sound quality.

Additionally, I’ll teach you how to distinguish the good from the bad ones — even if you’re new to the music world. But first, let’s talk more about studio monitors and whether you should even get them.


A Comparison Table – Know What To Choose

Prices and images pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:


What Are Studio Monitors and Who Are They For?

A mic in front of the control panel and screen in broadcasting studio

Studio monitors are designed for professional audio production, such as filmmaking, radio and recording studios. They can achieve accurate audio reproduction and are a tool every pro audio engineer (or hobbyist) needs.

These monitors feature loudspeakers in speaker enclosures and are designed to produce linear (flat) flat frequency response. The audio that studio monitors produce is also called “transparent” or “uncolored.” This refers to the fact that there’s no sound distortion.

Studio monitors are typically small; you can place them on a desk or a stand close to you. They are tiny because they’re meant to allow you to hear the audio directly from the speaker, rather than letting it bounce off the walls. Also, they typically include multiple drivers, such as a woofer and a tweeter or a bass drum, to monitor low-frequency sounds.

Studio monitors are a must-have for all music aficionados who need to have the best audio quality at all times. They’re also the perfect addition to home theaters, as well as home and professional recording studios.

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Wired vs. Wireless Studio Monitors

Even though some say it’s only a matter of appearance, the wired vs. wireless debate comes down to much more than that.

Arguably, wireless studio monitors take the cake when it comes to convenience and looks. They’re much easier to set up, as you don’t have to struggle with all the cords, and slightly more intuitive. However, most of the time, they can’t match the performance of wired studio monitors.

It’s no coincidence that the best studio monitors typically come with wires. Wired studio monitors often come with a higher wider frequency range — and thus, better sound quality. They give you more control when you’re tuning your sound and allow you to hear the more subtle changes in audio.

Also, because of the way the amps are stored in wired speakers, you can get a more powerful bass. Finally, wired studio monitors allow you to swap out the components and upgrade the system whenever you want.

To sum up, if you value a cordless, modern piece of technology above all else — go wireless. However, if you need more control over your sound and want to be able to customize your monitors in the future — wired studio monitors are the way to go.

Studio Monitors vs. Hi-Fi Loudspeakers

Home stereo (Hi-Fi) speakers are typically passive; they require an external amplifier with speaker outputs. While it may seem like it makes more sense to use these speakers in your home studio, most professionals choose studio monitors — and here’s why.

Studio monitors feature active (powered) speakers, and their amplifiers come built into the speaker cabinet. Because they’re active, they have several advantages over Hi-Fi loudspeakers.

First of all, because they have several power amplifiers, you’ll get a more accurate dynamic response. Also, powered studio monitor speakers can reduce the overlap with the tweeter, mid-range speaker, and the woofer, thus giving you a more transparent sound image.

Finally, studio monitors are held to a higher standard and made to cope with sudden bursts of sound, as well as deafening noises. Thus, they’ll produce a more precise sound and last longer than Hi-Fi speakers.


What to Look for in the Best Budget Studio Monitors

When it comes to studio monitors, the price isn’t necessarily the best indicator of quality. Some speakers cost thousands of dollars but can barely rival most of the best budget studio monitors on this list.

However, don’t set yourself up with unrealistic expectations and think they’ll perform as well as the well-established brands. For example, even the best budget monitor probably won’t stand a chance to a Yamaha MSP series.

All of that said, there are still some things you should look for and expect from your budget studio monitors.

Sound Reproduction Accuracy

Whether you’re creating a mix for yourself or showcasing it to your friends and family — sound reproduction accuracy is crucial. It can’t just be decent or right; it needs to be near perfect to ensure you always get the same distinct audio.

While this feature might not be all that important to a typical headphone user, it’s paramount when you’re using speakers. So, sound reproduction accuracy isn’t something you should forego —  even if you’re purchasing cheap studio monitors.

Low-Flat Frequency Response and High-Frequency Range

The frequency range is a measurement of cycles per second, expressed in Hz, with a higher number representing a more excellent range.

The higher the frequency range — the more control you have over the sound you’re creating. A higher frequency range also allows you to get better transient responses, less distortion, and more optimized damping.

40–25kHz is pretty standard, but most experts recommend an 80–20kHz range to ensure you get the most bang for your buck.

Don’t forget this is one of the essential features that a studio monitor can have. Don’t get sucked into purchasing a product just because it looks sleek, or is advertised with the help of various buzz words. Instead, always ask about the frequency range so that you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Equalization

Equalization (EQ) is the process of tuning the balance within frequency components in an electronic signal. In simple terms, it’s what makes your sound stable enough for you to create and mix your audio. On top of that, equalization is somewhat necessary when you’re adjusting the frequency responses and trying to make them sound less “flat.”

