10 Critical Things to Look for When Buying Studio Monitors

Did you know what to look for when you were buying studio monitors? I sure didn’t. I ended up grabbing a pair of cheap 3-Inch monitors to save some cash and boy did I regret it.

If you’re in the market for a new pair, then strap in because, In just a few minutes, you will learn what to look for when buying studio monitors so you can grab the best pair for your studio at the right price. I will also offer my recommendations for some monitors, and I’ll tell you which pair I bought when I was shopping around.

Studio monitors jamming-out.

Studio Monitors Are Subjective

First things first, when buying studio monitors, there is no one size fits all for studio monitors. Everyone’s ear is different, and everyone has a different taste. And some of these factors might not be important to you, and that’s ok. The keyword in all of this is you. You might be working with trap music or vocals, or perhaps you edit podcasts. The point is that you need to consider what you need it for, and how you will use it when determining what factors are essential for you.

1. Power: Look for High Wattage Studio Monitors

Power is not just for volume; it’s also for dynamic range. As an audio engineer, you probably add a lot to your mix. If you don’t have a set of studio monitors with a high dynamic range, you won’t be able to hear all of the elements in your final track.

Sounds that tent to peak like snare hits or kick drums can require up to 10 times the power.

A speaker’s power is measured in wattage. A speaker with a high wattage will allow you to listen to transient details, making it easier to make precise adjustments to limiters, compressors, and gates.

Sounds that tent to peak like snare hits or kick drums can require up to 10 times the power. This can make your track sound distorted, and you will hear clipping on musical peaks. To provide the best dynamic range possible, invest in a set of speakers that have a lot of headroom. 

Headroom is the maximum amount of undistorted signal the speakers can handle. When buying studio monitors, choose a pair with plenty of headroom will help retain the details of your track when listening to playback so you can turn your speakers up to 11 without losing quality. 

2. Active Vs. Passive Studio Monitor: Which Is Best for You?

Passive speakers draw their power from an external amplification source. Passive speakers have wattage ratings, but they do not provide any power themselves. The rating is there to indicate their ability to handle power.

Active speakers come with an internal power source. They typically have multiple power amplifiers. So the woofer, tweeter, and midrange speaker each get a separate power source. The woofer usually hogs up a lot of power. With a dedicated amplifier, the tweeter will sound great regardless of how much power the woofer is using, rendering a clear and accurate playback. 

Most studio monitors are active speakers. I wouldn’t suggest getting a pair of passive speakers unless you have no other option. So, when buying studio monitors, make sure to look for active ones.

Onkyo home studio speakers.

3. Driver configuration: Single-amp, Bi-amp, and Tri-amp

Active speakers have amplifiers built-in. Single-amp, bi-amp, and tri-amp refer to the way the power is divided among the components of the speaker. A single amp configuration will power both the tweeter and the woofer, sharing power between the two as needed. 

A bi-amp speaker has two dedicated amplifiers for the highs and low frequencies, resulting in a cleaner, more accurate frequency response. A tri-amp configuration is used in monitors that have dedicated midrange speakers. 

4. Size: Do You Have Enough Room for Large Studio Monitors?

Do you have room for studio monitors? You may be working in a very small environment. If so, chances are you’re going to want to get a small pair of speakers. Consider the size of the overall area that it will take up in your room or desk.

If you do not have the space on your desk, consider grabbing a pair of studio monitor stands. Most manufacturers provide this as an optional add-on when buying studio monitors. 

5. Audio Inputs: What Audio Input Should a Monitor Have?

When buying studio monitors, consider what type of audio inputs it needs to supports. It would be unfortunate if you bring a pair of studio monitors home just to realize that you have incompatible equipment. 

Do you need ¼ inch TRS or RCA inputs? How about ⅛ inch stereo inputs. Perhaps you need AUX inputs to plug your phone in via a 3.5mm cable? How about XLR, Bluetooth, Optical, or Coaxial? When buying studio monitors, you should know which inputs you need and how many you require.

Audio inputs buying studio monitors.
Many types of audio inputs.

Also, consider your geographical region. Do you live in the states, UK or EU? Some speakers have different plugs, so be cautious when making a purchase, make sure to choose a speaker that either provides the appropriate connector or adapter for your AC/DC outlet.

6. Ported or Closed Studio Monitors: Which Type Should You Get

You’ve probably noticed many studio monitors have holes in the front or rear. These kinds of monitors are called ported cabinets. This is there to extend the frequency response to provide more bass. When monitors are vibrating, the backward movement will create internal air pressure inside the cabinet. The holes (or ports) redirect the air pressure outside of the cabinet, allowing for a better low-frequency response. 

