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Which speakers should you buy?

How to choose studio monitors

The time has come to buy a pair of monitors for your home studio, but you don't know which ones you should choose? Do's and don'ts.

Budget

The first thing to take into account is your budget. Even if you can find speakers for $50 a pair, they shouldn't be considered real monitoring speakers, but rather "multimedia" speakers. Affordable and serious options start at around $100-150/unit. If you have enough money, don't hesitate to buy quality monitor speakers ($1000/pair and up) and don't spare on the main elements of your home studio. They will allow objective listening, which is crucial!

Active or passive?

We recommend you to choose active speakers ─ with integrated amplification, that is ─ for several reasons. Convenience: since the speaker hosts the amps, you have more free space, which is important in most home studios. Moreover, these amps are perfectly matched to the transducers (tweeter, woofer, etc.) of the speaker. Connections are also simpler: you simply have to connect your audio interface or mixer directly to the speakers with standard audio cables.

Size does matter, indeed

Adam A5

With monitor speakers, large dimensions don't actually mean better quality. Although speakers with a large woofer usually reach lower frequencies, the latter can be counterproductive in a small room. If your room is small, we recommend you to buy 5" or 6.5" monitors and, whenever needed, to use a pair of headphones to monitor the low-frequency range. A speaker equipped with an 8" or larger woofer requires a big room, otherwise it won't work to full capacity and the distance between the speakers and the sweet spot will be too short. If your budget and the size of your studio are limited, choose a compact 2-way speaker.

Further details to consider

Some monitor speakers offer wall-mounting options, which can be very useful in small rooms. If you still have a CRT screen, choose a magnetically shielded speaker.

The speakers may provide additional features like a volume control and/or power switch on the front panel, auto-bypass, etc...

The type of tweeter is not as important as you might think and you can find good-sounding tweeters in all three categories: ribbon, silk dome and inverted dome. Rely on your ears (or the ears of someone else) instead of on the specs or the technology itself.

The control settings available (filters, EQ) play an important role if your room was not treated acoustically: the more you get, the more you'll be able to compensate for acoustic problems.

Don't forget

Speaker connection cables should be included in your budget: XLR or TRS cables for balanced connections, RCA cables for unbalanced connections in case your audio interface has no balanced outputs. And also consider purchasing speaker foam pads (sold from $30/pair and up) or, even better, speaker stands (from $50 upwards).

  • Red Led
    Red Led
    Site Admin
    136 posts
    True, "active" is a misuse of language, but the majority say it (many shops/manufacturers for example). So, I think it is simpler to say "active" to a rookie, even if it's not always true.
  • RickD
    RickD
    AFfable Poster
    95 posts
    Some valid points for such a condensed article.
    However, contrary to common belief (and mine until recently), 'active' isn't synonymous with amplified: it refers to the fact that the filters/crossover are before the amplifier. You can have amplified passive speakers and non-amplified active speakers.
    The author advises to listen rather than decide on specs, and quite rightly so. Now that i have made the mistake more times than not, i would add to that: listen rather than trust reviews or tests in the specialized press.
    Finally, it is worth keeping in mind that the cost of the monitors you are about to buy from a retailer is less than the VAT alone. That's right, they usually cost about 10-20% of the retail price to make. Those 7000€ monitors from that very professional monitor company you've been dreaming of use 20€ tweeters and car subs for woofers. So bear in mind when you are paying 400€ a pair you might be getting components no better than what you put in your car.

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