The best studio monitors should come with EQ options, especially if you’re serious about creating music. While the feature might not come in handy to newbies, if you plan on eventually going pro — you will need it.


My Top Picks for the Best Low Budget Studio Monitors

#1. PreSonus Eris E3.5 – 3.5″

Presonus Eris E3.5-3.5 CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

The PreSonus Eris E3.5 – 3.5” monitors are some of the best cheap studio monitors for mixing and video production on the market. These near-field models offer accurate sound reproduction and can produce quality low-end bass sounds.

First Impressions

These studio monitors feature a 3.5-inch low-frequency transducer, as well as a 1-inch high-frequency transducer. Also, they offer a 100dB maximum continuous Sound Pressure Level (SPL) and optimized internal bracing.

PreSonus Eris also gives you the tools you need to get accurate playback in any environment.

First, you can use the High and Medium frequency controls to smooth out the sound when you’re mixing music in spaces with reflective surfaces. Additionally, you can use the Low Cutoff feature to coordinate the bass output and even take advantage of the three flexible input options (TRS, RCA, XLR) to optimize the signal-to-noise ratio.

These studio monitors are perfect for all types of studios and are quite affordable. In all honesty, I was surprised by how well they performed, considering they aren’t professional studio monitors.

Accurate Sound Reproduction

The thing that truly sets the PreSonus Eris monitors apart from the competition is how accurate their sound reproduction is. While most monitors only allow you to adjust the volume or output levels — these do so much more.

You can tune the speakers depending on your environment and control both high and low-end sounds. This feature is something you can mostly expect from high-end professional options, which is why I’ve chosen to talk about PreSonus Eris as some of the best cheap studio monitor.

Authentic Bass Response

The only issue I found while using them is that the bass lacks power, so it’s not a foundation shaker by any means. However, these monitors do offer incredibly accurate bass sounds that won’t come off as too muffled or too harsh.

Quality Build and Great Design

In addition to high and LF transducers, Eris monitors feature low-mass silk dome tweeters, acoustic-adjustment controls, and responsive amplification. These components are made from Kevlar, which is one of the most robust heat-resistant fibrous materials you can find.

Also, at four pounds each, they’re quite lightweight, so you can take them with you wherever you go. Last but not least, they feature a professional, sleek design — you can set them up to be the focal point of the room.

  • Easy to set up
  • Lightweight
  • Durable
  • Great sound control
  • The bass could use some extra power

#2. JBL Professional 305P MkII Next-Generation 5″

JBL Professional 305P MkII Next-Generation 5 CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

JBL is well known for its high-quality audio equipment — and the MkII series is no exception. The 305P monitors come with a sleek new design, boundary EQ, and next-generation JBL transducers.

First Impressions

JBL Professional 305P monitors have made much progress since their predecessors when it comes to audio output. With their improved boundary EQ, the monitors can restore natural low-frequency responses in all environments.

One of the features I love most about the JBL Professional 305P monitors is that they come with updated LF and HF transducers. Thus, you can enjoy optimized damping, better transient responses, a vast bass range, and less harmonic distortion.

Another fantastic feature that has landed JBL Professional 305P on my list of the best budget monitors is the design. The monitors feature magnetically shielded domes that can reduce noise distortion and improve transient responses. This means that the monitors operate in a lower range and thus decrease ear fatigue.

Unfortunately, they do have one downside that my fellow misophonia sufferers might resent. A hissing sound keeps coming from the speakers when you’re not using them. However, this is pretty common among a lot of flat budget monitors.

Excellent LF and HF Performance

JBL has engineered its studio monitors to enhance the low-frequency and high-frequency sounds to the max. The company’s patented Slip Stream port works in unison with the woofer to create a deep bass response.

Additionally, the port’s shape is made to reduce turbulence and increase the low-frequency noise extension. Finally, the monitors come with individual power amplifiers for both LF and HF to create a higher SPL.

More Control

JBL’s Professional 305P monitors feature an astonishing natural frequency response — wherever you are. No matter what your working environment is like, you’ll be able to fine-tune your track, even while listening off-axis. On top of that, they come with custom Class-D amplifiers and 82 watts of power.

Superb Durability

In addition to their sleek and modern appearance, JBL Professional 350P monitors are also quite durable. The company tests all of its products in a 100-hour full-power test that ensures your monitors last for many years to come.

Also, the magnetically shielded woofers are my favorite feature, and they make JBL Professional 305P some of the studio monitor speakers I’ve ever seen. These woofers produce amazing bass and won’t interfere with your magnetically sensitive equipment.

