Although we’ve explained that one of the largest aspects of a home or professional studio is a recording microphone, if you can’t hear what you’re making or listening to accurately, your whole setup is pretty much a dud. We highlight and review the best studio monitors for under $500 and help you decide which reference speakers to use in your music equipment rig. Let’s get into the details.
What is a studio monitor?
To give you a brief description of what they are in case you aren’t aware, studio monitors are special speakers that are typically tuned flat to allow you to mix and listen to songs and recordings in their truest form. The low, mid and high frequencies are (mids are usually only emphasized in three-way monitors which get a bit costly) emphasized in a more balanced manner than popular market brands. These are specifically for those who are into mixing, production, or just want that accurate sound when listening to their favorite music.
Our pick for the best monitors under $500
If we were to pick an affordable, under $500 yet durable pair of studio monitor speakers for a home or even professional studio, we’d go with the Studiophile AV 40 by M-Audio. We’ve always been huge fans of M-Audio’s products. In terms of build and stability, they are some of the most reliable studio monitors available for the price. With a low frequency driver of 4″ and high-frequency of 1″, they make for a solid pair of monitors in terms of power. The frequency range of 85Hz to 22kHz gets the job done, especially for under $500, although we have seen some more expensive monitors go a bit lower. 85Hz however will be feasible for those with home studios. They also have convenient plug-ins in the front, something overlooked by a lot of manufacturers. They aren’t necessarily three-way active speakers that literally have components for mid-level frequencies (which gets into the $400-$500 range), which we’ll mention later in the article for you to take a look at. You can read our full review of the Studiophile AV 40 monitors here.
If you want to save some money and go a little lower, grab the Studiophile AV 30 (only $80 for a pair).
Other studio monitor speakers to check out
These are very popular among the budget-friendly studio monitor crowd. I think that Alesis instruments comes second to M-Audio in terms of monitor quality. Although way under $500, these are perfect those wanting to spend a Benjamin or less. They have a nifty integrated USB audio interface so you don’t need any drivers or audio interfaces (although I do recommend using one for extra power). With 3″ woofers and 1″ tweeters is has a relatively standard size and great at that considering the price of only $80. A very clean sound with these although you only get around 45-Watts of power (higher priced go up to 90-Watt). Frequency response is from 80 Hz to 20kHz, so not as necessarily best for highs in terms of comparing to others but it’s great for a home studio. Overall an affordable and great quality pair of studio monitors for under $500.
This another pair of M-Audio studio monitors that are worth looking at. With 5″ low-frequency and 1″ tweeters the size is great, but the bi-amp with 70-Watt power is a step up from the Alesis mentioned prior. Coming with the standard XLR and 1/4″ inputs, you’ve got everything you need here. Frequency response is 56Hz to 22kHz so you’re especially getting some nice lows. M-Audio also always offers great protection for their monitors, helping with RF interference, over-temperature (we still recommend staying in a room temperature with gear), and subsonic filters. Great if you can afford it. These are also mentioned in MusicRadar’s affordable monitor speaker article. Although a bit biased, I prefer these from all other models of studio monitors under $500 besides the Studiophiles we chose, so get them if you can save another hundred bucks.
Yamaha musical instruments has been very efficient in the studio monitor for quite some time now. Their NS-line is famous for quality, and the new HS-line has been said to be the successor of it. These are sold separately at $200 each monitor, but if you’re in the range of $400 you should grab these. This has been rated extremely high on Amazon. The 2-way studio monitor by Yamaha has a bi-amp with a 5″ cone woofer 1″ dome tweeter. Total of 70-Watts (45W LF and 15W HF) and includes an XLR and TRS input. These have been praised for their accurate sounds and a lot of people only swear by Yamaha when it comes to studio monitors. For under $500 these are their best model when taking price and overall quality into consideration, let alone their most popular. Frequency range isn’t too low, but the highs are great (54Hz to 30kHz) and we’ll leave that up to your preference. In our opinion, even a 70Hz low is fine, the rest is just nitpicking numbers. Grab a pair of these if you want a powerful studio.
So this is the highest we’ll go in terms of priced under $500, and although they come in even right there, these are a must-have if you can afford them. The three-way active title means they have specific tech for not only the LF and HF but the mid-frequencies as well. These have been stated to be perfect for really getting a feel of vocals when mixing, something a lot of popular engineers say is the backbone of the entire song. These also have a very nice wooden finish, making your studio look sleek. Crazy tri-amp Class A/B with a total of 160-Watt power. 3-band EQ and low-cut filter for customizing the way you want to hear your audio and the frequency response is a nice 40Hz to 22kHz.
Although they are a lot lower than $500, we love the M-Audio Studiophile AV 40 based on their positive feedback from years of use, research around the web and their overall quality-to-price ratio. If you have more money feel free to buy those listed above. If you can afford one of M-Audio’s M3 three-way active speakers, you will be getting some of the best monitors on the market. However, if you’re on a budget and want a bang-for-your-buck speaker that can still provide a powerful mix and/or listening experience for your home or professional studio, we recommend the Studiophile AV 40’s for only $120!