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Studio monitors buying guide

How to choose the right speakers for your home recording studio

No home recording studio is complete without a pair of monitors. Studio monitors are made to deliver the sound of raw recordings with as little coloration as possible. In this respect, they differ from home speakers, which are designed to reproduce recorded music in its finished form, and often add subtle colorations.

Here are a few basic guidelines and options that can help you narrow down your selection.

Powered monitors

Powered or "active" monitors come with their own amplification built-in. They're becoming the standard for many studios, and it’s easy to understand why.

Because the amp's built-in, you have one less piece of gear to deal with — a real benefit if space in your studio is tight. The amplifiers and drivers are factory-matched, so you can count on a seamless response.

Finally, many powered studio monitors offer controls that allow you to fine-tune the sound.

Choosing monitors to fit your studio and your style

As a rule, the larger the space, the larger the speakers, and the more amplification you need.

Man talking into mic

Smaller monitors are good for a podcast studio.

Are you mixing in a tiny room at a low volume? Then a pair of small, modestly powered monitors with 4" or 5" woofers should work nicely.

On the other hand, if your studio is in a detached garage where you can play as loud as you want to, look at larger, higher-powered models.

Placement tips

Your monitors should form an equilateral triangle with your head. The tweeters should be at the same height as (or at least pointed directly toward) your ears.

Your monitors can be placed on your desk, but you'll get better results if you place them on stands that raise them up to ear level. Putting monitors on stands can improve their accuracy by reducing the amount of sound reflected off of the desktop.

Studio monitor placement

For accurate sound, place your monitors at ear level facing you so that they form an equilateral triangle with your head.

How close will you be to your monitors?

For most home studios, a pair of monitors designed to work in close proximity to your listening position will work best.

These “nearfield” monitors create a focused, detailed soundstage within a small “sweet spot.” This minimizes the effects of room acoustics.

What kind of music are you recording?

Singer/songwriter and other small-scale acoustic recordings put fewer demands on monitors. For evaluating lighter fare, a pair of small nearfield monitors with 4", 5", or 6" woofers is usually sufficient. But if you’re laying down some heavy house music or hip hop tracks, larger monitors with lots of power are a better choice.

Adding a subwoofer is a great way to better hear what's going on in the low-frequency range of your mix.

Getting connected

No matter which kind of monitors you choose be sure they offer connections that are compatible with your mixer or other audio sources.

Most powered monitors feature balanced audio input jacks for XLR cables and ¼" TRS cables. On some monitors, you may find a single combination jack that can accept either type of plugs. These balanced connections offer excellent low-noise performance with your studio gear.

Many monitors also offer unbalanced input via an RCA jack or ¼" TS (Tip/Sleeve) phone jack.

Studio monitor back panel detail

Flexible input options and tone controls allow this powered monitor to work with a wide variety of sources and rooms.

Controls for fine-tuning the sound

Many active monitors include tone or equalization controls that help you adapt their sound to your room. A bass cut control allows you to reduce the boominess that can result from placing the speaker too near a wall or desktop. High-frequency adjustments can compensate for room acoustics.

Need help choosing?

If you have any questions, please contact our Advisors. They'll help you get exactly the cables you need.

  • Steve from nashville

    Posted on 3/2/2016

    Yeah, you don't buy monitors based on how loud you can crank them in a "detached garage"... wonder what my ears would be like after a day of that! cmon dudes!

  • Commenter image

    Dave Bar from Crutchfield

    Posted on 3/2/2016

    Well, there you go. Thanks for setting us straight, Paul.

  • Paul from Fort Collins, Co

    Posted on 3/2/2016

    This is a good general overview of monitor basics however, everything under the "Choosing monitors to fit your studio and your style" paragraph is crap. You're missing two subjects, 1: Fletcher-Munson curve which shows that you should always monitor around 85 decibels to keep percieved frequencies equal. Increasing or decreasing volume is equivalent to increasing and decreasing ranges on your EQ. Buying monitors for their loudness is absurd when you should only compare signals in such a limited volume, which even my phone can reach. 2: Without a treated room, monitors will only perform as well as the room will allow, therefore buying monitors to "fit" the room is pointless. I'll take a pair of "under-sized", clear monitors in a tiny, well treated room rather than your Marshall stack-esque, with giant Subs, monitors in your local cathedral any day, no matter the genre I'm mixing.

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