  • Magnetically shielded woofers
  • Natural frequency responses
  • Great performance
  • Speakers emanate a hissing noise when idle

#3. Mackie Studio Monitors

Mackie Creative Reference Multimedia Monitor (Set of 2), Black w/green trim, 4-inch (CR4 (Pair)) CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

These entry-level speakers come with a professional studio monitor pedigree and are perfect for most sound aficionados. Additionally, they perform pretty well in most circumstances and are great for creating multimedia content.

First Impressions

Mackie studio monitors come with 3” woofers with a range of 80Hz. They’re designed to give you the most accurate sound possible and help you balance the instruments in your track.

These monitors were designed to make the audio sound great in different environments and on a variety of speakers. Also, they’re easy to set up and use because only one speaker houses the amplifier. The other speaker is entirely passive, but there are EQ options. Thus, you’ll be able to make the sound more stable and less flat.

Unfortunately, there are some downsides to this kind of setup. For one, you don’t get many deep basses, so if that’s a dealbreaker — maybe these aren’t the home studio equipment for you. Also, these speakers seem to have a short life span and are unlikely to last for more than one year.

Versatility

Because these speakers can adjust to various environments, they’re great for people from all walks of life. You can use them no matter if you’re a musician, vlogger, filmmaker, or want excellent audio quality when you’re listening to music at home.

Convenient Design

The design of the Mackie monitors is what makes them stand out and why I consider them to be some of the pro studio speakers.

For example, the volume buttons, as well as the input/output ports, are in the front. I enjoy having every button and port within reach, but few manufacturers offer this design with larger monitors. Most likely, they assume you’ll use other devices to control your monitors, but this isn’t always the case with many of us.

Great Sound Quality

With a range of 80–20kHz, these monitors offer generous sound quality at a low price. Additionally, the high and low frequency are pretty clear, and the bass is better than you would expect from even the best budget studio monitor.

  • Convenient
  • Studio-quality design
  • Work well in most environments
  • Short life span
  • No EQ options

#4. JBL Professional 1 Series

JBL Professional 1 Series, 104 Compact Powered Desktop Reference Monitors (sold as pair), Black (JBL104) CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

JBL Professional 1 Series offers a coaxial design, which means that the high-frequency driver is in the middle of the low-frequency one. As a result, both will deliver sound from the same axis, at the same time, giving you a more accurate response.

First Impressions

There’s only a handful of products that can currently match the performance of the JBL Professional 1 Series at this price point. The monitors feature an integrated 60-watt class D power amplifier, which means that each speaker distributes 30 watts of clear sound.

One thing I liked about these studio monitors is that they’re even smaller than JBL’s previous ones. They’re much more comfortable to transport and take with you when you need to. Additionally, they are acoustically optimized for desktop placement to prevent the audio from distorting in various environments.

JBL Professional 1 Series monitors also come with front-panel volume control, so you can adjust levels without leaving the sweet spot. The only issue that I have with these is the occasional “hissing” noise. As I said, though, that’s to be expected.

Three Sets of Inputs

Most studio monitors come with one or two sets of inputs, so you aren’t able to plug in several instruments or headphones. However, what makes these some of the best monitor brands is that they come with three sets of inputs. This feature is rarely seen even in high-end monitors.

Plenty of Power

Don’t let their small size fool you — these monitors pack quite a punch. Because they come with 0.75-inch soft-dome tweeters, the JBL monitors are powerful enough for most music aficionados. Also, the 60-watt amplification is capable of providing an exceptional image and a natural frequency response.

Practicality

These monitors are quite user-friendly, and because of their size — you can integrate them into your home quite easily. They also feature a smooth off-axis response, so you can even use them in rooms where noise echo is an issue.

They’re perfect for smaller spaces where bulky, professional-grade monitors just don’t fit. On top of that, these monitors come with a built-in power supply, so charging them won’t be an issue.

  • Compact coaxial monitors
  • Contoured low-frequency port
  • Integrated power supply
  • Subtle hissing noise

#5. Rockville APM5B 5.25″

Rockville APM5B 5.25 CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Rockville APM5B 5.25” are high-quality monitors that go through strenuous testing to ensure they keep their peak capacity for many years. However, the reason I consider them to be some of the powered studio monitors is their power.

First Impressions

Rockville truly prioritizes making high-quality monitors that will last — and this fact becomes even more apparent the more you use them. From the enclosure to the buttons and even the glue that the company uses — you’d never guess that these aren’t high-end monitors.

Additionally, the design of the monitors is excellent, as it’s intended to diminish sound turbulence and distortion. The panel controls, as well as the input and output ports, are located on the rear side to create a more modern design.

The only qualm I have with these monitors is that the bass can sometimes be too loud to the point of blowing up the speaker.