However, if the port is positioned in the rear of the speaker, then you might experience over extended lows. If you are placing your speakers in front of you, then you should be fine. But if they are going to the corners or walls, consider front-ported or closed monitors.

7. Near Field Vs. Far Field Studio Monitors: Which Are Better for You

Near field monitors typically have smaller drivers and are meant to sit close to the listener (2-3 feet away). The close proximity allows direct sound to hit the listener’s ear directly rather than reflecting from the surfaces of the room. 

Conversely, Far-field monitors, have larger drivers and are meant to be placed along the perimeter of a room, farther from the listener. You can typically find far-field monitors mounted to walls, monitor stands, or behind a mixing desk. Far-field monitors take advantage of room acoustics and use the entire space to allow low frequencies to resonate. 

Most of us are going to go with near field monitors, especially for home studio use. Far-field monitors require a lot of space, and that’s not something a lot of us have. Additionally, far-field monitors are partially dependent on the acoustic makeup of a room, so a lot more money would need to spend a lot of money treating the room acoustically or far field monitors to be worth it. 

That being said, I don’t want you to go writing off far-field monitors; they serve a purpose and can give you a much more holistic mixing experience when appropriately utilized. 

If you want to learn more about near field vs far-field monitors, check out this video from Streaky Mastering.

What not to do with near field monitors.

8. EQ Features: Can You Adjust for Your Rooms Acoustics

A good set of monitors will come with EQ adjustability so you can tune the speakers to the acoustics of your studio. There are some monitors in the market that have automatic digital processors that can detect the optimal EQ settings for the best sound in your room. 

However, If your room echoes, this won’t help. There is no magic pill to get perfect sound if your sound sucks. You will have to treat the acoustics of your room yourself. That being said, if you have a studio with amazing acoustics, a monitor that can match your room will make your playback sound amazing. 

9. Speaker Cone Size: The Size of the Tweeter and Woofer

When buying studio monitors, consider the cone size of the woofer and tweeter. Most typical cone sizes are 5 to 8-inches. The biggest difference between an 8 inch and a 5-inch speaker is that a 5-inch speaker does not produce as much low-ends as the 8-inch. The lower frequencies are not as powerful, and you might end up chasing a good base tone artificially because the speakers can’t produce anymore.

But, If you are just starting out, go with a 5-inch speaker. Their less expensive, more compact, and your lows won’t be overpowering. Also, note that the size of the cones will have an impact on the price of the monitors. 

10. Price: How Much Should I Spend When Buying Studio Monitors

Woman counting dollars buying studio monitors.

We all know that you get what you pay for, but that is not necessarily the case with home studio equipment. Price is not the definitive factor when comparing speakers. We have already seen that there are so many other things to consider. And you might find that a budget-friendly option can provide you even more value than a more expensive one. It’s all about finding what you need and finding the best gear in your budget. 

But how much should you spend? Well, that really depends on what you’re comfortable spending. If you have a steady income stream from mixing and recording, making it rain on a pair of speakers might not be a big deal. If you’re just starting out and money is tight. Just stick to something inexpensive until you have the money to upgrade (if you even need to upgrade). The point is, you don’t have to break the bank to get top-notch quality monitors. 

If you want more information on how to choose the right studio monitors, take a look at this video from Manchester Music. You won’t regret it.

A beginners guide to buying studio monitors.

Conclusion

The Fact is that there is no best speaker. Everyone will have different needs and situations. And there are many factors to consider when shopping for a studio monitor. But hopefully, now you are armed with a little more knowledge to make the best decision for you when buying studio monitors. And as far as the monitors I purchased when I had some extra cash? The Yamaha HS7i were the ones for me. 

Key Takeaways

  • Look for a monitor with a high wattage (power) rating
  • Consider active monitors vs. passive monitors
  • Consider the amp driver configuration
  • How big do you want the cones to be?
  • Do you have enough space in your room monitors?
  • Consider the input options do you need
  • Do you prefer open port or closed port monitors? 
  • Do you need near-field or far-field monitors?
  • Can you adjust the EQ directly on the speakers?
  • Are you buying studio monitors within your budget?

What pair did you grab when you were buying studio monitors? And which factors were important for you? Let us know in the comments below. Want more tips for your home recording studio? Click here to see all of our blog posts. Thanks for reading, and never stop making music.

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