7 of the best affordable monitor speakers
7th Jun 2013 | 15:05
You might think that you don’t need another set of speakers. The chances are that you’ve already got a pair hooked up to your computer - in the MP3 age, this might even be your main hi-fi setup - or maybe you do all of your listening on headphones.
When it comes to making music, though, a decent pair of monitor speakers is, if not essential, a very wise investment. To understand why, you need to understand how they work.
While your hi-fi or computer speakers are specifically designed to ‘flatter’ your music so that it sounds good, they typically do this in a way that could be considered unnatural. This isn’t a problem if you’re listening to someone else’s album, but when your goal is to create balanced mixes that will sound good on lots of different systems, it can be an issue.
Step forward the monitor speaker, which is designed to portray your music as it actually is rather than how your ears might want it to sound. We’re not going to delve too far into why these speakers are technically different, but the bottom line is that, if you mix your music through built-for- purpose monitors, you’ve got a far better chance of making it sound good.
Headphones are another issue altogether. Trying to create a balanced stereo mix while you’re monitoring through cans is notoriously difficult because, rather than hearing some of each channel (left and right) in each ear, it’s an ‘either/or scenario’. We wouldn’t dream of telling you not to use headphones at all - in many cases, such as when you’re making music on the move or at a time when making noise is a no-no, they’re essential - but it’s certainly a bad idea to rely on them exclusively.
It would be easy to generalise and say that the more you pay for your monitors, the ‘better’ they’ll sound. This is true up to a point, but speaker preference is ultimately a very personal thing so, if at all possible, we’d advise you to try and audition a few sets before you make a decision.
Based on the reviews on MusicRadar, here are some of the best affordable monitors currently available.
NEXT: M-Audio BX5 D2
M-Audio BX5 D2
Apparently, the original BX5 was the best-selling monitor speaker in the United States in both 2009 and 2010. This revised version picks up where its predecessor left off: these are compact, affordable monitors that definitely punch a good deal above their weight.
The BX5 D2s have a slightly subdued appearance, but they’re certainly not ugly. Connections and volume controls are round the back, so you might want to ‘set and forget’ the levels to save rooting around there later.
In use, the BX5 D2 monitors are impressively punchy and will do the job perfectly well if you’re making pop or dance music. In fact, they’re an ideal first set of monitors, though if you’re looking for something with more bass, you might want to check out the larger BX8 D2s.
Behringer Truth B1031A
Behringer is a company that’s built its reputation on producing usable products at bargain prices, and the B1031As are a perfect example of this philosophy. They don’t look or sound cheap, but the price is very attractive indeed.
The all-important bass sounds tight and doesn’t distort, while the top end of the mix is nicely detailed without being too sharp. There monitors provide plenty of detail in the midrange, too - it’s not difficult to pick out the different instruments in your mix.
The B1031As have a nice wide sweet spot, meaning that you don’t need to worry about positioning yourself too precisely in front of them. They’re comfortable to listen to for long periods, too - these are speakers that you’ll be happy to live with and come at a great price.
Equator Audio Research D5
Compact enough not to dominate your studio space, at first glance the D5s have the look of a two-way monitor until you realise that you're actually getting a tuned front port for bass that sits under the main driver assembly.
XLR and 1/4-inch TRS jack connections are on the rear panel, and there's a rear-panel three-way switch to optimise the monitors with different degrees of low-end roll-off for different room locations.
The D5s provide an impressively full sound for such a small box. The bass end is well-represented, there’s clarity in the mid-range, and the sound is well defined across the rest of the spectrum, too.
In fact, the D5s deliver plenty of definition to let you hear exactly what you need to hear.
Adam Audio A3X
Adam’s pricier monitors have frequently won praise, so the prospect of getting some of that high-performance quality for a fraction of the cost is certainly appealing. With the Audio A3Xs, the signs are good from the off: they look great and certainly don’t feel cheap in comparison to their more expensive siblings.
These speakers feature Adam’s X-ART tweeter, which translates into great performance at the top end. Detail is actually pretty good across your mix, whatever volume you happen to working at. These might be compact speakers, but they can still go pretty loud.
In fact, the A3Xs have a big sound generally, and one that we’re very happy to listen to. If you can afford them, they definitely offer bang for your buck.
The PM641 is a three-way monitor and has the mid-range driver and tweeter sitting next to each other on a horizontal axis above the woofer. This serves to minimise the physical height of the enclosure box.
The rear of each cabinet is dominated by a large finned heat-sink adjacent to the connection sockets, which are an XLR and a 1/4-inch TRS jack. There’s also a pair of three-way switches to change the response.
Performance-wise, the bass end is impressive and kick drums come fat and rounded. We'd describe the mids and top-end as ‘smooth’ - there's no hype or harshness here - and it feels like you could use these on long sessions without fatigue.
The PM641s might cost more than some of the budget options, but just shy of £400 is not a bad price to pay for a nicely practical three-way monitoring system.
Pioneer’s aim with the S-DJ05 was to create a speaker that bridged the gap between the music production and DJing worlds, giving you something that you can use both in your studio and for monitoring in the booth.
There are loads of input options round the back (you can toggle between these with buttons), plus selectable EQ. Furthermore, the S-DJ05s allow you to remote control your settings with a separate device so, with the appropriate hardware, you can toggle between inputs, turn the EQ on and off and adjust the levels of your speakers without even touching them.
The S-DJ05s have flexibility on their side, then, and fortunately they also sound pretty good - particularly when handling dance music.
EVE Audio SC204
Like all the monitors we’re looking at here the SC204s are active, meaning that they have their own amplification. These speakers are small, certainly – making them an attractive proposition if you haven’t got much space in your studio – but as soon as you get them out of the box you realise that they’re also substantial in all the most important ways.
All connections are located round the back, although handily, the volume knob is positioned on the front. An LED surround for this makes it easy to match the levels of the left and right speakers.
The SC204s reveal a lot of detail in your music and sound consistent at all volume levels; despite being small, they fill a room pretty well if you crank them up. And they pass the key test: music that’s mixed using them sounds good when it’s played through other sound systems. This makes them speakers you can rely on.