Quality Make

These monitors have thick wadding that helps make the sound clearer and protects the inside of the speaker. The enclosure is 0.5 inches thick and provides excellent sound quality. I also appreciate that the company offers three finish options:

  • Painted black wood finish
  • Painted white wood finish
  • Wood finish with a vinyl board
Bi-Amped Monitors

The Rockville APM5 are bi-amped monitors, so you’ll get a separate amp for high and low frequencies. Additionally, each speaker comes with a 150-watt peak power output and 62.5 watts of RMS (Root-Mean-Square).

Thorough Quality Control

All of Rockaville’s products are tested for months by in-house engineers to ensure their quality and longevity. The testing refers to both functions and all physical components so that the company can guarantee years of use. Additionally, you’ll get a one-year warranty —  in case anything does go wrong.

  • Bi-amped monitors
  • Great sound quality
  • Durable
  • The bass could use some fine-tuning

A Good Cheap Monitors — Runners-Up

In all honesty, these runners-up don’t offer the same quality or level of performance that the others from my list do. However, they could be the computer monitor speakers for you — especially if you’re on a tight budget.

#6. Edifier R1010BT 4″

 

Edifier R1010BT 4 CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Edifier offers some of the best cheap studio monitors, and the sound quality is pretty decent. These are quite convenient for most non-tech-savvy users, as they’re pretty simple to set up and use.

One of the things I like most about the Edifier R1010BT 4” is that they come with two AUX inputs so that you can plug in two devices at once. Also, these bookshelf speakers feature 4” bass drivers, as well as a 13 mm silk dome tweeter.

The design is pretty classic and allows the monitors to blend into most areas of your home pretty seamlessly. Additionally, the brand offers a two-year warranty on all of its products and guarantees high-quality sound reproduction for this period.

Unfortunately, the sound quality is nowhere near as excellent as with other monitors on this list.

#7. iLoud Micro Monitor

IK Multimedia iLoud Micro Monitors ultra-compact 3 CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

iLoud offers great small workroom monitors, perfect for mastering sounds from the comfort of your home. They’re also great for people who are always on the go and want to take their monitors with them.

The iLoud Micro Monitors are some of the best monitors on the market because they possess the sound quality of high-end speakers — but are quite reasonably priced. In spite of being smaller in size, they deliver a powerful, balanced sound at a 45–20kHz frequency response.

Also, they have a built-in limiter that prevents speaker damage and sound distortion at higher volumes. They even come with shelf switch adapters so that you can have great sound no matter the environment. However, they do seem to be quite flimsy, and I highly doubt they’ll last for more than a couple of years.

#5. Kali Audio LP-6 Studio Monitor

Kali Audio LP-6 Studio Monitor - 6.5 CHECK PRICE ON AMAZON

Kali offers great (albeit small) studio monitors that can rival JBL-quality tweeter accuracy. They feature an incredible flowy bass — at an affordable price. Additionally, the speakers offer a 3-D imaging waveguide that makes the sound clear and precise.

Kali Audio LP-6 monitors offer 85dB of continuous output and 20dB of headroom, so the sound carries itself with accuracy. Furthermore, they have a vast dynamic range, and thus, less distortion and a more transparent sound overall.

These monitors also feature HF and LF adjustment options, in addition to an RCA connector and DIP switch settings. Therefore, you likely won’t have to worry about hearing that annoying hissing noise whenever the monitors aren’t in use. Also, the frequency range is pretty decent, with 39Hz–25kHz per unit.

The bass is quite clean and punchy — which is a rarity at this price point. However, these monitors don’t have the most significant amplifiers, so it’s easier for the sound to get distorted at maximum volume.


Final Thoughts

Low-quality studio monitors can cause all of your hard work to go to waste after you’ve spent hours trying to perfect your track. But keep in mind that, contrary to popular belief,  cheap doesn’t equal poor quality.

You can get some fantastic studio-quality monitors for a fraction of the price. However, you’ll have to know how to navigate through the intelligent sales language and find your way to the passive studio monitors.

First and foremost, monitors are made to show the true colors of your audio and allow it to shine through in every type of environment. So, you should look for a system with a vast frequency range and EQ options. You also ought to seek out sound reproduction accuracy to ensure your audio translates well in all environments and at all times.

Taking everything into consideration, I think that the JBL Professional 305P MkII Next-Generation 5″ is the high-quality speakers. They come with LF and HF transducers and offer fantastic sound reproduction accuracy.

Additionally, the magnetically shielded domes ensure that you get better transient responses and less noise distortion. This truly is a fantastic feature, which is almost impossible to find in budget monitors. On top of that, these studio monitors operate in a low range and significantly decrease ear fatigue.

Studio monitors are an integral part of your audio equipment and can make or break your sound performance. By choosing the best monitors brands, you’ll ensure your audio is always clear, compelling, and distortion-free — at a lower price.